The thought of doing exams in a foreign language is enough to make the strongest of stomachs empty its contents; but the year abroad can’t be all jollies to Germany and exciting new experiences!
The first point I’d make, however, is that exams here actually make a lot more sense. Instead of trying to trip you up with an awkwardly worded question or asking about something that was mentioned in one lecture for three seconds, they give you the opportunity to show what you know. Many exams I’ve done have just given me a subject to write about and I’ve had to come up with my own ‘problematic’ to give my essay an angle. This makes exams a lot less stressful.
In the UK exams are not a test of knowledge; they are a test of speed. Can you write fifty essays in half an hour? Now solve a thousand quadratic equations in the next ten seconds. Remember, you have it easy, in my day we did twice as much in half the time and no one ever got an A! In France they give you a wee bit more time. In one exam I had four hours to write one essay. This gave me time to plan and think. I actually thought about what I wrote rather than just vomiting a string of words that might have something to do with the subject.
There is a generally more relaxed atmosphere in a French exam hall. At home I’ve always felt under intense suspicion; any coughs are clearly Morse code for an answer and being caught cheating equals a violent death. Here they seem to barely consider the idea that someone would cheat. I noticed one girl’s phone going off and saw it was placed in front of her, the teacher didn’t seem bothered. Bags are allowed to be left next to you, not miles away at the other end of the exam hall. Many subjects even let you use your own paper instead of providing the CIA approved anti-fraud paper that I presume we are given.
I don’t want you to think that French exams are all flowers and loveliness though. The standard contempt for students that French university administrations feel does show here. Imagine getting up on a Saturday for 8am to do 8 hours of exams. I managed to get through this without a coffee IV, but I’m not sure how. Some subjects don’t give you an exam period, you do your exams at the end of the semester. This means there’s no revision break, you have to juggle revision and classes; I genuinely missed my usual exam routine this year.
So it’s not a perfect system, but there are things we could learn from it. Although it’s not as bad at university as it was during A-Levels, I still think we should be given longer in exams. I don’t see the point in making students write sub-par essays because they don’t have enough time. We don’t learn anything and the marker has the joy of deciphering scrawl that doctors would take pride in. The lack of time has certainly made me panic in past exams and not do my best. So I’m hoping that I can take the generally more relaxed attitude towards exams that I’ve gained here and maybe even pass my final year. Fingers crossed!