Before exams, I went on an adventure with my older sister to London and Paris. It was quite a lot of fun, but nothing like I expected. We absolutely loved London. It seemed that there was a place for everyone in London. It was such a mix of different cultures and traditions. We did all the classic touristy things like seeing the London Bridge, riding the London Eye, and watching the Changing of the Guards (which was a bit underwhelming). But we also did a lot of wandering in different places, finding Christmas markets tucked in little street squares, or pretty buildings that have probably been there for centuries. Perhaps my favorite part was attending Christmas Eve Midnight Mass at Westminster Abbey. I don’t imagine there are many people who can say they’ve done that.
In comparison to London, Paris was actually a bit drab. Perhaps it was just because it was winter, but everything seemed a bit dirty and unkempt. Plus it was cloudy and cold almost the entire time we were there. Nevertheless, we still managed to have a good time. We did a really cool tour of the catacombs, and of course went on the Eiffel Tour. For New Year’s Eve, we went to the Champs Elysee. That was actually a lot of fun. I got to translate pieces of the French constitution as they scrolled across the Arc de Triomphe, then they did a really neat light show that ended in a big fireworks display. Of course there was a big concern that the Yellow Vests were going to do something that night, but it was actually pretty calm. Though we did see a dude get tackled by the police, and another dude get chased by police dogs. On my last day in Paris, my sister left in the morning and I spent the rest of the day with a friend near Sacre Coeur. We found a really neat little artist’s square with tons of local artists set up, painting and selling their art. Some of it was quite good. We also found a delicious crepe shop nearby. All in all, it was a pretty great way to end my stay in Paris.
I finally finished exams last week, and I still can’t decide whether I like them better here or not. As I think I’ve mentioned before, exams are spread out over three weeks after Christmas break. I also discovered that they are extremely rigorous when it comes to eliminating cheating by students or grading biases by professors.
To eliminate cheating, pretty much the only things you are allowed to bring into the exam room are pencils, IDs, water bottles, and calculators. Although calculators are only allowed if they have stickers on them to show that they were pre-approved. Phones are also allowed, but they must be turned off, placed in a brown paper envelope, and placed under the desk. Exams are also only held in special examination rooms where desks are evenly spread out, never in a normal class room. Since there are a limited number of these rooms, multiple exams are usually held in the same room at the same time. But annoyingly, exams don’t always have the same end time. One of my exams was two and a half hours long, and I believe the room was shared with a 40 minute test, an hour test, a two hour test, and a three hour test. It’s a bit distracting when the other people are leaving, but the room is organized so that each test group is grouped together, and it’s ordered so that people with shorter tests are closer to the door.
There is an equally rigorous system for avoiding grading biases. For one, the professor is not in the room during the exam. There are instead official test administrators in the room who have no connection to the tests being taken. Your name is also completely concealed from the exam paper. You write and sign your name in the corner of the answer booklet, but then you fold the corner over and seal it. The only other identifying thing on the cover is your ID number. But it doesn’t end there. Apparently the professors don’t actually grade the exams (I’m not entirely sure if that’s always true, but it’s definitely true in the math department… or the maths department as they call it here). I have also heard that each exam is always graded by two different people (to ensure the point tallying is correct), then someone else comes along to make sure the points actually add up, then someone else comes along to see if the overall grade scale needs to be shifted (with the approval of the professor), then finally someone else comes along to do one final check. I actually heard about that five-step process from a different university, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they do something similar here.
To top off the entire strange exam system they have here, we don’t get our grades back until March. That is very annoying for financial aid’s sake, but I suppose it’s worth it if they’re using that time to eliminate cheating and grading bias.