The First Year


In your first year at university, you will build the foundations of knowledge and academic practice that will support you through more advanced study in years two and three.

You will expand on and refine the skills that you developed during your A-levels, BTEC or other experiences, and be introduced to new topics. You can also start to think about where your specific interests lie as you progress through your degree.

The marks for your first year assessments, along with feedback from your tutors, are a guide to your progress and understanding and give you an idea of areas you may need to develop further. The first year really does "count"!

In this section you will learn about some of the differences between studying at a school or college and studying at university.


How is it different?

Coming to university for the first time brings new experiences and challenges. You will find that friends studying in other subjects may have quite different timetables, and that their tutors have different expectations of them. Every student, no matter what their subject, or how they are expected to work at university, goes through a period of adapting and developing over their first year.

Video - Leeds students talk about the differences they found between study at college and university. View video using Microsoft Stream (link opens in a new window, available for University members only).

The first semester of university is fast paced with lots of changes to get used to.  To give you an idea of what this is like, we asked some of our students to share their experience of the surprises and challenges that they faced in their first semester.

Video - Leeds students discuss their experiences of their first year studying at the University. View video using Microsoft Stream (link opens in a new window, available for University members only).

One big change from the way that you might have been taught previously, is the way that you interact with and learn from academic staff at university. You'll find that staff have different specialisms and teach in different ways than you might be used to from school or college. Academic staff at Leeds also have lots of responsibilities besides teaching, so they will often also be active researchers and writers.

Video - Tips on how to take advantage of support offered by academic staff during your studies. View video using Microsoft Stream (link opens in a new window, available for University members only).


New Terminology

You'll hear a lot of new terminology in your first semester at Leeds, which you might find confusing at first. We've created a handy guide to help you understand some of the key terms.

Academic staff are sometimes called lecturers because amongst other responsibilities they will also deliver lectures to you on your degree programme. Not only do they teach, but they also carry out research and are experts in their subject area.
Your academic personal tutor at Leeds will be a member of academic staff that you can talk to about any issues relating to your studies or academic life. You will be invited to three meetings each year, which you should prepare for in advance.
An assessment is a piece of work that you are asked to complete as part of your degree programme and which will be marked. You will be set several assessments each semester; these could be essays, exams, presentations or other types of work.
Learning which takes place both online and in person teaching sessions.
Optional modules that you can take outside of your school or faculty.
The University is divided into groups known as faculties. Each faculty is subdivided into schools which specialise in teaching and researching specific subject areas. The Faculty of Social Sciences for example, has four schools; The School of Education, The School of Law, The School of Politics and International Studies and The School of Sociology and Social Policy.
When you hand work in to be marked, academic staff will also make comments on what you have submitted. These comments are called ‘feedback’ and are there to help you to understand what you have done well and what you could improve. Feedback may not always be individual or provided in a written format Sometimes for example, you will be given whole group feedback, perhaps in a lecture.
Field trips are visits to places or organisations which may be organised by your school as additional learning opportunities. In some cases, these will be day trips, others might take place over a weekend or longer.
You might be asked to complete formative assessments as part of your degree programme. Formative assessments do not contribute to your overall grades but are a good way to practice your skills, get feedback on your academic performance and consider how to improve.
Working in groups is a common part of studying at university. You might be able to choose who you work with, or your group might be set up for you. Group work could be part of an assessment (e.g. to create and deliver a presentation), and it is a good way to learn about working with others effectively.
Laboratory sessions at university give you the opportunity to use specialist methods, techniques and equipment in a guided setting. Sessions will be led by an academic member of staff, or another subject expert and you may be required to work alone or in small groups.
The Language Centre at the University of Leeds can help you to improve your English language skills, whether you’re preparing for an academic degree or want to get better at English for everyday situations.
Lectures are taught sessions which can take place online or face-to-face. Academic staff will lead your lectures, guiding you through a specific topic area so that you have a basis on which to learn more through tutorials, seminars, practicals or further reading.
The Leeds for Life website helps you to get the most out of your time at university by supporting your personal and academic development. You will use it to prepare for personal tutorials.
Minerva is the name for the virtual learning environment at Leeds. Minerva hosts learning materials for your modules, reading lists, access to your email and more.
Your degree programme is made up of smaller chunks of learning called modules, which focus on a specific topic. You will study several modules over the course of each academic year. Some modules will be compulsory, whilst you will be able to choose others. The marks that you are awarded for each module contribute towards your overall degree.
Academic staff have set-times when you can book an appointment to talk to them either in person or online. These are called ‘office hours’ and staff will tell you when these are and how to use them.
Some subject areas involve practical work using specialist equipment and techniques. Sessions will be led by an academic member of staff, or another subject expert and you may be required to work alone or in small groups.
Most modules that you study will have a reading list with a number of texts on it that are relevant to the subject. Most of these texts will be available from the library, either as print or electronic copies. You may not have to read all of the texts suggested, but some will be compulsory.
Because new ideas, discoveries and theories about subjects happen over time, different researchers write about these and share them with others. When anyone writes about the ideas of others, it is essential to acknowledge that they have come from someone else. To do this we use referencing, which you will learn more about during your first year.
The academic year is divided into two semesters. The first semester starts at the end of September, to mid-January. Semester two runs from mid-January to mid-June. The exact dates of semesters change slightly from year to year.
Seminars can be different depending on the subject you are studying. In many subjects, they are small group discussions led by either an academic member of staff or another subject expert. In a seminar you will be guided through a discussion or other activities to explore a particular topic in detail. You might also hear about research seminars which are normally attended by academic staff and PhD students.
Skills@Library is a student service that you can use to help develop your academic skills. You can use online guides and tips from the Library website, come along to workshops or book a confidential 1-2-1. As well as academic skills, Skills@Library can also support you with Maths and Statistics issues.
The marks you receive for summative assessments will contribute to the overall grade you receive for a module. Sometimes there might be just one summative assessment for a module, or there may be several summative assessments which each form a percentage of your overall grade.
A tutorial could be a 1-2-1 or small group session with a member of academic staff. Tutorials may be less formal than seminars and you may not need to prepare work in advance, but this is not the case in all subject areas.


New ways to learn

You will encounter many different ways of learning during your time at the University of Leeds.

You may be attending lectures, seminars, personal tutorials and, in some subjects, practicals for the first time.

What are these learning experiences like, and how can you make the most of them?

Video - Students talk about their experience of lectures and seminars. View video using Microsoft Stream (link opens in a new window, available for University members only).


Making the most of...

Learning at the university takes place in many ways. What are these learning experiences like, and how can you make the most of them?