Types of Exams and Grades in the USA

In the USA, the final grade is a series of individual grades. The students accumulate a large part of this during the semester. The basis for grading is on the one hand homework, which is sometimes more, sometimes less extensive. Depending on the study program, the following types of tasks can be involved:

  • Essays
  • (Group) Presentations
  • Short papers
  • Journals
  • Research Assignments
  • (Final) Projects

In some courses, not all grades are included in the final grade, so that students can decide which assignment remains ungraded. Those who get good grades at the beginning of the semester often have the advantage of not having to write down the last assignment or the last test.

As a rule, attendance at courses in the USA is compulsory. If the students do not take part in the lectures as the professor has in mind, it can happen that the professor writes an unannounced test. A so-called pop quiz is a short written test with multiple choice questions. Most of the time, the result has a minor impact on the final grade.

Apart from the rather short pop quizzes, which take place over the entire semester, more extensive partial exams are common in the middle of the semester. The so-called midterm exams, or midterms for short, are used to query the subject matter covered so far. Accordingly, they are weighted more heavily than individual homework.

At the end of the semester, the final exams or finals are due. Here, the entire material of the semester is relevant for the exam. However, there are also lecturers who focus on tests and assignments during the semester, assess the oral work and do not take a final exam. This is another reason why students should take their homework seriously during the semester.

Even if the workload at American universities is higher during the semester than in Germany, the more school-based study system has some advantages. Many students report a higher learning effect, which they attribute to the fact that they consistently deal with the course content.

In addition, the exams, especially the finals, are usually less comprehensive than students from their home university know. Preparations for the exams are usually less extensive. This is especially true in comparison to the exam phase in Germany at the end of the semester, in which many students study all night long in order to memorize the exam-relevant content in good time.

In addition, it should not be underestimated that the final exam is usually less important in the USA than in Germany. This makes it easier to compensate for bad grades in the finals than in this country.

Workload at universities in the USA

For an F1 or J1 visa, international students must take at least 12 units at the Bachelor’s level or an average of eight to nine units at the Master’s level per term.

Depending on whether it is a university with a semester or trimester system, a course usually corresponds to three or four units. As a result, an undergraduate student in the US takes an average of three or four courses.

However, the number of credits does not provide any information about the actual workload for courses in the USA. Learn more about USA and North America on neovideogames. In contrast to ECTS, US credits relate primarily to the teaching hours (contact hours), but not to the total workload of the students.

In fact, the American study system provides that students prepare and follow up their courses and actively participate in the lectures and seminars. Often it is not only important to do homework, but also to read specialist literature in preparation for the next event.

Atmosphere in the courses in the USA

For students from Germany, the relaxed atmosphere in the lectures and seminars is often a highlight of their semester abroad.

The smaller the course sizes, the more familiar it is usually. In the USA it is not uncommon for a professor to offer students the Du. In the postgraduate area in particular, professors and doctoral students meet more and more often like equal partners on an equal footing.

American lecturers are generally considered to be helpful. Many professors take time to answer questions from their course participants – not only during, but also outside of their office hours. When grading international students, they often pay less attention to the correctness of the language than of the correctness of the content. In addition, non-native speakers often receive support with presentations.

Basically, courses in the USA are more interactive than at German universities. Group discussions and presentations are an important part of the class. Exchange between professors and students is also welcome. Compared to Germany, teaching is more practice-oriented and geared towards being able to apply what has been learned in practice. The exact structure of the courses depends on the university and the respective lecturer.

Supervision situation at American universities

The American universities and colleges are ahead in terms of the supervisory ratio. In particular, the group sizes of seminars are often very small and offer optimal conditions for studying. It is not uncommon for ten to 20 participants to take part.

The care of students is very important in the USA. For example, those doing a bachelor’s degree in the USA have a contact person right from the start for all questions relating to academic matters. However, semester students also often receive support from employees of the International Office. At some universities there are International Student Advisers who serve as contact persons for international students during their stay in the USA. They help, for example, with questions about specific previous knowledge or the choice of course.

American courses and differences to Germany

The big culture shock is not to be expected during a degree or semester abroad in the USA. Nevertheless, it has been shown that lectures at American universities differ in several ways from lectures in Germany. The country-specific characteristics of courses in the USA at a glance:

  • Preparation and follow-up of events and active participation in the courses are required
  • More performance assessments during the semester
  • Greater workload during the semester, but less extensive exam preparation at the end of the semester
  • Long-term learning effect by distributing the exams over the entire semester
  • Higher interactivity in the courses
  • Often more practical relevance in the courses
  • Often excellently equipped rooms
  • Personal contact with professors and often a more informal study atmosphere
  • Good supervisory ratio: small group sizes, especially at seminars
  • Multiple individualized support for Bachelor students

Types of Exams and Grades in the USA