Getting Down To Work


At university you will be regularly assessed to ensure that you are on track with your studies. For many disciplines this will take the form of written essays, project reports or other types of assessment submitted at intervals during teaching. The marks that you receive will form a portion of your final module mark.

You may also be asked to submit unassessed essays. These are graded but do not count towards your final mark; they are used to prepare you for formal exams and consolidate your knowledge.

To ensure that you fully understand topics and are able to perform well during assessments, it is important that you contribute to discussions in your lectures and seminars. You should not be afraid to ask academic staff for help if you are unsure about anything.

In this section you will learn how to tackle your first assessment, use referencing to credit others for their ideas, and receive advice on finding your voice at university.


Reading at University

Whatever subject you are studying at university, reading will play a bigger role in your learning than it has done before.

Why is reading so important?

  • Written publications are still the main way in which researchers communicate their work.

  • There won’t be one textbook for your subject. You might have recommended textbooks, but you’ll also need to read other texts to get a full understanding of a topic.

  • It isn’t enough to rely on internet searching or sources such as Wikipedia. At university you need to go deeper to find out what experts have discovered or think.

How will I know what to read?

At university you’ll choose a selection of modules to study each semester, each module investigating a different topic. To help you get a deep understanding of the module, reading lists are compiled by your lecturers for you. Sometimes you’ll be told what to read each week, or your list may have a wide choice of texts listed by topic.

Using your reading lists regularly is essential, and you’ll learn a lot from them, not just about your subject, but also about what kind of sources are useful at university.

When you’re feeling confident to find your own reading from the Library, you’ll discover a wealth of fantastic academic information to help you develop your understanding. There are online books, journals and much more for you to choose from. Doing your own reading is another aspect of becoming an independent learner, so getting to know the library is a must.

Video - Tips on how to manage your course reading. View video using Microsoft Stream (link opens in a new window, available for University members only).


Your First Assessment

Your first assessment may seem daunting! Follow these handy tips to help you to produce a successful essay and make the most of feedback from your tutor.

Read the brief carefully several times. It will give you an overview of what to aim for, the format required, the deadline and who to contact if you need help.
Details about your assessment will be found in your module handbook (this will be in your Minerva module area). Marking criteria show you exactly what your tutors are looking for, so if they give marks for referencing in the Leeds Harvard style, do it! As well as written guidelines, your tutors may give ad hoc information related to your assessment in lectures, seminars or practical sessions.
Many different types of assessment are used at university. Alongside essays and exams which feature in almost all courses, you could also be asked to give a presentation, write a literature review, blog post or a case study. If you aren't sure what is expected of you, ask for more guidance.
Submitting a draft of your work before you submit your assignment isn't always the norm at university. If you are given the opportunity to do this, it is a great way to check that your work is on track. Remember that the feedback that you get might not go into a lot of detail, so be prepared to go back to the assessment brief and marking criteria to review your progress.
Don't lose marks for handing your work in late, and if you are unsure about how to submit online ask for help well in advance.
Keeping your feedback and reflecting on it before you begin work on your next assignment, can be a really good way to improve your work.

Video - Students talk about how they dealt with their first assessments. View video using Microsoft Stream (link opens in a new window, available for University members only).



What is referencing?

When you submit an assignment you will need to show the reader where you have used other people's ideas and words. This is called referencing.

Why do we reference?

Referencing is a really important academic skill to learn at university. You can lose marks if you don't reference your work correctly, so it's important that you learn how to do it.

  • Referencing gives authors due credit for their work.

  • Using references helps to put your work into the wider context of your discipline.

  • Referencing gives you the opportunity to show the breadth of your reading.

  • Good referencing allows you, and your readers, to trace your sources easily.

  • Failure to reference correctly may result in you being accused of plagiarism (presenting someone else's ideas as your own).

Video - what is referencing? View video using Microsoft Stream (link opens in a new window, available for University members only).

How do we reference?

In the example below, the author has brought ideas, facts and arguments together from multiple sources to help them to illustrate their point. A reference list at the end of the work shows the full details of all the sources used. Click the references in the example to show their reference type.

The increasing dominance of supermarkets in the UK has significantly contributed towards the decline of traditional grocery stores (Allen, 2009). Smaller, independent stores may find it difficult to compete with the buying power and aggressive tactics used by supermarkets to attract consumers. In Withernsea, for example, a new store offered local residents 40% off vouchers (Walton, 2014). Proudfoot, a long- established local business saw their custom and profits fall by almost 50% within a few months of a major grocery store opening (Competition and markets authority, 2011). Some reports have suggested that this tactic has been used by large supermarkets across the country and have had “…a similar impact on other local businesses” (Gibbs, 2013). These tactics have been called “aggressive and anti- competitive” (Singh, 2013) and it seems that even successful businesses may struggle to compete.


Allen, A.D. 2009. Store wars. London: McGraw. - Book

Competition and Markets Authority. 2011. CMA market investigations. [Online]. [Accessed 12 July 2015]. Available from: - Website

Gibbs, B. 2013. The price of your shop: the fall of independents. The Grocer. 53(1), pp.7-12. - Journal article

Singh, K.A. ed. 2013. Grocery giants: economics, accountability and market domination. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press. - Book

Walton, G. 2014. New store offers discounts. Withernsea News [Online]. [Accessed 4 March 2015]. Available from: - Website

There are different ways of displaying references; the "Leeds Harvard" style of referencing has been used here. The required style of referencing may be different in your department.

Next steps...

Keep a full record of everything you read, this will make it easier and quicker when referencing your assignments. Referencing software, such as EndNote, is available on all University of Leeds computers should you wish to use it.

Referencing the work of others for the first time can be daunting, so make sure that you know about the support available to you. Visit the Skills@Library referencing webpages and look out for the "Flying Start to Referencing" workshop in the Laidlaw Library at the beginning of term.


Finding Your Voice

At university, you are part of an academic community. What you think is important, and you will get many opportunities to express your voice, both in your writing as well as in class.

This might be a new experience for you, so how can you begin to find your voice and use it with confidence in different learning situations at university?