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The classroom environment in the US is often very different to what UK students are accustomed to. One consistent trait of the US classroom experience, however, is the emphasis on student participation. The liberal arts philosophy is based on the development of well-rounded knowledge through discussion and critical thinking.
As a result, professors usually dedicate a portion of students’ final mark to attendance and participation. They expect their students to display their knowledge actively and engage in their lectures, as participating in the classroom discussion is how you demonstrate to the professor your grasp of the material. Attendance and class participation is expected and may count toward up to 15% of your final mark, so it is important to participate (which you cannot do if you do not attend!)
There are two types of participation which you will experience in the American classroom: involuntary and voluntary. Involuntary participation is when the professor calls on you to answer a question. Voluntary participation is when the question is posed to the class and anyone may respond.
As participation is often such an important part of one’s mark, you should try to volunteer at least one time per class. Participation grades are not meant to frighten you; it is meant to encourage you to do the assigned reading and to think about what you have read. Some US universities place an emphasis on keeping classroom sizes small for this very reason.
These universities do so in the hopes that all students will have a chance to participate in the discussion and benefit from it. Even at larger universities, higher-level classes in one’s major will tend to be taught in a smaller classroom setting.
In addition to classroom participation, another key difference in the US is amount and frequency of coursework. Professors will expect you to be continually engaged in their classes and will begin grading you within the first few weeks of class. See the section on marks for more information on how you will be evaluated.
You might find that exams are at an easier level to those you would take at university in the UK, depending on the institution you attend and the courses you pick. However, the workload will definitely be more frequent. You will soon gather what is expected of you and how to manage this; if in doubt, consult your international student or academic advisor who can help you manage your timetable efficiently.
You may also want to refer to Virginia Tech's tips on study skills for study and time management tips.