Whilst courses vary, most will include some of the following teaching methods. In some subjects, you will have timetabled classes for most of the week. In others, you may only have a few hours timetabled and will be expected to work independently for a substantial amount of time.
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 100 students in a lecture. There is usually 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.
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. This means the tutor and students will express different opinions.
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.
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
- a problem you may be having with a topic or with study methods.
On many courses, you will have practical workshops, eg laboratories on science courses, performance classes in music or drama, or a mock trial on a law course.
On some courses (eg 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. These classes are usually intended to give you practical experience of the theories you learn in other classes and to develop practical skills.
On some courses, you will have training in a working environment under the supervision of experienced staff (eg 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 a field related to your course of study.
‘I chose to study in the UK because I wanted an opportunity to learn in a new environment with people from all around the world.’Marisa Darden, Rancho Santa Fe, California
On any course, you will be expected to do some independent study. This usually involves working alone (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
- develop your research skills (eg, finding relevant books and articles)
- allow you to investigate a topic in more detail and develop your own ideas.
You will almost certainly be asked to produce written work, usually through independent study. Written work may include:
- a project or a dissertation (a long essay based on extensive independent research, data collection or experimentation)
- assignment questions (eg a series of mathematical problems).
Written work is often assessed. This may be to monitor your progress and identify areas for improvement, or it may contribute to your overall mark or grade for the course.
Other projects and assignments
On some courses, you may also be asked to produce work in other forms. For example, you may be asked to write a computer program, prepare a poster presentation about a topic or prepare practical work for assessment.
Examinations and assessments
UK institutions use many different forms of assessment, including:
- ‘closed’ examinations, where you are not allowed to refer to books or notes and have a specific time to complete a certain number of questions
- ‘open’ examinations, where you can refer to books and notes and may even be able to take the question paper away and return it by a certain time
- assessed essays, individual projects and dissertations
- group work projects
- a portfolio (a collection of work)
- presentations to a seminar
- a display or performance of work (eg an art show or music performance)
- practical assessments (eg in laboratories or on hospital wards).
Some courses are ‘continuously assessed’, meaning that, instead of examinations at the end of the year, your progress is assessed and marked throughout the year.
If your new environment or any of these methods of study prove difficult for you to adjust to, your institution will be on hand to provide guidance and support.
In most institutions, classes are small, and you will not only have access to up-to-date computing facilities, science and language laboratories and good libraries, but you will also find there are people readily available to monitor your academic progress and offer you advice. These can be teachers, tutors, classroom assistants or counsellors.
If you are undertaking a university course, you will automatically be assigned a personal tutor. Do not be afraid of approaching your tutor with any queries or concerns you may have, work-related or otherwise. If they can’t help you, they will refer you to someone who can.
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