So it’s two weeks before finals start at Sciences Po – and nobody has any idea what’s going on. For the past several weeks we’ve been asking our conférence teachers to explain our finals to us, but after half an hour of explanation today by one of them, none of us (in the programme international) is any closer to understanding.
This is what we’ve got: each Sciences Po class is apparently worth 10 credits rather than the five any U.S. university would assign to a course that consisted of a lecture and a conférence (similar to a quiz section). The scary part is that rather than have a grade that’s an average of the work each student has done over the semester and their grade on the final exam, each grade sheet will reflect two separate grades – one for the conférence, where notes are cushioned by exposés, dissertations and class participation done throughout the past five months. One grade, however is based entirely on the final exam. That’s right, five entire credits are dolled out or withheld based on each student’s performance on a 10-minute exposé during finals week.
That’s the other scary part – the actual format of the finals. A group of us from the programme international were talking in class today (the conférence for La vie politique française d’aujourd’hui) about how in the U.S., you know on day one of the semester when your final will be, what it will cover (be it comprehensive or midterm to final) and what the format will be. At Sciences Po the information is just beginning to trickle down to us, the foreigners.
Though we’d speculated before on the degree of difficulty of finals at France’s elite school of political science, we hadn’t given a lot of thought to the format – how different could a final on the continent be from what we’re all used to? The answer is quite. We do have a “finals week” at Sciences Po, but at the moment the only finals scheduled are for the masters students. The rest of us are waiting to find out when and where our exams will take place. How will we find out? We have no idea. All we got out of our maître de conférence was that we would, at some point before we’re supposed to show up for it, be assigned an individual exam time for each of our classes.
When we receive our exam assignment, there’s nothing to do but prepare as much as we can – which for my European Union class means that we will all be doing everything we possible can to finally understand this freak political entity, but will most likely not succeed at this. I think the main thing I’ve gleaned from this course is the fact that the EU really is an objet politique non-identifiée, a play on the acronym OVNI, the French version of UFO. Think “Unidentified Political Object.”
When exam day arrives, each of us will arrive at our appointed examination room at our appointed hour, and receive two questions or theses. We then have an hour to prepare a 10-minute exposé on one of those topics, using no resources but the knowledge we’ve acquired over the semester. When the hour is up, we must argue our thesis for 10 coherent minutes in front of anywhere from one to several examiners. After 10 more minutes of exposé-related questions from the examiners, the final is over – and we are left to chew our fingernails to their quicks until grades come out and we find out just how terrible a grade for five credits of lecture can possibly be.
At the moment though, everything is still completely up in the air. We don’t know when our finals are, we don’t know what they’ll cover, we don’t know how to prepare and we have no idea what kind of grades to expect (er well, aside from the fact that we’re expecting low ones). All I have to go on is the fact that my maître de conférence of my EU class doesn’t think that any of us are likely to completely fail the five credits. That assurance really does nothing for my mental state right now.