Why Professors Should Be OK With Letting Class Out Early

Hey man, you know how sometimes professors will get done with a lecture a few minutes early and then say something stupid like, “What else can I talk about to fill the lecture time?” It’s stupid, right? It’s at that time the professor should say, “Hey, we’re done. You get to go early. See you next week; try not to crash into too many trees this weekend.” Professors that do this are awesome. Seriously.

However, some professors think that they absolutely have to use the entire lecture time to teach – even if they get done early or aren’t prepared. In my opinion, this is dumb and doesn’t need to happen. Why? Well, let me break it down for you.

We’re paying for a degree and an education – we’re not necessarily paying for gross time sitting at a desk. If a professor can effectively teach all the material he needs to teach in 40 minutes instead of 50, he shouldn’t feel that he needs to fill that last 10 with something just to “use all the time”. Students love getting out early from time to time; it’s a moral boost. Besides, who ever said 50 minutes was the most effective amount of time for teaching, anyway? It could very well be 45, or 40, or 63. The 50 minute period was an arbitrary choice made for scheduling reasons, and as such is a blanket time period that might not apply to every situation. There are times when the material that needs to be presented will fit into a smaller time period, and going onto a new subject afterward would make the lecture feel disjointed and waste everyone’s time.

Besides, most professors aren’t teaching effectively anyway. Look at brain science, fool. Research shows that people generally can focus on one concept for about 10 minutes; after that, they zonk out (check out chapter 4 of Brain Rules if you don’t believe me). They need some sort of refresher to get back into the game – a break every ten minutes brought about by something emotional, funny, but still contextually relevant to the class. Most professors don’t realize this, and they ramble on for the whole 50 or 70 minutes while students sit there bored out of their minds. Therefore, getting out a few minutes early is almost certain to not result in a loss of learning time. It’s just a loss of time spent bored.

Ten Minute Rule

The infamous Ten Minute Rule.

It turns out I’m not the only one who wants to get out of class early when professors finish their intended lecture. In the interest of doing good science, I went out and conducted some thorough, methodical, and unbiased research in the field to find out the opinions of other students. I asked this leading question: “When you professors let you out of class early, is it…” and let them finish by choosing an answer or making their own. Of those surveyed, 52% responded by saying it’s “an indication that the professor is teaching effectively instead of just filling time”. 29% surveyed responded that it’s either “awesome” or “really freakin’ awesome”, and a final 17% answered that it’s “poopin’ time”. Not a single respondent claimed that being let out of class early constituted a “waste of their tuition dollars”, even though this answer was clearly displayed.

Poopin Time

Empirical data, punk.

So let’s recap: getting let out of class early is perfectly acceptable for the following reasons:

  • The 50 or 70 minute class period is arbitrary and doesn’t necessarily need to be followed for optimum learning.
  • Students are probably zonking out at the 10-minute mark anyway unless the professor is effective at transitioning .
  • I did research which totally proves it.

There you have it: a comprehensive and indisputable argument for getting out of class early. Anytime you need to get out early to grab some food, take a poop, or save yourself from untimely boredom-induced coma, just pull up this article. Your professor won’t be able to argue with you at all. You’re welcome.

Thomas Frank is the geek behind College Info Geek. After paying off $14K in student loans before graduating, landing jobs and internships, starting a successful business, and travelling the globe, he's now on a mission to help you build a remarkable college experience as well. Get the Newsletter | Twitter | Instagram

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  1. My Anatomy and Physiology professor let’s us out an hour and a half early every Monday and Wednesday. I take night classes due to the fact that I work a full time job. She never goes into depth with anything. She does not make sure that we are retaining information. My mother is a professor who teaches biology, anatomy and physiology and microbiology I have addressed these issues with her and she told me that it’s completely wrong. The professor rushes through the lectures just so we can get out early. Then sends us some bogus review that she got from some website. This is frustrating for me. She is getting paid to TEACH us and I plan to go into the medical field so I really need to learn this material. Instead she hides behind her podium text messaging while we write all her power points down.

  2. I’m a college instructor. I completely agree with this article. However, some instructors don’t have the choice of letting students out early. I was just reprimanded for letting my students out 5 minutes early on Fridays and the occasional 20 minutes early after exam reviews. I was told that if I finished early, I was to sit in class with them until the 50 minute mark. I feel like this is a waste of time for everyone. I feel like I am no longer a college instructor, but a babysitter for 19-year olds. I am no longer teaching, but filling time. It is demotivating and I’m honestly considering changing careers. As much as I love teaching, I don’t like being chewed out for using my time productively.

  3. What an interesting discussion to bring up. As an instructor, I have secretly (and not so secretly) questioned this myself; and, I often feel obligated to claim that each and everyone of my classes goes to its maximum time limit when general hallway discussions among colleagues occur (and some of my classes are 3-4 hours in length). When I lock my room door up each night I’m on campus however, I can’t help but notice many other classrooms that should be ending too are already locked up with the lights off. I definitely see that there is a responsibility to the student (after all, they are paying for this) but at the same time, if it’s just about money and fulfilling credit obligations, I’m not sure that constitutes the value of a well-planned lecture or an “education.” I think the real discussion should be about what’s actually happening in the lecture/course design. If half the class is falling asleep at 9:30pm, how much added value are they really getting by keeping them until 10pm?

    • Agreed. I think more instructors would benefit from learning how to structure their lessons around what we know about learning, attention span, etc. However, as far as I know, the metrics instructors use for feedback don’t explicitly encourage this.

      As a YouTuber, attention span is front and center in my mind when I design a new video because average view time is one of YouTube’s key metrics. The longer people watch my videos, the more likely they’ll rank well in search and show up as related videos on other channels. There’s a perfect feedback loop built in.

      Beyond that, I just think we need to question the scheduling: Is 50 minutes the optimal amount of time for learning? Should it be uniform across the board? Should people learn English for the same amount of time they learn Math? In the end, the actual learning and application is more important than the hours per week you spend in class.

  4. As an instructor, I’m conflicted with this article. Each course goes through rigorous review to determine the appropriate amount of credits that should be earned–this is usually entirely based on time spent in the classroom [except for hybrid / online courses]. With this logic [release students after students are saturated or the instructor wants to go home] then assigning credits would be arbitrary. Why have a campus catalog with ‘end’ times? I know of students who are consistently let out after 30 minutes from an anatomy lab that is scheduled to run 1 hr 50 minutes. The same lecture for that course never goes past an hour and 1/2 [when the posted time is 2 hr 50 minutes]. Students have complained to me that they feel as if they are ‘teaching themselves.’ Moreover, an instructor who fulfills their contractual agreement and holds class for the posted time is paid the same as the instructor who only holds class for a fraction of the posted time. I find it difficult to say the latter instructor is far more efficient [1/2 the time over 16 weeks means that instructor is really only giving 8 weeks of instruction for that semester–that’s efficiency that is completely unheard of in any profession].

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