Diego in Brazil: Final exams at PUC-Rio

Yesterday I had my first final exam at my host university. I would not say that my time in Rio de Janeiro simply flew by, but I certainly feel that the second half of the semester was somehow much shorter. It seems as if just two weeks ago I was writing my mid-term exams. Yet here I am, about two weeks away from closing this experience abroad. As with my post about mid-term exams, I am posting pictures of PUC-Rio’s campus. This time I took two pictures right outside the main campus entrance.

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The main entrance to PUC’s central campus. Several public buses either go through or end their routes right in front of these doors, making the campus quite accessible.

This week I wrote my Portuguese final exam. It was incredibly short and I suppose PUC simply wants to test how much its foreign exchange students are learning. Rather than bombarding us with fifteen or twenty exercises on the same topic, my professor asked us to complete about twelve sentences in total that tested whether we can use different tenses and conjugate verbs. She also gave us a short reading and asked us to answer two short questions. Tomorrow we will have the oral section of my exam in which we will discuss racism in Brazil.

All of my other classes (Geography of the Contemporary World, Political Economy of Latin America, Brazilian Foreign Policy, and Poverty and Social Inequality) are mainly based on academic readings. Final grades in each class heavily depend on how students do in final exams, so I suppose my professors will be asking for two or three long, essay-type answers for each exam.

Interestingly enough, my four classes (or maybe my four professors) have different approaches to tests. Today my Poverty and Social Inequality professor distributed six essay questions for us to prepare at home, each relating to a particular text we read during our course. For our exam she will choose three of the six questions and ask us to develop a relatively long response for each. While this may seem rather simple, she expects us to incorporate our in-class debates into our responses, turning our exam into quite an interesting exercise.

My Brazilian Foreign Policy class will also have a “traditional” exam. We will be given three essay prompts that ask us to compare different authors, theories, and historical periods. This will certainly be my heaviest exam in terms of the amount of content I will need to prepare and study. Luckily, this has been my favorite course at PUC-Rio and it will be quite interesting to look back and realize how much I have learnt about Brazil and Latin America through this class.

The exciting moments of my next two weeks will most likely come during my Geography and Political Economy exams. These two professors have a very interesting approach to final exams. They both believe that having students simply reproduce what they have already read in academic texts does not show how much they have learnt. Instead, we will be given a newspaper article (or an image in the case of Geography) to analyze using the theories and arguments we have studied so far. My professors’ objective is to determine whether students have developed the skills to put new knowledge in practice.

This was probably not the most entertaining post of my semester, but I wanted to give you an idea of how different academic systems may be abroad. About 60% of my final grade for each class will be based on these exams. My experiences at the University of Richmond and at PUC-Rio have been different in this aspect, yet I am confident both systems have allowed me to learn immensely.

I will definitely let you know how my exams go!

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Step outside PUC’s campus and you will find several options for a quick lunch or even some Acaí (a highly popular “drink” made from the fruit of a particular palm tree.)


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