I have about two and a half weeks left here in Edinburgh. I have taken two out of my three final exams so I feel confident enough to share a bit of advice about the exam process. For starters, all courses that have exams (except courses that have never been taught before) put their past exams on the library website. Even before the start of classes you can log onto the library page and find copies of all the past exams for the course. For some of my courses, I had access to exams going back to 2002. This is obviously extremely helpful, especially if you have a course that barely changes its exam questions from year to year. Even if the past exams are different, you can still usually find patterns and predict what kinds of questions your exam will have. Second, ask your professors or lecturers for guidelines on how to study for their exam. If you explain to your lecturer that you are a visiting student and have never taken an exam at the University of Edinburgh before, chances are they are going to be very sympathetic and guide you in the right direction, especially if you have demonstrated an eagerness to learn throughout the semester. Third, don’t book your flight home until you know your exam schedule. Exam schedules usually don’t come out until March so make sure you wait to book your flight or book it for after the exam period is over. The University of Edinburgh does not confine all their exams into one week like we do at UA. They stretch their exams out over the second half of April and the entire month of May. That’s a month and a half of exams! I had two exams the last week of April and I don’t have my third and final exam until the last week of May. If you have enough time in between exams, you can set aside time to travel.
As for the actual content of the exams and the general teaching method of the University of Edinburgh, I have a few bits of advice. If you are a science, math, or engineering student, I would recommend not taking any required classes at the University of Edinburgh. I am a physics student at UA and planned on taking an upper level required physics course at the University of Edinburgh. Unfortunately, after a few lectures, I realized that the course I was in did not match up to my previous physics courses and would not work as a substitute to a UA physics course. I was forced to change my courses last minute and this caused me a great deal of stress, especially as I am a junior and need to graduate in four years. My advice is not to risk it. Take elective courses while at the University of Edinburgh. I took an elective physics course instead of the mandatory physics course and it worked out very well. My only other advice about STEM courses at the University of Edinburgh is this: GO TO THE TUTORIALS. Because most classes at the University of Edinburgh don’t offer homework, the once a week (or once every other week) tutorial is the only structured time you will be given to work through problems. Coming from UA where I have mountains of physics homework and feedback on my work, this came as a shock to me. Even with the tutorials, I had to work very hard to prepare for the final exam (which was all problem solving).
I don’t think this will be a problem for students in humanities or other non-science courses. The academic structure of the University of Edinburgh highly favors the humanities. During this semester, I was actually taking more credits than regular students and I was in class less than 10 hours a week. Plus, with none of my classes giving homework, I had a ton of extra time to devote to planning, writing, and proof reading my essays and presentations. At UA, I am in class twice as long and have hours of homework each night, often leading to me putting off essays and presentations until a few days before they are due. At the University of Edinburgh, I started researching for my final essays months before the due dates.
My last bit of advice is this: know yourself and know your needs. As much as I love Edinburgh and the University, there are things I should have considered before settling on Edinburgh for my semester abroad. I should have worked my class schedule better in order to avoid the stress of changing courses. As someone whose mood is highly affected by the weather, I probably should have considered warmer, sunnier places to spend a semester. All in all though, I definitely don’t regret my choice to study at the University of Edinburgh! This city is wonderful and I feel very at home walking along the streets. I am going to miss Scotland a lot once I come back to the US. If you do decide on the University of Edinburgh for your study abroad experience, I know you will come to love this city as much I have and I have no doubt you will enjoy your time in Scotland.