Learning how to learn.

By Elizabeth Hardy (University of California, Santa Barbara, USA).

Happy belated Haloween!

With midterms finally done and dusted, I guess it’s as good a time as any to tell you all about the different between the UK and US academic systems.

So, let’s start with midterms. They sort of do-what-it-says-on-the-tin. I.e., an exam halfway through each module, just to see how you’re getting on. This highlights one of the main differences I have found – that there is far more of an emphasis on continual assessment in the states than in Manchester. For example, in one class I have had 3 scheduled tests, 3 unscheduled tests, a midterm and a final. This essentially equals out to a test on the material every week – so there is no time for slacking or missing even one class! The upside of this is that there is far less weight placed on one final exam, so if you do have a bad day, then it isn’t the end of the world.

Terms at UC are quick. Unlike Manchester’s 15 week (2 semester) terms, Santa Barbara has 4 quarters (with summer quarter being like a summer school) which means that the time whizzes by. I can’t believe that I am already the first way through my first term! This means you have very little time to get used to the system – so making the most of the support system is important. The professors here have office hours too, and just like in Manchester, graduate students act as teaching assistants and are a great resource.

The final big difference I’ve noticed is the way that students consider and emphasise their subject specialisms. In the UK, if you study Maths, you are a ‘Maths person’. This means all you do is Maths. In the US, you are expected to have a far ore rounded education. This means not only that you take classes from a wider range of subjects (notably your major and minors), but also that courses themselves are more inter-disciplinary. In my example, I study Anthropology. And yet, in several courses I have had to study elements of Archaeology, Geology, Biology, Chemistry, Economics and Maths. Whilst this was initially intimidating as I haven’t studied science or Maths since GCSE level, it has served as a fantastic opportunity to remind myself I am still capable of academic endeavours outside of Anthropology.

With every challenge these changes have presented, I am learning more about myself and how Study Abroad is slowly changing me and making me a more capable, independent person. Hooray!

That’s the boring bit over – next time, I will update on all the exciting Californian things I’ve been doing recently (including Haloween and Disneyland!)


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