My Exam Experience in England

At our orientations for students going to various universities around the UK, we talk about the W curve, the pattern many study abroad students go through:

By the time exams and essays roll around, you’re likely in the independence stage. You’ve made some friends, you’ve done a bit of travelling, you know the ins-and-outs of your study abroad city. So you probably aren’t expecting it when the culture shock of the British assessment system hits you. All of a sudden you miss your UC campus. You miss having one week of finals instead of two months. You miss midterms and homework assignments. You miss the fact that participation counts. Now, you are expected to take one exam or write one paper that counts for 100% of your grade in each module. What you thought would be a fun term or year living in England now feels like the most stressful and hardest term or year of college. But just because finals are different here doesn’t mean you won’t be able to succeed! Who knows, this system could work better for you and you could end up with your best grades yet. After going through two assessment periods at the University of Sussex, here are my tips for making the weeks ahead less stressful:

Make a study schedule

booksThe British academic system gives you a lot more time to prepare than the UC system does, which can be welcome or overwhelming depending on how you use this time. If you spend hours a day in the library during finals week at your UC, you could feel like this just means hours a day in the library for an entire month or more, but it doesn’t have to be like that. Set up a reasonable schedule for yourself, giving yourself time in the library but also time to see friends, exercise, cook dinner, sleep, etc. Studying for ten hours everyday for a month is neither healthy nor helpful, so view the extra time as a bonus not a burden.

Take your new study habits home

When I was at Sussex, my most difficult assignment was a take-home test for which I had to write three 1000 word essays in 48 hours. I couldn’t procrastinate. When I got back to my UC the next year, I was sometimes given two weeks to write one 1500 word essay. Since I knew I had written more in less time, I started these papers as soon as they were assigned and finished them early. This gave me time to write multiple drafts and even take my papers to my professors to review before turning them in, something I had never been able to do before. Perhaps the British system will also teach you to not procrastinate, or maybe you’ve been practicing a new way to study or write; whatever it is, take your new habits back with you and consider them another thing you learned about yourself while studying abroad.

Remember to have fun

sunSince I was at Sussex for the year, I had two assessment periods: one in January and one in May. I woke up on Christmas morning, and before I even remembered it was Christmas, I thought about the papers I needed to write. Once I realised what day it was, I stopped worrying and enjoyed the day with my family. I had plenty of time to revise and write papers in the coming weeks. Remember, studying abroad isn’t just about grades, it’s about the entire experience – you get much more out if it than just a transcript.

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