Preparing for University Study

Many students find studying at University very different from school/college. There is much more of an emphasis on independent study and time management skills with support from academic staff.

The following is a basic glossary of terms that might be unfamiliar to students and also some of the key differences that our students say they found in making the transition to degree level study.

Lecture: A lecturer, or teacher, will talk about a relevant subject, theorist or issue and students take notes. Lectures can last for up to 3 hours (with a short break) and can include as many as 300-400 students.

Seminar: Seminars are much smaller lessons with up to 20 other students. They give students a chance to digest the material discussed in the lecture and further reading they have done. Seminars can also include presentations by fellow students.

Tutorials: Tutorials are a one-to-one discussion between students and lecturers. They will often look over individual essays or projects and provide feedback to the student. Some students will also have group tutorials with 3-4 others.

Labs, workshops and studios: Some courses such as those related to Engineering, Design, Sciences and Arts, will also have teaching time in practical areas such as labs, workshops and studios. These spaces are also used by students outside of teaching time to work on projects they have been set.

Sandwich courses: These are 4-year courses that involve a work placement as part of the degree. See Employability for further information.

Modules: These are the units of work that students are taught. A list of modules for each course can be found on the course webpage. Some modules are compulsory and others are optional. Courses that attract external accreditation such as Psychology, tend to be more prescriptive in what a student has to learn.

Dissertation: This is also called a final year project and is the major piece of academic work completed as part of a degree. It accounts for a large percentage of final year work and is completed throughout the year. The length of a dissertation can vary, some may be 10,000 words others will be 20,000.

Students studying science related subjects i.e. biology, sport sciences or social sciences will often be asked to undertake a scientific based research study for their dissertation. Those students who complete a work placement are encouraged to base their dissertation on their experience and findings from their work experience. Students may also produce, deisgn or make something for their project in subject such as design, engineering and performing arts.

Marks - 1st, 2:1, 2:2, 3rd, Fail: Work at university level is marked and graded differently to school/college. The final degree will be awarded as a classification: either a first, upper second (2:1), lower second (2:2), third, or fail. Generally speaking work that achieves:
70% and above = 1st
60-69% = 2:1
50-59% = 2:2
40-49% = 3rd or a pass
39% and below = fail

Most students aim to get a 1st or a 2:1 and most graduate employers will require a 2:2 or above.

Time management: This is a vital skill to succeed at university, students will say that you have to learn how to work hard and play hard! Students are normally given up to 12 weeks to complete coursework and prepare for exams. Coursework deadlines are very strict and in some cases if the deadline is 4.00pm then anything submitted after this time without valid mitigation, will receive a capped mark of a maximum of 40%.

Lecturers rarely take registers and students won't be chased to attend but if they don't it is very difficult to meet deadlines and complete work to the required standard.

Hours of study per week: Students often ask how many hours they will have in lectures each week. The answer will depend on the course they do.

Arts and social science courses depend on the student being able to grasp subjects and theorists and support their work with wider reading. They may have 8 hours per week in formal teaching and are expected to do this amount again if not more in individual or group study. Subjects such as engineering and sciences have a heavier timetable with up to 25 hours per week including lab time.

Get a Headstart, find out more about university study. 

Page last updated: Wednesday 03 August 2011