There’s this impression that a lot of Nigerian students have about studying abroad. The impression is this – that studying abroad is a piece of cake. It’s easy to see why they make this assumption. Universities abroad do not expect you to cram and regurgitate information during exams like lecturers in Nigerian universities expect you to do. But is this assumption really correct? Does it mean that getting a first class will be very easy?

Sorry to burst your bubble. The fact that the education system abroad is different does not mean that it is easier. The reality is that for someone who is very used to the Nigerian system, it can be difficult to adapt and this can hinder that person’s success. The system abroad requires you to understand what is being taught and then apply it to a case study or exam scenario. In applying that knowledge, your argument must be logical. In a course like law for example, you are told that there is no right or wrong answer. You just have to back up your argument with the appropriate case law and statute and come to a logical conclusion. If you have ever studied jurisprudence, you will know that it is easier said than done.

There is a skill to applying knowledge to get a first class in coursework and exams that many Nigerian students often ignore. They just say, “Ah I know the theory. I can apply it. I have this first class in the bag”. They fail to realise that there is more work to be done. Depending on the course you are studying, there is research involved. Exam questions are often very difficult and one of the skills you need is to be able to spot exactly what the question is asking you to do. I have to give an example from law again since that is what I studied. You can never expect the examiner to ask you “What is negligence”, “List the 3 attributes of a valid contract and other straightforward questions that can be found in Nigerian exams. Instead, you will see a scenario and you have to decide whether it is the law or negligence or nuisance that applies. That is where many people fail; their inability to spot the correct issues from the question. Using my example again, if the question is asking you about negligence and you wrongly assumed it is about nuisance and you go ahead and write everything you know about nuisance then just know that you have failed.

Another skill needed is being able to break down questions and apply the relevant knowledge to each portion. If the question is about negligence, you need to know which area of negligence the question is asking you to deal with. It is not sufficient for you to write all you know about negligence hoping that the lecturer will sift through the information and mark the relevant bits. At best, that strategy will get you a pass. You have to be specific and go straight to the point. That’s a skill a lot of Nigerian students lack and they fail to develop this skill as they begin their degree. Then there’s time management. The time will never be enough. You need to know how to answer questions succinctly in the time given. This takes practice. It may come naturally to some people but if you are very used to the Nigerian education system, you have to work on it.

The great thing about studying abroad is that help is available when you need it. Lecturers are very approachable and you can go and talk to them about anything, even matters outside of your studies. Deal with the transition early on. Find out how the lecturer expects you to answer questions. What lecturer A expects from you may not be what lecturer B will expect from you. Never adopt a one size fits all approach. An approach that will get you a first class in one course may result in a pass in another. Pay attention and know what is required.

Finally, stick to what your lecturers expect. I discovered that doing ITK does not earn you extra marks; more likely than not, you are going off point. When you are given sample coursework or exam answers study them and try to devise a method of answering questions from them. Remember, exams are not a reflection of your intelligence. They merely show those who have mastered the art of answering questions to the satisfaction of their lecturers.

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