Your Masters


You might have chosen to specialise in an area related to your previous studies, or perhaps you are moving into a new field of interest. Either way, you will need to immerse yourself in your chosen subject in much more depth than you would for an undergraduate degree, and being able to apply knowledge and skills to a wider context. Understanding what to expect academically early on, will help you to develop effective learning strategies and build your confidence in applying academic skills as you progress.

In this section, you will explore how learning at Masters level can be different from an undergraduate degree, hear from University of Leeds tutors about their expectations of Masters students, and discover how Leeds Masters students have successfully navigated the transition from undergraduate to postgraduate study.


Academic expectations

Video - Leeds academics talk about their academic expectations of Masters students. View video using Microsoft Stream (link opens in a new window, available for University members only). Click to download a full transcript of this video.

At Masters level you will be expected to:

  • Research academic literature independently
  • Read widely around your topic
  • Develop well-structured arguments based on critical use of source
  • Present your arguments clearly using appropriate academic language
  • Produce academic assignments of a high standard
  • Work independently and in groups
  • Present publicly
  • Conduct and deliver an independent research project

At first, you may find the skills and requirements for Masters study are similar to those required at final year undergraduate level. The key difference is the breadth and depth to which these skills are applied. This difference is reflected in the marking conventions. Whilst at undergraduate level, 40%+ is a pass, at masters level, 50%+ is a requirement to successfully complete an assignment. Accordingly, at undergraduate level there is a wider array of degree award classifications compared to masters level:

Percentage Masters grade
70+ Distinction
60-69 Merit
50-59 Pass

We recommend dedicating time to understanding the learning outcomes and assessment criteria of each individual module you are taking at the start of your course. This will help you to establish what is expected of you at an early stage. Once you have understood the standards you have been set, the academic expectations and assessments in your Masters course will be motivational, rather than intimidating.


Managing the transition

If you are familiar with learning through lectures, seminars and tutorials at undergraduate level, you will encounter a similar learning environment during your Masters. While the structure resembles an undergraduate degree, Masters study is more intense as you need to study 180 credits over a year (or two years if you are studying part time), compared with 120 credits at undergraduate level. A typical Masters timetable might be busier than you are used to, and you will be expected to undertake more independent study and research outside of your timetabled sessions. Independent learning and time management are therefore key skills for success.

At Masters level, the subject content will be more specialised and focused. You will be expected to engage deeply with disciplinary concepts and issues, and apply critical analysis to complex subject matter. You will work with with the latest research and literature and gradually develop your own area of academic expertise, which will lead to your final research project. Therefore, studying at Masters level can often feel like a significant step up from undergraduate study, especially if you are returning to education after a long break, or coming from a different academic culture.

The demanding nature of Masters study requires a process of transition. This might be particularly challenging if you find the academic environment at Leeds different from your previous experiences. Reflecting on your previous strategies when adapting to a different learning or working environment can help you work out how to apply your existing skills into this new Masters context. We recommend keeping a reflective journal during your Masters studies. You can use this to reflect on your learning and identify the development of your skills.

The topics covered in Step Up to Masters, for example “Sourcing literature” and “Lectures and seminars”, have been purposely designed to help you successfully navigate this transition. As well as using this resource, we recommend that you make the most of the opportunities and support available from a range of services at the University of Leeds.

Video - Leeds Masters Students discuss their experience of transitioning to Masters level study. View video using Microsoft Stream (link opens in a new window, available for University members only). Click to download a full transcript of this video.


Independent learning

At Masters level, you will be expected to undertake a large amount of independent and self-directed study outside of formal learning time and environments, such as lectures and seminars. At this level, lectures and seminars are opportunities for you to consolidate and deepen the learning that you are undertaking independently. Therefore, you need to make good use of your time outside of teaching hours to broaden your understanding of your subject and develop your academic research skills.

An effective way to guide your independent study is to consult the reading lists on your modules, and work through a selection of the recommended sources. Once you delve into reading about a particular subject, you will develop knowledge of the key theorists and recurrent themes that arise within it. This will help you to develop a wider and deeper understanding of your discipline.

At undergraduate level, you might have completed assignments by relying solely on sources recommended by your tutors, however, as a postgraduate you will be assessed on your ability to identify other relevant and useful sources that can enhance your understanding of a topic and, in turn, help you demonstrate original thought. To cultivate originality means to develop a deep understanding of established concepts and a critical awareness of new insights in your discipline. You can find more information on how to source literature and bring together different perspectives in the Identifying Relevant Literature and Academic Voice sections of this resource.

Video - Leeds Masters students share their experience of independent learning, and give practical advice on how to manage the initial step up. View video using Microsoft Stream (link opens in a new window, available for University members only). Click to download a full transcript of this video.

You will be undertaking a lot of independent study, so be sure to make the most of the high-quality study spaces on campus. There are four libraries which each offer a range of different study facilities to support individual and group study. Find out more on the Library website, and look out for the Skills Zone on Level 1 of the Laidlaw Library and the dedicated space for postgraduate students on Level 13 of the Edward Boyle Library.

Many University departments also provide study and social areas for their students. In addition to these dedicated study spaces, there are a number of cafés on campus and public areas in buildings such as Leeds University Union, which provide informal settings for independent study or meeting with fellow students.


Our global community

At the University of Leeds, you will be part of a global community of students and staff from over 150 different countries. Studying in this environment offers you a great opportunity to develop your intercultural skills and understanding. Your studies will enable you to interact and collaborate with fellow students from diverse backgrounds, engage with a broad range of perspectives, and enjoy the rewards, both academic and personal, of contributing to an intercultural learning environment.

You can engage in an exciting range of opportunities to exchange languages, gain experience through intercultural work and volunteering, and celebrate diversity. We hope you will make the most of our global community at Leeds to broaden your horizons and prepare for the global workplace.

Video - Staff and students discuss the benefits of being part of the Leeds global academic community. View video using Microsoft Stream (link opens in a new window, available for University members only). Click to download a full transcript of this video.