Studying in the UK

Studying at a UK university may be different to your previous higher education experiences but don’t be alarmed by this. Staff at your university or your Programme Officer will be able to assist you with any concerns or queries that you have. To help you prepare and for practical advice visit the free online resource prepare for success.

Teaching styles and assessments

When studying at a UK university you can expect to experience a variety of teaching styles and formats, including:

  • Lectures
  • Seminars
  • Tutorials
  • Practical work
  • Workplace training
  • Independent study
  • Written work
  • Project work
  • Group work

UK universities use many different forms of assessment, including:

  • ‘Closed’ examinations, where you are not allowed to refer to books or notes
  • ‘Open’ examinations, where you can refer to books and notes.
  • Assessed essays, individual projects and dissertations
  • Group work projects with other students
  • Portfolios or a collection of work
  • Presentations
  • A display or performance of work, for example, an art show or music performance
  • Practical assessments, for example, in laboratories or on hospital wards

Some courses have ‘continuous assessment’, meaning that instead of examinations at the end of the year, your progress is assessed and marked throughout the year. University course websites often provide a significant amount of details as to the structure, content and assessment of the programmes, so it is worth carefully checking your course website.

Study tips

It may take some time for you to adjust to studying in the UK. Academic culture and expectations vary according to the subject, the level of study and the type of university. 

However, there are some general trends that you may notice in the UK:

  • Students often work independently, studying on their own for significant periods of time
  • Students are expected to develop critical judgement, which means an ability to assess whether an argument is coherent and well supported by evidence
  • Learning large amounts of factual data is important in some subject areas, but in many cases a critical approach is considered more important

To find out more about UK academic culture attend a study skills classes at your university. Your tutors should also be able to guide you on how to approach your work. 

Reading

Most university courses will give you a reading list. You will not usually be expected to buy or even read every single book and journal article on the list.

Check with your tutor to find out which books are essential for you to buy. Most books will be available in your university’s library but essential titles (‘core’ texts) may be difficult to borrow because everyone on the course needs them. You may be able to reduce the cost of buying books by: 

  • Purchasing second hand editions, just make sure you buy an up-to-date version
  • Forming a group with other students on the course, each buying some of the books and sharing them

Seeking help

Lecturers and tutors are normally available to provide help and advice on a limited basis outside of 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 hours’; a designated time during the week when they are available to see students.

If you have a question or problem with your studies, your tutors will usually be happy to advise you, or refer you to other sources of help. It is best to ask for advice early, rather than wait until a problem becomes critical. Most universities give advice and information about study skills and some universities run specific classes or workshops. If your university provides English language support classes, there may be sessions on English for academic purposes to help you, for example, on writing essays in English.

If you want to find out more about UK study methods before you arrive, there is a free online resource called ‘Prepare for Success’ which allows you to learn more. 

Plagiarism

Plagiarism is presenting someone else’s work as your own. If you present the words or ideas of an author or another student without acknowledging the source, you could be accused of plagiarism.

Whenever you use a quotation from a book or reproduce an author’s ideas (even in your own words) you should indicate the source; if you do not do so you could be guilty of academic malpractice (plagiarism is one type of this). This process is known as referencing. Most academic departments have a preferred style of referencing. Check with your tutor about how you should reference your work: don‘t rely on the advice of other students/friends.

You may find that the accepted ways of quoting and referencing work in the UK are different from those you are used to. Penalties for plagiarism, especially in assessed work and examinations, can be very severe, and may include failing the course. Your university will have detailed guidance and policy which explains how academic malpractice is classified and what the punishments will be; you should make sure that you read and are aware of this guidance.