If you’re thinking about studying in Spain anytime soon, or more specifically at Universidad Pontificía Comillas in Madrid, you’re going to want to bookmark this article.
I wasn’t sure what the university-level education system was like in Spain. I am most familiar with the system and schedule at Drexel University. Granted, having to explain that quarters are different from trimesters and from semesters over and over again along with “a co-op is not an internship” isn’t a walk in the park, but it’s what I’m familiar with. GPA scores being on a scale of 4.0 depending on the number of credits attempted and completed, along with the scores for each class, is how I’m used to being evaluated for my academic performance. Classes can grade you on anything from 2 exams and attendance to lecture participation, weekly homework and lab reports, and exams. Most of my classes so far have been of the latter variety, with typically 4-8 categories of grades with each category being worth a certain percentage as mentioned in the syllabus. This is what I know and what I’m accustomed to.
Coming to Spain, I really didn’t know very much about how I would be evaluated at my university. Were classes easier because it was over a 16 week semester versus a 10 week quarter? Were there more exams? How often would I be in class? These were all questions that I had before beginning my semester abroad in Madrid.
The post-acceptance meetings with my advisor, the pre-departure meetings, and study abroad documents given to me all made sure to emphasize two points about grades: first, to prevent a hold on my account I needed to confirm what courses I am taking abroad during week 5, and second, that if I pass my classes according to my university’s standards and requirements, I would get credit for those classes. Credit meaning the classes would be marked as completed on my transcript, but would not count towards my overall GPA at Drexel.
At Comillas, the components of your grade aren’t typically given to you in the syllabus. The professor will verbally tell you in the first week of class (or they may not tell you at all). Also specifically at Comillas, in order to pass any given class, you will need to have attended at least 85% of class meetings. Although, for this rule in particular, professors take attendance in different ways. Some will go through the roster everyday and check off names, others will take it sporadically without warning, and others still will measure it by the assignments you turn in during class. Be sure you know the policy for each of your classes.
I had a bit of a unique situation when it comes to academic schedules here: I only have classes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and on Thursdays it is a singular night class. I am accustomed to being in class everyday 9am-3pm and then have a part time job follow afterwards. Here, I have more free time than I usually know what to do with. But having Fridays off has been the best thing for traveling while being over here. If at all possible, I recommend you request a schedule with either Mondays or Fridays off so you have a longer weekend for trips around the country you’re staying in.
As for actual grades, there are typically very few. Typically there are weekly assignments and a few large projects or midterm exams. But attendance is never a part of the grade, it’s just a requirement for passing the class. The grading is done on a scale of 0-10. Scores of 0-5 are considered failing. Below is a photo of what each of the points means as well as it’s conversion to what would be an “American Grade”.
It’s important to note that you’re going to get much lower scores than you may be used to back in America. This isn’t a testimony to your intelligence, its a testimony to the rigor of exams and expectations of the professor. Hardly anyone gets outstanding marks in their classes, let alone in engineering. My advice is just to remember “I just need to pass to get credit” and not to sweat the small stuff. Adjusting to the education system is a part of adjusting to Spanish culture and will take some getting used to. And, if you’re in doubt about your performance or academic experience, give your advisor an email. They’d be happy to go over your experiences with you.