It took a few days for the fact that I am actually at school to really sink in. The first week mostly felt like I was on vacation. But now, with only a few days until finals, school is something I can’t escape. I am taking a little break, though, so that I can tell you a bit about the British education system. Actually, I should say, the Cambridge educational system. Cambridge is a unique school, so the way they do things is not exactly like the rest of England’s universities.
There is a lot less instructional time at Cambridge than there is at US universities. This isn’t as evident during summer school because everything is so condensed, but during the year, when US students may have 45 or more hours of lecture for a semester class, Cambridge students have only 16. They are expected to do most of their learning outside the classroom through reading and writing essays. Which brings me to another point: Cambridge students do a lot of essay writing. The main form of assessment here is writing essays, whether they be typed and handed in or writen on the spot as an exam. In general, the only things that determine a student’s grade is their essays. For my courses, the final grade is based on one 2500-3000 word research essay, and an essay exam that consists of writing two hour-long essays with citations. I am a little nervous for the essay exam. I haven’t written a timed essay in a long time and these need to have citations. Also, it seems like the University here has a lot more control over assessments than the instructors do. In the US professors can choose how they want to test their students, but here, every class has these essays (as far as I can tell.)
The one other big difference in classes here is the way they figure out the grades. In American schools, students start the semester with a score of 100% and as they go through the semester, points are taken off for things that they get wrong. In the British system, students start with a score of 40 and they earn points as they do things right. I would be curious to see if this gives British students a different perspective on grades. If I find someone to ask, I’ll report back (most of the British students are home for the summer, so I haven’t met very many.)
So, those are the two main differences that I have found so far between the American and the Cambridge classes. And now, back to studying.