Dutch grading system

06 Oct 2022

More than 600 exchange students are joining Radboud University this year. English Literature student Holly Hartley from the University of Exeter is one of them. For the upcoming semester, she is going to participate in a letter exchange, discussing her experience in Nijmegen with Julia Vosmeijer, an English Language and Culture student from Radboud who is going to do an exchange in Holly's home county, Kent.

Dear Julia,

As exam season looms, I seem to have more and more questions to ask you, as you are a seasoned Radboud connoisseur! Even though my desk is piling up with work and my brain feels like it’s melting, I thought I’d take the time to ask you a few of my burning questions… after all, it’s a good procrastination technique!

Recently, I was introduced to the Dutch grading system and it blew my mind. To echo my professor: the entire thing is comparable to Dante’s Seven Layers of Hell. Even though I didn’t really understand how it worked (it’s very different from the English 1:1, 2:1, 2:2, etc. grading system) I battled my way through my first essay and managed to get a 7,3. Success! …right? I mean, I actually have no idea what that means. Is it good? Is it bad?

Why are there so many ways to pass or fail? On the one hand, I’m happy that I got a comfortable pass for my first grade – I feel like I’m fully embracing the Dutch pass culture. On the other hand, I want to know how I’m meant to improve my grades if anything above an 8 is seen as unattainable within this pass culture. After all, if nobody gets 9’s or 10’s – why do they even exist? As someone who has grown up in the Dutch education system, I would love to hear your experiences with pass culture and grading. As an outsider, I’m still finding this sort of thing very confusing! Especially as the grades don’t always seem to reflect the amount of work we’re being given to complete.

I was also wondering if you had any revision techniques, or tips on how to get through exam season without having a full-scale mental breakdown. I’ve tried the usual British ‘drink-at-least-200-cups-of-tea-a-day’ technique, but I’m looking for something a little more substantial now! Compared to England, the difficulty level of the work seems much easier, but the workload itself is much larger than what I’m used to – so it can be quite overwhelming trying to schedule enough time for all of my subjects’ essays, exams, and weekly work. I want to make the most of my Erasmus year without having exam stress rain on my parade. Although I’m aware that this feeling is temporary,it would be nice to know I’m not alone!

I hope you’re not finding exams too stressful either. I really look forward to hearing from you soon, but for now I need to make another cup of tea and return to my study-cave…

All the best,


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