Marshall University's Student Newspaper

The Parthenon

Marshall University's Student Newspaper

The Parthenon

Marshall University's Student Newspaper

The Parthenon

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Bex Abroad: My Clothes Staying Fresh and My Dome’s Getting Big: Grades and School Life

Bex+Abroad%3A+My+Clothes+Staying+Fresh+and+My+Domes+Getting+Big%3A+Grades+and+School+Life

One of the most important things to remember while you’re on this magical, life-changing adventure: you are actually here to study. That’s why it’s called “study abroad” and not “hang out at the pub abroad.”

There are a lot of American university customs I love, and there are plenty I hate. Likewise, while I obviously can’t speak to the customs of every British school, there are plenty of customs about British universities I love and plenty I hate. Unfortunately, I can’t speak to the education systems in other countries. I would highly recommend speaking with the Study Abroad Office at Marshall and connecting with people who have studied in countries you’re interested in. If you’re interested in studying in England, hello! Consider me your connection.

Starting with the academic timeline, British universities operate in three trimesters rather than two semesters. The terms run from September to December, January to March, and then undergraduates have a third trimester from April to June while postgraduates have their third trimester from April to August. The trimesters are shorter, as well; I started school on Sept. 18 and will have my last class on Dec. 8. 

There are no breaks during the semester, which—frankly—I hate. I didn’t realize how much I valued having Thanksgiving break before finals. At Marshall, I dislike that we have a full-week break only to come back to school for one week before finals. Now that I don’t have it, though, I really appreciate that break to sleep in, focus on homework and studying with no other responsibilities and at least try to spend Thanksgiving with friends and family. I guess the grass really is greener on the other side. 

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As for the British grading system, I certainly wouldn’t be as shocked by it if I had grown up with it. To be frank with you, friends, the grading system here is so wack. As it was explained to me in orientation, the system is as follows: a 40% or higher is passing; 50% or higher is a “sound grade;” a 60% or higher is good; a 70% is excellent; and anything higher than 70-79% would be considered publishable work, and the university would be speaking with you about possibilities of paying you for your work. 

To my understanding, most students here average around a grade of 55% on their finals. After talking with some students at a few different schools in Cambridge and London, the common consensus as well is that your grades will get progressively worse throughout your years at university. 

Grading is done by a blind panel, not your professor. The only information the panel is given is what year the student is in, but all names and other identifying information is stripped. The panels seem to grade year ones easier than they grade year threes. University is typically only a three-year program in England, effectively combining the freshman and sophomore year. So, if in year one a student was receiving grades of 62% on average, by year three, they will be closer to 56%. 

This is all made possible by the fact that there are no graded assignments during the trimester. I have assignments for classes, but they are not graded and there is no consequence during the semester if you don’t turn them in. Obviously, the consequence is that you don’t learn and become more and more unprepared for the final assignment. Again, I am unable to speak to every standard and custom, but I can tell you that for three of my classes, my final assignment is a portfolio and a reflection, so I would assume that is pretty common.

Courses here are extremely self-led. You have to seek out feedback on things on your own, you have to set your own deadlines, and you have to be really dedicated and disciplined. It seems like if you express dedication, the professors will respond in kind and take you seriously. I will be able to report on this more after I finish more assignments and receive more feedback—but so far, so good. 

One thing I love so much is attendance. Attendance is very serious for international students; retaining a visa depends on documentation of your attendance in class, and you can get deported if you are not going to class. However, instead of reading off everyone’s name before class, attendance is taken by tapping your student ID to a card reader in every classroom. You can tap ten minutes before class and ten minutes into class. If for some reason you’re late or you forget to tap in, you can speak to the professor and they can take note of your attendance in case of an attendance audit. This is so efficient and such a time-saver. It also ensures I don’t lose my student ID, which I am notorious for, and that I always have it on me so I can use it for discounts in stores and pubs around town. It really is a win-win scenario. 

I really enjoy how student-led the education is here. I don’t think I like the lack of “busy work,” though. I like having periodic check-ins on my progress through mid semester tests and assignments. However, the agency I feel over my work here is empowering. If I am going to learn something this trimester, it is up to me to decide I will. The final assignments, while all due on the same day, are much broader than assignments in America. I can tailor each assignment to play to my strengths and interests. As I am finishing my undergraduate degree and am beginning to look at what my research might focus on in graduate school and into my PhD, it’s really nice to be able to point this research towards that now. 

I hope midterms went well for you all! I can’t believe I actually miss that stress. 

See you in 75 days, Marshall!

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