The ‘study’ part of ‘study abroad

Apologies for the wait since my last blog. The reason for the delay has been mainly classes and exams, therefore it seems only appropriate that this be the topic of this blog entry (although apologies that it’s not so festive!).

The way courses and exams work in Helsinki is very different from home and takes some getting used to, though it does have several advantages. Courses can be anything from 3 days to a couple of weeks and, at the end of the period, there is an assessment. This means no study break and therefore the readings cannot be left to last minute, as they often are at home. Turns out doing an hour of reading every couple of days is much easier than leaving it all to the last minute (who would have guessed!). There are lecture courses and seminars – grades of seminar courses often depend on some class discussions and input. Generally there are no tutorials though there are some exceptions to this – where there are tutorials they are as they are in Glasgow, supplementary to lectures and with participation grades.

As I said – immediately after classes comes an assessment. This has the dual effect of making exams feel like largely unimportant class tests and giving you no time to ‘revise’. As a result this takes some getting used to but ultimately means no period of horrific stress in the run up to Christmas!

The assessments can come in different forms – an open book exam, a closed book exam or an essay (usually due around a month after the end of classes). There are much more open book exams than at home so this eases the stress. Nonetheless my advice (from personal experience) would be not to open the book for the first time when you enter the exam hall!

Over each semester you are required to take 30 ECTS (60 Glasgow credits). The majority of courses at Helsinki are around 4-6 credits. This means, compared to Glasgow you take much more courses. As they run for shorter terms, this doesn’t mean there is any more work but that you get to studying a wider range of subjects. This is particularly useful as you will be looking to what you want to ‘specialise’ in at honours in 4th year and this gives you a taste of a whole range of subjects. There is also a much greater emphasis, of course, on international law and, in particular, on public international law, as well as the theories of law in a modern perspective. While his course wasn’t greatly to my taste I would strongly recommend law students attend Martti Koskenniemi class on legal theory (or any of his classes if he happens to take something else). He is a celebrated Finnish academic and diplomat and is an incredibly interesting lecturer.

If you stay for two semesters you will complete 60 ECTS and half of these will count towards your degree. This, along with the attitude of Helsinki University, gives you a lot of flexibility and control in your studies. You can fail as much as you like, so long as you come back with at least 60 credits. This means you can attend a few lectures, decide its not for you and not return, thus only study that which you are really interested in. Furthermore for exams you are always entitled to a resit and your best mark is always taken into account. Therefore you can always attempt to better your mark. The way courses are graded in Helsinki is a 5-1 scale. This converts to Glasgow grades as follows:  5= A3; 4= B1; 3= B3; 2= C2; and 1= D2. In my experience the majority will get 4s and 5s.

The way you register for classes is very different to Glasgow – registration will open at midnight 30 days before the class starts (at various points through out the semester). With some classes limited to 16 this can lead to a very stressful 5 minutes but ultimately there is always enough room for most, and (from experience) if a class is oversubscribed, the lecturer may increase the size of the class.

Questions? feel free to email me on


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