University Grading System in England vs. America

Among the many other adjustments I’ve been making with being at Durham, the grading system is one that I think has been the most difficult. As I’ve mentioned before, there are no assignments aside from the essays. In most (of my six) modules, we have one formative essay (which doesn’t count toward the overall grade), one summative essay (which does count toward the overall grade) and then exams at the end of the year, and that’s it. I do however have on sneaky module that slipped in a second formative essay that I just learned about that’s due the day we’re back from winter break–so watch out for those!

This leaves room for a bit of eagerness to see how you’re actually doing when it’s time for feedback regarding your first lot of essays. I won’t lie–if you are participating in the Humanities at all, be prepared to be terrified by what you receive.

In The States

The grading system, I feel at least, is fairly straight forward in the US. Each teacher might have a slight variation of this, but for the most part, you can expect that if you get a percentage in the 90’s, you’ve received some form of A, if you’re in the 80’s, a B–and so on down to the 50’s being a fail.

This is pretty straight forward. You can judge how well you’re doing based on the percentage you get. The end. Done deal.

In England

While you’re graded on a score out of 100, it really does not do you any favors to think of your score as a percentage. You will cry.

I was told that it is unlikely to get in the 70’s on your first essay, so getting something in the 60’s is pretty good. I asked one of my tutors what that might equate to in American grades, and he said a solid B, just to give you an idea of how this works.

The also don’t have your standard letter grading as well. You can receive anything along the line of First-Third-Fail. These all are accompanied with a division by adjectives and numbers–as follows:

  1. First (70-100)
    1. 86-100
      1. Brilliant
    2. 76-85
      1. Outstanding
    3. 70-75
      1. Excellent
  2. 2.i (60-69)
    1. 65-69
      1. Very Good
    2. 60-64
      1. Good
  3. 2.ii (50-59)
    1. 55-59
      1. Sound
    2. 50-54
      1. Fair
  4. Third (40-49)
    1. 45-49
      1. Weak
    2. 40-44
      1. Very Weak
  5. Fail (0-39)
    1. 35-59
      1. Poor
    2. 30-35
      1. Very Poor
    3. 20-29
      1. Extremely Poor
    4. 10-19
      1. Inept
    5. 0-9
      1. Abysmal

My personal favorite adjectives are for scores 0-19. They seem pretty harsh.

So this grading system, while it freaks me out, is something that must be kept in mind when I first get the shock of seeing my essay scores. When I have them all collected, I’ll share my outcome.

However, some positive things to keep in mind:

  • A tutor told me this round of essays, the highest he marked was a 74 out of all 90 of his students
  • The same tutor told me that through his entire time as a student, the highest he ever got was an 81 and that was once.
  • The first essays don’t count toward the overall grade. They are just practice so you know where to work from.
  • When they give you the rubric, it very explicitly states what is required for each adjective, which means you can then use it as a check list.
  • After doing some research, I found that a 2.i, as terrifying as it looks, isn’t that bad at all, and that the majority of Masters programs will accept that as a good score.

For me, I still have two more essays to hear back from. An update shortly, and maybe after a few tears as well.

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Calling in Sick to Uni

It’s a bit of a different experience calling in sick when you’re in university – at least, mine has been a bit different.

Over the weekend I caught that severe head-cold/borderline flu that’s been making its way through the campus and I’m sure everywhere else. I’d been fighting it off for a while, but Sunday night I realized I was hit and going down.

Monday I was partially voiceless and unable to put a sentence together. It was time to call in sick.

During my time at the community college, when I knew I was going to miss a class, because I don’t like absences on my record, I would always email my instructor and let them know. They seemed to appreciate the effort, and it wouldn’t be reflected on my grade at the end of the quarter. There seems to be no reason I shouldn’t carry on the tradition.

Except it’s a bit different here at Durham University (and other university students elsewhere might find the same).

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I take six classes which are referred to as modules. Each module has a lecture once a week. Then each module has a tutorial where we meet in smaller groups of 8-10 people, every two or three weeks, depending on the class. In the lectures, they don’t take attendance. How could they? There’s 200+ of us, and as it is, it takes ten minutes for one class to leave and the next one to file in and shut the hell up. They’re not seen as mandatory, or compulsory (a term that just makes me cringe to use). However, the tutorials are.

I missed Monday and Tuesday, which, this week only meant that I missed one tutorial (thankfully). I tracked down my tutor’s email address, let him know, and got a response from him which read that I needed to let my college know as well as the department of the tutorial know.

So keep in mind, the only internet at my house right now is my phone. I don’t have the luxury of using a computer to do any of this.

In my bleary-eyed, struggling to remember what task I’m working on, brain, I’ve now got to figure out whether I’m to email or call these people, and what phone number or email addresses I need to use.

I couldn’t find anything. I ended up accidentally emailing the head of the philosophy department to ask to be excused instead of the generic secretary, and I called my college, got some kid who didn’t seem like he actually worked there, who took a note and told me to call back in the morning.

The head of the philosophy department was very kind, and directed me to the right email address to inform–another email to write. And the next morning I called the college again to find out if they marked me down or not. They then told me that I actually needed to get ahold of a “self-cert” document, that I could find online.

I could not find it online. And also, I was still sick, to the point where my voice was completely gone.

So then I emailed – I don’t know, I’ve lost track at this point, and I was able to get ahold of an electronic copy.

Oh wait, but it gets more complicated.

My tutor let me know that I could attend another tutorial scheduled later in the week (which I’m doing on Friday) to stay caught up. But I have no idea if that cancels out my absence or if it’s just at this point to make sure that I’m in the game.

Either way, moral of the story, is don’t get sick. Also, read every handbook they send you. It has all the how-tos of everything scribbled down in there.

 

First week at Durham University

img_3845

As to be expected, the first week at university in a foreign country is going to be interesting, to say the least. While I’m already into my second week, There are a few things I’ve learned so far.

  1. Scheduling is weird
    1. Lectures
      Unlike universities in the States, we take six classes at a time, each called a module. Each module has a lecture once a week for an hour. For me, personally, or at least for the students of Durham, there is a break in the middle of the week. No lecture is scheduled on Wednesday because it’s sports day. Also, the last module finishes by 6 p.m.
    2. Tutorials
      Each module has a tutorial. Each department organises their tutorials differently. For example, I’m in two different departments because I’m taking a combined honors of English and philosophy.
      The Philosophy department allows you a selection of tutorial groups with different times and locations, so you can essentially pick your own schedule. But, that being said, you have to be responsible for the location, and knowing how long it’s going to take you to get from building to building. What’s more, it’s first come, first serve. It’s best to know approximately what tutorial groups you want to sign up for before the day to sign up for them. Each tutorial for each of my philosophy modules meets every other week. This is nice because it’s somewhat regular.
      The English department, on the other hand, schedules it for you. It’s easier, but you’re at the mercy of the scheduler. What’s more, each module meets about once a month. Sometimes the dates fall so that there are two in a month, though I think that’s only happened once with two of my modules. There is definitely irregularity here.
      img_3848
  2. The campus is broken
    1. Aesthetics 
      This campus just ain’t pretty. I might very well be spoiled, given that I come from a town with a technical college, a community college, and a university–the community college and university designed with the surrounding woods and natural habitat in mind. It’s damn beautiful.
      Despite the beauty of Durham City itself and the surrounding county, the campus is just not nice. The library building is nice to look at, but that’s literally the only compliment I can give it.
      img_3804
    2. Location
      The buildings for the whole university are all over the city. This is nice because it gets you out to kind of see what’s around, but it’s also difficult when you’re planning your schedule, or trying to find parking. The college I’m supposed to be in is a mile up the hill from the main university campus, the majority of the classes I’m in are down the hill a mile from the main university campus, and the English department building and the philosophy department building, which is where my tutorials are, are about half a mile from the campus.
      I know, there’s always the risk of gaining weight during studies, and this is a great way of preventing that. I am pretty pleased with that. I”m also pleased that as of yet, the weather has been pretty mild, and at times, downright nice. But there will be days when the pavement is covered in ice, the rain is pummeling horizontally, and I’m walkin a mile to my lecture because I can afford parking by the university but not near the town center.
    3. Functionality
      I’ve recently discovered the student union. It’s right next to the lecture buildings I need to go to, and has really cheap Starbucks lattes and food. But I have a few problems with it.

      1. It’s ugly.
        No joke, really ugly. You walk in and it feels like you’re going to visit your relative in prison kind of ugly.
        In all fairness, once you get in the main kind of lunch room area, it’s not too bad. Lots of light, different styles of tables, televisions everywhere playing music videos, and a nice view of the river. But outside the commons, the ceilings are low, grey and very poorly lit. They remind me a little of the abandoned Holywell hosptal my partner and I explored a few months ago.

        IMG_0537

        Lluesty Hospital, Holywell, North Wales

      2. It’s broken.
        Seriously. I’ve come across so many lights that are flickering, and in the bathrooms there was a toilet that just wouldn’t flush, and I have yet to come across a soap dispenser or hand dryer that works in any of the bathrooms associated with Durham University.
  3. The Tutorials and Lectures
    They say that the Lectures aren’t mandatory, however, the tutorials are. The latter is where they see how well you’re understanding the material, and what questions you have. This is where you get your participation points. This is where you get into the theory of everything, which is what I personally enjoy. Your tutor is generally pretty down to earth, understands what it’s like being a freshman because it wasn’t long ago that they were there themselves.
    The Lectures are interesting. By this I mean that it depends on the lecturer as to what kind of hour you’re going to have. This might seem obviously, but there seems to be a different lecturer each week. I love my philosophy lectures, and all of my lectures during the first week. I was hungry for the year to come. However, this week, I’ve had a few different ones from the first week, two of which just read their lecture straight off the paper, which I found very difficult to focus on. The good news is that I’ll probably have someone different next week with a different approach.
  4. Reading
    Given that I’m taking two reading-intensive courses, I have been very prepared to buckle down and power through everything. BUt so far it hasn’t been that bad. When I took my literature classes at the community college before coming here, I was looking at reading 10-30 poems in two days, a quarter of a novel as well, and four-five chapters of whatever else text in a week. The worst I’ve experienced so far is having to read Everyman and The Second Shepherd’s Play in a week, which are both fairly short, though very difficult to read because my brain doesn’t translate 15th century literature very well.
    This might change, of course, but for now, it’s certainly manageable.
  5. Workshops
    Durham brags a very high employability rate straight out of university–and I believe it. My email is bombarded with offers for workshops every day. They’re all free, and very helpful. Everything from speed reading, to developing your business idea, to how to use programs, and how to cope with perfectionism and imposter syndrome. I’ve signed up for as many of these as I can in an effort to get as much as I can for my [mom’s] money.

This sounds like a fairly bleak entry and review of my first week. But honestly, I do love it. I cannot say how happy I am to be a student, and be in this atmosphere. Being so much older than everyone is taking some getting used to. But thankfully, they serve wine on campus, so that helps.

Durham, Durham

How to Successfully Navigate Your Way Through Induction Week at University (In 10 Tips)

img_3771It’s beautiful, here in Durham. The leaves are changing with my favorite season, the air hasn’t cooled yet to layer-the-f-up temperatures, and the increasing student population is still energetic with their new life at university.

Induction week is the first week for “freshers”, the first-year students arriving, finding their colleges and dorms, exploring the campus, and going to socials, workshops and seminars put on by the university to help ease students into their new home and schedules. And let me tell you–it’s confusing and manic as hell.

First and foremost, before we go on, I’m coming at this from a slightly more unique perspective in that I’m counted as a “mature” (30-year-old) student, and I’m American, so I’m somewhat foreign. While some of this is probably just obvious for the more technologically inclined who are hip to the jive of app-lingo and the whatnot, for others, it can be overwhelming.

So here’s what I learned with my Induction week at Durham University:

  1. Know Your Housing and Travel Routes
    For me, I was in the process of moving, and I didn’t have the luxury of affording on-campus housing. And because of my age, I opted out of student housing as well. I’m sure there are some wonderful 18-year-olds who were born during the time I was going through puberty, but I don’t really want to hold their hand as they learn the responsibilities of taking the trash out, cleaning their dishes, throwing rotten food out, and so on.
    So much did I not want to be in this situation (no offense, freshers, I promise when you get to my age you’ll get it), that I actually found myself housed in the next county down in North Yorkshire, in a place i couldn’t be happier with. However, it means about a 45 minute commute to and from university every day. Because of this, I was picky about what events I went to during Induction.
    What’s more, I had to know my route in advance, know how much time it was going to take, and then also prepare for parking. That was the hardest part. I am still figuring that part out. But as far as I can tell, Park and Ride might be my cheapest option, especially with the option of a student discount on a bus pass (hopefully).
  2. Get on a Computer
    There is so much going on during Induction week. As I mentioned before, I had to pick and choose which events were worth me going to. However, because I had just moved, I hadn’t set up my internet yet. As a result, like most people with smart phones, it became my main source of keeping up with what was going on.
    Except my phone alone wasn’t good enough. I found there were several apps that I needed in order to access the information I needed, and they certainly have some problems. Whereas what I was looking for and trying to do would only take minutes on a computer, it was taking me near an hour per task. What’s more, I found out there was a student email that the university was using that I hadn’t even set up yet, and so I was missing a fair deal.
    Phones are handy and wonderful things, but they’re not the be all and end all. You need to get online one a real computer–not a tablet or iPad, but an actual computer, from time to time.
  3. Get a Planner Before You Arrive
    Again, there is an insane amount going on during Induction week. And I know, I know, you already are getting a planner to deal with all your classes and blah, blah, blah. I held out, and was waiting for my perfect planner to show itself, and thus was slacking during Induction week. But trust me, you want a planner.
    Because I was trying to go for the minimum, I actually missed quite a few things that I wish I had gone to, such as a studies skills seminar, a library resource tour, and so on. I didn’t know I wanted to go to them until I’d missed them and arrived on campus at a complete loss as to where to go for what.
  4. Go to Your College
    I plan on having very little to do with my college. Not out of lack of pride or anything, but because I just don’t have time to do anything there. I’m not living there, I’m not young enough to be there, and I’m working and living on a farm 30 miles south of here. However, as I learned the hard way, it is important to still show your face there from time to time.
    They are there to support you, and to help you navigate your way around university, student life, and tools you might need. Also, if you haven’t told the you’re not actually living there, they will assume you are, and then lecture you for ten minutes when you go to get your verification of registration so that you can get your student ID (no seriously, it doesn’t matter your age, they will sternly talk down to you when they are upset, like you are nine years old and flushed a frog down the toilet and now they have to pay for a plumber).
    Please the college administration, and just show up, talk to them, and find out what you need to get in order. In fact, do this as soon as possible.
  5. Wear Good Shoes
    I have no idea how other universities are set up, but this one is spread throughout half the city of Durham. For me, personally, I happen to have a college that is furthest away from the university campus (a mile, straight up a very evil hill, in fact), and 90% of my modules/tutorials are a mile the opposite direction from the university. So if you have a day where you have to hit all three spots, you’re in for a fair bit of exercise. But hey–you’ll easily get your 10,000 steps in for the day!
  6. Make Friends Fast
    I’m pretty socially awkward, and even more so being the older, foreign student that everyone assumes is staff. As a result, those crazy kids just don’t want to talk to me. However, I can say that they talk to each other pretty quickly. I have already watched students befriend each other in the halls, and continue to converse and interact (I believe this is how friends are made, but I’m still learning in all this).
    Two minds are better than one, and one of your fellow students may know where and when something is while you’re still trying to figure out if the upstairs of the cafe is for lecturers only. Web out the knowledge–help each other out.
  7. Get Your Student ID Right Away
    There will be some buildings and areas of the university that you can only access with your student ID. Don’t be like me, where you have to sign up for your modules at a specific time, arrive, realize you can’t get in the building, have to walk two miles up hill to your college to get your verification of registration, get lectured for ten minutes, then half to walk a mile back to the university to get the student ID, and then return the initial building another mile down hill to register your modules. Be smart, don’t be like me.
  8. Don’t Bring Lunch
    This isn’t an every-day-of-the-week bit of advice, mind you. But have a look. During some of the days of Induction, there will be the Student Fair, or something else to this nature. Go to it. I know, it’s riddled with people, but trust me. You will get all sorts of random free things. You’ll also find that you can find your societies and clubs to join along the way. I personally joined–wait for it–an on-campus gin club. For this, I got a free shot of gin. As an American, this is somewhat unheard of, so I was quite thrilled.
  9. Don’t Blow Your Student Loans on Booze
    I know! You’re 18! in the UK! which means you can drink. And it’s especially exciting because you’re away from your parents’ watchful eye for the first time, which means they can’t wag their reproving fingers at your liberties. But I promise, the pubs will be there and open all year. No joke. They do not not close after the first week. That means you can save up your drunken nights for three-day weekends, or those Fridays when you’ve just had an insane week and just need to let go! I promise, your liver will thank you. Be good to that slab of organ.
  10. Don’t Get Overwhelmed
    Yeah, there is a lot to do, and a lot going on. You don’t have to go to every single thing. It’s so important that you remember that this is just to help get you familiar with the departments, the campus, and with each other. While you should take advantage of the events going on, don’t forget to take a step back, breathe, and relax. Even if you don’t make it to any of the events, you’ll still be alright. You’ll have to do a little bit of a (more) confused scramble during the first week of lectures, but you will be ok. After all, you got yourself to uni in the first place!

Durham, Durham

Are there any tips I forgot? What was your first pri-uni week of your freshman year like? Let me know in the comments!

 

A Farm!

It’s done! It’s sorted! I have a place to move to!

As mentioned before in a previous entry, I got on the website Work Away with the crazy plan to find a farm that would be willing to put me up in exchange for room and board. Well, the first farmer I contacted got back to me right away, and yesterday I went to visit the farm.

It was a long drive, all the way up to North Yorkshire. But it was a nice day, and a nice drive, despite my injuries. My back was killing me the majority of the way, and my wrist I think is just progressively getting worse rather than better.

However, after arriving at the farm and being shown the aviary (with some 2-300 birds of all types), a couple of pigs, the cat-breeding, and meeting a few dogs, we arrived at the caravan. It has a shower (Mom will be pleased), two bedrooms, a kitchen, and most importantly to me, a table–all with full permission to modify it however needed. He even said that it might be wise to install a wood burner rather than the current heating, which he would pay for entirely.

As far as work, he just hopes for a couple hours a day (I can totally clean out bird pens or horse stables for my keep, no prob! (she declares as she pops some ibuprofen for her wrist and back)), and essentially will provide the rest.

Did I mention there’s an orchard? And that I can plant and grow whatever I want? I can have my own little garden!

Also, he said there’s a village at the bottom of the farm with a pub, the owners of which he’s friends with. He said he spoke to them, and they would be happy to take me on part time for some actual money-making work.

It is a 40 minute drive to Durham, which I generally don’t mind. However, there’s also a train from the next town up which is only 14 minutes. If the student passes are cheap enough, I might opt for that.

Everything is falling into place! I’M GOING TO UNI!!!!

Work Travel to Live

Welp! I did it! I finally took the next step of my plan.

Part of my idea for how I was going to survive living prices in Durham while being a full time university student is to look in to work travel, or travel work. I’m not really sure the correct terminology for this. I’ve always just called it WWOOFing, but that no longer applies.

The idea is that you find a farm or group of people who are looking to provide food and housing in exchange for work. Quite a few people travel in this way, and I, myself, have a few friends  who have done this as well. I looked into this the last time I lived in Wales, though the organization I looked into was the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (hence WWOOF). But I was deterred when it wanted me to pay for an annual membership.

Now that I’m looking into moving to Durham, and seeing that the cost of living is fairly high in comparison to the wage rates (mostly because of the student population), looking into this option again has seemed like the wisest course of action.

So, I registered. Though I ended up going to Work Away, and I’ve already gotten ahold of two farms–well, sent messages to them any way. So we shall see how it goes!

The key idea here is that when there doesn’t seem like a solution, you need to get creative. This will absolutely work. Just wait. You’ll see (she says hoping to whatever deities there might be that she hasn’t just jinxed herself).

I went to Durham Again!

A very quick entry, mostly to express my excitement. I went to Durham again today. This is no easy feat. It’s quite a trek there. And, unlike the last time I went, I was able to spend a little more time there. And all I can say is:

I’m Home.

Read about it here: Durham and It’s County