Exams = stuDYING

Veni, Vidi, Vici (English: I came, I saw, I conquered).

EXAMS, the most dreaded word in the English language for any students anywhere in the world… So what is the difference between Toronto and Brussels during this stressful period?

In Brussels exams start in January right after the holiday break and this is their only exam period for the first semester. At uoft we have several exams, midterms, projects, lab work (sometimes), tutorials (sometimes), participation marks and the final exams that make up your final grade. Here you’ve got only one shot (WTF), everything you’ve learned from September until the end of the semester you’ve got to learn…so you might think “Nazanin, that doesn’t seem to bad, you’ve got soooo much time to study plus the Christmas/new year’s holiday”. Well, reason would suggest that you are right, yet there is something called “procrastination”; (*sight*). You really need to be on top of your game the entire semester, learn periodically, so you don’t have a million pages to understand and memorize. Also, they have a very peculiar number of courses, some courses start in October, some courses finish in November, some courses you have the exam in January others in June. Therefore, in January you can have 3 exams and then in June 8 exams (yes, 8!!!! That’s a lot, don’t you think??).

If you don’t pass the exam you have to redo the exam in August unless you are in 1st year then you’ve got another shot in June. Therefore, a lot of students decide not to write the test in January, or they come to look at the exam and if they see that it’s hard they hand in their test early.

How is the grading system? when do you fail? When do you pass? At uoft you need a 50/100 in Brussels and I think in most universities in Europe your grade is out of 20. You need to have 12/20 to pass a course, 12 is a 60/100 which seems doable yet it’s very hard considering that every 0.1 or any number after the “.” is so precious. In one of my exams I had a question that was worth 0.2 marks, so you see how every little bit helps.

Below: 10/20 everywhere in the world, totally disgusted ; at ULB 10/20 I’m a genius

Also at ULB you can get 2 types of exams, it’s either written or oral exams. I never had oral exams so I was really worried about them. My mom, who studied in Brussels, told me her experience in oral exams and she said she liked them better than written exams because you could interact with the prof and in written exams you get marks removed if you have spelling/grammar errors. She also told me that in her days there was a dress code, i.e. men in suits and women in dresses or skirts, no pants. For my exams I think things changed; I wore no jeans, yet no dress/skirt, because most people were casually dressed. For my first oral exam, I had 10 min to analyze a French text and then say what I found. You really need to stay calm during these situations, I didn’t have time to read the entire the passage but I kept my cool and everything went fine. Then for my 2nd exam, I chose a letter which was randomly assigned to a question, sat down and I had 15 min to write down my answers on a scrap paper while the student before me said her answers. It was a bit intimidating to hear the person in front of you say their answer especially if their questions were easier than yours. I think the best strategy here is to say everything you know and show to the prof that you’ve studied and that you are interested in his course (…even it might not always be true).

Then there are multiple choice questions, most people like those tests, but you would like them less if you would get 3 marks for a good answer, -1 for a wrong answer and 0 for not answering. You have 48 questions, so what is here the best strategy? Of course answering as many questions as possible, but then how many questions should you guess? How many should you leave blank in order to maximize your grade and pass? Also in this exam the prof put 6 pictures on slides, each slide was changing after a few seconds. I wasn’t happy with this situation because I am just a little blind, hence the glasses, and I was seating at the very back of the room… why didn’t he just add all 6 pictures at the end of the question package? Another unusual thing was that we had to answer 2 scantrons one lose paper and one was stapled to the exam/question package, why?  “in case we lose one of your answer sheets”. (what??? Why would you want to lose an EXAM??)

However, this wasn’t the weirdest thing that happened, my roommate told me that after they were told to stop writing their test, a girl didn’t listen and erased something on her paper. The prof came, took her exam and do you think he wrote 0 on it? Well, actually no, he…wait for it… RIPPPED HER TEST IN 2!!! That’s a really harsh way to tell somebody they got 0, don’t you think? Yet, I think that’s just one weird exception, most profs at ULB are really nice and I found them especially nice in my oral exams.

And the final topic: the exam seating system. In a 3 hours exam, you actually had less time because they needed 30min or 1hrs just to seat 500 people. I like our system in which we have an entire building only for exams, the well known Examination Center in which there are a lot of medium/big size room, the seats are comfortable and the individual desks are great. I wonder what the teachers at ULB would have done if they had to seat my first year bio class in which we were almost 2000 students…

Although we all love to conquer all of our exams, you got to keep in mind “the important thing in life is fighting well, not conquering” (Baron Pierre de Coubertin).

Until next time’s happier topic,

Lots of kisses,


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