Many colleges at the University of Delhi give their exchange students the choice of writing assignments in place of examinations. Whether this option is available to you is something that should be discussed with your principal. The exchange students I met who were given this choice virtually all opted for assignment writing, and were happy they did so, myself included.
Indian students are professional test writers, and competing with them is difficult for Westerners who are used to dramatically different expectations. There is a general consensus amongst students here that memorization is the number one skill needed to perform well on examinations in India. Such memorization is sometimes pushed to the extent of people cowing numerous and extensive passages of the textbook, word for word. According to my friends Alexander and Judy, concept applications are relatively rare, even in technical fields such as engineering and econometrics. Instead, questions asking to prove a theory are standard fare, and limited time means students need to be able to do so virtually on demand. In the social students, most students agree professors prefer longer answers over shorter ones, and that answers that deviate from THE expected answer are likely to receive a poor mark, regardless of how the strength of the argument made. On the whole, Indian students appear much better prepared to write Delhi University’s examinations than exchange students.
The situation is somewhat different when it comes to writing assignments, however. Many Western post-secondary institutions put heavy weight on research assignments, forcing students to hone their writing skills and ability to offer original perspectives on different social phenomena. Professors do appear to appreciate such skills much more when they’re applied to research assignments as opposed to examinations. Even minor expressions of independent thinking tend to impress instructors. Exchange students writing footnotes in Chicago style or using APA appropriately tends to be a pleasant surprise for professors, especially at the bachelor’s level. Two instructors at Delhi University confided that foreigners tend to perform better on assignments than permanent students who typically have less experience with research papers.
In my view, however, the biggest perk of writing assignments in place of exams is not the likelihood of scoring high marks, but the possibility to follow one’s curiosity more freely. My professors at DU were kind enough to let me propose research topics instead of autocratically assigning them to me. This gave me the freedom to write academic assignments on FDI in India’s retail sector, non-alignment, arrival cities and regionalism in Indian politics.
In the topic of freedom, the flexibility I had with due dates was initially disconcerting, but I ended up valuing it a lot! Like most time-related matters in India, due dates tend to be flexible. It’s not uncommon for a professor to tell his students to turn in their assignments at such a vague moment as “at the end of the month”. Or to tell an exchange student he can turn his research “whenever he wants, no problem!” A massive contrast with the “November 27th at 5 PM with a 5% penalty for every late day” I have grown accustomed to at UBC. Like most things in India, precise due dates too can be negotiated! This definitely made juggling several writing assignments easier.
In my books, writing assignments instead of exams is likely to be highly beneficial, although some may have a different perspective.
Note: This guide is based on personal experience and is not a university-sponsored publication. Policies, rules and processes, where they exist, do change and are often applied differently by different staff or colleges. Information here should therefore be used to get a general idea of how things work, and specifics should be validated with university officials.