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Home International Students Preparing & planning Choosing a course Study methods in the UK

Study methods in the UK

This section is intended to give you an introduction to the different teaching and assessment methods used in UK institutions (colleges and universities). It also gives some information about expectations and attitudes to study in the UK.

Lectures

These are large classes, usually lasting around one hour, where a lecturer (or tutor) talks about a subject and the students take notes. On some courses there can be over a hundred students in a lecture. There is usually little or no opportunity to ask questions during the lecture. Lectures are usually intended to:

  • guide you through the course material by explaining the main points of a topic
  • introduce new topics for further study or debate
  • give the most up-to-date information that may not be included in textbooks

Seminars

These are smaller classes where students and a tutor discuss a topic. Seminars often last longer than lectures. You will know in advance what the topic is, and the tutor will usually ask some students to prepare a short presentation for discussion. Seminars are usually intended to encourage debate about an issue. Both the tutor and students can express their opinions and may even disagree on certain points. This type of debate is actively encouraged. The aim is not for students to be told the "correct" answer, but to understand the different arguments and make judgements about their merits. This process helps you learn to analyse a topic critically.

Tutorials

These are meetings between a tutor and an individual student or small group of students. Tutorials are usually intended to give you more focused guidance on:

  • a piece of work you are doing
  • a piece of work you have already completed
  • give a problem you may be having with a topic or with study methods

Practical Work

On many courses you will have practical workshops, for example, laboratories on science courses, performance classes in music or drama, a mock trial on a law course. On some courses (for example, geography) you may go on field trips away from the institution. You may work individually but more usually you will be part of a group. Practical classes are usually intended to give you practical experience of the theories you learn in other classes and to develop practical skills.

Workplace training

On some courses you will have training in a working environment, under the supervision of experienced staff (for example, working in a hospital on a nursing or medicine course). Other courses offer "sandwich" placements - an opportunity to spend time away from classes working in employment related to your course of study.

Independent study

On any course you will be expected to do some independent study. This usually involves working on your own (or sometimes in a small group with other students) to research a topic and produce written work, or make a presentation at a seminar. This is an integral part of UK academic culture. Independent study is intended to:

  • help you develop skills such as critical analysis and problem-solving
  • a piece develop your research skills (for example, finding relevant books and articles
  • allow you to investigate a topic in more detail and develop your own ideas

Seeking help

Lecturers and tutors will normally be available to provide help and advice on a very limited basis outside timetabled classes. You should try to ask your questions during tutorials or if the lecturer invites questions in lectures or seminars, use that time. You may be able to see staff during their "office hour", a designated time during the week when they are available to see students. Outside these times staff are likely to be very busy.

Further information

For more details about teaching and learning methods in the UK, see the Prepare for Success website, which has video and audio clips, exercises to try out and lots of helpful tips.

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