Friday, December 4, 2015

Four differences between French and American universities

Hey friends! As I head into my final exam weeks I thought I would share some of the differences between French and American Universities. Most things are very similar to my University in New Mexico, but there are some things that took me a while to get used to. 

1- Lecture based classes. 
In NM, most of my classes are very discussion based. In fact, many times part of my grade will come from how much I participate in discussions in class. Here its completely different. In most classes the teacher simply lectures. If you have questions then sometimes they will let you ask them. The professors are easier on the language learning students than they would be on native French speaking students. I've been told that in classes with all native French speakers the professors rarely take questions. The one exception to the is my language class that I have for two hours every day. This is where we learn basic things like grammar, verb tenses, vocabulary, and sentence structure. We have lots of discussions in this class. 

Yes, I go to school here. Yes, its crazy.

2- Test based classes
In NM most of my class grade comes from a combination of attendance, participation, projects, papers, presentations, and exams. In French most classes grade solely on attendance and exams. Some don't even use attendance. 

3- Grades are discussed
Grades are a pretty secretive thing at my university. The professor usually takes extra measures to make sure that we don't see each others grades. Its like there is an unspoken rules that nobody but you and the professor ever should know what grade you have. I was a little surprised when professors here started talking about what grades the class got. I was even more surprised when they started naming who got the best and worst! Not in a mean way, just in an informative way. The attitude about grades here is much less secretive. 

The campus is such a beautiful combination of old and new. 

4- Grading
Speaking of grading, the system used here is definitely the thing that has taken me the longest to get used to. French schools use a 20 point grading system, but it doesn't transfer to US grading systems the way you might think. For example, in NM a really good grade would be in the 90's, and passing is in the 70's. You would think that this would mean a really good grade in the French system in 18+ and passing would be 14. In one of my first assignments here I got a 12 and freaked out. But in France tests are not designed in the same way. Professors never expect students to get all the questions right. To pass a test you have to get 10/20, so a score of 12 is actually more like a B in US grading. An A would be around 14+ and a very good score is anything 16+. My professors have told me that no one ever scores 20/20 and if you manage to score 18+ then you are in the very top percentage of students at the university. Last week a girl in my culture class scored 17.5 on a test and my professor applauded her in front of the whole class. It's all super confusing. I'm just happy my score of 12 didn't mean I was failing. 

(Photo creds:, Xin Li 88 / / CC BY-NC-ND,