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University jargon

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University terminology


Papers are assessed in a variety of ways. Examinations (finals) are usually the most important, and most papers end with a three-hour examination at the end of each semester. Many subjects also have shorter tests during the year, and written assignments and laboratory work often count towards your final grade.

Bachelor’s degrees

Your first degree is called a bachelor’s degree and the subject you choose to specialise in is called your major.

A degree almost always includes subjects other than your major, but the major subject is generally studied in every year of the course. This choice of major subject determines which degree you are actually taking. It is possible to gain formal recognition for a minor subject within some programmes.


A degree is the qualification you complete at university. This is your overall programme. It has an abbreviation such as BA, BSc or BCom. That’s code for Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Commerce, and so on.

Some programmes, such as Health Sciences First Year (HSFY), will lead on to many other degrees.

Double degree

A double degree is when you study two degrees at the same time. There are also options to combine two majors from different degrees in a single four-year degree. These combined degrees include Arts and Business, Arts and Science, and Business and Science.

Distance learning

The University offers some papers and courses by distance study. Most distance-taught courses are postgraduate courses offered in subjects where the University has specific expertise. However, there are some papers and courses for undergraduate students.

Please note that Immigration New Zealand will not normally grant a student visa for study in New Zealand where the intended programme of study is wholly delivered by distance mode.

Major subjects

The subject you choose to specialise in is called your major. A degree almost always includes subjects other than your major, but the major subject is generally studied in every year of the course up to 300-level.

Each degree has its own set of subjects, although a number of subjects can be taken as a major for more than one degree. For example, Economics can be a major in a BCom, BA, BSc, BASc, BACom or BComSc.

Minor subjects

It is possible to gain recognition for a minor subject within many undergraduate degrees. To be recognised as having achieved a minor you are normally required to complete a minimum of 90 points in that subject with at least 18 points at 300-level.

Your minor can be a subject more commonly taken for a different degree; for example, a BCom majoring in Marketing can include Japanese as a minor subject.


The individual courses that make up an Otago degree are called papers. A paper is a fixed amount of work in certain aspects of a subject at a particular level. The first papers you take are called 100-level papers. You move on in subsequent years or semesters to 200-level and 300-level papers, and beyond if you choose to undertake postgraduate study.


When you pass each paper, you get points towards your degree. Papers are generally worth 18 points and a three-year degree needs 360 points. This usually consists of 20 papers.

Postgraduate study

Postgraduate study is a more advanced level of study undertaken after completion of a bachelor’s degree. These qualifications include doctorates (PhD), masters’ degrees, honours degrees, postgraduate diplomas, and postgraduate certificates.

Prerequisites and corequisites

Most papers beyond 100-level have prerequisites. If you have not completed a prerequisite for a paper, you are not normally permitted to enrol in that paper.

Some papers have corequisites. If you have not already passed a corequisite, you must take it at the same time as your other paper.


The University operates two semesters per year. Some papers are completed in a single semester (i.e. a half year, either semester 1 or 2), while others run for the whole year. Some single-semester papers are offered in each semester, while others occur only once a year.


The subject you specialise in within your degree is called your major. When you start your first year at university, choose three or four subjects you’d like to try. One will become your major.

In many degrees you can choose to have a minor as well. This is a subject you have studied at each level but not in as much depth as your major.

Each subject has levels (100, 200, 300). The first courses you take are called 100-level papers or beginner papers.


The basic method of presenting subject information at university is the lecture, although many departments use a variety of other approaches. Lectures normally last 50 minutes and are a basic means of introducing new knowledge. You must back them up with your own wide reading.

You will have essays and assignments, and may take part in laboratories or tutorials where more individual attention is available. You may also find you are in regular contact with tutors, other academic staff and other students.

Postgraduate study is more intensive than undergraduate study and requires more independent research.


To complete a degree you must accumulate a number of points, with a required number at higher levels. Most papers are single semester papers and are worth 18 points. If you pass, you get all the points. Your grade shows how well you passed but does not affect the number of points you earn.

A full-time, first-year course is generally 54–72 points in any one semester or 108–144 points in any one year. Part-time study is taking fewer than 54 points in any one semester or 108 points in any one year. As an approximate guide, you can expect to spend about 12 hours per week for each single-semester paper (18 points). These hours are made up of a combination of lectures, tutorials, laboratories, assignments and reading.