While the opportunity to travel and experience other cultures is probably the main reason most students decide to go abroad, whether for a semester or for their full degree, one of the less talked about benefits of studying abroad is the opportunity to experience new ways of teaching, learning and assessment.
Higher education in Ireland shares many common features with Europe and North America, however most international students will encounter some differences in how courses are taught and assessed here compared to their home country.
Teaching and Learning
Most courses are delivered through lectures, which are normally held in large lecture halls. Lectures provide the foundations of a topic on which students are expected to explore further through their independent study and are quite different therefore to the classroom based learning you may be familiar with in your home country, which tends to be more interactive and discussion based.
Lectures are also usually supplemented by smaller tutorials, laboratory classes or seminars, which provide an opportunity for more in depth study and discussion in a smaller group setting.
The academic culture in Ireland therefore places a strong emphasis on independent learning and students are required to undertake a good deal of self-directed study outside of regular teaching hours.
When you first get your timetable, you might be pleasantly surprised to see you only have about 15-20 contact hours per week, depending on your programme, but you shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that all that free time is just for hanging out out with your friends 😉 That ‘free’ time is when you are expected to undertake your own reading and research around the themes highlighted in your lectures and to work on your assingments.
Overall , whether you are a degree-seeking international student or a visiting student from another university, it’s important to understand that you are expected to take charge of your own learning and that this also includes your attendance at lectures and tutorials, keeping up with your reading and handing in your assignments on time.
Of course, transitioning to university life is not just a challenge for international students, and the University is committed to helping students adjust to their new learning environment as easily as possible.
Lecturers are generally friendly and approachable and above all keen to help their students succeed, however the relatively lower level of monitoring and structure, compared to secondary school or indeed colleges in some countries, means you may have to request help before its forthcoming.
Assessment and Exams
Another big change that comes when attending university abroad is adapting to new ways of assessment. While continuous assessment is increasingly used in Irish universities, end of semester examinations are still the main method of assessment for most courses.
End of semester exams usually entail 2 hour or sometimes 3 hour written examinations, though this can vary by course. This means that students are required to demonstrate an in depth understanding of the course material through a number of essay-style answers.
This can big a big challenge, especially for international students from countries where continuous assessment and/or short multiple choice type tests are commonly used.
If you are not sure what may be required of you in an end of semester exam at NUI Galway, you should speak with the relevant instructor at the beginning of the semester, so that you understand what is required of you.
Past exam papers for courses are available from the Exams Office and are a great way to practice exam type answers and get a feel for the type of questions that are likely to appear in your exam.
The NUI Galway Students Union website also provides some great tips on adapting to university life in general as well as practical advice on sitting examinations. The Students Union also runs The Academic Writing Centre, which offers (free) one-on-one teaching sessions tailored to the needs of individual students who require help with written assignments.
Plagiarism is defined by the NUI Galway Student Code of Conduct as “the act of copying, including or directly quoting from the work of another without adequate acknowledgment, in order to obtain benefit, credit or gain.”
Plagiarism is considered a serious academic offense in Ireland and can result in sanctions for a student found to have copied someone else’s work.
As an NUI Galway student or a visiting student from another university, you are subject to the normal rules and regulations of the University. Therefore, if you are unsure about what plagiarism is or how it can be avoided, please refer to the NUI Galway Students Union website for practical tips and explanations.
What Happens If I Fail?
Finally, while failing an examination is relatively rare, it can happen and it’s important to understand how it may affect your studies. The different colleges of the university have their own policies regarding appeals, rechecks and repeat examinations, so the first thing you should do is contact the relevant college office or refer to your handbook for further information.
Students are usually required to retake a failed examination, however, in the case of a non-formal examination, such as an essay, project, continuous assessment, you should contact your instructor or the relevant College Office to discuss your options. Please refer to the Exams Office website for more information.
For more information about the NUI Galway grading system be sure to check out our previous post Making the Grade.