This is the story of how I coped with my finals this semester at the University of Queensland (UQ) as an exchange student from the United States.
The first thing you should know about Australian finals is that it is not confined to a single finals week, but extends for about three weeks. You have the same number of finals as you would in the United States, but a wider amount of time in which to take them.
The second thing you should know is that the week after classes end and before finals begin is called reading week, and it is an entire week off from university for studying or vacationing or whatever you choose.
The third thing you should know is that generally, or at least for all of my classes, you have about three or four things worth grading the entire semester (participation/attendance, a midterm paper or exam, maybe some tutorial work or quizzes, and the final) which normally makes the final worth 50% of your class grade, or more.
I returned home to Brisbane after a weeklong trip (and missing classes) the Monday of reading week, and soon began looking over all of the material I had yet to learn for all of my classes and prioritizing the classes I was the least prepared for. My reading week, like many others, began with me behind in multiple classes and with many online lectures left unwatched. I had hardly started studying for classes and it was nearly finals week. On top of that, I was spending about half of my remaining reading week on vacation in the Whitsunday Islands.
I could only be comforted in the fact that my first exam wasn’t until the second week of finals. That, and every outside person I told or who asked me if I had started studying for my finals was genuinely impressed and surprised that I had ALREADY started studying by the second day of the reading period.
So that Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of reading week I spent the entire day making study guides and filling out all of the class objectives for my first exam, which was for the class I knew the least about – management. After about 15 pages of that I was prepared for a little vacation.
That Saturday I flew out to Airlie beach and didn’t return from the amazing Whitsundays until the following Tuesday. Soon after I was beginning to really feel the exam week stress. My first exam was coming up fast, and even though we have three weeks in which our exams are held, all of mine still ended up taking place within a single weeklong timeframe — two of them being on the same day.
This was enough to keep me locked in my room all day studying, but my responsibilities back in the United States began to demand more and more from me during this time as well. Class registration opened up for the spring 2016 semester and I registered at 1:30 pm, or 5:30 am Queensland time. Of course I am STILL emailing advisors and biting my nails for that one class I really need but still don’t have. I needed to organize my winter employment, and find a place to live when I returned to Madison in the spring. It was also the time of year that scholarship applications come out. My attention needed to be split between my exams here in Queensland and my responsibilities back at home.
And then exam day came, and my first exam was unlike any other exam I have ever taken. Nearly all of my four classes gave the layout of the entire exam, the number of short answers, multiple choice, and essays, and in what order and the likely topics of each well beforehand, yet I was still not prepared for what exam day held. I do not know if I missed some kind of orientation or exam procedure discussion, but I walked into the hall in which my exam was to be held and I knew immediately that there was a strict and well known process for taking an exam that I was not aware of.
Before entering the exam room it was clear that I was only allowed to bring the necessary items into my exam (pencil/pen and student ID). As I walked into the exam room my ID was checked and my picture carefully matched to my face, and I was given an orange seat number card: 601. When I entered the enormous lecture hall and saw all of the four-legged desks arranged in rows and sections by color and seat number the first thought I had was that someone put way to much effort into making this. I found my seat with the help of one of the many proctors for the exam and on my desk were four exam-related papers. In the corner of my desk were my seat number and an attendance slip.
Australia takes exams very seriously.
At exam time, it was announced that we were all allowed to pick up a writing utensil and fill out our attendance card (name, ID number, class number, etc). Shortly after we were made to put everything down and check quickly that we had all of the pages of our exam papers. I was scolded for holding my pen in my hand while flipping over the corner of each exam page to check the numbers. When it was clear that everyone had the correct and full exam, we were allowed to fill in our personal information on the front of all of the exam materials: the exam paper, answer booklet, and scantron. Then it was announced that we had ten minutes of reading time in which all writing utensils must be away and we were allowed to read through the exam but not answer any questions or make any marks. This time I was very careful to keep my pens and pencils far away from me.
At the end of our ten minutes of reading time it was announced that we could begin our exam. During this time a proctor came down the aisles to check everyone’s student ID photo again and collect the seat number cards and attendance sheets.
Not only was the process of taking an exam so different from in the US, but the exam itself was like something I’d never seen. Each two-hour exam I took had a total of five to seven questions. Each of these five questions had any number and type of sub-questions. One of my classes had two to three short answers and four or five multiple choice sub-questions per each question. And each of these questions had to be answered not directly on the exam, but in the answer booklet. The answer booklet contained about fourteen pages of lined writing paper with a heading in which to put the number of the question you are answering.
For one of my exams I had a scantron for the multiple choice questions. For another, I had to write my multiple choice answers in my answer booklet. I personally found this to be very confusing for the student and probably for the grader too. You can answer the questions in any order in the booklet and there are no designated ways to organize or format your answers on each blank notebook page. I left my first exam sure that I had filled it out completely differently than what is normally ‘acceptable.’
I began to become more used to the exams by the time my last one passed. I will be awaiting my final grades until December 2nd when all class grades are posted online or sent via text. I feel I did well overall in each class. At times it was difficult to gauge how well I was actually doing in a class because the grading scale is so different, but from my understanding, a score of 85 or higher should get me an A in a class.
In total, Australian finals are very different from the ones I’m used to, and the lack of small assignments and tests throughout the year really allows a student to lose sight of classes and studying if they aren’t careful. But it really is an experience to make you realize that there is more than one way people take finals around the world and ultimately that there’s always more than one way of experiencing the same thing.
Thanks for reading!