Studying at University

Studying at University

There are a number of settings in which you will be taught at university which include lectures, seminars, tutorials and laboratory sessions.

Each setting has different expectations, so read through the sections below to gain an insight into each learning environment and how to get the most from it.

These resources can be used in conjunction with the podcasts on studying at university, which contain descriptions of what happens in the different teaching environments, practical tips on how to prepare for and what to do during and after the various sessions to help you to learn effectively.

Advice on University Study

The format of lectures is generally the same across all subjects; they consist of the lecturer and students. The lecturer will stand at the front of the room and give formal talk to a group of students (varying in size).

The presentation will contain the key pieces of information that will be supplemented by seminars, tutorials and laboratories. It is imperative that you prepare for a lecture beforehand so that you understand the topic and the materials which are provided to you.

Preparing for a Lecture

  • Look at the title of the lecture.
  • Access the lecture slides beforehand if possible.
  • Familiarise yourself with key words and identify areas of confusion/things to pay particular attention to during the lecture.

During the Lecture

  • Be realistic and make notes on what you can and need to make notes on rather than try to make notes on everything that the lecturer says.
  • Your notes may be in a form of short hand and include diagrams (rather than full sentences).
  • Write down any question that you have.
  • Highlight key concepts/information.
  • Identify areas in which you need to develop your knowledge.
  • Listen for key words which the lecturer may use to highlight particularly important pieces of information.

After the Lecture

  • Re-read your lecture notes and see whether or not you understand them/have any further questions/areas to study.
  • Discuss key concepts from the lecture with a friend and consolidate your understanding.
  • Have an organised filing system so that you can re-visit your notes when revising.
  • Do the recommended reading.

Seminar The format of seminars vary according to subject and lecturer, but generally, they consist of a small group of students and the objective of seminars are usually quite practical; i.e. seminars usually provide an opportunity to practice methods/discuss concepts and carry out activities.

Preparing for a seminar

  • Make sure that you are aware of and that you complete any compulsory activities prior to the seminar– such as reading or a task sheet
  • Make a list of questions/issues which you might like to raise during the seminar
  • If possible, meet with other group members to discuss and prepare with 

During a seminar

  • Try to make relevant contributions
  • Try to ask relevant questions
  • Listen to and consider the comments made by others
  • Take notes and references during the seminar
  • Ensure that you know what the next steps in your learning are following the seminar 

After the seminar

  • Consolidate/revise your notes – in relation to work covered earlier in the module and the seminar
  • Do any extra reading that you feel is required
  • Carry on with the set tasks
  • Discuss topics with class mates as you consider necessary 

The format and purpose of tutorials vary, however, they are generally for very small groups of students or are arranged on a one-one basis. Most often, the purpose is for tutors to provide feedback and/or discuss progress.

Preparing for a tutorial

  • Be aware of the purpose of the tutorial
  • Be aware of the duration of the tutorial
  • Be aware of the number of people attending the tutorial
  • If it is a one-one tutorial, bring the relevant work with you, go through previous work and make a list of any questions which you would like to ask your tutor
  • If you are attending the tutorial as a group, ensure that each group member has an allocated time to speak and has the opportunity to ask questions/raise any concerns
  • Regardless of the number of people attending a tutorial, it is a good idea to draft a list of questions, and if possible/you think it is necessary, send a list of the questions to your tutor in advance of the tutorial, so that he or she has an opportunity to prepare for your session in advance

During the tutorial

  • If you are in a group, ensure that each group member has the opportunity to speak (do not let one person dominate the tutorial)
  • Make notes on the discussion
  • Listen to others and make relevant comments/raise relevant questions
  • Encourage others to speak if necessary
  • Ask questions and do not be embarrassed to ask for further clarification on points if necessary 

After the tutorial

  • Revise/consolidate your notes
  • If it was a group tutorial, discuss any issues raised during the tutorial to make sure that each group member understands the work and their next course of action
  • Implement any changes suggested/act upon advice received

If you are studying a science or computing, part of your timetable will include practical sessions which take place in laboratories (i.e. rooms with specialist equipment).

Principles of Laboratory Sessions

  1. Learn and practise how to use equipment and new techniques
  2. Put theory into practice
  3. Develop skills in recording data

During Laboratory Sessions

  1. Make sure that you have the opportunity to use equipment yourself
  2. Ask for help if necessary
  3. Find out about the theory being tested and read around this area and its practical applications
  4. Record your results and write them up accurately and clearly

Adapted from Cottrell, S. (2003). The Study Skills Handbook. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

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