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Vacation = Relaxation, right? by Cambridge

What I do over vacation...

Apparently this is not the case in England. They do things differently over there. Namely, instead of 2 or 3 tests a term and then a final exam, there is only 1 final exam. That’s right. One exam that counts for pretty much your whole grade. While this is not such a big deal to students in, say China, it’s a big change from MIT where our rooms are filled with piles of psets. AND, here’s what I think is the real killer, all the exams for the entire year happen during a 2-3 week period in the Easter term (there are 3 terms: Michaelmas, Lent, and Easter). So what does this mean? It means that we’re supposed to study over Christmas and Easter break. In fact, for engineers, the exams are at the beginning of Easter term so there’s panic over the last couple of weeks of Easter break.

So how are MIT students faring with this studying over the holidays business? Well, for the first week or so I was really motivated to get a lot of stuff done. But then Christmas came. And well, that means family, food, more family, TV, movies, more food… you know. So uh, I’ve been putting things off. Sigh, I foresee more panic once I get back to Cambridge. Oh wells… I mean, I’m sitting at home while writing this. Most of the other people on the exchange are traveling Europe. How much studying do you think they’re doing?

20 responses to “Vacation = Relaxation, right?”

  1. Shauna says:

    Hey I think I’d like Cambridge’s system. Probably its because I’m used to the British school system. I’m not really liking the idea of psets and lots of tests.

  2. Isaac says:

    The Cambridge system sounds pretty cool to me. Less stressful, at least.

  3. ankit says:

    I in the British system (A Levels) but we follow a good balance between te american and the british systems….we have teats…lots of them…but are final grade is obviously only based on the exam at the end of the year.

  4. Teresa '11 says:

    “we have teats…lots of them…”


  5. Reg says:

    The Cambridge system seems crazy, even if I’m doing A-levels. My exams are separated into two sections, which seems good but is actually bad. Because I have just spent the whole christmas holiday revising, new years included :(

  6. Masud says:

    Well where I come from….the final exam almost always accounts for 80% of the grade,the SBAs( School Based Assessments) count for 20% ( still alot!).But I certainly don’t mind psets and tests, I lurve to get back a test paper, in that way I’ll know what I know and what i don’t know(which usually isn’t much raspberry) Just my idiosyncrasy!

  7. My son was deferred by MIT, but he has just received an offer from Cambridge University.
    We are delighted, but he is still hoping to be admitted to MIT in March.

    Now that you have experienced both schools, which would you choose to attend
    as an undergraduate, if you were fortunate enough to be given the choice?

  8. Muz says:

    Oh, I’ve studied under a British system.. it has it’s advantages. But the big 50%-80% from the final exam will either kill your grades or save them. There are times when I did horribly during the semester, but managed to scrape an A- thanks to the finals, and there are times when I got straight A’s, but got a B- in the subject thanks to food poisoning and a bad calculator.

    @Mum in England: Cambridge is also a excellent uni, arguably as good as MIT. Since your son was deferred, I’m assuming he applied EA, and is thus a USA citizen? If I were him, I’d look for some experience in a foreign culture during my undergraduate studies, and IMHO, Cambridge is the one of the best universities outside of America. The only drawback seems to be huge costs of studying in the UK.

  9. Emily says:

    I’d be really interested in hearing more about the process of studying for those finals, once you’re done with them.

  10. Shauna says:

    Masud you mentioned SBAs. Are you from the Caribbean by any chance? I hate SBAs btw.

  11. @Muz:

    “Since your son was deferred, I’m assuming he applied EA, and is thus a USA citizen?”

    Yes, that’s right. He grew up in England, but he has an American passport,
    so he was able to apply EA.

    “The only drawback seems to be huge costs of studying in the UK.”

    As a UK resident, my son would pay a fixed tuition fee of about 3,000 GBP per year
    (that’s about $6,000) to attend any university in England, including Oxford or Cambridge.
    That’s a small fraction of what it would cost for him to attend MIT.

  12. Piper '11 says:

    As a non-UK resident?

    I’m kind of thinking of grad school in the UK…

  13. Lucy says:

    Mum in England: Both universities has its own advantages, culture, and unique experiences to offer. But they’re very different places. It’s hard to compare the two. They’re just too different. If your son is admitted to MIT in March, he should definitely attend CPW along with visiting any other universities that he was admitted to in order to find out where he would like to spend his undergrad years. (personally, I prefer MIT but this is probably because I’ve already made so much friends there and have come to regard it as a 2nd home.)

  14. Muz says:

    @Mum in England: Wow, I thought that the tuition costs for more prominent universities were more. From my country, living costs, test fees and material along with the UK’s very strong currency makes it a very expensive choice.

    In that case, Cambridge U is definitely a good choice. But I can understand waiting for MIT admission. Both universities are academically excellent, so it would be a hard choice. Personally, I chose MIT because a lot of my idols came from MIT and it seems suited to what I plan for my future, but I guess it’s up to what you’re looking for.

  15. @Lucy: Thank you for your thoughtful comments.
    He has already had an overnight stay at MIT, and
    he will definitely attend CPW if he is admitted.

    Cambridge and MIT are both great universities, no question.
    The students are brilliant and the professors are world experts.

    But what about that burning desire to change the world through
    technology? Isn’t that more of an MIT thing? Or do you find that
    attitude at Cambridge, too? I think that’s what attracts him to MIT.

  16. Alexander says:


    I am current Cambridge student. I think that MIT is more technological in the sense that technology is just a main focus at MIT (and it’s probably best known for it). On the other hand, Cambridge is more varied, being especially strong in the sciences (and what comes along: math and computer science).

    I would say: if your son is dead-on set he wants to go to a college that really focuses on technology, then MIT is a great choice. If, on the other hand, he wants to be around people who study such weird things like languages or politics, then Cambridge is great (actually, what I like most here is this sense of “richness”).

    He cannot make a wrong choice anyway. Moreover, there is an undergraduate exchange program between Cambridge and MIT that allows students to study abroad for one year.

    Good luck!

  17. phreaker says:

    That burning desire to change the world through technology is everywhere. Many idols of technology like Bill Gates and Dell didn’t even finish college. I’m sure that no matter where he goes, your son will be able to change the world. Its really up to the skills and friends he makes, both of which are available at MIT and Cambridge. But going with what Alexander said, Cambridge sounds like the better place to build a strong undergrad foundation.

  18. Lucy says:

    One of the things to consider that an American education generally aims for a wider background. At MIT and most other American universities, you’re required to take general classes that are often outside of your major. At MIT, you’re not even allowed to have a major until you’re a sophomore (unless you have enough outside credit to get sophomore standing but still doesn’t mean much). At Cambridge, you start working on your major right away. In fact, many Cambridge students who come to MIT take advantage of taking classes in different departments. I think this is partly the reason why most bachelors degrees in England only take 3 years instead of 4 in the US. Maybe I will ask current and past CME students to comment on this MIT vs. Cambridge topic and make that into a future post.

  19. Daniel says:

    Cambridge is great, your son should enjoy it here (in at Pembroke college) and if he is wanting to study engineering then there is a chance of a 1 year exchange to MIT (3rd year) Guide-Life in Cambridge.pdf
    is a good doc that seems to point out the differences,

    though i wish there was one the other way round if i decide to apply for my 3rd year at MIT