Pamplona Guide: Top six things to know about classes, exams and grades at the University of Navarra

UNAV students study in the Sala de Lectura in the lower library.

By Laura Davison

Think about the jump you made from high school to college. In college, there are less daily graded assignments and smaller projects. Instead, there are a few big projects and/or tests that compose the majority of your grade. Going from Mizzou to UNAV is even one more step. Rejoice! There are no Blackboard quizzes, clickers or weekly blog posts.*

But that means the assignments you do have are weighted much more heavily. It is not uncommon for exams to be worth 60-80 percent of your final grade. The only graded work for one of my classes was a final exam and a paper, both of which I turned in on the same day. Other classes had midterm exams, essays and projects. In general, I had between three and six larger assignments for each class.

The academic structure at UNAV is substantially different from the system at Mizzou and many other American universities. A few weeks ago, I wrote about credits and finding courses to take. This week I share ways I found to do well once you’re on campus and in the classroom.

1. Grades are figured from 1-10, with 10 being the best. Mizzou and UNAV both consider 5 to be a passing grade. As a Mizzou student, you’re classes will transfer back as passing, so long as you get a 5 or higher. Grades in Spain aren’t inflated like they can tend to be in the United States. Students aren’t obsessed with getting just 9s and 10s. Those grades are reserved for students who truly do extraordinary work. If you’re a student that is used to getting all As in the U.S., don’t be discouraged if you get some 6s or 7s. While we might see that as getting a C or a D, academically-gifted Spanish students are quite accustomed to getting grades at this level.

2. Exams take place during a three-week period in May. Exam dates for each specific class during the exam period will be published sometime during the middle of the semester. It is wise to schedule a flight home after this exam time. Professors will probably not push up the exam for you. While the exam period is much more spread out than it is at many American universities, it can also be more stressful because the majority of your grade is dependent on you doing well on the exam.

UNAV students on the courtyard in fron the the Facultad de Comunicación building.

3. There is a make-up/re-do exam period after the original exam time. This is offered every year for students who didn’t pass the exam the first time around. Because the final exam comprises the vast majority of a grade in any given class, failing an exam pretty much ensures you will fail the class. Students fail final exams in Spain. It’s normal and doesn’t quite have the stigma it does here. That is why they always offer the second exam period.

4. Don’t freak out that you are going to fail all your classes. It’s not impossible to pass, or even get 8s and 9s in some of your classes. Introduce yourself to your professors on the first day of class. Some may recognize you are an exchange student, but others may have no idea you aren’t from Spain (and that Spanish isn’t your first language). From that meeting you can gauge how willing they are to work and potentially offer additional help to exchange students. Most professors are quite accommodating. Some offered to let me write some essays in English. Though I didn’t take them up on the offer, it was nice to know they were being considerate. Other professors called on me and others in class to give the American perspective of the topic of the lecture. If you attend class, complete assignments and put in an honest effort on the final exam, professors will take notice and help you pass their class if you’re struggling. Professors want to see hard-working international students do well.

4. Students at UNAV get their textbooks from three sources: bookstores, the library and by photocopying a friend’s book. There is a bookstore located on campus as well as several others in Pamplona that carry textbooks. The library also has a good selection of many of the books required for classes. You can check a book out for a week at a time and renew it online for up to three weeks if no one else has requested it. It’s also quite common to use a photocopy of a book. Technically, this violates copyright laws just as it would here. I’m not endorsing this option, I’m just saying it happens. This is appears to be a Spanish-speaking world trend. I’ve noticed Spanish and Latin American students in my classes in the United States using photocopies instead of the books themselves.

Students attend a lecture in a classroom in the Facultad de Comunicación building on UNAV’s campus.

5. Classes at UNAV are more theory than practice based. Coming from the “Missouri Method,” this is a change of pace. However, there are many classes that have practical elements (called practicas). Neither the theoretical nor the practical classes are universally better than the other type. Of my two favorite classes, one was more theoretical and the other was more practical. I encourage you to take a mix of classes to get a more robust experience. When you talk to your professor on the first day of class, ask them what kind of work and projects are done in the class. Just as you wouldn’t want to take two reporting classes in the same semester at Mizzou, you probably don’t want to take two reporting-intensive classes while you are abroad.

6. Just like at Mizzou, professors hold weekly office hours. I visited nearly all my professors during their office hours and I found them to be quite helpful. Professors were very willing to give me honest feedback and were genuinely interested in learning more about my interests and educational background.

*Not that I don’t enjoy updating this blog weekly for J4806, Amy and Karen.

Photos courtesy of Universidad de Navarra’s Flickr Photostream

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