5 Differences Between US and UK Academic Systems – Isabel Lohr

As an education major, I have spent a lot of my time in different schools learning different teaching styles. Coming to the UK has shown me a new and more focused style of teaching and learning. These are the 5 main differences I found and how to get used to them.

Liberal arts do not exist in the UK

Most universities and colleges in the US have a liberal arts or gen ed component regardless of what your major is. In the UK, students fulfill their general ed requirements prior to starting at uni, so when they start their undergraduate degree, they choose their major and only take classes in their discipline. What that means is that while I may be an English major, English students from the UK have taken 3 times the amount of English courses I have.

While sitting in my first English class, I felt intimidated by the author-dropping coming from the students around me. I didn’t know many of the concepts they were taught in their first years, but I realized I knew so much they did not. I was able to pull from the other disciplines I have taken classes in, such as biology and psychology, and use them to further class discussions. Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know but use this experience to learn so much more!

Seminar vs lecture

Many classes come in two parts — seminar and lecture. The separation of these classes allows for students to take control of their learning. In lecture, the professor focuses on a topic that students have already read about. Doing the reading will drastically help you connect dots and prepare discussion points for the seminar.  In seminar, students become the presenters while the professor oversees the discussion. The topic from lecture typically evolves with new ideas during seminar. These two class styles come together to give students the opportunity to discuss their point of view and explore more learning possibilities.

Less class time means more study time

At Queen Mary University of London, I am considered an associate student which means I am a student spending a semester or full year studying at QMUL completing academic work that will be credited towards my degree at my home university. As an associate student, each of my classes are 2 hours long and 1 day a week. This sounds amazing (and it is), but it also created a time management issue. I have 5 times the reading assigned here than I did in the States. I am expected to do all of the readings and be prepared with an opinion on all topics before class. If nobody is prepared, the professor is 100% ok sitting in awkward silence!

Grades are based on your final exam.

In the States, most classes have weekly assignments and grades. It is exactly the opposite in the UK; I only have 2 grades in each of my 4 classes. Like most other things in the UK education system, this sounds amazing at first but in reality, it causes a lot of stress. My final is 70% of my total grade, so if I do not do well on this one assignment my entire grade suffers. The most important thing to keep in mind is to not let it weigh on you constantly, but instead prepare bit by bit all semester so you are ready for the exam or project.

The grading system is VERY different.

Lastly, an A in your module (course) is a final grade anywhere from a 70.0-100.0. A 69.9-60.0 is considered a B, a 59.9-50.0 is considered a C, and a 49.9-40.0 is considered a D. Whatever letter grade you get while studying at QMUL will be the letter grade that your home university takes as your final grade. Again, this may sound amazing but in all reality it is just as difficult as getting an A at your home university. If you receive above an 85 on a paper, it means the professor would consider it publishable. While a high grade is difficult to achieve, it is possible especially with the help of your professors.

There are obviously so many other differences, but these are the few that either shocked me or made me nervous. During my IFSA orientation, the staff made all of these differences known to us and answered all of our questions (and trust me I asked a lot). Do not worry over the small differences you will find, but rather embrace them and ask for help from IFSA and QMUL’s amazing resident staff members. The reality is when my time in the UK is over I will be more focused and passionate about my studies. These differences are what will make me a better student and scholar and enrich my education experience when I return to my home university.

Isabel Lohr is an English and Secondary Education major at the University of Tulsa and studies with IFSA at Queen Mary University of London in Spring 2019. She is an International Correspondent from IFSA through the Work-to-Study Program.

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