Examinations in the US

Story by

Rajeev Verma




Natural Sciences



One of the biggest features of the flexible US education system is the variety of exams that a student encounters and thus for someone from South Asia this is one of the biggest transitions in education as an international student. The exams I faced during my undergraduate years were once in a year and it was mostly memory based.

Unfortunately, I was never really good with memory based study back home but I excelled in lab exams that required application more than rendering information from memory. The former really used to bring down my grades and I felt like an average student. I never really asked for the professors’ help because at that point I knew that their response would be a statement that was repeated over the years which was, “The exam you faced was the same one hundreds of other students faced, just work harder and you’ll be fine”.

But before arriving in the US, I was told by my education counselor that the education system here is very flexible and I might actually end up enjoying studying there. The concepts of ‘open book exam’ and ‘take-home’ exam were alien to me, and when classes started, I also became further overwhelmed by the graduate student life and the fact that I absolutely needed As in the following semesters to continue my education in that school. So, I consulted my advisor and I mentioned to him that I don’t generally do well in exams that require memorization of information. It was then that he suggested me to take up two graduate level courses that allowed open book exams as well as take home exams.

When the exams were assigned, I was told that I had an entire week’s time to complete the exam. It was at that moment I realized my true potential as a student. All the questions I answered were based on every detail that was explained in the class by my professors and access to wide variety of scientific books and articles. The relaxed atmosphere at home only helped me do well in the exam. I allotted several hours for a single question and worked on the exam until I felt I could not improve it any further.

From that exam onward, I did not look back. It really boosted my confidence since I topped the class with scores of A and A+ in the exams in a highly competitive environment. When I told my advisor about my progress he was clearly delighted but mentioned that it was not a surprise since he believed that I would succeed in an environment which required application of knowledge. That was exactly the morale boost I needed.

The point of my story is that many like me coming to the US for education would feel the way I felt, like an average student. But I personally feel that many of you will realize their true potential when you come face to face with educational structure that offers as much flexibility as the US education system. This, along with an internship will be an ideal recipe that will shape and prepare you for real-world professions.

Public Speaking

Story by

Tanzeem Choudhury




Business Studies



One week before I wrote this story, I delivered the commencement speech for the business school at a prestigious university in front of a large audience. I think it went really well, at least in comparison to how well I did in my first classroom presentations as an international student just a four years ago.

In my second semester, I took a geology class with concentration on natural resources. Its final project was to choose an energy topic (e.g. oil, gas, hydropower etc.) and to present their applications, advantages and disadvantages to the class, followed by a question and answer session. The instructor hinted us that he would be grading on the quality of presentation and the interaction as well, besides the validity of information in the presentation.

It was going to be my first time taking part in a public/ classroom speech in front of a group of students. I did perform in public before, but that was limited to Koran recitations in my home country when I was younger. Hence, I did some practice runs and the results were not encouraging at all. I was either speaking out of memorization like a parrot, or losing a hold of my speech when I looked at the crowd in order to be interactive. Based on the practice, I was horrified. I did not know what to do, and I did not know how to curb the fear of failure that was building up inside me with each failed attempt.

I researched the Internet and talked to my mentors for advice. Finally, I found some of my pressure points that gave me some relief before the speech.

First, I talked to my professor before the speech. I went to his office hours, exchanged experiences and views. After all, he would be my main audience and I was going to mainly address my presentation to him. Hence, knowing that he had confidence in me helped a lot.

Second, music gave me a burst of energy before the presentation. Music works my soul and polishes my brain. Listening to motivational tracks like ‘eye of the tiger’ makes me fired up for at least the 10 minutes of the presentation, if not more that that.

Finally, I reminded myself that I had nothing to lose. I looked at the harsh reality that I was a nobody in that class. Nobody knew me, I didn’t have to be the smartest person in the room, I had no reputation and certainly did not have a dignified accent. When there’s nothing at stake, it is just worth trying for the fun/ heat of the moment. These three pressure points helped me to do well in that presentation. In fact, they have helped me to do well in every presentation after that.

Back to my graduation, as I walked down the stage after giving the commencement speech, I thought about that first, terrified attempt to speak in front of my geology class. As we work to make ourselves better for the future, I thought we often forget where we started and how much progress we have made. If we recognize the distance we have travelled, we students can be more inspired and optimistic about the future. Even international students who are scared to death as a class presentation is approaching can be.