Academics: Grades, Excused Absences, and Disabilities Accommodations

Your grading options at a glance:

Type of Class Vassar Wesleyan
Cursos de Estudios Hispánicos (CEH) A-F only A-F only
Cursos de Humanidades (CH) A-F or NRO A-F or CR/U
Grado A-F or NRO A-F or CR/U
Key: A-F = graded; SA/UN = ungraded (Vassar); NRO = “Non-Recorded Option” (Vassar); CR/U = pass/fail (Wesleyan)

Grades from study abroad appear on the Vassar and Wesleyan transcript and are factored into the student grade point average. For policies at other institutions, students should consult with their dean or study abroad officer.

All CEH courses grant four UC3M credits and are offered for a letter grade only. Students from Wesleyan’s College of Letters may, as the exception, choose the pass-fail (CR/U) option. If they do so, they must notify the Director in writing before the drop/add period ends. Otherwise they will be enrolled for a grade.

Vassar NRO optionOne regular UCM (Complutense) or UC3M Carlos III course (CH or grado) may be taken NRO (Non-Recorded Option). The deadline for any NRO election is the same as the deadline on-campus (usually early October for fall semester and early March for Spring). No late requests will be accepted. To register an NRO election, students must seek authorization from their major advisor at Vassar, email the Vassar Registrar’s Office (Kathleen Giblin, Associate Registrar, at‎ with the name of the course and the grade that they are NRO’ing, and copy the current Madrid program resident director and assistant director, indicating the lowest letter grade they wish to have recorded on the permanent record. It is the student’s responsibility to doublecheck this with the advisor, confirm Vassar’s NRO deadline, write the Vassar Registrar’s Office before that deadline, and inform the director and assistant director in Madrid with a copy of the email sent to the Vassar Registrar’s Office. Hispanic Studies majors at Vassar are not allowed to NRO courses for the major once it has been declared.

Wesleyan CR/U optionOne regular UCM (Complutense) or UC3M (Carlos III) course (CH, grado) may be taken on a pass/fail basis if there is good reason. Good reason means that the student has attended and prepared for class faithfully; worked well and hard, including joining study groups with Spanish students; and met more than once with the professor to discuss how best to prepare for exams, papers, and presentations (which items to read on the bibliography, for instance; or what the format of exams is). Since program students who work as hard as they do in the U.S. and follow these strategies routinely receive the same kinds of grades they would in the U.S., we strongly recommend students take all their regular courses for a grade. Apart from the fact that it will motivate you to make a more serious effort toward an authentic academic and cultural experience, it will also look much better on your transcripts to future graduate or professional schools or employers. However, exceptionally students who have made these efforts find that the course is simply too difficult. In these cases, students should discuss the circumstances with the program director (normally from the middle of the term or as soon as consistent problems become evident) and be prepared to document their good-faith efforts. This would include evidence of having regularly gone to a professor´s office hours (tutorías) and joined a study group with Spanish students (preferably majors in the field covered by the course) to figure out how best to prepare for final exams or papers. For courses counting toward a major, students are strongly encouraged to consult with their major advisor before choosing the Cr/U option. Hispanic Literatures & Cultures majors at Wesleyan must take all courses they wish to count toward their major for a grade.

Grade Conversion: VWM students at the UC3M are subject to the Spanish grading system, which is either numerical, alphabetic, or both. In converting grades to the American system, the program takes into account the grade distribution within the given course, if we are able to document this, as well as any evidence of a skew affecting non-native students in particular. If evidence supports it, grades for direct-enrollment instruction will be curved accordingly but by objective criteria affecting all students in that course. By objective evidence we mean, for example, current or previous grading patterns shown in course Actas (grade lists) or, more often now (because program directors no longer receive these owing to confidentiality rules), screen shots provided by students of actual grades posted for all students on the course platform. Students should take those screen shots as soon as they appear in their course platforms and share them with the director, because frequently they are posted only provisionally and then disappear because of confidentiality. Directors might be able to use this evidence to make additional adjustments to the tables we provide below. Directors also make further allowance for direct-enrollment courses that we know are sometimes especially difficult for non-native speakers, such as Math and Natural Science courses (among others). Bear in mind that program directors and study abroad officers have no authority over professors abroad, any more than we have it over your professors at Vassar or Wesleyan. We can help you review the learning and communication strategies on this website and also help you interpret and send messages. If there is a serious problem, we can try to contact a professor through our university liaisons although they also have no direct authority over professors. We will certainly take into account documented problems. However, your direct communication (and rapport) with your professors is your best guarantee of success and satisfaction. For strategies to make the most of that, see the subsections below. For other curving criteria see especially Tracking Grades, the Program’s Curving Policies, and Adjusting to Different Learning and Communication Strategies.

Generally speaking, the grades for CEH courses taken at the Carlos III have the following equivalents:

Spanish/Numerical Spanish/Alphabetic VWM Equivalency
8.5 – 10 Sobresaliente A range
6.0– 8.4 Notable B range
4.5 – 5.9 Bien C range
4.0 – 4.4 Aprobado D range
0 – 3.9 Suspenso Fail
NP (not present) Withdrawal or Failure

Generally speaking, the grades for Cursos de Grado and CH have the following equivalents:

Spanish/Numerical Spanish/Alphabetic VWM Equivalency
8.0 – 10 Sobresaliente A range
6.5 – 7.9 Notable B range
5.0 – 6.4


4.0 – 4.9




C range


D range

0 – 3.9 Suspenso F range

Tracking Grades at the End of the Term (Your Responsibilities): Once the term is over it is your responsibility to track grade postings in your Aula Global account or whatever equivalent course platform your professor uses. It is also your responsibility to communicate directly with your professors about any surprises you find there when it is still possible to correct the problem. Carlos III grades will usually be posted before the group departure in your Aula Global account. Complutense dates vary from department to department. You will notice, first, that you are given a “nota provisional” for each of your courses. You will also normally at the same time be given a date, time, and location to meet with the professor for a “revisión de la nota.”

You must keep an eye out for this revisión meeting if you have any doubts or questions about your final exam or final grade. It will usually be announced through your Aula Global or whatever course platform or method (such as email) has been used by the professor to communicate with students through the semester. Pay close attention to this and take it seriously: it is virtually impossible to make this up later. If you do not see such a meeting announced, contact your professor immediately after the final exam to find out if s/he would offer one. If you are unable to attend this meeting for a seriously compelling reason (such as another scheduled exam), find a way to talk about this with your professor. In general, move heaven and earth to be present for any officially scheduled revisión meetings, exams, or make-up exams. If you are asked to propose another date, offer as wide a range of dates and times as possible. There is nothing more off-putting (to American professors as well!) than students who announce they are only available on X date and Y time: it comes across as presumptuous and disrespectful. Bear in mind professors at public universities have many students and obligations and, as an American program in Spain, we are here as their guests.

A revisión is an appointment with a professor to review the final grade. It’s a chance for the student to raise any questions about how the grade was calculated (or what happened on a final exam or paper) and for the professor to explain the grade, catch any mistakes, and/or make any adjustments based on possible mistakes, etc. It is sometimes possible to raise your grade somewhat (“rascar mejor nota”). Occasionally, professors will indeed recognize an oversight or mistake and adjust the grade accordingly. They might also recognize unusual circumstances, as in a student from abroad who might honestly have misunderstood a set of instructions. It is at the very least an occasion to review the exam and the rationale for the final grade. If the exam or final grade is much lower than you expected, it is especially important to attend these “revisiones” because the professor (1) might have made a mistake, (2) might recognize s/he was too harsh, (3) might recognize your special circumstances, or (4) at least, will be obliged to explain and justify the outcome. It is always a chance to show a professor you care and to give both parties an opportunity to clear the air about what went down and why and whether there’s anything to be done besides a make-up exam if this is an option. 

Our suggested strategies for a revisión

(1) Above all, keep as neutral and professional a tone throughout as possible: you are there to find out what happened and what can be done, to listen (as well as to ask all questions you might have), and to explain (again as neutrally as possible) what you might have misunderstood about the final exam or the final grade or anything else in the course. If you were unprepared for the exam, the meeting is an occasion to explain whatever it was that caught you off your guard, despite whatever actual preparation you did. You can explain what you thought the exam would cover and therefore how you prepared for it: it’s just as important for a professor to hear how their expectations do or do not come across, especially perhaps to students who are not majors here, as it is for them to explain themselves to students. In general, as a matter of principle (or strategy) it’s especially important you show two things: (a) that you really care about learning the material and working for the best possible result and (b) that you acknowledge as a matter of principle that this is the professor’s course and s/he dictates the terms, recognizing it’s your responsibility to adapt to local expectations. If you acknowledge and show you respect that fact to start with, professors are more likely to be as accommodating as they can allow themselves to be within the protocols established by the university–especially considering that you’re not only a foreign student but also have only spent one term abroad. Give them a chance to show their generosity and try to make it as much of a conversation (a respectful exchange of perceptions) as you can.

(2) Although this meeting in principle will be about clearing up how the grade was determined (or how the final exam was evaluated) and answering any questions you might have about that, it is also a chance to confirm whether there is a make-up exam (or whether the professor would consider offering one), when it is scheduled if so, and whether it will (or could) be written or oral, in-person or on-line. Obviously if you will have trouble being present for compelling reasons (such as the group return flight) and you cannot get around them (e.g., by rescheduling your return to the US), ask whether an oral and/or on-line exam would serve in its place. As a rule written papers are not considered the equivalent of an exam, but you can ask if one would be accepted to raise your final grade a bit. 

(3) If you do not already know this, ask if any other work this term was taken into account in the final grade: were there exámenes or trabajos parciales (midterm papers or exams), trabajos de grupo (collaborative work, such as a presentation), a grade for participación, etc.? If you were assigned such work and the grades were not taken into account and you never received a grade for them, ask whether the professor would share formal evaluations of that work with you. In any case, be sure to outline those assignments and forward the grades and the work itself to the program director, since s/he might be able to use such evidence to justify an improvement in the grade conversion.

Generally, the date of the revisión is scheduled within a week (sometimes within a day or two) of a grade’s posting. If you take the make-up exam, a revisión date will sometimes be offered to review the results of that and the final grade. This meeting is, as a rule, the last opportunity to change a grade before it is entered into the official Actas (the official grades as they will appear in Spanish university transcripts). At the Carlos III, a revisión is a right and if a professor does not freely offer one after initial grades are posted, you should request one. At the Complutense this varies from department to department, but if you do not understand a grade you should reach out to your professors there by whatever means of communication they have established (course platform, email, text, or whatever) as the best way. When grades are posted will vary according to the course schedule, which means that CEH grades will be posted first, followed by Carlos III grados and CHs, and finally Complutense grados.

This kind of full conversation, plus documentation as much as possible of the work this semester and of your communications with your professors, is to a large extent what study abroad is about. So we strongly encourage you to approach revisiones and/or make-up exams in that spirit, in a spirit of openness to see what you and we (as well as the professor) can learn from them. 

Make-up exams: occasionally professors will announce soon after the official exam date an opportunity to retake the exam (convocatoria extraordinaria de examen). If not and you were disappointed by your final exam grade, ask whether one will be offered. Be sure to find out whether it will be written or oral, on-line or in-person. It is very important to show up for any officially scheduled make-up exam (if you did poorly on the official final) and prepare your best for it. If you need to change the group return flight date to be present for a make-up exam, the program will cover the fee and host-family costs. It’s the student’s responsibility to anticipate that conversation with the host family and the assistant director of the program. If a professor schedules a make-up exam soon after the official final exam it usually means s/he uses exams to show students what they don´t know, so they´ll review and try again almost immediately. In other words, s/he uses exams as a learning tool. Few professors in the US offer make-up exams, so consider it an opportunity. If you do not show up for any officially scheduled exams or at least find a way to communicate with the professor about why you cannot (sending an unanswered email is not enough), it might be interpreted to mean you don’t care. At the very least taking all available exams and attending all revisión meetings will show seriousness about the desire to work at improving a final grade.

At some point soon after your provisional grades are posted, beginning with the CEH grades, you will notice they will suddenly disappear from your aula global. The reason is that once the Actas are issued, and your provisional grades are no longer provisional, your grades are moved to your expediente (or transcript). To consult your expedientes, click on the following link ( and then the pdf entitled Cómo ver mis calificaciones Follow the instructions there and you’ll see your final grades, not only for the CEH courses but for all of your Carlos III courses once the Actas are officially closed. 

The Program’s Curving Policies: A seemingly low grade may be (sometimes far) less low in the light of our conversion tables and especially in the light of a given professor’s grading patterns. That is, where does the top grade start, is there any evidence of a skew against non-native students, have students documented persistent misfires in instructions or communication over the course of the term? This might also depend on objective evidence of severe miscommunication or difficulty in a given course, almost invariably signaled by the large number of “no presentado” (absent) students in the final exam or by low grades across the board. The key is direct (in-person, not email) communication with your professors, always the essential step. Bear in mind that directors now do not have direct access to course Actas (lists of grades) because of confidentiality. However, sometimes both Carlos III and Complutense professors will share the whole range of grades given for an exam or paper with the entire class. Confidentiality is protected because information is cued to i.d. card numbers rather than names. If you take a screen shot of these postings and share with the program director you will help yourself and the director make an objective case for curving further when there is a marked skew in grades. Take and store the screen shots as soon as you see the grades for a whole class because they will often disappear soon after posting because of confidentiality.

Also bear in mind that final grades are not usually published before early February or early July at the earliest. Moreoever, the Complutense is on a later schedule than the Carlos III, as you know, and we must report all grades at the same time. The Madrid program’s unusual (and rewarding!) emphasis on direct enrollment means, therefore, that grades will usually be reported somewhat later than other programs. Finally, the Registrar’s Offices at Vassar and Wesleyan can take up to a month to post grades after they are sent to the Study Abroad offices from the Madrid program office. To give you an idea of timing, the Madrid office has generally been able to report all grades to the Study Abroad offices by mid-March for the fall term and by mid-August for the spring term.

Official Make-Up Exam Dates in June at the Carlos III and in June, July (or sometimes September) at the Complutense: Other than clearing up any possible errors or oversights, addressing a lower-than-desired grade may involve taking a make-up exam in-person, on-line, or by fax from your college´s study abroad office. Less frequently it might involve writing a paper. It is not uncommon for European students to fail an exam on a first try and to retake a final exam for a course during what are called the “fechas (or convocatorias) extraordinarias para recuperar un examen” (vs. “fechas or convocatorias ordinarias”). Although the exam will not be identical, it will cover the same material and be formatted in a similar or identical way. This gives students an opportunity to learn from the first round and prepare in a more effective way for the second. Several program students have taken make-up exams this way over the past few years and have done very well on them. Even though the program recognizes a number of objective criteria for adjusting grades (sometimes up to 3 points), we cannot for obvious reasons guarantee a top grade in all such circumstances. If your “suspenso” grade is very low, you should seriously consider taking the make-up exam. Starting in 2015-2016, the “fechas extraordinarias” for both the fall and spring terms at the Carlos III have been moved up from September to June. The “fechas extraordinarias” for the Complutense are published in the same calendar as the official final exam dates for a course (these are usually scheduled now in either July or September). Sometimes Complutense professors in some departments offer a make-up exam almost immediately after the official final exam. However, bear in mind that while students always have the option of taking a make-up exam in Madrid, professors are not obliged to authorize a make-up exam by fax or on a date other than the officially published date for “fechas extraordinarias.” If you want or need to take a make-up exam (either in Madrid or at home), you must communicate this immediately to the professor by any means necessary (by email, phone, and/or tracking down in person). If you need to make up the exam before you go or take it by fax from the U.S., you must find out immediately from the professor whether s/he is willing to allow a proctored make-up exam by fax. You should let him/her know that our universities have protocols for proctoring and faxing an exam from our study abroad offices (“nuestras universidades tienen protocolos para recuperar exámenes por fax de manera controlada por nuestras oficinas universitarias de estudios en el extranjero”). If you are authorized to make-up an exam this way by a professor, you must let the program office and your home-campus study abroad office know as soon as possible, so that the study abroad offices can make the necessary arrangements. Increasingly now, oral or on-line make-up exams are being offered but you must confirm this with the professor for each course.

Attendance Policy and Excused Absences: Policies regarding evaluation of presence in class are set by professors in all curricula (Grados, CH, CEH). It is essential you find out what they are from each professor directly early on. The Bologna process (which has aimed to reform and standardize pedagogical criteria across Europe) places a great deal of emphasis on presence and participation.  Indeed, the Carlos III has communicated to program directors that the policy across the board is “zero tolerance” for absences. In practice, this may vary from professor to professor. However, you should take this aspect of your class performance very seriously. It is also important to figure out early on what is the best way to communicate with your professors: whether in-person, by Aula Global, by something like a course Moodle, by email, or by a chat app. It is your responsibility as a student to ensure your professors receive timely communications, for instance about missed classes. Do not assume that firing off an email into the ether is enough: professors at public universities are overwhelmed with messages from many sources.

It is also important to understand the program director´s role with regard to CEH (the program for American students). Even with CEH, we are effectively guests at the Carlos III, you are all officially registered students at the university, and we must honor local expectations and rules established by faculty. The CEH language professors always announce at the beginning of the term that absences must be channeled through program directors. This is sometimes misunderstood by students. All this means is they do not want to have to evaluate absences by themselves. It does not mean that we have any authority to excuse students. The Carlos III CEH program will only excuse an absence if you provide evidence (for instance, by confirmation of your host family) that you have gone to the hospital or a pharmacy or if your host family reports that you are seriously ill and bed-ridden. If the program staff knows this or has taken you to a hospital, we can report this. We have no authority to excuse you from class because you report you are not feeling well.

However, we certainly want you to tell us immediately if you are ill, etc., and need any kind of medical or psychiatric care. Your host families should also be able to help in this regard. The assistant director, Pepa, can let you know which hospitals, clinics, and doctors are near your host families. In addition, as you know, we are very much available to discuss any kind of issue that might arise. More generally, we are here to support you to ensure your academic success, although this of course is a responsibility you share with us: to ensure you understand professors’ expectations and make every effort to meet them. Except for our objectively defined curving criteria as explained above, we have no direct authority over grading. Finally, travel (a cheaper ticket, a delayed flight, a family member´s or friend´s decision to drop in on you) is never an acceptable excuse for absences from class, much less from exams. Build in ample margin (certainly a day at least rather than hours) especially during the exam period because university policy is very strict about this. If you have a documented disability and need accommodations, please see the item below about this.

Disabilities Accommodations: Program directors are not behavioral health experts and we must follow guidelines provided by on-campus staff responsible for disabilities accommodations and behavioral health issues, especially as they bear on your academic performance. For behavioral health resources see the program links under Life in Madrid, then Health and Safety. Disabilities accommodations must be established in writing by the administrator responsible for this on the student’s home campus and through self-registration with our two main host campuses in Spain according to the instructions below. The accommodations officially authorized must be provided as early as possible in writing (e.g., by email attachment) to the program director and assistant director and to Alvaro Escribano and Leonor Prado at the Universidad Carlos III. The protocols and contact persons for the primary consortial partners are as follows:

Vassar:  Students must contact MaryJo Cavanaugh (Director, Accessibility and Educational Opportunity,, tel. 845-437-7584, to establish disabilities accommodations and/or to communicate official accommodations to the Madrid program staff and the Carlos III authorities. The Vassar Accessibility and Educational Opportunity office will normally communicate official Vassar accommodations by email attachment to the Madrid program and Carlos III staff. However, this process must be initiated by the student.

Wesleyan: Students must contact Accessibility Services ( to establish disability accommodations with the Madrid Program staff and the Carlos III authorities. The Accessibility Services office will provide the student with accommodation letters that can be shared with the Madrid program. However, this process must be initiated by the student.

Self-Registration of Accommodations Needs at the Carlos III and the Complutense: Students who require accommodations will need to self-register at the appropriate university website upon receiving their Spanish-student ID. See the links below for the websites at the Carlos III and the Complutense. Students should also bring a letter from their home campus documenting their accommodations.

We strongly advise students self-disclose medical conditions to the program director and assistant director well in advance of the start of the program so we can anticipate ways to help you. Because of confidentiality, program staff will not otherwise be fully informed unless students choose to share that information.

Accessibility services at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M): 

Register at DISCAPACIDAD Y NEE (Necesidades Educativas Especiales) You might be required to enter two surnames after the Spanish custom to register officially: if so, enter your single (American-style) surname twice and it should work.

Accessibility services at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM), our other Madrid campus: Register at the Oficina de Integración para Personas con Diversidad (IOPD) via email directly at

Officially authorized academic accommodations will normally transfer from the U.S. but they must be handled through the Carlos III CEH program by way of the program directors. However, the key step is the student´s self-registration through the Carlos III and Complutense portals explained and linked above. Since the local language is not English, our students take courses from four different curricula (including a second Spanish university), and the accommodations letters are from colleges and universities in the U.S. rather than in Spain, students should therefore not send accommodations requests directly to their professors in Spain. Students should be in touch as soon as possible after the start of classes with their home-campus academic accommodations officers. That would be MaryJo Cavanaugh at Vassar, email address: And at Wesleyan it would be Accessibility Services, email address:, with further website information at Students should request that the corresponding officer email the current program resident director and the assistant director (Pepa Eizaguirre), with a copy to our Carlos III CEH coordinator Leonor Prado ( That email should include an attachment of the home-campus’s official academic accommodations letter for the student. The accommodations letter should spell out exactly the nature of the accommodations authorized for course evaluations.

For the most up-to-date information regarding accommodations check with the current Resident Director of the program.

Adjusting to Different Learning and Communication Strategies: Over the years, VWM students have done extremely well in direct-enrollment courses. The key to success has been effort, diligence, regular attendance, and open communication with the professor, that is, the same practices that lead to success on the home campus. However in a public university abroad this calls for more initiative on your part. It also calls for new learning and communication strategies. If you have any doubts or concerns about your standing in a course, the essential steps are (1) to meet in person with your professor (do NOT rely only on email communication, which may or may not be answered); (2) speak to the best Spanish students in the course or at least with majors in the field covered by the course (they might know how the professor thinks and, in any case, how exams and final papers tend to be structured in the major); and (3) join a (good) Spanish study group, if you have not already done so. Ask the professor (and perhaps also the monitores) how to go about this at the beginning of the term.

Miscommunication between students and professors sometimes happens because codes and expectations are not only very different at American and Spanish universities but, more tellingly, because they are very different at a large public university anywhere (including the US) and a small American private liberal-arts college. In large public universities in the US and Spain, simply because of the sheer numbers of students and because credentialing (exams, grading, official appointments to review results and raise questions about grades before they´re finalized. etc.) tends for better or for worse to be more formally regulated, students and professors are obliged to follow written procedural rules less liable to be negotiated simply because this lends itself too easily to favoritism or arbitrariness. There’s also more of an expectation that students will follow standardized protocols (such as keep an eye out for scheduled dates to make up exams or, more often, to meet to review grades = revisión) and make themselves as available as possible especially when they’re in a different time zone.

These differences in codes and expectations between large public universities and small liberal arts colleges apply as well to grading. European professors will say that “you are doing fine” if you are doing B or C work or even just passing. If you are hoping to come away with a high grade, it is essential that you communicate this to your professors so they can let you know what you need to do in order to achieve it. Our students do so routinely, but not without effort and especially regular, and clear, communication with professors. Normally this entails much more intensive work toward the end of the term, in preparation for a final exam and/or paper or even, if needed, a make-up exam soon thereafter.

You should always introduce yourselves in person to the professor close to the beginning of the term. The idea is to let him/her know how interested you are in the course material and in learning how to work effectively. You should also attend office hours (tutorías), even if you are not struggling. It’s important professors associate your name with your face at evaluation time and remember you as an actively interested student. This is good advice in the US too and not only in academic settings, but it is especially important in a large public university. On the other hand, do not panic if you are following this advice consistently and seeing 3s or 4s (out of 10) on preliminary work. Try to figure out (with the professor, the best Spanish students) how to improve your marks but also remember that some professors will make a 7 out of 10 their maximum grade. If we are able to confirm this directly or indirectly by objective means (including screen shots you send of any exam or paper grades for the whole class), we can justify adjusting our conversion tables accordingly (sometimes by as much as 2-3 points).

Bear in mind, too, that the opposite can occur: mid-term papers or exams or quizzes are frequently much easier than the final exam or paper. So it is imperative–again–that you state your hopes with your professors up front clearly, pin down as precisely as you can the format and kind of information or knowledge you are expected to master for the final exam, and do the corresponding work you need to do to earn the grade you would like. Because some program students decide to take their final exams earlier than the official schedule, it is especially important to do as the best Spanish students do and pace your preparation for the final exam over the course of the semester rather than try to cram it all in the final week. This takes iron discipline.

Also bear in mind that, in some courses, professors organize final exams deliberately to show up both what you know and what you don’t know. That is, the exam itself is used as a learning tool. There is nothing like staring at a blank page to realize that what you thought you understood you have not in fact fully figured out. Many would argue because of this that we have made a mistake in the US by throwing out exams in the Humanities in the past generation; the Sciences, tellingly, have not made this mistake. In and outside of the academic world and in your chosen profession later you will find yourself in many situations like an exam: a situation that is not always predictable such as an interview or a public talk. Because of this you will often want to put yourselves in an exam-like situation, to test whether you really know and understand what you need to know. This is how many professors in Spain treat exams and you should approach them as a learning opportunity, as a different way to figure out what you really know.

If you have done well in mid-term exams, papers, group work or presentations, most professors will not hold one poor grade against you. Therefore, even if you think you have done poorly on any one evaluation because you were taken by surprise, in many cases it might well not be reflected in the final course grade. In the meantime, it invariably helps to speak to the more academically motivated Spanish students in the course and find out what their strategies are for preparing the final exam or paper. As a rule, students form study groups that can be rewarding both academically and socially. Do not forget, as explained above, that some professors will schedule make-up exams very soon after the final exam. And they will, as a rule, schedule a revisión meeting to explain their grades.

In general, you will certainly find there is much-less handholding and signaling along the way in European public universities than what you might be used to in American private liberal arts colleges. Some of us would argue that they are a better preparation for life. In any case, treat these differences as an opportunity to learn new academic and life skills. As a rule we have found that, despite the enormous pressures on public-university professors, the overwhelming majority of professors at the Carlos III and the Complutense have been cooperative and often generous with our students–especially those who have demonstrated their willingness to learn in new ways and work for their grades.

Given our students’ general academic talent and work ethic, along with the guidelines for curving explained above, low grades or failures after conversion are very much the exception. In fact, without exception in the program’s history they have been a predictable result of choices made by students in the way they spent their time during the term: e.g., cutting classes, binge tourism, partying at the expense of study, or failing to follow up adequately with professors or fellow Spanish students. Please bear in mind that CEH courses are not, by any means, necessarily easier in this regard than direct-enrollment courses (grado or CH).

For tips on time management, organization, strategies for studying, and other helpful advice from Wesleyan’s Academic Peer Advisors, see this great resource: