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U.K. vs U.S.:A Look at the Education Systems

Time June 2nd, 2009 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

While coming to study in Cardiff University, I couldn’t help but compare the U.K. and U.S. education systems. The two nations hold many differences in their approach to teach students from the lecturing styles, testing methods, and the overall level of independence that the student is given. I have found with my own personal experience that the differences are in favor of the U.K. system in my belief.

The first difference that I noticed while studying in Wales was how often I have to go to lectures for one class. In the U.S., on average for one class I go to a lecture three times a week, where in the U.K. there’s only one lecture a week. The Universities in the U.K. make this work by giving the students an extensive reading list that they are expected to go through on their own time.

When I went to classes at my home University, I had a variety of classes to choose from but once I was in the class, I was given one book and told exactly what was going to be on the multiple choice test that would be given to me in about three weeks time. This is extremely different to the U.K. in the fact that the Universities give more freedom on what the student can focus his or her main studying on and what approach he or she can take with the one examination time at the end of the semester. At Cardiff University and other U.K. Universities like it, you are compelled to become a scholar. I personally have gone to the library everyday I’m on campus to find books I want to read concerning the coursework that’s at hand. In every class I have taken at Cardiff, I am given an extensive reading list which is a guideline to what materials I should be researching on my own time. This gives me the freedom to choose which researchers and theorists I want to read about in depth and inevitably write about in my essay examination.

The testing method that is used by the majority of instructors in the U.K. is the essay format. With this format, the student is given a selection of about three to five questions where they usually only have to answer one in their essay giving them once again freedom to choose the actual material they are tested on at the end of the semester. Writing an essay on the course work requires the student to understand the material thoroughly. With this, the student is more likely to remember what he or she has learned and use this newly gained knowledge in the future. In contrast, the amount of material that is covered on multiple choice exams that’s given to students in the U.S. on a weekly basis doesn’t have the same affect. With the amount of testing and material we are expected to know, I feel student’s like myself are pressured into memorizing the material rather than actually grasping the concepts of the matter.

In my opinion, Universities across the U.K. treat the students more as adults and the amount of knowledge a student obtains while at University is solely up to the student. At Cardiff University, the students are trusted that they will do the independent reading and attend the lectures and seminars. If the student chooses not to do this, it’s the student’s own education that’s at risk and this will be reflected in the student’s grades. This is basically common knowledge in the U.K., but in the U.S. it’s a slightly different story.

In my U.S. classes, mandatory attendance is taken every time I go to class. If I don’t go to class everyday I will be penalized. I am given a book or two and am shown exactly what I need to know for the exam. Having mandatory classes three times a week and four exams throughout the semester, I feel as if we are being checked up on, to make sure that we are actually doing are studying. The freedom and trust that the U.K. education system gives the student I feel is not there in the U.S. Also, I don’t feel motivated to be a scholar and go to the library to read in depth on certain course material because an A is very achievable on exams without doing this. I am given the book that holds the material that all of my testing will be on in class so there is no point in checking out books from the library to research different takes on the subject. I’ve never once had to check out a book at my college’s library in the U.S. but now that I’ve been at Cardiff, I’ve checked out about thirty books and counting.

Overall, I would say I do prefer the U.K. education system over the U.S.’s. The amount of freedom and independent studying at Cardiff University allows me to have is working really well so far. I feel like I am treated more as an adult in the sense that my education lies in my hands only. Because of this, I am really interested in getting a Master’s Degree in the U.K. sometime in the near future, knowing that it would only take half the time as well.

Thanks to the U.K. education system, I have realized that a library serves a higher purpose than just providing a quiet place to study. It’s in fact a place that holds many valuable resources in the form of text that can better anyone’s education. Who knew?