Differences in academic assessment between Manchester and UBC

By Joe Gaskin (UBC, Canada)

Before study abroad I probably worried most about settling into life in a new country, far away from my family. But my second worry was how I’d do academically. I was motivated to not let my grades drop over the year – even though I only had to pass the year. This post explains the academic assessment at UBC and the differences to what I’m used to at Manchester.

The assessment of students at UBC is very different than at the University of Manchester (for Geography anyway). At Manchester, I’m usually used to a couple of assessments per module, maybe in the form of coursework and exams. But there seemed to be no set template like this for a module at UBC.

Each module in fact had multiple ways of assessing students with different weighting. The types of assessments included the normal exams and coursework, but also getting assessed on class participation, weekly in-class quizzes, class attendance, weekly blogs and independent field work. Some modules would use all forms of these assessments throughout the term to contribute to your final mark. This meant you had to be very adaptable and on top of things as you would always have some sort of assessment coming up and it may not have been in a format you were used to. The frequent nature of examination meant it was more crucial to stay on top of work and learn as you go as there was no opportunity to just cram in work for an end of term exam. However, because there was so much assessment it meant much less was riding on each piece of examination. This took the pressure off each one slightly as you’d know that there would be other opportunities to improve your marks if you didn’t do as well on a certain piece.

However, I found that the ‘little and often’ nature of assessment at UBC led to the work generally being easier than tasks set at the University of Manchester. Less time seemed to be spent on each piece of work in comparison to what would be normal for a piece of work in Manchester. In general, this meant the work produced would be of lower quality to Manchester but you’d do much more at UBC. This also meant that higher marks seemed easier to attain at UBC than they would be in Manchester.

Of course there were still those more traditional modules that had an end of term exam, but there were still some major differences in this format at UBC. Exams had a much more relaxed nature about them; most would be set in a lecture theatre but with the only invigilator being the course leader. Also some wouldn’t even be held in the exam period but in class during normal term time. The timing of the exam period differed from Manchester as well. At UBC the exam period would follow directly after classes had ended meaning there’d be no set revision time but also that exams would be over in time for Christmas and wouldn’t stretch too far into summer. It meant for a chaotic few weeks but followed by relaxing holiday breaks.

I had an experience in the winter exam period where I had to change a date of one of my exams because I had a flight booked already. I thought this may prove to be difficult but asked my lecturer anyway and they thought it was no problem at all. They said I could just go and do the exam outside their office while they worked. I was in a group of students that did this and we were trusted so much that the lecturer left the office halfway through and didn’t return until the exam was over. This just summed up the much more relaxed nature of assessment at UBC.


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