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How are exams in your country?

  1. Jan 22, 2016 #1
    I currently study physics in Belgium and I'd like to do a Master somewhere else in Europe. But even if you aren't from Europe, I'd like to read your experience on that matter.
    My problem is that I'm literally sick with the way the exams go in my country. We finish the semester's courses, then 2 weeks without nothing (during which we study as hard as we can) and then 3 weeks of exams. Our teachers ask us questions of pure memorization so we just have to study by heart, we have exercices too but nothing different from what we do during lessons.
    I have difficulties with that, and I get bad grades although I understand everything we learn and I'm able to manipulate all these concepts. I really have my "mental image" of these ideas, if you know what I mean. I hate studying by heart yet that's what I'm supposed to do as many hours as possible a day, but I already understood what I'm studying and working this way doesn't improve my knowledge, I even feel I regress in some way. I'd like to spend more time "explorating" the subjects, testing ideas to see where it leads, but we're never asked to have such reflexions on the subject and I just don't understand why universities work this way (here, or everywhere?). I mean, we're not tested on any quality a good physicist should have, except maybe perseverance because the exams are more of a psychological trial than an intellectual one.
    I really want to become a physicist, I've tried to do other studies since these ones weren't going as well as they should but I just felt empty so I came back. If I have to spend years studying mindlessly to achieve this, I'll do it but I cannot believe there isn't actually an intelligent way to study physics somewhere, where understanding and reasoning are more important than perfect return of teacher's words.
    So I'm asking you, how is it where you study/studied? Is it worse or is it like in my dreams? Do you know universities than are different from my description? If you think my expectations are stupid, you can say it too, I won't take offense.
    Thanks for reading!
     
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  3. Jan 22, 2016 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    Exams in NZ try to focus on your understanding of the material and your ability to work things out instead of rote knowledge and recall. The ability to improvise and solve problems in the field is highly valued here - even more than the raw grade you get in an exam.
    At college level there is usually a mixture of exams and coursework, and some courses have practical exercizes that count towards the final mark.
    I'm sure there are similar courses in Belgian Universities, you just have to find them. Ironically, in NZ, students typically hate the practical/coursework assessment courses, much preferring an end of year exam they can swot hard for at the last minute and still pass.

    Probably you should try to find a University with an active physics research program ... they will be interested in building up students with novel thought processes, who are primarily problem solvers.
     
  4. Jan 23, 2016 #3

    jtbell

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    Are those exams the only thing that determines your grade (mark) in the course? I'm aware that it's like that in many countries.

    In the US, the final exam is usually only part of the grade, often not even the majority of the grade. In the undergraduate courses that I've taught during > 25 years, the final exam has accounted for only 1/4 to 1/3 of the final grade. The rest came from midterm tests, graded homework assignments, and laboratory work.
     
  5. Jan 23, 2016 #4

    blue_leaf77

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    In undergrad and master college level in my home country, somewhere in the pacific rim, midterms, oral presentation, and occasional quizzes have their own non-zero portions in the final grade. But as physics researches do not really progress here, there is no point in telling you the country name. In my current university in Germany, the situation is completely different for masters: most courses I have taken do not count homework assignments into the final grade, assignments here are usually designed to aid students understanding of the topics being discussed or to let the students derive some equations which has appeared or are going to appear during the class. The final grades are determined solely by the finals, I can't be sure though whether the same thing happens in the other universities, but I think that's the general trend as our professors here, who implemented the systems, also graduated from various universities. As for the type of questions tested on you in the finals, I would say it's similar to your description. There are typically more than 5 number of questions which must be finished in 60 minutes. Each of these questions are of nested-type, meaning each breaks down to several points. If you want to answer all questions - you have to put aside any creativity and stick on how to convey your message to the corrector in a direct-straight manner. See the third point in this link: http://www.zeit.de/studium/2015-08/studieren-in-deutschland-auslandssemester , there is also an English version.
    (Warning: don't take the article title seriously because some points argued there are too personal/university-specific to be used as representing characters of the whole country)
    However, in terms of researches I do enjoy the freedom of exploring my own topics and now I have my chance to publish my second paper.
     
  6. Jan 25, 2016 #5
    Yes and we randomly pick 1-2 questions so you're not tested on all the matter of the course.

    Problem is that I'm sure there's not, I've come to talk about this among other things with our dean and he told me that this is like this in Belgium and even if he would like to see that change, he has no idea how to replace the current system with something that would actually be effective. And I can imagine this can be more "easy" for most students but in my opinion it is far from being the best way to learn. Plus the last minute study thing doesn't really work considered the amount of things we have to memorize, but some are lucky and pick up easy questions while they didn't study much, life's unfair.

    Thanks for your answers. I see this is pretty much the same in Germany then. I know from a friend in France that they have homeworks and regular tests too, but as we have a lot of French students that come study here, it seems that they consider Belgian universities to be of better quality.
     
  7. Jan 25, 2016 #6
    The system is the same everywhere in Belgium.

    I'm finishing my masters in theoretical this year and there's a big difference. (depending on the teacher)
    I've had sets of between 10-20 questions to solve at home.
    The thing is that the stuff isn't covered in detail anywhere, so you have to go and do your research.
    Often it was quicker to work through the problem once you had an idea of a possible solution. We were even encouraged to work together.

    For relativity we had a closed book exam (5 questions covering the entire course) and a paper on a topic of our own choosing.
    The teacher urged us to be original, a lot of students looked at universes where backwards time travel was in theory possible.
    It was about the only closed book exam I can recall.

    The only course I took that had graded homework was intro to QFT. Mainly because it was at another campus, every other week.
    Another course that has homework is the second QFT course (electroweak).

    The third kind of exam was (as far as I know) only used for the two computational physics courses.
    Here you were assigned some problems (anywhere from 5 to 8) that you should solve.
    You can send your report at any time and schedule a meeting.
    We went through the results and he asked some questions to ensure you know why a certain approach works.

    Finally there was a research project. You'd contact a professor, post-doc or PhD-student with an idea.
    Basically it could be very rough as in, "something pertaining to fluctuation-dissipation theorems".
    They then guide you toward an accessible topic after which you start doing novel research.
    At the end of the semester you'd write a short report in article style ending with a presentation of your results.

    All-in-all I think the testing process improves in the master. Although I can't complain about my undergrad experiences either.
    Maybe because we had quite a bit of independent labs.
     
  8. Jan 25, 2016 #7

    Simon Bridge

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    Strange - is there little "academic freedom" in Belgian Universities? That's shocking!
    Then who sets the course content and teaching approach if not the lecturer?
     
  9. Jan 25, 2016 #8
    I think it's one of those "That's the way it has always been" kind of things.
    Because the contents are updated regularly.

    In fact the school where I did my undergrad recently overhauled their entire curriculum.
    To the point that they now have relativity in the second trimester. (it was hidden inside an electrodynamics course before)
    The problem there was also that it was a very small faculty. I believe its better now (although other universities object to big steps to grow :S)

    Basically the programs get audited by an external organization every x years. I don't know specifics though. (probably very messy given the political system we have)
     
  10. Jan 25, 2016 #9

    Simon Bridge

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    So OK - little academic freedom: it takes a lot to shock me.
    Study overseas if at all possible - try, well, pretty much anywhere else in the EU, or the British Commonwealth.
    In NZ, when I was teaching, I once taught outside my field (English Lit.) to make a point about plagiarism, and I had pretty much carte blanch for assessments so long as there was one and it was not just a free pass (I had to be able to cite research for anything considered "novel".) Mind you, the students hated it.
     
  11. Feb 1, 2016 #10
    hi
    you are upset of system of exams or the system of teaching at your country
    it's certainly better than my country
    you at least the society help you to be scientist or researcher to serve the science
    as for me
    on my country (Egypt) everything is fail
    exams in my country is very easy because we learn physics as a twenty paper :smile::smile::smile::smile:
    the word of physics , chemistry and science has no found in my country
    we have n't any advanced labs
    my professor Dr.Ahmed Zweil and Dr Mostafa Elsayed tells me to learn by myself before they went to USA and i try by myself to achieve my goal to be scientist as them and i will contineu
    maybe your case is better than me very much
    and i am sorry if i upset you
    peace :heart::heart::heart::heart::heart::heart::heart:
     
  12. Feb 1, 2016 #11

    Simon Bridge

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    There are countries which strongly curtail scientific freedom ... fortunately the basic building blocks for science are available to everyone, so it is a method very difficult to completely suppress. Still, there must be scientists in the World who risk imprisonment in studies which would happily pass a NZ (say) ethics review board.

    I see that Egypt's Universities offer science degrees though ... how does this work?
    I did find: https://royalsociety.org/~/media/Ro.../projects/atlas-islamic-world/Atlas_Egypt.pdf
    ... I think that's a 2011 report, it seems to have been written with high hopes; you may be able to tell us how things have changed since?
     
  13. Feb 1, 2016 #12
    sir i can tell you but you won't believe me so i advise you to visit Egypt and see fact
     
  14. Feb 1, 2016 #13

    Simon Bridge

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    That's a tad expensive - I am in NZ. Maybe another day.
     
  15. Feb 1, 2016 #14
    maybe if you visited Egypt you wouldn't hope visit it
    but if u visit Egypt it 'll be honour for us
    :heart::heart::heart::heart::heart:
     
  16. Feb 1, 2016 #15

    Vanadium 50

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    Less that you might guess: AKL-BNE-AUH-CAI runs less than 1900 NZD. (And is only 78 miles longer than the Great Circle Route)
     
  17. Feb 1, 2016 #16

    Simon Bridge

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    Perhaps PF will fund me on a fact-finding tour of the middle east?
     
  18. Feb 1, 2016 #17

    jtbell

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    Not until we finish paying off the hot tub and sauna for the Mentors. :rolleyes:
     
  19. Feb 1, 2016 #18
    Your question is broad, which is about the whole testing system in a country.
    As a student I always preferred my chemistry tests, all about mind provoking problems.
    My teacher never asked us to learn too much. But we had to understand what had been lectured and of course to have some reasoning skills. So her paper tests were always multiple choices (30%) and calculation (70%). And none of the students could ever finish 90% of a single test because it took one more time and speed. But we all liked her course very much. There were a LOT of problems in the calculation part. I think she would have spent a lot of time preparing her tests too to offer her students chances to realize how difficult and immense the subject was actually. She didn't show that off in any way. If a student couldn't realize it himself or approach the course with a good attitude then what did he take the course for ? uhmm... That's how I think about her course I took, not necessarily the same as other students' views or points in learning or knowledge acquisition.
     
  20. Feb 2, 2016 #19
    In here Its the same. About 9 weeks classes, then first exam, 4 weeks more lectures, 2nd exam, 2 more weeks of lecture then end with a final exam.

    Its mostly about memorizing especially differential equations. because I wasnt expecting it to be so but about logic I had a lot of trouble trying to pass it
     
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