So. I’m all returned now, and as was foreseen but not hoped for – ended up severely neglecting my exchange blog. ‘Tis a small price to pay for the generally spectacular time I was having in the final months of my semester abroad in that beautiful city of mamma Bologna.
~the things you need to know about exams in Italy~
- They vary.
- The system is malleable.
- They are different to the exams you do at home.
Perhaps the greatest difference for me was the fact that the examinations were primarily spoken – a thing I had never done before, let alone in Italian. I did have to sit some preliminary written exams for my subjects, but those experiences were pretty generic, so for the purpose of this post I’ll be talking about these most-foreign oral examinations.
~the things I can recommend doing for optimal exam experience~
1. Attend classes / Have a rapport with your classmates. Often the method of examination will not be 100% decided upon at the beginning, and professors will give updates throughout semester before beginning lectures. If you go to your classes, you should also make yourself known to your professor (chances are that if you’re Australian, they’ll warm to you, which is always a plus). If you miss a lesson with some crucial information, you’re better off having at least one person from each class as a friend on Facebook, or have some sort of contact for them. Moreover, it’s an ideal way to meet people with a legitimate reason beyond ‘YOU’RE ITALIAN LET’S BE FRIENDS PLZ’. Often you’ll find that you’re all in the same boat trying to understand exactly what the exam will cover, where it will be held, and other various expectations. It’s an effective, though at times frustrating, source of solidarity.
On a side note, some professors have a reputation for being either “Erasmus-friendly” or quite the opposite. If you can glean this from lectures, the professor themselves, or your classmates, you may have enough time to switch classes so you’re not expected to do the extensive readings and have the flawless language skills of the local students.
2. Register early. At Unibo, exams can function in a ‘first come, first serve’ style, where students register online, and the appello – the chronological order of registrations – often becomes the list that the professor uses to assess students. Find out when the registration opens for your exam, and stay up until midnight to be at the top of the list. This has two benefits; firstly, you can potentially avoid waiting in the corridor to take your exam for six hours, and secondly, being first improves your chances of the professor being in good humour.
3. Arrive early.
This should go without saying anywhere in the world, but if you miss the first emergence of the professor from their office, it’s likely that you’ll end up being scheduled last. It’s also a good opportunity to bond with other students, have some good conversations and maybe peruse what other people have prepared (this turned out to be crucial in one certain case for me).
4. Have broad expectations/bring a book.
I had a total of three spoken exams. They were all different.
Here were the variables:
- Office setting / classroom setting
- Two of my exams were conducted privately in the office of my professors. This was ideal and not very scary, although I didn’t know what to expect in the exam itself.
- The other, however, was as some people had warned me – conducted in a large classroom in front of every other student waiting to sit their exam. This was a terrifying prospect when I arrived, but thankfully my professor decided she wanted to exhibit her exceptional English and so I was fairly sure that not many people understood our exchanges.
- Rate of “Erasmus-friendliness”
- In one of my exams I was expected to have known the primary book we had studied in a fair amount of detail, and to be familiar with specific obscure terms relevant to the course. There was not much allowance for my second-rate Italian, but thankfully I passed – perhaps this was the friendliness/foreign allowance in itself.
- In my two other exams, I was given high praise for having made a genuine attempt to learn Italian – let alone learn the course content. One of my professors had a working relationship with some colleagues from my home university, so I was asked if I knew any of them – and that was almost the whole extent of my exam. 28/30. In another exam, the professor was thrilled that I’d taken an interest in her course, and didn’t even mind that I’d done some readings in English. She said, “I appreciate this kind of passion and enthusiasm for my subject, and even though you couldn’t answer all my questions fully, I’m going to give you full marks because I want to encourage you. I wish you all the best in your future endeavours.” Suffice to say it was the best exam I had, and probably my favourite one for all time. She also said some incredibly generous things about my level of Italian, which always goes down well with a language student.
- Time spent waiting to take the flippin’ thing.
- It is always a good idea to register first online. Stay up till midnight. Do it. But even if you do, it won’t guarantee that you’ll go first. Sometimes professors will be contrary, and decide to arrange the day alphabetically, or sometimes they’ll be assessing several courses on the same day – as happened to me – and it could be hours (it could be six hours) of sitting in a corridor outside the office before they even get to your course. Thankfully I was still first on the list for that one, so I didn’t have to wait even longer than six hours.
- At other times, I just went straight in and was done by 10am.
Signore e signori, I hope that was helpful. Please feel free to ask questions and I’ll see if I can be of any help.
Happy exchanging, everyone! 🙂