Posted by: brookenado | February 29, 2012

You say “tomAto”, I say “tomato”

Dear readers,

I may have briefly mentioned the less stressful nature of the academic system here in a previous post.  Well the end of the Spring term is quickly approaching and I’ve had some time to contemplate the differences between the education systems of the U.S. and the UK.

Anyone currently enrolled in a university in the United States will know that every two or three weeks you are scrambling to study for a test, finish a paper, or put those final touches on a presentation.  The amount of tests or papers invariably depends on one’s major, yet there is always something stress inducing that occurs in increments of about 3 weeks.  Sometimes it’s one big thing per week for 3 weeks in a row; other times it’s the dreaded “Hell Week” (and God help you if you’ve managed multiple of these in a row!).   If you have somehow skirted by this in college thus far, you can count yourself lucky for this certainly seems to be the standard.  Classes tend to have a more rigorous schedule, meeting more times a week than a UK equivalent, but results in a more personal class environment in most cases.

The pros?  Having multiple assessments means multiple chances to prove your knowledge of a subject, there is room for improvement and second chances, and as far as papers and presentations go, you are honing writing, organizational, and speaking skills.  Learn to manage time effectively between academic and the social events.

The cons?  Stress induced semesters!  Less time to experience the “college life”, to explore clubs, societies, or pursue interests which may lead to career development; a lack of time for social activities could negatively affect social and interpersonal skills that are important in life.

From my short time studying at Sussex (I’m 2 months in of my near 6 month stay), I’ve found that students regularly have one written assignment or project, along with one presentation in the Spring term (10 weeks).  Projects will be assessed, and presentations tend to be un-assessed, while papers could be either.  The class usually consist of one lecture a week and one seminar or lab each week, possibly every other week.  The lectures are larger and less interactive than a normal U.S. class.  After a four week break, students will return for the Summer term (another 10 weeks).  Some classes, such as my own, are both Spring and Summer term meaning that their Summer schedule only goes until week 5, or sometimes will meet just once or twice again in those first 5 weeks of the Summer term.  Others will enroll in strictly Summer term classes.  All exams for any full length Spring term course (1 of my own classes is such), Summer term course, or courses across both terms will be taken in the Summer term.  This will also be the time that major essays, which would be the main form of assessment in place of an exam, will be due.  That being said, I don’t know much about how the Autumn term works though I’ve heard that exams can be held after the winter break (and studying is not a way I’d imagine anyone wants to spend their holidays).

The pros?  Lesser turned in work makes classes seem more manageable; life is less stressful.  More time to engage in social activities and enjoy a crucial part of college and becoming an adult, more time to focus on career oriented goals, and could also promote time management for those consciously avoiding procrastination on the few assignments.

The cons?  One Spring term to U.S. standard is broken up, resulting in a month long period between a Spring course and it’s exam.  More reading to keep up with when there are less deadlines and graded work.  Some classes rely on one paper or the one exam to assess knowledge of the course.

This last point is constantly debated by the international students: is it a pro or a con?  Many seem to find the lack of assessed material throughout the terms to cause a lack of motivation and a higher degree of stress for the fear of screwing up the one assessment.  I’m of the opposite opinion.  Ok, I’m hoping I don’t sound too stuck up here, but I actually attend classes out of a genuine interest in learning (well, mostly) and so don’t mind being assessed simply once or twice.  The student seems to be given a greater degree of freedom in what they choose to pursue for their end of term papers and projects because of this.  The exams seem to be similar to an AP or IB exam and will either be a test or a list of essay questions where the student will choose multiple prompts to  write out in a few hours.  This is certainly doable, and while I understand the fear of having just the one chance to succeed, I’m enjoying having more free time.  I admit, I’m not the best at studying so I much prefer putting the time and energy into studying hard for one exam than multiple exams every few weeks – the latter seems to drain my academic enthusiasm more so.

Of course, we’ll see how my views change once the Summer term and subsequent papers and exams loom overhead!  This discussion has been directed towards work and assessment logistics thus far.  But I’d also like to put in a comment on the overall education systems.  In the UK a student must begin to choose their narrower area of study in high school.  Because of this, a general degree in university takes only three years.  If you are anything like me, however, and find interest in many different areas (and has a hard time making decisions…), then I imagine this would have been extremely difficult.  And so I’m grateful for having the opportunity to study multiple subjects in college.

I find there are merits to both systems of education.  Perhaps just a little less tests and papers on the average American student could go a long way to improving a student’s overall mood, though.  Despite what it sometimes seems, students are incredibly talented, creative, and driven (back me up here, guys).  Given the time and opportunities, students can accomplish amazing feats and gain the confidence to display their unique talents to offer to the world or develop ones they never new they had!  Give us a chance and I think you would be pleasantly surprised.  If you don’t believe me, read a copy of a student run newspaper, or a student’s submissions to the creative writing and art magazine on campus, a student interview in a scientific research journal, or attend a comedy or music night at a bar featuring local student talent.  Of course, there is still going to be the “green beer days” and any other grasped at opportunity to celebrate in the collegiate fashion!

I know what you’re thinking…

And with that, readers, I’ll leave you to reminisce on the “good old days” and/or get back to those “studies”! 😉  Life is what we make it after all, and we have the power to choose how our time is spent despite the schedules we are given to work around.  So said, another post with actual updates on my week will be coming soon.  Thanks for reading, cheers!  Until then…

Mischief managed



  1. […] the UK, I’m also regretting the loss of that system (check out my post on the difference at if you want more info!).  Funnily enough, more tedious coursework, an increase in lectures rather […]

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