Make the grade
An “A” or “B” may not be what you “C” on your first assignment
by Jennifer Wu
Like your first brush with foreign currency, it takes a little bit of time to get used to receiving grades abroad. Don’t be surprised if your first paper or exam comes back marked with a number or phrase you’ve never seen in American academia.
Here’s what to expect if you study in these popular destinations:
The most common grading scale labels the work with “high distinction” (85 to 100 percent), “distinction” (75 to 84 percent), “credit” (65-74 percent), “pass” (50 to 64 percent) and “fail” (below 49 percent).
“You’ll literally have to earn your grades,” according to the Australian embassy which puts out a comprehensive guide to studying down under. “You begin with zero points and earn points for correct answers. Therefore earning 75 percent in Australia is actually a very good grade.”
Caroline Chant, a representative for AustraLearn, says that exceeding expectations is how to earn high distinction. “Professors will list few expectations, as they want students to take the topic and run with it.”
The Chinese occasionally utilize a four-tier system: “youxiu” (excellent), or 85-100; “lianghao” (good), or 75-84.99; “zhongdeng” (satisfactory) or 60-74.99; and “bujige” (fail), or 59.99 and below.
American students should anticipate having to memorize more material than they are used to back home, as well as coursework that is “very theoretical,” says Nancy Zhao, a graduate student at Northwestern University who completed her bachelor’s degree at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
Zhao and former Shanghai University of Science and Technology faculty member Wenan Xu agree that while professors can be very open to talking to foreign students, they may not prove as receptive to different ideas. Their advice for writing assignments: If you wish to earn a high score, it may be worth your time to consult your professors and incorporate their opinions.
The Spanish grading system will rank your work on a 10-point scale, with 10 or “matrícula de honor” and 9-9.9 or “sobresaliente” (outstanding) as the highest marks, or an “A” equivalent.
Because “an ‘A’ is subjective and depends almost entirely on exams that usually occur at the end of each semester or, in some cases, at the end of each year… stay on track,” advises Dr. Louis Berends, an alumni associate of Loyola University Chicago’s Center for Comparative Education. “Joining a study group with local and international students is key to success throughout the semester.” Don’t be too hard on yourself either. Sobresaliente grades are difficult to come by in Spain for locals and international students alike, Berends says.