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Deciphering the System

Exploring the differences between the Indian and U.S. education systems.

A lot of Indian students apply to U.S. universities every year. But, before deciding to apply, most students would have thought about the differences between the education systems in India and the United States.

It is said the Indian system lays emphasis on critical thinking. It is partially true. The emphasis on memorization or critical thinking depends a lot on the subject. For example, if the subject’s lectures comprise stated facts and findings (say, the morphology of a cellular system), then the exam questions would focus on memorization power. But for a subject like research methods, where lectures comprise discussions about experimental methods, the exam questions would be about different ways to design an experiment to validate a particular finding. This would require a lot of critical thinking.

Now, coming to the actual differences between the two systems of education, in India, students can ask questions in class and it’s completely voluntary. In some U.S. universities, class participation is technically voluntary, but students are given points for it and these points contribute to grades. Also, the points earned for class participation in some U.S. universities depend a lot on the type of questions asked. Basic questions are always welcome, but will earn lesser points than questions which involve quick thinking and critical analysis.

In India, students usually go to a particular venue to take exams. However, in some U.S. universities, professors, at times, follow a “take home” format of examination, where students might be given a recent research article and the questions would involve analyses and critical thinking about the experiments performed. For example, students could be asked if they think the published experiments are sufficient to validate a particular finding, or whether there are flaws in the experiments which the authors of the paper might have overlooked. Students could also be asked to design further experiments to carry on the research.

In a “take home” format of examination, students are not allowed to discuss their answers with anyone, but they can consult their notes and the Internet. However, one should not indulge in plagiarism, as he or she could face a serious penalty.

Finally, I would say that in the U.S. system of education, you have to be self-motivated in order to excel. You could read extra material and discuss your ideas with your professors and peers. It would be good to discuss your ideas with people from different disciplines, as this would help analyze a situation from a unique perspective. All of these would be easy, provided you have a passion for the subject you are studying.


Sanniv Ganguly is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Biological Sciences at Purdue University in Indiana.