Study support

Independent Learning

Study at university is very different from study at college, or other study you've done in the past.  You should be prepared to do a lot more independent work.

On average, university students have around 15 hours of contact time with lecturers and tutors each week, and spend 16 hours on private study - but remember that this can vary a lot depending on where and what you study.

The kind private study you do will depend on your subject, but whatever your course there'll be a few things you need to keep on top of:

  • Motivation: It can be hard to face your assignments on your own, so it's easy to let things slip. Sometimes it can help to work with other people. This is particularly helpful if they are also parents, as they will understand the pressures you face and your schedules are more likely to fit together.
  • Getting help: Everybody gets stuck sometimes, whether it's not understanding an assignment or struggling with referencing. Remember that just because you're working independently doesn't mean you can't ask for help. Tutors will normally be happy to help, but won't be able to give you much time: you might have to wait to see them, and you'll have to make sure you know exactly what you're asking in advance! Sometimes it can be easier to ask coursemates. Even if they're having the same problem, you're more likely to work it out if there's more than one of you.

Types of Teaching

There are four main ways university courses are taught:

  • Lectures: a lecturer discusses the subject matter, usually for about an hour. Although there may be questions (from the lecturer or the students) lectures are usually not very interactive. To make the most of them, you need to listen carefully and take effective notes. Some lecturers might not let you into the lecture theatre if you're late, so find out what the university's policy is on this and try and contact your lecturer in advance if you think you'll be late or will miss it.   If you're going to miss a lecture, find out if the lecture notes are available online or if you could borrow somebody else's.
  • Seminars: These are held in smaller groups than lectures, and involve more discussion. They usually also need more preparation. You may be asked to deliver a short presentation, write an essay, complete a set of problems or just prepare for a discussion. Remember, you'll get more out of seminars by taking part more fully - it can be more important to get involved in the discussion than to note down everything anyone says. It can be daunting speaking in front of others at first, but remember that everybody else is probably as nervous as you are, and the more you say the more your confidence will improve.
  • Practical work and placements: Some subjects, like sciences or engineering, will involve lab work. Others such as social work and nursing will involve work placements. Practical work is sometimes just for teaching purposes and sometimes forms part of your assessment - make sure you know the difference! Also remember to find out how many placements you have to do during your course and at what time of year so you can plan your time effectively. You may need to travel to get there which will impact on your timetable and budget.
  • Individual study: A lot of work will be done on your own. This might mean working through set textbooks, or doing independent research. You need to think about when and where you study best and make arrangements for childcare if you need to. Also check your course timetable so you can identify free periods when you could make it to the library on campus.

Plagiarism and Copyright

Lots of university students - and even lecturers - get tripped up when they refer to books and articles in their work.
The key thing to remember is that if you use somebody else's work, you have to acknowledge it. This applies whether you quote them directly or just base your work on their original ideas and research.
Leeds University has a useful guide to plagiarism but it's always a good idea to check your own university's guidelines.
You also need to be careful when photocopying library books, as there are limits to how much you are legally allowed to copy. This is usually 5% of the book or one full chapter (whichever is greater), but you can check with the librarian if you are not sure


  • Let your tutors know if you think you'll be late for seminars or meetings. People often feel uncomfortable or intimidated telling tutors about their children, or sometimes don't want to appear like they're asking for special dispensation, which is understandable, but it's better for everyone if you let them know
  • Don't worry about approaching tutors if you're unsure about an assignment or an essay. Most will be happy to help. However, they often won't be able to give you much time, so try to make an appointment in advance and make sure you know exactly what you need to ask before you go.
  • Teaching Resources: Many universities have online teaching resources such as lecture notes, course guides and sometimes even recordings of lectures. These can be very helpful if you miss a lecture, or if you just want to refresh your memory.
  • When it comes to doing coursework, you can often see sample work from previous years in university or faculty libraries. This can be very useful if you're unsure about things like layout or referencing.
  • What's available varies by university and by faculty. Tutors and librarians should be able to help you find out what is available.