Whoever invented midterms has some serious explaining to do.

I can see some benefits to them. They make sure that the first time you look back at what you did during the start of the term (semester) is not the week before finals when any vague memories of September are long gone.

However it’s a different story in the U.K. as the only exams are held in May or June. While this means about 60 percent of my grade in each class hangs on one exam, it also means I take it a lot more seriously. My response to an exam or paper here which will count to 10 percent or 15 percent of my grade is usually, “Meh, it’ll be fine.” Although that is probably due to my occasionally dangerous life philosophy of, “Let’s just see how it goes.”

Any Americans who encounter exams in the U.K. would probably have a life threatening panic attack.   We have no midterms, no exams before Christmas. Therefore everything we learn during the year is tested once at the end of the year. It’s actually quite frightening as the word ‘memory’ has absolutely no meaning during the first term of first (freshman) year.  You attend morning lectures in a haze from a distinct lack of sleep and Snakebites (it’s a drink… it’s not as painful as it sounds but it poisons you just as quick) from the night before. Although during first year our grades don’t count towards our final degree – we only need to pass. And a pass is only 40 percent. This may seem low, but dragging your way up to 70% for a first (the top grade) or even 40 percent in some cases can be more grueling than a weekend with Bear Grylls.

The exams themselves are also very different. I’m used to having one hour to plan and write a decent essay. That is definitely not the case here. One exam consisted of five different parts to be completed in one hour and 15 minutes. I have discovered this is not humanly possible. They all had long essays, which I was fine with as we are examined through essays in the U.K.. Yet I had to complete numerous tedious tasks leaving me basically no time to write.

Studying for one of the map quizzes for instance became the bane of my life for about a week.  I have one major issue with it – I DO NOT STUDY GEOGRAPHY. Most of the exams also had multiple choice questions. I can see why they are used as it means you have to learn the specific facts in the course, but I would do that any way to add detail to my essay, showing my knowledge and writing skills at the same time which is how history is examined in the U.K.. It’s a completely different set of skills which are tested here.

However multiple choice questions also have deep, psychological consequences for me as they lead me doubting myself a whole lot more than usual. I may know the answer, but as I read the other options, I question my resolve. This opens up doors that really do not need to be opened; questioning the direction of my life in the middle of the exam may help me in the long run, but probably won’t help me to remember what was included in the 1842 Treaty of Nanjing.

I’ve regularly met people who ask why I am studying history as though it is the most ludicrous major to choose aside from communications or philosophy. I think it’s safe to say it’s not respected as much as other subjects.  But history is great (no, I am not a propaganda machine of the History department). It gives you a greater understanding of the world we live in and teaches you to form and argue a particular point of view with conviction. I feel there is more emphasis on this in the U.K., but it’s still clearly present in the American system. I can see why different forms of examination are useful; I’m just not accustomed to them. Contrary to what some of my American friends may think, I am gradually coming to understand America.  It’s just taking a while.