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International Exchange

Class Differences- Adjusting to Canadian Courses

13 September 2019

Today marks the end of my first full week of classes at UBC. I have noticed some major differences in teaching/learning styles between the UK and Canada. I’ve listed 5 main differences I have noticed so far.

  • Interactive lectures

My lectures are in small classrooms with drop-down screens; the lecturers walk around, engaging with students, handing around samples and producing worksheets for us to complete mid-lecture. It feels more like a school than a university which, after some getting used to, I really love.

  • Canadians speak in lectures?!

Back home if I so much as make a sound in a lecture- never mind ask or answer a question- there are so many eyes glaring at me I want to sink into the ground. You can imagine my surprise when in my first igneous petrology lecture the professor asked ‘what are the two main classification types of igneous rocks?’ obviously I shrunk into my seat then jumped out of my skin when the classroom erupted in a cacophony of voices shouting, ‘volcanic and plutonic!’. I am still working on getting over my fear of speaking in a lecture.

  • Textbooks in exams?!

I had never heard of an open book exam until this week, turns out they are very common in North America (and maybe all over the world, who knows? But certainly not in the Earth department at Cardiff!) what a brilliant idea! My jaw dropped when I was told for the first time that I could take my course textbook, full of whatever annotations I want into an exam with me. This makes exams so much less stressful, even if I don’t entirely need a textbook in an exam, it feels like a comfort blanket I can desperately cling to. And I like that.

  • Assessment differences

If someone told me that two lectures into a course I’d have my first test and I would continue to be tested every single week after that, I’d have laughed in their face- or maybe cried, who knows? Today I sat my first short test and needless to say I was terrified, but it turns out when a test is only worth 2.5% of one course ( which is less than 1/8 of the year) it becomes a lot less scary. I also think it is a better way of learning than trying to desperately memorise everything at the end of the term when all you want to do is go home and celebrate making it through a semester.

Two lectures in and learning all this (plus more on the other sides!)
  • Assessment weighting

Finally, (and already lightly touched upon) is the assessment method in Canada. As I mentioned for all my courses we are tested often, these tests aren’t worth a huge amount individually but when added up they usually amount to a fair chunk of the course (~30-50%). This means that the big scary assessed practical and even scarier exam at the end of the course are only worth around 25-35% each, and that’s a lot nicer than an exam, 4 months after you have finished the course, worth 70%.

Overall I am really enjoying the differences between the two countries and find the methods over here refreshing, I feel like I will get so much more out of this year because of how much work I have to do throughout the year, instead of cramming all the knowledge at the end!


  1. Sam Mordey-Jones

    Very interesting differences, glad to hear it’s going well! x

  2. Joe O'Reilly

    Woop! Go Niamh! Glad to see everything is going well! Gearing up for the first home game since you left on Monday!

  3. Sheila O'Reilly

    Sounds all very interesting……and you are using Canadian lingo ……Semester……What does the OOTD mean on the pics. What a very interesting two weeks so far….. keep the Blogs rolling. xxxx Love Nan xxx

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