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20 February 2016

Living In Leuven | Exams & Post Updates

First of all, I have to apologise for the slow start to the 'living in leuven' posts this year. I left Edinburgh on the 10th of January and spent the rest of January studying and taking exams, so I didn't have a lot to document. As exams are over, the second semester had started so things on the blog are kicking off again! I thought I'd go over my exams and mention a slight change to my blogging schedule in this post also.

As mentioned, I spent the majority of January studying in the central library or at home. Thankfully, my residence turned the common room into a study room during exams, so I was able to use that when I couldn't be bothered walking 20 minutes to the central library - or if I fancied a day studying in my pyjamas! Whilst studying for my exams in Edinburgh, I never leave my house but switch from living room to kitchen to my room etc. That's probably the reason why I couldn't stand studying in my room in Leuven and much preferred to visit the library or the residence study room.

I had my first exam for Constitutional Law of the EU on the 16th of January. I was a complete nervous wreck the night before and spent most of the evening watching the snow fall down outside my window. Lo and behold, the whole of Leuven was covered in snow when I woke up! It took me an extra 20 minutes to walk to the exam venue than usual that morning. I also found out Nike Roshe Runs are NOT suitable for walking in the snow. I sat through the whole exam with freezing cold and wet feet!

I have no idea what to expect from the exam. I think this is one of the major downfalls of my host University - rarely any subjects uploaded a mock exam script on the online portal which left me turning up to my exams not even knowing if I was going to write an essay or answer short questions that morning.

For my constitutional law exam, we were given a series of sort essay questions relating to a particular fictitious case. Most of the questions related to the EU court procedure and how the Commission's legislative proposals can be amended. I had to write an essay on EU citizenship and reverse discrimination for the second part of the exam.

The exam was open book, so I was allowed to take my EU treaty book and summaries I had made of all the relevant cases into the exam with me. As a whole, I didn't think the exam was too bad.

My second exam was my Terrorism, Organised and Corporate Crime criminology course on the 19th of January. This was my only closed book exam and although I didn't find the actual content challenging, it was a struggle trying to memorise key dates and names of specific Italian Mafia groups - I swear it took me over a week to remember how to spell 'Ndrangheta'!. During the year, my lecturer gave us the option of skipping one of the three topics in the exam if we did a 15 minute talk in class. Unfortunately, as my Advanced Legal Methods deadline was due around this period, I opted to do the whole three part exam.

I didn't start the exam too confidently as I had to ask my lecturer what questions I was to answer in the exam. The paper consisted of approximately 5 questions on each topic (Terrorism/Corporate Crime/Organised Crime) and as we were only given 3 pages to write our answers on, it wasn't very clear whether we were to pick one of the questions and write a three page essay on it, or answer all 5 questions across 3 pages. The latter was true and although the questions were relatively straight forward, I found it quite difficult excluding certain information in order to fit each answer into 8/9 lines!

I answered every question with confidence besides a Terrorism question on the scientific definition of radicalisation, as I had completely forgotten what the definition was! My highest grade at University is actually in a politics course I took in first year, so I had high hopes for a decent grade in this exam.

One week later, I had my International and European Human Rights law exam. In Leuven, it's possible to choose which exam you would like to take out of two dates, to avoid certain course exams clashing. My friends who sat the first exam said it was relatively straight forward so I was trying not to stress out too much as I didn't enjoy the lectures during the semester and found it exceptionally hard to concentrate in class because of this.

The exam was partially open book - we were allowed to take in a book with various documents in it including the European Convention of Human Rights. Apart from that, we had to memorise the cases. Because of our law system in Scotland, I'm at an advantage when it comes to studying case law as a lot of my European friends here refer to a codex in their home countries and rarely have to deal with case law. In our delictual liability exam in second year, for example, I'm positive we had to memorise up to 100 cases for that exam! Surprisingly, I found learning the human rights cases difficult because of the foreign names. I think I only managed to memorise a few of the main case names and ditched the names and focused on studying only the details for the other ones.

The first part of the exam was about the procedure of the European Court of Human Rights. In all honestly, I didn't have a clue how to answer the first part. The questions were about the problems of the court and what member states have done in order to push the court towards completing it's legitimate aims. I managed to waffle through it, but I had no hope I'd pick up many marks for what I had written.

The second part involved solving a fictitious case. I thought this part was relatively straightforward, and in general, I think I perform better on these types of questions because I find it easier to break down the question and identify the various problems rather than answer an open ended essay question, for example.

As a whole, I left the exam feeling quite disheartened. I knew the first part of the question was worth 50% of my overall grade and I wasn't hopeful to pick up a lot of marks in that part.

My final exam was European Criminal Law the next again day. The lecturer briefly went over the exam format and I thought it was quite bizarre, but it was actually one of the most enjoyable exams (if exams can even be considered enjoyable!).

The exam was split into three parts: the first a series of statements where we had to decide whether it was true/false and then provide a reason to support our answer. The second was an essay question, but my professor stressed we shouldn't answer it like a proper essay, but give our answer in bullet points and weren't required to answer in proper sentences. The third part involved a table of 40 terms/case names/short descriptions where we were supposed to match the case name to it's description or a term to it's definition. I found this part of the exam the most difficult.

It was an open book exam, so I was allowed to bring in the 600(!) page reader along with any of my own documents, so I brought in my treaty textbook from home alongside a summary of all the cases we were given to study. If you have any open book exams, it's so, so helpful to bring in a summary of all the cases if you are allowed. This saved me so much time in the exam as a LOT of the cases we were given to study were sometimes 30 pages long and it's impossible to look through them again when you're tight for time during an exam.

Overall, I think I preformed well in the first two parts of the exam, but the third part was a little bit strange to me and I'm not overly confident I did terribly well there.

For me, the strangest part of sitting exams here is that they take place in our lecture theatres. Of course, we had to leave at least one or two tables between each person and no one was allowed to sit in the row in front or behind so the professor/assistants could walk along the rows and make sure the materials we brought in were permitted during the exam.

My results were announced on the 11th of February, only 2 weeks after I had sat my last exam! I'm both pleased and disappointed with my results. I often forget I'm studying masters courses here in Leuven compared to the undergraduate courses back home, so I'm considering a pass to be a great achievement and I'm trying not to beat myself up too much about the results. The exams in Leuven are graded out of 20, with 10 being a pass. In Edinburgh, the pass mark is 40%, so I think it's finally hit me that I really do need to study more often and my year abroad is most definitely not a holiday!

I'm due to meet with a few professors this week to discuss my results and how I can improve. As the whole system is new to me, I'm interested to find out how they mark the exams and whether it's my writing technique or just a lack of knowledge that's causing me to not attain the grades I would've hoped to receive. There is an appeal process in Leuven, but it seems quite complex. I've been told I'm not allowed to appeal an exam without the permission of my home University. Thankfully, I'm not desperate for an appeal, but some of my friend's results here count towards their overall degree and are not happy with their results. I guess I am pretty thankful I only have to pass my courses here and nothing more!

Finally, onto the blogging schedule this year... I have an extra two subjects this year compared to last semester so I'm devoting a lot of my spare time studying, which means I don't have as much time as I would like to write weekly posts. As a result, I'm thinking of scrapping the weekly posts this semester, but I'll write general post updates instead (like this one about exams, for example). I'm hoping to have my residence tour and orientation days post up soon and of course if there are any day trips/weekend's away, I'll be sure to blog about them too.

Hope you're having a great weekend!

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