Reading Week is a confusing and surreal time during university.
Now that I’m halfway through my semester, I think I’ve had a good taste of academic life at Goldsmiths, but this week really threw me for a loop. First off, Reading Week is a full week without classes for students to catch up on reading, study for exams, and work on finishing their papers (or at least get them started). But how can this time best be utilized when there are such major differences between the U.K. and U.S. academic system? As an American, how do I adapt to a different academic style prior to the moment when things start getting difficult? Until this week, it was easy to feel on top of work and gauge my progress thus far; but if I have any advice for students studying in the U.K., it is this.
The main distinction I’ve noticed between U.K. and U.S. academics is the number of assignments and grades which contribute to your final grade. I can only speak to Goldsmiths, specifically the Visual Cultures program, when I say the only work I have is one final paper due after the semester ends in January. One assignment determines my final grade. The pros of this are that I have a lot of time to research and plan and take my time writing. I am less stressed day-to-day because the deadline is so far off. The cons? I’m terrified. My whole grade is riding on one paper which, in order to receive an A, must be considered excellent, publishable material. That being said, receiving a B or C grade here is perfectly acceptable and even desirable. Either way, I remain conflicted.
So what does Reading Week mean if there is already all this time to prepare? For some, Reading Week means traveling - it allows for longer stays in foreign countries and the opportunity to catch up on exploring which may have slowed down since first arriving. For others, it’s for spending long hours in the library which now remains open 24-hours. For me, it was a mix of both. I used that time to travel to Edinburgh, Scotland while fitting in reading and two full library days; plus many other elements which made Reading Week this surreal span of time to navigate and now reflect upon.
In reflection, I think I prefer the U.S. style of education (work load and grading structure) but with the relaxed time-frame of university in the U.K. One thing I definitely appreciate about studying in London is the understanding that students and workers have lives outside of their studies/professions. There is time to go to the pub, the cinema, etc. because there is more time to study and get work done. I don’t know if there is more time actually, but things are prioritized differently here. After coming out on the other side, I think Reading Week was a good time to evaluate my progress, keeping in mind that the U.K. academic system has unconsciously put me in the driver’s seat of my education. Goldsmiths has provided me the time and tools to shape my studies, so I can critically analyze cultural differences as well as differences I’ve created for myself with this newfound academic freedom.
So as a last bit of insight, if you plan on studying in the U.K., I highly encourage embracing the chaos of Reading Week and the responsibility of developing your own unique work ethic.