University exams: what I’ve experienced so far



I know what intimidated me as I was entering university: exams. I wondered . . . How hard would they be? What kind of formats would be used? What was a bell curve?

I still don’t know what a bell curve is, but I can tell you about what I’ve experienced as a student so far. Here is what I’ve learned in my first two years of university.

In first year, exams are easy, but not that easy. Is that confusing? What I mean to say is that most freshman classes are about foundations: review, skills development, basics. Professors are preparing you for the rest of university, not blowing your mind with Confucian philosophy and obscure political theories.

Don’t be mistaken. You’ll still have to work hard. Your grades will probably drop as well. But you’ll get the hang of it.

International studies and politics courses usually have essay questions & short answers on exams, not just memory work. These essays emphasize concepts.

As a student writing an essay exam, your role is to identify relevant concepts to an exam question and then to make connections between them. Your ability to memorize will be important, but not in the way it might have been important in your high school. Specifics are less important. 

Overarching themes, networks of knowledge, big ideas. That’s where it’s at.

Average exam length is 2 to 3 hours. That may sound like a lot, but it flies! Personally, I get hungry all the time, so I bring snacks to exams to keep my energy level up.

Smoothie photo cred: Stefan G. C.

Full year international studies & politics courses have yearly or bi-yearly exams. However, other courses (e.g. psychology, natural science, modes of reasoning) stress memorization of specific information so  they have several unit tests throughout the year, rather than one or two exams.

You can expect your profs to be merciful! When I came to university, I was expecting my professors to nail me on exams during my first year. Instead, they prepared me for my exams, telling me what to expect, and giving fair evaluations. I got everything I needed to do well.

So there you have it. University exams aren’t so bad! And I still haven’t mentioned the best thing about them. They are the precursor to 4 glorious months of summer vacation.

Questions? Leave them in the comments! I want to know what you think 🙂


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