Relief. Current mood.
I have just finished my first set of Midterms at UBC.
For those of you who don’t know, midterms are exams in the middle of semester. They have definitely not been the highlight of my time in Canada so far but they are an unavoidable part of my year abroad.
So, what are my feelings on midterms?
Well if you do well in them I really like them as they take a lot of heat off the final exam and your overall grade. However, if you happen to crash and burn in them like I did for one of my classes then the pressure is on to do well in the remaining percentage you have for that class.
Whether I like them or not I was definitely not prepared as I should have been for them. Being so soon after semester starting most students here begin studying in week 2 for exams (I understand we should do this as well in Glasgow… but we don’t). This was a bit of a hurdle for me, having just moved to Vancouver wanting to meet friends/study partners/sight see etc.
For some of my classes I did not have the appropriate pre requisites from Glasgow, this was another obstacle to initially overcome and to also try not panic about. For other however I have covered some of the material in previous years. I suppose it’s all a balancing act.
Midterms for me are an obstacle in the middle of the semester. I like to organise what classes I will put a lot of effort into early in the semester (usually the conceptually harder courses or ones with a large amount of content). Having to study for midterms can often get in the way of preparing other classes. And on top of continuous assignments it’s hard to know when to stop studying for midterms and finish that assignment that needs to be in for the day after. I find it hard to gauge the difference between a D and an A before sitting an exam.
A typical course assessment for me so far at UBC looks something like this:
40-60% Final Exam
15-20% Second Midterm (if applicable)
10-20% Class Quizzes
This is only what I have encountered so far and from speaking to other students. Check online if you are considering a year here. Oh an also, you have to pass the final exam anyway to achieve a pass at UBC… You should also be aware that a pass is 50%. That’s right ladies and gentlemen D’s do not get degree’s over here :(.
Ok, so I am not just going to complain.
I really like assignments (especially when they are easy and worth a lot of marks). Most courses give students assignments here. There are basically the same as tutorials we would get at Glasgow but they are worth a small amount of marks. This really pushes you to learn the subject as the marks act like an incentive. I have had this previously at Glasgow and really liked it as well. The other thing is that assignments tend to be like hard tutorial questions. So they take a bit of time and effort but once you can do them you should in theory be able to handle most questions that appear in an exam. They are a great bonus to your mark (if you do well in them obviously). It also means that the lecturer is able to assess you on all aspects of his course throughout the semester.
The one thing you NEED to do when working through hard assignments is have a group of people you can study with and bounce around ideas. This is easy at Glasgow, because you made all your friends in first year. But on exchange everyone already has made their friends and you are the outsider trying to squeeze your way into their friends circle…
You absolutely need to do this though, and it’s hard because there are only 2/3mins before and after each lecture that you can realistically talk to people! So, my solution, go to departmental social events and meet people that you have seen in your lectures!
This is one of the reasons I miss Glasgow’s tutorial sessions. They are very helpful if used correctly. Speaking to students on exchange or studying at UBC for their full degree it seems like Glasgow does tutorials right. A tutorial at UBC (and at many other universities) consists of the entire class watching a grad student go through problems at the front of the class. Basically I would call this a lecture. Tutorials back in UofG are better organised. Usually a small portion of the class receive help in an pre assigned slot where there are multiple grad students and often the lecturer is there as well to assist. If only the tutorial problems back at UofG were worth a tiny percentage then more students would make use of this great service.
In conclusion I think there are good and bad things about the style of assessment at each university. Maybe semester 2 will be easier as I will know what to expect and how early to begin studying.