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Markus Stocker

Between information technology and environmental science with a flair for economics, the clarinet, and the world of soups and salads.

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A note regarding the title. Suomi; Suomalainen; Suomalaisittain. The first one is easy, just point to Finland on a map. The second one is like in Suomalainen kielen, i.e. Finnish language. Now, the third one is where the fun begins. Suomalaisittain is the distributive adverbial case, one of 12 adverbial cases that exist in addition to the 15 cases of Finnish language, and means “in a Finnish way.” So, this post is about university exams à la Suomalainen –or Suomalaisittain. (No guarantee I got this right.)

I graduated from the University of Zurich – which I recently discovered to be #2 in Environmental Economics, according to RePEc – with, therefore, university exams à la Suisse. (More accurately, I should probably say university exams à la Institut für Informatik.) What follows is a curiosity that adds to the recent one on Finnish grading.

There are at least two rather distinct differences in exams à la Suomalainen vs. à la Suisse. In Switzerland I was used to 90 minutes examinations; in Finland the standard seems to be four hours. In Switzerland, time is a scarce resource and one has to regurgitate as fast as possible the answers to a long list of detailed questions. In Finland, time is abundant, at least at first sight. The second, and more important, difference is the examination form. In Switzerland, at least in my experience, exams were composed of lots of questions, some multiple choice, and most required a few words or sentences for a complete answer. In Finland, the exams I had up to now all had four or five questions. The answer is an essay.

Now, at first the Finnish way seems to be all the more easy. Perhaps it is. However, I believe there is a huge difference. While the Swiss way is testing knowledge for depth, the Finnish way tests depth as well as breadth. While you need to know the details an essay also shows whether or not you connect the dots and understand how things relate.

I must say, I am still adapting to this form of examination after a career of exams à la Suisse and my current belief is that exams à la Suomalainen are at worst a curious variation but most likely a lot smarter.