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Some of the key ways university is different to secondary school

thumbnail_Students in the library


The academic year is divided into two teaching periods called semesters. Each consists of 13 weeks of teaching followed by an exam period. Most papers are completed in a single semester, while some run for the whole year.


Lectures are the main teaching method. They normally last 50 minutes and in many first-year subjects there can be up to 500 students at a lecture. It is important that you go to your lectures – lecturers will cover core information for your paper.

Labs and tutes

Laboratory sessions (labs) involve experimental or practical work for hands-on learning. Tutorials (tutes) are small group sessions, led by a tutor, where you discuss what you need to learn and get individual help.


For some papers, you will need to gain “Terms” before being able to sit the final examination. This may include attending a number of tutorials or laboratories, taking part in seminars and practical sessions, or submitting an amount of written work. Terms requirements are made clear at the start of each paper in your course documents.


Examinations are an important form of assessment and will generally make up most of your final mark. Most papers end with a three-hour examination. These finals are held at the end of each semester. Full-year papers are examined at the end of semester 2.

Internal assessment

Many subjects also have internal assessment: short tests during the semester, essays, assignments and laboratory work that count towards your final grade.


Getting the workload right in your first semester is very important to a successful transition to university-level study.

The workload recommendation page has information and advice.

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