I realized that I spent time talking about taking classes without mentioning how the classes are structured or graded.
One can attend Vorlesungen or Seminare (lectures or seminars).
Vorlesungen are literally lectures that one could find in many larger universities in the U.S. I had little experience in lectures because I went to a small, public liberal arts college where the classes are capped at 30 and one always had some kind of discussion. By the time I made it to a larger university, I was in graduate school and the classes were structured a lot like I was used to. Basically, for a Vorlesung, the professor stands at the lectern for 1.5 hours and gives a presentation on the topic of the day, leaving some room for questions or inquiries. It’s very formal-ish and little contact occurs between the student and the teacher. It’s a one-way information transfer that takes some getting used to. Thankfully, I’m only attending one of these as an overview of German-language literatures from the 1600 to the present. I just took an oral exam (MA comprehensive) that required me to figure out this overview on my own, but I figured a little formal instruction to fill in some gaps I may have left wouldn’t hurt. Plus, I am not going to be responsible for anything except coming to class (no tests or papers), so it’s an hour and three quarters well spent every week, I think.
Seminars here are similar to those in the U.S. I don’t know how they are for the undergrads, but I’ll talk about those designed for MA students here.
The graduate course seminars in the U.S. run three hours for once a week. Here, they run 1.75 hours for once a week. Obviously, they seem incredibly short and somehow the same amount of learning has to be done. Where? At home. The seminars in the US leave a lot more room for teachers to give students contextual background of the material and to figure out a few confusions. Here, students are expected to do that on their own and come into class already prepared with things to contribute, not wait for the moments to come up with something. I haven’t actually done anything yet, but I know that I have to do a lot to prepare for my classes in the coming week.
As for how things are graded at the end, basically, here in Germany, there are three options for taking classes: full-participation and exam/paper at the end; full-participation; and simple sitting-in. To get the equivalent of three graduate credits in the U.S., one needs to earn 7 Leistungspunkten, that is, “effort points.” These 7 points are granted only if the requirements for participation are filled (i.e. missed less than three times, prepared a Referat, presentation, etc.) and a term paper or exam is written at the end. 2 Leistungspunkten are given purely for participation. I can read the texts, come into class prepared to talk about the texts and prepare one presentation and that will give me some credits. No Leistungspunkten are given if one just sits in the class and listens, but it can still appear on ones transcript.
Once grades are given, they are given for the quality of the participation, the Referat, and the paper. They are given on a 1-5 scale with 1 being the highest (an equivalent of an “A”) and 5 being the lowest (an “F”). I have heard that “A”s are more difficult to receive here, but my ambition is going to make me try!
As for course load, graduate students are generally expected to take 4-6 classes. It depends on the semester and on how much they’ve already taken.
I am taking three classes for 7 Leistungspunkten, two classes for participation credit (2 Leistungspunten) and two Russian language classes that I haven’t quite figured out how credit is given yet. Language courses in the German university are still something I need to figure out, so I’ll come back to that in the future.
Also, I’m taking one “German as Foreign Language” course in something about academic writing, for which I needed to take an Einstufungstest, language skills classification test, and I have yet to see how that will be as well.
For now, hope these tidbits of info were interesting.