[Taking pictures of my classes during exams was not a real option for this post, so I am sharing with you some pictures of PUC’s campus during a beautiful rainy day in October.]
Five classes and five mid-term exams. One of my major concerns about studying abroad at PUC-Rio without having taken some Portuguese classes was writing exams. Your time is limited, looking up words in a dictionary may make you lose some valuable minutes, and what you write simply may not make much sense.
Apart from my Portuguese language class, four of the courses I am taking at PUC strongly rely on reading, writing, and analyzing texts. I knew in every class I was going to be asked to write an essay as a response to a question. I was nervous, definitely. But how did it go in the end? Well, I am not sure yet. But let me tell you what my experience was with these exams.
I hope you read one of my previous posts in which I wrote about PUC’s grading system. To summarize that post I can say that PUC grades students mostly based on two exams per semester, allowing those who study here to have some space to work and have internships outside their time at the university. This made me think during the first two months of my semester that my exams would be very heavy in terms of content and would require me to carefully do the assigned readings for each of my classes.
And yes, I was right. Two of my professors told me that what we had done in class was not extremely important for the exam. “Everything will be based on the readings,” my professors told me. I spoke to my four professors before the exams to get an idea on how I should go about studying, and every single one of them told me to simply do the readings and not worry about their in-class lectures.
Coming from UR, this was quite a new approach for me. I could not understand how my professors’ great in-class lectures were not important for my exams. I have four classes on Brazilian Foreign Policy, Latin American Politics, Contemporary Geography, and Social Inequality. If you are into social sciences, imagine how fantastic it has been to see professors teach how these topics relate to Brazil (of course, being in Rio de Janeiro and doing all of this in Portuguese makes it ten times better.) But hey, “that does not really matter as long as you do the readings” seemed to be the general rule.
My experience at UR has been quite different. Of course, you always need to do the readings and get through those assigned books. Yet you can expect your exams to also include some questions about discussions, projects, papers, assignments, and many other aspects of your courses. Both at PUC and UR I was asked to analyze a particular subject based on what we had done in my course. The difference is, and this is just my impression based on my first round of tests, that at PUC you can do well in those exams by attending classes, preparing each reading, and learning the dry, classing theory for each course.
Now, before I close the post, let me be really clear that I am not suggesting you should not go to classes when you are abroad. I can guarantee you that your exams will not go well if you pretend you can read 15 papers before your test and sit there analyzing a new question in two hours. Understanding how my professors tackle each question in class using our readings was essential to write my exams. How did my tests go? Well, I still have not got results back, but let’s all hope everything worked out.