Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Engima of 16

Thursday, December 10, 2009
Yesterday morning I had my first exam, which I was sure would be my hardest: an oral explanation of a term from my Intro to Linguistics class at the university.

I was convinced it would be impossible to do well. There was way to much information to study. I had no idea what sort of knowledge level the professor was expecting, or how long she was expecting me to speak. And there was no way I'd be able to memorize 20+ definitions verbatim in French in the few days leading up to the exam.

Yet I received a 17/20... an A in the French system is a 16. In other words, an "impossible" grade. And all I had to do was repeat the important points of a certain theory we had gone over in class, along with some supplemental information. It barely took 5 minutes.

My host mom has gotten into the habit of teasing me each time I come home with an exceptional grade, simply because the first time it happened I was incredibly surprised. But I wasn't just being modest - it was a history mid-term, composed of several short-answer questions. And I knew I had forgotten several important details. Yet I received a 16.

As you all know, it's not that good grades are anything serendipitous for me. But with only a mid-term, perhaps a paper, and a final to evaluate my progress for the semester, it's been hard to determine if my work level measures up to the French education system, even at IES. There's no cushion to cultivate the learning curve.

With our system of more frequent, progressive evaluation, professors can really foster their students' learning, until the students themselves want to learn more about the topic than what's covered in class and form their own opinions on the subject.

I have noticed that I'm not as excited about my grades here. Perhaps because a 16/20 still leaves room for plenty of mistakes. But why is it that we shoot for perfection, while the French aim for a mysterious level showing a certain amount of knowledge? Are American exams easier? Do our professors expect more of us?

I'm still trying to figure it out. 3 exams to go!


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