Monday 12 July 2004, LSE summer school, London, England

It turned out that the summer school courses I enrolled in were the condensed version of the first year economics course LSE taught its undergraduates. The unchanged date and course name from last October on one handout offered a big hint. When I asked the lecturer, he confirmed that indeed we were using the same textbooks and handouts. And they, the lecturers and teaching assistants, were also the same people who taught LSE’s first year program. Just as he thought I might complain, I gave him a big smile. That was exactly what I needed—learning first year material so that I could hopefully have an easier time at Cambridge.

If the summer school represented what university was like, I could see it was very different from schools. At both Warminster and Hurtwood, class size was small enough for teachers to have a good idea of how everyone was doing. At LSE, on the other hand, the table was turned the other way around: the burden (or was it the blessing?) of learning was shifted from the teachers to the students. The large size nature of the lectures meant it was hard for the lecturer to know whether everyone, or sometimes anyone, was following him. There were quite a few times that I didn’t quite grasp what the lecturer was talking about. But when he asked for any questions before moving on, I didn’t have the courage to raise my hand. And I probably was not the only one. The few people who missed a third of the lecture due to tube failure didn’t say anything neither. I doubted they understood much from the remaining of the lecture after missing that key concept. At least, I didn’t.

At school, teachers’ priority was to ensure that no one was falling behind. Those who were in the danger of doing so would get most of the attention. On the other hand, those who would do well anyway were mostly left on their own. In university, this was also no longer the case. Those who went to the professors for discussions seemed to know the stuff well already. I could hardly understand their questions, not to mention the professors’ reply. In contrast, those who sat at the very back of the room and would disappear as soon as the lecture finish—that was if they decided to turn up in the first place—seemed to be the ones that were left alone now. That was quite a switch in just two weeks of time for me.

Having said that, what was unchanged was the focus on homework and exams. On top of daily assignment which went without saying, would you believe that in two days’ time, there would be a mid-term exam already? Wasn’t half term supposed to be a holiday? When did it become an exam? Anyway, maybe, just maybe on top of having the same lecturers, textbooks and notes from last autumn’s undergraduate course, would they use the same exam paper as well? Let me go and check that out. That might make my life a lot easier.