Teaching style at UK universities

Guide to how UK universities teach and the UK grading system.

The one thing you can be certain about is that you will need to get used is the teaching style at UK universities. They are likely to be very different to what you are used to. This will take some time so don’t be afraid to ask for help if you get confused. Your tutor should be your first port of call.

Although teaching styles and the way courses are taught vary greatly depending on what you’re studying and where, most courses are broadly structured the same way and will include the following:

Lectures

Lectures in UK universities take place in large halls or theatres often with students from different courses. They last about an hour and usually a lecturer delivers a presentation and students are expected to take notes. Sometimes the lecturer will distribute notes based on their presentation and you can normally download the lecture afterwards.

Lectures are less interactive than a seminar but there is always a Q&A session at the end which is your opportunity to ask questions and revisit something that you didn’t fully understand.

Seminars

Seminars differ from lectures as they normally take the form of an open discussion. It’s an interactive form of teaching where the seminar tutor will discuss the points from the previous lecture and sometimes the classes are completely student led. You’re often asked to prepare presentations and can sometimes be marked on your spoken contribution to the class. If this makes you a little nervous, we recommend you try and get involved vocally as early as possible, because the earlier you do it the easier it gets. If you’re ever unsure of anything or have something to ask, then just raise your hand – seminar tutors are there to help you!

Assignments

During each module (subject), you’ll be expected to hand in a series of assignments, which can depend on your chosen course but usually include essays. Your seminar tutors will be able to give you some guidance about your assignments and your module handbook will also outline what is expected from you.

Group work

Group work is a typical part of university life in the UK, and in most cases you will choose a group of people to work with or be placed in a group to work on projects and presentations together. Sometimes you will be given a project by a company or organisation depending on the kind of course you’re doing, which is a great opportunity to build links with industry.

In group work the teaching staff are on hand to answer questions but leave it to the students to manage their time, interpret the task and work together as a team to prepare a formal presentation to deliver to your peers or if it’s an external brief to the company or organisation.

Referencing your work correctly at university

It is important that you reference all your essays, which simply means highlighting the books and other research materials you’ve used. If you’re using extracts, they should also be clearly highlighted.

The two most popular styles of referencing used at British universities are the Harvard System and the MLA style, but do check with your tutors what style the university you are studying at prefers.

You should be aware that universities take plagiarism (which is copying other people’s work or printing things straight from the internet and claiming it’s your own) very seriously and you can lose marks or even be expelled from your course. But remember, it’s good to quote lots of work and people in your essays, just reference them correctly!

How does the marking system work at a UK university?

For an undergraduate degree:

  • 1st (First Class Honours): 70% and above (clever clogs)
  • 2.1 (Second Class Honours, Division One or Upper Tier): 60-69%
  • 2.2 (Second Class Honours, Division Two or Lower Tier): 50-59%
  • 3rd (Third Class Honours): 40-49%
  • Ordinary Degree: Some universities offer a degree without honours for those who have not achieved a high enough grade for an honours degree.
  • Fail: Below 40%

For a postgraduate degree

  • Distinction: 70% or over (job well done)
  • Merit: 60-69%
  • Pass: 40-59%
  • Fail: below 40%

Broadly speaking, these classifications are like A,B,C & D grades, though they are a bit more flexible than that. A First Class Honours degree at a UK university is a brilliant achievement, and a 2.1 is also a very good grade.

Many employers look for a 2.1 degree or above. A 2.2 degree is also a fine mark and a lot of jobs also state this as the minimum qualification required.

If you aren’t doing your whole degree in the UK, make sure to look at how your English marks will be translated into your grades at your home university as that will give you a good idea what to aim for.