Learning at University

At Birmingham, we recognise the disruption you have faced in your learning during the pandemic, whether you are a new or returning student. You may have concerns about re-adjusting to group learning or formal assessment, or about developing your academic skills or curriculum knowledge.

These concerns are completely understandable, but we are here to support you so that you can seamlessly navigate the start of your University learning journey. We are sure that by Semester 2, you will have full confidence in your knowledge and skills to go on and fulfil your academic potential.

We have a full range of support services available to help you along the way, from your first few weeks until you graduate.

How will I learn?

What can I expect?

There are several different ways of learning at University - some will feel familiar, and some may be entirely new to you. The Academic Skills Centre explain the different types of learning, and what you can expect whilst studying with us.

Learning at University

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What is a lecture?

One of the first things we think about when considering learning at University is lectures, but what are they actually like and how do you prepare for one?

The Academic Skills Centre have prepared some tips and advice on how to make the most of your lectures.

What is a lecture?

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What is a seminar?

Seminars are different from lectures in that they are smaller in group size and designed for more active learning. Find out more form the Academic Skills Centre on how to prepare for and fully engage with your seminars.

What is a seminar?

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Personal Academic Tutoring

You will have a Personal Academic Tutor, who will support your personal and academic development. You will meet regularly with your Personal Academic Tutor and your tutor peer group through the year. PebblePad, our portfolio tool, will help you record your progress and achievements throughout University and beyond.

Assessments and exams

What can I expect from assessments?

You will likely experience a range of different kinds of assessment during your degree. We will support you to understand and complete them, and they form a vital part of your experience, helping you consolidate and measure your learning and identify areas of further improvement.

Dependent on your subject, you will likely encounter different types of assessment, some of which you may already be familiar with and others which you may not. These might include:

  • Essays
  • Case studies
  • Lab reports
  • Problem sheets
  • Presentations
  • Posters
  • Exams, which may be in-person or online

You may also hear assessments described as formative or summative. Formative assessments do not count towards your overall mark, but give you a chance to practice and receive constructive feedback. Summative assessments do count towards your marks and your overall grade.

Top tips for getting ready for assessments

1. Plan ahead

Your module information will include details on your assessments. Note down the deadlines in your diary or calendar and identify any particularly busy points. Work backwards from these dates - when do you need to start preparing to give yourself enough time?

For exams, start revising early. It will help strengthen your understanding of the modules as you go, and will help you avoid trying to cram just before the exam.

2. Understand the assessment

Look carefully at the guidance for each assessment. Make sure you understand the question or task, the marking criteria, and any practicalities such as the word count, format, or style of referencing.

If you are unsure about any of this, always speak to your tutor early on. If you've had feedback from previous assessments, take time to reflect on this and consider how you might be able to apply any of the recommended improvements to your next assessment.

3. Make the most of University support

There are so many teams and services to support you in your studies. When it comes to assessments, we encourage you to ask for support, whether it's via your module tutor, your Personal Academic Tutor, the Academic Skills Centre, or wellbeing teams.

Getting ready for feedback

Feedback is an essential part of your learning at University and is the main way that you will receive guidance and support from your tutors. Feedback may be given informally during lectures or seminars, or it may through written comments on your assessment. Feedback helps you to recognise the areas where you are doing well and identify aspects for improvement.

Sometimes it may come in the form of a summary or grid at the end of your essay. Other times there will be annotations on the assignment itself, or sometimes a tutor may give collective ‘generic’ feedback to a whole cohort where it will benefit the majority of students.

The style of feedback will be appropriate to the assessment and will have been carefully chosen to help your academic development, but may be different to how you have received feedback before. Feedback will refer to the mark scheme or learning outcomes to show you what your work was judged against.

Making the most of feedback

When you've worked hard on an assessment, it's normal to have an emotional reaction to receiving feedback! There are a few things it is useful to remember before you receive feedback for the first time:

  • Give yourself a few days to let the marks and feedback sink in, then take time to study the comments you received again and think about what they mean and how you can use the feedback in future.
  • Make sure you read and reflect on the positive parts too - it can be very easy to focus on any comments that feel negative. How can you develop your strengths even further?
  • Re-read your assessment alongside the feedback. Identify what you would change if you were doing it again, and create an action plan with the three key priorities - don't overwhelm yourself. You can keep adding to and adapting the plan as you get more feedback.

And finally, if there are feedback comments that you don’t understand, make sure to ask for advice. You may be able meet with the person who marked it through office hours or by requesting a chat, or you could book an appointment with a Skills Advisor from the Academic Skills Centre, who will help you reflect on and clarify the feedback.