Preparing to Study at University

University of Leeds
6 min readAug 20, 2021

Preparing to study at university may seem quite daunting if it’s something that’s unfamiliar to you. Third year History and Sociology student Lauren helps make sense of a new way of studying.

As a first-generation student, I had no idea about what to expect and how to transition from A-Level learning to university learning. After three years of studying at university, I’ve learnt some of the best tips and tricks to help prepare you for your time at Leeds.

Know the Difference Between a Lecture, Seminar and Workshop

When I first came to university, I had no clue what the difference was between a lecture, seminar, or a workshop. It’s important to know how they are different so you know what to expect. A lecture, whether it is online or in person, is full of all the course students. Normally, it takes place in a lecture theatre with the lecturer at the front directing the class and speaking for most of the time. It is likely that there will be the same online — the whole cohort will be online listening to the lecturer and making notes.

However, a seminar is quite different. These generally take place in a smaller classroom and are made up of around 10–20 students. They are a lot smaller to encourage discussions about the set topic and readings. Although the tutor may speak for a while or help to keep the conversation going, mostly students are encouraged to share their thoughts and ask questions to each other.

A workshop can be a mixture of the two. The class sizes are still smaller and the tutor will typically have a presentation to go through, but the class will involve participation and likely a worksheet or other notes to be completed.

Preparing for Seminars and Lectures

Preparation is key when it comes to the difference between sixth form learning and university learning. Most specifically for seminars, you will be expected to complete set reading and discuss these in class. It might be tempting to skip or skim these but the entire class will likely be based on these readings so set aside time to really understand and analyse these, especially if you plan on using them for an essay!

Lectures require less reading however sometimes it is useful to download the lecture presentation slides before the class to see what topic you will be covering. Decide where will be best to make notes — are you going to add notes to the presentation slides? Or will you use a word document and save all the lectures from that module in one folder? Maybe you would prefer to print off the lecture slides beforehand and write notes. Sometimes a tutor or lecturer will tell you what they want or what they think is the best way to prepare for class in the introductory session but if they don’t I’d try to keep it simple.

Speaking in Seminars

Classes at university are quite different to what many of us may be used to. They rarely involve listening to the tutor talk for the whole hour and instead involve discussions led by the students. For some this may seem daunting. I know at first, I struggled sharing my opinions with the class but there isn’t such a thing as a stupid question and, even if you feel you’ve said something wrong or embarrassing, the chances are that nobody is going to remember what was said in time for the next seminar.

Be brave enough to ask questions and share your thoughts. If you find something confusing then the chances are so do others in the class. Not only does speaking in seminars really engage you in your learning but it slowly boosts your confidence and relaxes you more in these classes.

Presentations

For some modules, presentations will be required and count towards a percentage of your grade. For some people, public speaking might be one of these least favourite things to do but it really is never as bad as you might tell yourself it is. Presentations rarely last more than 10 minutes maximum and usually you’ll create aids to help you, whether it’s an individual or team effort. I know that most of the presentations I did during my three years were usually always in a group of two or three, which helped to ease any nerves I had. Creating a PowerPoint presentation or script to practice with and read from will help you to feel more comfortable on the day. Even better, make handouts and print them for the whole seminar so the audience are able to focus more on the page and make notes as you speak. Just remember that everyone presenting will likely feel nervous but it will be over and done faster than you thought.

Make the Most of the Library

At Leeds you’ll have a number of libraries to utilise when writing essays and doing assignments. It might be tempting to only use online journals, and only do the set readings, but exploring the resources that the libraries have will make it easier for you in the future. Not only does Leeds allow you to loan out a bunch of different books at once, but they also offer workshops at the start of the year to show you around and offer workshops during the year for academic help.

Get to Grips with Online Journal Databases

Online journal databases will be something you may not have ever used before but in university you will likely use them all the time. From JSTOR to Wiley Online Library to Sage Journals, there are a lot of online databases to give you access to readings you may need. Set aside some time to browse these sites as they will be particularly important when you’re required to do additional readings or find your own resources for essays.

At the same time, make sure of Google Scholar as this will give you a number of academic journals that are credible and have been cited often in other academic work. For many students, Google Scholar is the first port of call when looking for resources as it’s extremely easy to navigate and it also provides a function that cites the article for you!

Ask Questions

If you’re sat in a lecture or a seminar and find that you’re struggling with something, ask questions and ask for help! There is a chance that someone else sat there is also thinking the same thing and the only way to learn is to ask for help. Alternatively, asking questions in classes might feel a bit intimidating so don’t be afraid to email your lecturers or supporting staff if this makes you more comfortable.

Check the Marking Criteria

To get the best marks in your assignments it’s important to know what your tutors want to see in your work. Check the marking criteria for your module and ask your tutor to clarify anything in there you don’t understand. To score the best you can, understand what the academic jargon means. Always aim high as it will push you to include top band analysis in your work.

Get Organised

Organisation is so important for preparing to study any subject at university. Of course, in the first few weeks as you’re getting to grips with everything there will always be leniency but try your best to know what is expected of you. Write down when your seminars or workshops are, where they are on campus, and what work is required of you for this class. Get the basics pinned down so that you’re able to handle any other work that is thrown your way.

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