Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Letters From America: Schools in America

Hello Everyone,

I thought I would do a comparison post today about the differences between American and Scottish universities. I’ve been in the USA long enough to get to grips with the teaching styles and what is assessed compared to my experiences last year. And I’ve noticed there are quite a few differences.

Reading. In both Scotland and USA universities there is reading to be done. However, there is much more essential reading in the USA. It is difficult to keep up sometimes, especially when you have papers due and tests to study for (I will talk about these later on). And it isn’t just weekly reading, it is reading for each lesson, and the readings are discussed, so if you don’t do the reading you are a bit stuck. But if you get the bulk of it done at the beginning of the week, it frees up your time to do other stuff.

Homework. In Scotland, I haven’t had official homework since my fifth year in high school (in sixth year it was optional, or just essay practice). So after two years of no homework, I am dealing with it all over again, all the while feeling a little like a school-girl again complaining about the amount of homework she has to do. However, they are normally straightforward tasks that we have covered in class so do not stretch me too much. The level of thought processes and analysis expected is a lower level than in Aberdeen, which also helps.

Exams. I have had plenty of experiences of these, although I have never had an exam that is worth less than 50% of my overall grade. Coursework either made up the entirety of your grade, or helped prop up your exam result, to give it a boost if it wasn’t the best. So finding out that you have a final exam worth only 30% of your grade is a pretty cool. Takes a little pressure off for finals (apart from the one exam that is worth 100%). Another difference is that I do not have to write one proper essay in an exam. NO ESSAYS! Instead the exams are made up of multiple choice questions and long and short answers.

Lectures. Every professor will run their course and classes differently. Some have a traditional lecturing style, others will get you to engage in discussion with the entire class, in small groups, or do thinking tasks in your notebook. There are no regulations to them, some classes are not even put online for students to view and ask questions on. Another difference from Scottish schools is that you have to go to lectures.  YES YOU SCOTTISH STUDENTS, YOU HAVE TO GO TO CLASS. If you do not attend three or more classes, you are immediately dropped from the class. They take attendance, so beware those of you who hate 9am lectures. Get out of bed and be glad you are not attending an American university.