Welcome to Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies

We are delighted you are joining us. Here you can find all the information you'll need for your School induction. To help you feel settled and ready to start a new and exciting chapter of your life you can find more information about arriving at Leeds in the Arrival section of For Students | University of Leeds.

Independent learning

Making the most of your contact time

Studying at university is very different from studying at school or college, in that you will be expected to expand your skills in critical thinking and working independently. Although your programme of study will provide a solid framework within which to work, and you will be given lots of help and advice, you will not spend quite as much time in the classroom just reiterating the information given to you by your teacher. We will be giving you lots of reading to do, and will be showing you lots of things; however, increasingly you will be expected to work in the library, on your own, or in small groups. This is important if we are going to enable you gain the skills important for your life both inside and outside of university; such skills include, research, writing, thinking and arguing your points convincingly.

Click on the bars below for a few examples of the ways in which we facilitate these skills.

These are more formal than what you will have encountered at school or college. Lectures usually last for 50 minutes, but can last longer than that. Also the audience will often be quite large – 150 is not unusual. Most lecturers give students opportunities to ask questions, but there will be much less interaction than you will have encountered in a normal school or college lesson. Lecturers aim to go at a reasonable pace, but it will probably appear rather fast compared with A-level or foundation courses; however, the slide list will often be available on-line and sometimes you will get handouts to guide you through the lecture. Lecturers hope that you will understand the general idea of their lectures as they give them, but they will assume that you will put in some work both before after the lecture to understand all the details. Please make sure that you make the most of your first year by being prepared at all times for your lectures; this year will be key in laying down the foundations for your later modules and study.

In addition to the lectures, for most art history and cultural studies modules, you will have weekly seminars in smaller groups. These are to help you understand the lectures and to tackle the weekly coursework. Most seminar tutors will give you extra guidance if you need it, but it is up to you to ask. Be proactive from the start and ask questions, the academic staff expect it!

For fine art students (both single honours and those studying ‘with’ another subject within FAHACS) there will be weekly studio sessions, where you will work in small groups and individually; mainly with staff nearby or at hand. You will be given the details of such sessions by the fine art tutors in your first week.

Please note that if you are studying single honours history of art, history of art with museum studies, or cultural and media studies you will not be able to attend such sessions or ask for studio space. However, we do have a module at level 1 available if you wish to continue your art pratice; ARTF1025: Materiality and Process. Please note that you will need to have the necessary prerequisites.

There are also societies within the Student Union which provide weekly practical sessions (e.g. life drawing, photography) that you can attend.

Museum studies students will be spending some of their time in local museums, galleries and country houses. Again, your tutor will give you information about such visits when you arrive. Please note however, that although the school and university adhere to strict health and safety procedures to keep you safe, you are expected to be sensible at all times and listen to the instructions and information given to you by your tutor with regards travel arrangements, schedules etc.

Sometimes you will be encouraged or expected to go to art galleries and other important sites or places of interest on your own, with a seminar tutor, or in small groups. You will be informed of these within the individual modules.

Working with other students is a good way to learn (although we realise it doesn’t suit everyone). We hope that you will become friendly with the other students in your tutor group and you will work together with them. You may also find other students on your course, that you get on well with and with whom you can discuss ideas, texts, lectures etc.

You will need to spend a good deal of time reading through texts, looking for books in the library and going over lecture notes to make sure you understand them; this is essential to learn the things that you need to remember and ensure that you understand them. If you do this before your lectures and seminars you will know where you need help, and you will get maximum benefit from both.

Your course has a modular structure. Each module has its own assessment. This can be an examination, an essay and/or coursework. In the first year you will most likely find that you will be completing weekly worksheets as part of the tutorials and that these may count towards your module marks. Make sure that you do all the work and assessment asked of you, failure to do so may mean that you do not pass the year and thereby not progress to the 2nd level of your degree.

The types of assessment you will be expected to undertake will be clearly listed in your module handbook(s). These will be given to you in the first week of study.

You will also be asked to come along to personal tutorials. You will be allocated a personal tutor in week 0, and you will carry on seeing this person throughout your time at Leeds. In these sessions you will be asked to comment and reflect upon your progression as well as extra-curricular activities that feed into your study. As you progress through your degree you will also be expected to think about what you want to do when you’ve finished your degree. Again, your personal tutor will guide you through this process.

Making the grade

Within the programmes offered by the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies there are two basic forms of assessment; written and practical. If you are a fine art student you will undertake both; if you are a history of art or cultural studies student you will only have to complete the written type of assessment. However, it is important to note that written assessment can come in a variety of forms; mainly essay and exam, but also portfolios and project work (individual and group).

You can check how your modules are assessed by looking on the module page on the Undergraduate Module Catalogue.

An image of the undergraduate module catalogue

Below is some general information about the marking scale used by the university. On the tabs to the right, there are details of the grading criteria used by the individual lecturers and tutors for both written and practical assessment. Please do not get too confused by the terminology, you will get used to it! We have to be very specific in order to cover all the skills you will be using and showing in your assessed work. The feedback you get from your tutor will also work very closely to these criteria so that you know why they have given you the mark that they have.

Marking scale

Basically the marking scale is split into five main categories which will be used throughout your study and then mapped on to the final classification used at the end of your degree. These are:

First: for this you need to get 70 or above for your assessed work.

Upper Second (or 2:1): for this you need to achieve between 60-70 for your work.

Lower Second (or 2:2): for this you need to achieve between 50-60 for your work.

Third: for this you need to achieve between 40-50 for your work.

Fail: to fail you need to have received between 1-39 for your work. In most cases you will be offered the opportunity to re-sit any assessment that you have failed.

Written assessment

NB. Grade descriptors – as the term suggests – provide only a description of what kinds of things your tutors are looking for when they mark your work. They do not provide an explanation as to all of the things you will need to do in order to best succeed. In some areas clear guidance is given in the criteria. In other areas, students’ are expected to reflect on their own learning experience in order to develop their skills and abilities in these critical areas of engagement.

Assessment is based primarily on essays and examinations. Grade descriptors serve as a general guideline. The following are only indications of some achievements, or lack of achievements, which is normally associated with the respective grades when marking assessed essay and examination scripts.

Level 1

Students are introduced to a range of ideas about cultural practices and artefacts, their historical and cultural specificity, sites of production and consumption and to different theories and methods of historical and cultural analysis. Research and academic writing skills are introduced and practiced; resources are introduced and access and uses explained. Students present material critically either orally or in writing and learn to work to deadlines (set by tutors for essays, presentations etc).

High First Class: 80 and above

This classification category is reserved for the most exemplary scholarly and academic achievements in all areas of importance, covering generic skills and critical learning skills, where the level of engagement in all relevant areas is rigorous, mature and intellectually highly developed, relative to the level of study. Work will have been meticulously structured and integrated and will have demonstrated not only an analytical and critical aptitude but also an exceptional ability to synthesize materials from a range of perspectives in a sustained manner. Work graded at this level will display a degree of imaginative and intellectual endeavour that sets it apart even from critically and imaginatively solid work graded as First Class (70-79). Grades awarded at this level also require the quality and maturity of exposition also reflect the highest attainable level of achievement at the corresponding level, a level which places the work on a par with the best student work being produced nationally.

First Class: 70-79

Students achieving at this level will have succeeded in combining generic learning skills with critical and reasoned reflection and thought to a very high level, fulfilling most of the requirements of scholarly and academic work in a manner that is balanced, intellectually developed and rigorous. Copious attention will have been paid to structure, context, etc as well as analytical aspects and existing research in the field will have been explored in detail in ways that are clear and explicitly articulated. Work will have provided very strong evidence of an aptitude for synthesizing as well as analysing relevant materials imaginatively with a sense of rigour and attention to detail. Students will also have shown that they are able to work independently to a high level of engagement, and to have undertaken a solid level of creative and imaginative endeavour in responding to the question or topic.

Upper Second: 60-69

Students scoring in this category will have clearly demonstrated aptitude and competence in dealing with the material – critically and analytically – with some good attention paid to scholarly and academic requirements. They will have demonstrated they can effectively employ generic and critical skills. They will also have shown a considered level of engagement with the topic or question and have demonstrated to a reasonably high degree a facility for structuring contextualising, reasoning and arguing their ideas with a good level of intellectual engagement, with a clearly discernible element of rigour and intellectual balance with some good attention to critical detail. Students will have shown they are capable of working independently. They may also have demonstrated a capacity for synthesizing materials in a relatively developed manner.

Lower Second: 50-59

Students acquiring grades at this level will have shown a reasonably good understanding of the topic or question and will have shown that they are able to engage in an appropriately academic manner with the requirements of the assessment, with some clear evidence of engagement and attention to scholarly and academic requirements. There will usually be evidence of background reading and some attention paid to structure, argument, context, etc. Work at this level will also often show an aptitude for analytical and critical engagement and a degree of intellectual facility, although will sometimes over-emphasize description or generalisation.

Third: 41-49

Work at this level will have shown a basic engagement with the relevant materials with some attempt made at application and evidence of possible future development to a higher level of achievement. A level of attention paid to the requirements of the assessment will have been demonstrated, with some evidence of generic skills having been effectively employed.

Pass: 40

Work at this level will have shown only the most basic engagement with relevant materials with a bare minimum of evidence suggesting a reasonable attempt at engagement with the topic or question had been undertaken.

Fail: 39 and below

Work with a mark of 39 or below will have inadequately demonstrated any reasonable attempt at engagement with the topic or question. There will be little or no evidence of application or reading, and little or no discernible evidence of academic endeavour in any of the key areas.


All members of teaching staff in the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies are researchers in specialist areas. This means that the teaching we do is informed by the research we undertake, they inform each other in dynamic and exciting ways. We also publish this work in national and international publications and at conferences world-wide which means that our research as well as our teaching is well respected and regarded. This also means that we are able to offer our students the opportunity to undergo research themselves in a wide range of topics and subject areas. Although you will do a certain amount of research in years 1 and 2, when you’re writing essays or preparing for presentations say, your main opportunity to do a substantial amount of independent work will be in your final year. Here you will be asked to do a dissertation, or if you are a fine art student a practice-in-context project, which will enable you to look at a your chosen topic in depth; this will take up much of your time and energy in your 3rd year but you will be allocated a supervisor to guide and support you throughout the process. Because you will have already encountered many interesting and exciting ideas, objects and practices over the preceding 2 years the chances are you will already know what you what topic, artist or practice you want to concentrate on, however you will be given guidance here as well in a number of discussions and workshops.

This process of researching and writing-up is very important if you need to show future employers, say, that you are capable of independent work; constructing arguments and deploying ideas, working to your own deadlines and finding out where you can get information and then know what to do with it. This research is also important training if you intend to go onto further post-graduate study which many of our undergraduate students do, both to MA and PhD levels.

Discovery modules

As well as the compulsory and optional modules that make up your programme of study, you can choose something different to your main subject as a discovery module. Find out more about the Discovery Themes on the Broadening pages of the Leeds for Life website.