The grading scale is very different. In Spain, your grades can range on a scale from 1-10. “1” being the worst grade, and “10” being the best. Anything beyond a “5” is passing.
Before starting classes, the study abroad coordinator told us that Spanish professors tend to give harsher grades than we would expect. It is true, even though I passed all my classes, a lot of my final grades seemed low.
When we see a “6” or “7” as our final grade as Americans, we automatically view them as low grades. I know that when I saw these grades, I looked at them as the equivalent of Cs or Ds. They are more so Bs.
To receive a “10” or even a “9” in Spain is quite hard, and they are rarely given out to students. In one of my classes, no one received these grades. To receive such grades, that would mean you have had to retain 90%-100% of the material lectured. It is possible, but not all that common.
Which brings me to my next point, examinations. In American universities, classes typically do not weigh the whole course grade on a single exam. The grade is typically split up among 2-3 exams, essays, work outside of class, presentations, and attendance. A lot goes into making the grade in an American university, which is why the grading scale is so different, as well.
In Spain, attendance was not a requirement for most of my classes. Also, a lot of the grade is centered on one exam, which is taken at the end of the course. One of my exams was worth 100% of the final grade, and the least an exam was weighted when I studied in Spain was 60% (but that was because the other 40% was a final essay).
You will also see a difference in how the course is structured. A lot of the courses are lecture-based, and attendance is not mandatory. If you look at your course documents, there is typically a bibliography for non-attendees, so they can study the material taught in class.
While lectures are not uncommon in lower level classes in American universities, attendance is still considered mandatory. Also, lecture-based courses are commonplace at any grade level.
Also, this is not to say you will not have discussion in your classes. I know for my literature classes, on Fridays, half of the class was lecture but the rest of the time was tiny group discussion on interpreting and analyzing poems.
Your classes will probably be cancelled at least once because of a huelga (strike). I know, we have strikes at American universities too. But one major difference: I have never had a class completely cancelled as a result of them. They are also way less common in the United States, or maybe that is just my small-town college, haha.
I remember walking into class on the day of a strike, and nobody was there besides other international students. Basically, everyone who had no idea what was happening. The professor walked in and told us to go home, since nobody else would come to class.
For those who have been to a Spanish university, what do you think is the biggest difference between American and Spanish universities? And for those interested in attending a college in Spain, what distinction are you most nervous for?