Faculty and Advisors
Relationships between students and faculty tend to be more informal than in many other countries. In most classes, students are expected to ask questions or comment on the course material and readings. In assigning grades, professors may consider the extent of a student's contribution to class discussion throughout the semester.
Almost all faculty members maintain regular office hours when students may come and talk about individual concerns. You should use this opportunity to make sure that you are meeting course requirements. If you are uncertain about an assignment or have questions about the course material, make an appointment to see the professor or teaching assistant (TA).
You will be assisted in many aspects of your education by your academic advisor. It is your responsibility to set up an appointment to meet with him or her. It is a good idea to meet with both the professor and your academic advisor at the first sign of difficulty with any class. Because international students must take a full course load every semester, early intervention with academic difficulties is important to help you fulfill your immigration requirements, as well as to be academically successful.
Methods of Instruction
It is important to read all assigned materials and take careful notes on the lectures because examinations will be based on both. You are expected to attend all classes and laboratory sessions. Be sure that you are aware of the specific expectations for each of your courses.
Most instruction is organized and conducted in one of three ways: lecture, laboratory, or seminar.
Exams usually fall into three categories: quizzes, midterms, and finals. Most professors will announce the format of the exams and the material they will cover.
Quizzes These are short tests covering the material currently being studied. The instructor may or may not notify you in advance.
Midterm Exams These are exams given approximately midway through the course of a class.
Final Exams "Finals" are given at the end of the semester and may cover all the material studied during the semester or only those covered since the midterm. The requirements for each class vary
Lecture The lecture class is most frequently used at the undergraduate level, particularly for the first two years of study. Lectures are sometimes large and not conducive to discussion. For this reason, a large lecture will often be supplemented with a recitation or laboratory period to permit discussion and/or scientific experimentation. Recitation/Laboratory Often the recitation or lab is conducted by a TA who is a graduate student in the particular discipline. Students are encouraged and expected to ask questions either during the lecture period or during the recitation or laboratory period. If you wish to speak during the question period, feel free to raise your hand. Seminar This is the most common form of instruction at the graduate level. These classes are generally smaller, permitting opportunities for direct student participation and closer interaction with professors.
Exams may be "objective," such as multiple choices or short answer questions, or they may involve writing longer explanatory essays. Upper level undergraduate and graduate level exams are generally "essay" type, with answers being drawn from information in texts, lectures and assigned readings. Sometimes you may be allowed to use textbooks and notes during an "open-book" exam. You may also have a "take-home" exam in which the exam is completed outside of class within a certain time limit.
Grades are a system for evaluating your academic work. They designate your relative standing in the class and are wholly determined by the instructor's judgment of your achievement on exams, term papers, class participation, etc. At Penn the following symbols are used in most, but not all, programs:
A Excellent B Good C Fair D Poor F Failure I Incomplete
In graduate school any grade below B is generally considered a poor performance. In a limited number of courses, pass-fail or credit-no credit systems are used.
If, for unavoidable reasons, you do not complete the work required for a course before the end of the semester, you may request an extension from your professor and ask for an "incomplete" (I) to appear on your transcript. You should make this request as soon as it becomes clear that you cannot complete the coursework. You will need to speak with your professor and your school's academic office to learn the rules regarding "incompletes" and the amount of time available to finish the course. A professor can refuse to grant you an "incomplete." In addition, before you request an "incomplete" check with OIP-ISSS to make sure that it will not cause a problem with your immigration status.
Don't overload your schedule. Overloading your schedule, particularly in your first semester, may result in poorer grades and unnecessary stress. But remember that international students must be registered for full-time course load every semester.
Choose your courses wisely. Ask your advisors, professors and fellow students for their opinions.
Keep in mind that it may take some time for you to perform to the best of your ability.
Attend your classes regularly and arrive on time.
Hand in all assignments on time
Make arrangements ahead of time with your professor to deal with any special requests and circumstances.
Participate in classroom discussion.