One of the first things I have noticed upon arrival at the University of Aberdeen is that the assessment process is very different from the one in my home country.
I completed my Bachelor’s degree in France. If the types of assessment were similar to the ones we have here in Aberdeen (essays, case notes, practical questions, oral presentations), the way they are realised is entirely different.
In France, assessments are mostly based on lecture notes, materials studied in seminars, and sometimes, specifically designated case law or doctrine. Such a system enables predictability; however, it leaves little to no room for personal research and critical analysis. Assessments often take the form of written tests, with a strict and short time limit – usually between two and four hours. Students cannot access their notes or legal material, except for specific codes of law when allowed in some exams.
When I arrived in Aberdeen, I discovered that lecture notes are only the base of the knowledge we are supposed to acquire. We are expected to read academic articles to further our understanding of our chosen subjects (with the help of a reading list): there is more independent work to do, and it asks for more self-discipline. Indeed, we need to critically analyse our subjects for assessments and not just repeat the applicable corpus of law. On the other hand, we do have more time to complete our work, and we have access to everything: lecture notes, reading lists, online platforms, doctrine and case law. Every essay is a miniature version of a dissertation or a thesis.
I must admit that I genuinely like this system. Although it may sound daunting at first, it is highly educative. In the professional world, we are not supposed to know by heart every single applicable law: we are expected to be able to find it when needed, and also to understand its meaning, implications, pitfalls and strengths. I believe that this assessment process enables us to truly learn and not only accumulate information.
However, I must admit that there is one thing that I found frustrating at first: the word limit. I was not used to having a word limit, and I confess to being the student who wrote too many pages every time for evaluations. It took me some time to get used to it, but I understand the merits of the word limit today. I am not saying that I am not still finding it frustrating sometimes. However, I recognise that it helps me stay focused on my assessment question and improve my writing clarity.
Every assessment process has its advantages and drawbacks; nevertheless, I enjoy the one in place at the University of Aberdeen. I feel more confident about the knowledge I am acquiring, and I like to conduct this legal research. Even if, in the future, I return to France to pursue my studies, I will definitely bring back a part of the Scottish system with me and continue to apply the methodology I have discovered here.