Sunday, December 19, 2010

back, for real

So, after a month of traveling and living out of my backpack (and accordingly smelling and looking like canned ass), I'm back in the relative sedateness (a word? eh, maybe, too lazy to look it up) of London for seven more godforsaken weeks. These weeks are made significantly worse by the fucked up British exam system. Let me explain. The full-time (i.e. three year, because that's how long college is here) students recieve one grade for their year long classes. This grade is based either entirely on the final or 75% on the final and 25% on a blind assessed essay. That's all. Class participation? Doesn't count. The other essays assigned during the semester? Don't count. All that counts are the three hour final exams.

So, first of all, this system leads to people not showing up for their assigned in-class presentations (which is really unfortunate when you're the co-presenter) or doing the other assigned essays (which clearly works to my advantage by making me look good in comparison but still baffles me). The big issue, though, is that now everyone is running around like chickens with their heads cut off.

See, the way finals work here is that although the exams ostensibly cover all twenty weeks of class, there are actually only twelve (or fourteen) questions on each exam, of which you need to answer three (or four). People generally prepare six topics for each final. When I say "people", I mean "reasonable people". However, in each of my classes, someone has announced their intention to prepare upwards of ten topics. We call those people "the crazies." Even the people who are only preparing six topics are acting like the final exams are The Most Difficult Things You Will Ever Have To Do. Seriously, every conversation I've had with a full time LSE student has gone something like this:

LSE student: So, have you started revising (British for studying) yet?
Me: Um, a little. (This is a lie. I haven't started at. all.)
LSE student: (Without any pause for breath) I've already made study guides for all my classes, but I'm thinking about doing some extra topics for my [insert random class here] class because what if [obscure theorist] doesn't show up on the exam and I mean, I already got the marks I needed last year, but you know, I want to graduate with a First, so I think maybe I should do some supplementary reading because they like that kind of thing and have you looked at the past years exams for our class because it looks like she's changed the class a little, what do you think?
Me: Um, I dunno, she said that last year's exam was fine, so...
LSE student: (Suspiciously) You're awfully relaxed.

And I am awfully relaxed, I suppose. I mean, exams don't start for two weeks, I only have one exam per week and I only need to learn 5 or 6 topics for each class. Compare this to Smith where my exams (and final papers, almost all of which were due here before spring break) are clustered over four days and I'm expected to know everything that's been covered in the class. Frankly, I spend about three hours each cramming for those tests, so I don't see why these (seemingly significantly easier) tests require studying from 10 in the morning to midnight every day including weekends. Maybe I'll be singing a different tune after my first final, but for the time being, I'll just keep rolling my eyes.

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