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Journals from England Fall, (University of Nottingham)

2009-10-15 Academics, or: Time to Get to Work

Thursday 15 Oct. 2009 Nottingham, England 23:08 I have been at the University of Nottingham for a little over a month now, so I think it is an appropriate time to reflect on one of the reasons I am here: Academics. The University of Nottingham is home to more than 20,000 students; the first year class alone is several times larger than the entire student body at Linfield. Needless to say, going to school here is extremely different from the Linfield experience. While applying to colleges and universities after graduating high school, I really didn't consider any public schools. Too large, I thought; too anonymous. I wanted to know my professors, have class sizes of 30 students, and have a personalized university experience. I certainly got all of that at Linfield, and now I get to contrast it with this massive university and massive campus (one of several scattered throughout Nottinghamsire). Going to school here has been a blast. For all of my experiences, I'm never sure whether to attribute them to the public university system or the United Kingdom university system. I guess I should start with my classes, though. I am taking 50 credits (Linfield equivalent of 15 credits) over four courses: Canadian Women Writers, Introduction to Shakespeare, History of English Literature, and Linguistics. My Canadian writers class has only 15 students in it, but my other three classes are much larger, with classes ranging from 150-300 students, I would estimate. Classes here are split into three categories: lectures, seminars, and workshops. Every course has a lecture, and most of them will have either a seminar or a workshop later in the week where you are split into a smaller group of 10-30 students. Lectures are almost entirely just note-taking sessions, with maybe a few prompts by the professor and a few questions from the class. Usually, your input must wait until seminars, where you get a better chance to ask questions in a smaller, more conversation-based class. Unlike Linfield, your grades for your classes here are determined by one or two large final assignments, and maybe a mid-term. For all of my classes, I am writing final essays of about 2,500-3,000 words, and a few of my classes also have an exam at the very end of the semester. This is a lot of pressure, and it means you can't just wait until the end of the semester to start studying; you need to keep up with the reading and even try to get ahead so you can spend some time doing supplementary research and reading extra material on the topic of your essay. This means a lot of independent study. Since I have only about 7 hours of lecture per week, I spend most of my free time during the morning and afternoons in the library, where I bring along several books and try to get as much reading done as possible. I have been traveling throughout England most weekends, so the bulk of my homework gets done during the week. Bringing a book along on the train is a great way to kill a few hours and make some progress on your reading as well. All in all, I think the classes at Nottingham ask more of you as a student than most of the classes at Linfield. You are expected to motivate yourself, and no one will notice if you skip your classes when you are only 1 of 300 students. However, that means it's up to you to get your work done and stay on task. You have to take the initiative to do the research for your essays and spend the time studying the course material and supplementary readings to do well on your finals. When your finals are 80-100% of your final grade, you don't want to leave this up to eleventh-hour cramming sessions. While classes here are difficult, they are by no means impossible. They just require you to be organized and motivated; you need to have a good sense of how long it will take you to do the required reading and leave time for your independent research. If you do that, you can still enjoy your weekends and see all that England has to offer without sacrificing your grade point average. One thing to keep in mind: the grading system in England is much different from that of the United States. In most classes, an 80% or above is considered exemplary, and if you get that good of a grade on an essay it is nearly good enough to be published in an academic journal. 70-75% is considered a very good grade, while a 65-69% is considered a proficient standard. 60-64% is a good understanding with some flaws in the arguments, and a 55-59 means the majority of your work is at a competent standard. In other words, there is no such thing as grade inflation here. Your grades are not really comparable with the Linfield standard, so you should throw away any prejudices you have against getting a C in a class. I am not positive about this, but I believe that Linfield will try to compensate this by bumping up your grade slightly from what you receive at Nottingham in your courses. But knowing this has taught me one thing: As a standard by which we judge our own performance, grades don't really matter. If you work hard you will be rewarded accordingly, and whatever label your work receives is held up to a subjective standard. That's true in England, and that's true in the U.S. I think going to school here has taught me to throw away my preconceptions about grades, because I'm not really working toward a certain letter grade, I'm just trying to do a good job in my classes and working hard so I can write what I consider to be good final essays. - Jordan Jacobo

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