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Coursework v Homework


21 October 2015

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Coming to the UK from a US university, the term “coursework” was relatively new to me. It seemed to me to carry meaning essentially equivalent to “homework” back home, but I can now explicitly state that they are far from synonymous. In the US, “homework” is used to apply to virtually everything assigned by a professor to be completed by a student outside of class time. This includes problem sets, essays, mandatory reading, and physical design projects. The majority of these assignments are graded, however sometimes the course merely requires completion.

In the UK, though, coursework constitutes the entirety of the graded non-examination portion of a course — mandatory reading or ungraded assignments do not count. This difference, however, is relatively small. The main reason that I think a direct comparison of American homework and British coursework is invalid comes down to the grading break-down in the UK versus that in America. I will limit my discourse here to humanities courses, for that is what I have the most experience with in the UK. (However, from what I know, the relative weighting of examinations is relatively similar across all disciplines.)

In the US, humanities classes will usually have weekly reading assignments, multiple essays due throughout the semester, a midterm examination, and a final exam. The essays may be worth between 10-20% a piece, the midterm up to 20%, and the final up to 25%. In the UK, the grade breakdown is much less forgiving. A single coursework essay is often worth up to 50% of your grade, and one of my finals this semester is worth 70%. Similarly, where attendance often counts for 10-15% of a student’s grade in the US, it almost never plays a part in the UK.

If my point has not gotten across yet, here it is: in the UK, you have less work at home, and you have fewer tests, but those few assignments and exams you have are important. Massively important. If you struggle to get a hold of this idea at the beginning of the semester, it will tear you apart towards the end, when you have three to five grade-determining essays due within a few weeks of each other. They all need to be well-researched, well thought out, and well written if you want to get a first — so the best advice I can give is to make sure you read through the coursework prompts early on. Get a handle on your research before it is too late, and learn to make use of the library on campus along with its online sources.

Beyond that, though, be prepared to use off-campus libraries as well. The British Library is about 30 minutes away, and offers virtually anything you could need to research your essays, but to use it you need to prepare in advance. Visit the Student Inquiry Centre in the Queen’s Building to get a proof of habitation on campus, and make sure you bring a valid form of photographic ID as well as a prepared list of materials you need. You can request more once there, but you will need to prove you have a valid reason to get a reader’s pass. (It is worth noting you can expedite this process by pre-registering online.)

Now, I know as well as any university student, telling a student to start their work earlier will almost never make a difference, but I cannot stress the importance (in humanities classes) of reading your coursework essay prompts as soon as you can. They are usually available at the start of the course, and if you have a general idea what you may end up wanting to write about, it allows you to be more focused in what readings you do beyond the minimum, and moreover when it comes to the week(s) where that topic is covered in particular, you will be more likely to pay close attention to the material. Harkening back to my last post, do not be surprised when your scores on these major coursework essays are not up to your standard back in the US. A score above 75 here really is remarkable!

On a completely unrelated note, I baked bread again this Monday, and my wheat loaf came out much better than last time. It is a lot less sweet, due to having a lower honey content, but the consistency is much closer to what I was looking for.  

This second time around, the whole process went much more smoothly, and I hope that it shows a general trend towards becoming a better baker. As soon as I get another thing of Maple Syrup, I will see how this bread holds up as french toast– if I am honest, that is one of the most important tests. Obviously the most important test — as I feel certain my mother would verify — is how it tastes with a large hunk of cheese melted on it. Thankfully, I can verify that this loaf with some classic extra-mature British cheddar is excellent. Semi-unhelpful hint, then: bake your own bread. It is only somewhat-massively time consuming, and it has a few mild perks.

  • Blog provided by S. Quinlan Arlington, a sophomore from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. Quinlan is currently most of the way through a semester abroad here at Queen Mary, University of London. His hobbies include cooking, playing the tuba, 10-pin bowling, and playing Magic the Gathering.



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