An often misconstrued topic is that of the Foundation Year. What is it? What does it replace? What is it worth? What do you achieve? Those who have experienced it, or know those who have, will know how challenging but rewarding it can be. Further to a recent request, I thought it was about time someone answered the questions about what the year really entails.
Firstly, at UEA, applications are welcome due to a host of different reasons. It offers mature students a pathway to get pack into education, students who have not previously studied the subject area but wish to begin studying it, and those students who have been disadvantaged during their secondary education. The later can be a variety of different reasons, from personal reasons to lack of quality of your secondary school. For this reason, the age range within the students on foundation years is varied between 18 – 60+. Often the majority of the class are quite young, but try not to group yourself off from anyone older/younger than you! There is much to be learned from someone in a different generation to you and interacting with a variety of people is an essential skill for any career path.
How it compares to A-Levels
The year offers an intensive alternative to the A-levels that would normally be required to get into degree programmes in the first year. I studied maths, chemistry and biology at A-levels and actually found whilst there was some necessary repetition for those who had not, it featured extended topics and information that I had not encountered in previous studies. The year requires, in some parts, more detail than A-levels I felt. Most of this being due to the encouragement of thinking independently and not having to regurgitate learned answers such as in A-level exams. Having a year to learn how essays and scientific methods etc should really be written is an advantage that you will end up being most thankful for. Looking back as a first year student, the skills I picked up in labs and these extra pockets of knowledge really gave others and I on the foundation year an edge when going into first year. When you move onto your chosen degree, you will feel more prepared than those coming straight from A-levels.
Was there enough time?
I’m not going to lie, coming from someone who had studied the A-levels prior to the course, it’s not going to be an easy ride. It’s intensive and designed to fast track you to where you need to be. This is not a bad thing, and there’s so much support along the way. My personal advisor was Kelly Edmunds (course director for biological sciences with a foundation year) who was simply fantastic and really helped myself and fellow course mates progress into our chosen degrees.Whoever your advisor is, they will ensure that you are coping well with balancing your time throughout the year.
Coursework and exams
As previously mentioned, coming from a science foundation year I cannot express how valuable the foundation year was in teaching the proper write up for scientific methods. This is something no one will have been taught properly in their secondary education, and it is so essential to the rest of your degree. Your write-ups for labs etc are assessed in coursework. Towards the beginning of the year some of these coursework’s will be formative, in that they do not count towards your mark at the end of the year. Don’t take that as meaning you don’t need to do them though, they are a chance to practise and learn without the pressure of marks being added on top. Not all of the coursework is based on lab write-ups, often you will be asked to research a particular topic for yourself and produce an essay on what you find. These assessments will help you learn to reference properly and how to conduct legitimate research. Also, you’ll figure out the maze that is UEA’s library. You may also have exams at the end of each semester. These are called ‘course tests’ and get you accustomed to the layout and procedure of exams at university.
After the foundation year
For those of you wishing to advance onto more specialised degree programmes within your subject area, you will need to achieve higher than average marks on each module. For example, in biological sciences with a foundation year you can choose to advance onto biochemistry or biomedicine etc. For these you will need to achieve an aggregated mark of roughly 60% and above on each module you take, the exact limit is based on the course you wish to progress onto. To stay on biological sciences you need only achieve 40%+ in each module to stay on the course. Most hard-working students who wanted to progress to specialised courses did achieve this, and those who do not are offered the opportunity to do so after a first year on the biological sciences course if they bring their grades up high enough.
Notice I highlighted you must achieve these marks on each module, so if you have a weakness in chemistry but a strength in maths, do not rely on your maths marks bringing up your average, it does not work that way!
Any questions? Please ask away!