In the Classroom

How will my achievement in my academic classes be measured?

You will receive one grade per class for each semester or quarter (the period of time which the class meets). This grade will either be a letter grade (A, B, C, D, F), a number grade (4.0, 3.0, and so forth), or a "P" or "F" (for pass-fail). Grades are usually based on assignments, quizzes, and tests given throughout the semester, as well as the final exam. Very rarely will your grade be based on just the final exam. Each professor uses a slightly different grading system. If the professor does not explain the grading system the first day of class, ask him or her to explain it to you.

What is the typical American classroom like?

At the first class meeting, most professors give out a class syllabus listing the purposes of the class and other important information about the class. These course guides generally mention required books and projects (e.g., research papers), test dates and when projects must be completed, and the criteria for grading your performance.

Professors in American classrooms primarily lecture to students-as you might expect. You may be surprised, however, when students do not rise when the lecturer enters the room, or when they interrupt their teachers, forcefully argue points with which they disagree, eat food during class, or get up to leave whenever they choose. Differences in what is proper, acceptable, and expected student behavior varies between universities, between departments within the university, and with each individual instructor. A good way to learn what is acceptable behavior is to watch other students.

The American value of individualism means that in most classes students are competing against one another for the best grades and for the attention and recognition of the professor. Usually, each student is expected to do his or her own work, although students may be expected to work in groups on certain projects. If you have questions about what is expected of you, ask questions of your professor or other students outside of the class meeting.

Can I speak up in class?

In most American classrooms, instructors encourage discussion. If you have a question or even wish to challenge something the instructor has said, don't be afraid to raise your hand and speak up when called upon by the professor. Sometimes a professor will base your grade partly on your participation in class discussions. The purpose is to show the professor that you have read and understand the material you are studying.

If you feel uncomfortable with the language or the American classroom style, approach the teacher outside of class to explain your difficulty. However, if participation in class discussions accounts for part of your grade, be prepared to do some additional work, such as writing a short paper summarizing the main points of the material, to show you understand it.

Should I give gifts to my teacher?

In the United States it is not customary to give gifts to teachers, nor will the gifts have any effect on your grade. Your grade is based on your performance in the class, not on the kind of relationship you have with the teacher. However, after the class is finished and you have received your grade, you can then give the teacher a souvenir from your country or another sign of appreciation if you wish.

How do teachers handle cheating?

If a student cheats, the instructor may remove some or all of the points from his or her test or paper score. The teacher may even fail the student for the entire class. Such things as having someone else complete an assignment for you, copying someone else's work and submitting it as your own, or looking at another student's work during a test to get an answer are all considered cheating in the United States.

Many colleges and universities require people who are caught cheating to appear before an honor board (similar to a court) to determine the punishment, which in some cases may include expulsion (where the student is asked to leave the school). Each school has specific policies (rules) governing investigation and punishment of cheating.

Is it necessary to type my papers?

Most teachers prefer or require you to type papers or reports in a specific manner. Most schools have "word processors" (computers used for printing reports) available for students to use at no cost. If you do not know how to use the word processor, the school will provide instruction for you. If you can't type or don't have a typewriter or computer available to you, you may want to consider paying someone to type your papers.

How much will I have to study?

Depending on your class load (the number of class hours you have per week) and your major, you may have to study more than you have in the past, especially if English is not your first language. Talk with other international students regarding their habits. Many schools offer courses on how to study, which can be very helpful to new students. A common rule to follow is to spend 2.5 to 3 hours in preparation for every hour of class time.

However, be sensible. If you study all night for a test, your mind won't function well during class. And if you leave no time for social life and relaxation, you will become frustrated and lonely.

What if I have other questions about my school?

Each college operates differently. If you have questions about registration, schedules, tuition, testing methods, and so forth, consult your college handbook, your foreign student adviser, other students, or an American friend.

Each department in your school also has designated "academic advisers," one of whom will be assigned to you from the department in charge of your major. These faculty and staff can be very helpful in planning your course of study.

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