UCL Centre for Languages & International Education (CLIE)


Preparing for the UPC

Compulsory subjects

Students on the UPC will have different levels of English, different individual strengths and weaknesses, and therefore different needs. It is a good idea to think about your own strengths and weaknesses (using, for example, your IELTS scores) and to start improving your writing, reading, speaking and/or listening skills. 

Two of the main problems that most students encounter at the beginning of the course are:

  1. Understanding spoken English, especially lectures.
  2. Reading academic literature in English.

These problems apply to all international students and not only to those who have recently arrived in the UK. This is because there is a significant difference between the English you hear in everyday life and the formal academic English used in lectures, with its specialised subject vocabulary.

As far as reading academic literature is concerned, although many students are used to reading short texts and articles in English, the UPC subject subjects require you to read specialised books and academic articles each term.

You don't need to buy any English language materials at this stage. We'll help you choose dictionaries, grammar books, and other textbooks once you have started the course.

Here are a few suggestions for improving your general and academic English.

Newspapers and magazines
  • Read a quality English-language newspaper such as the Financial Times, Guardian, Times or Daily Telegraph.
  • Read a weekly magazine such as the New Statesman or Economist.

Firstly, it will increase your vocabulary and improve your reading skills.

Secondly, it will provide you with background knowledge of events in the world and topical issues. This knowledge will help you both with your studies and with university interviews. Undergraduate students in the UK are expected to be well informed about current affairs.

One way to start: pick an English newspaper and choose articles that interest you. Read the articles and highlight the vocabulary that is unknown, but do not look up the words in a dictionary until after you have finished reading the complete article.

If you are currently living outside the UK, British Council libraries and resource centers have copies of newspapers and magazines. Newspapers, magazines and TV stations all have extensive websites with a wide range of reading materials on issues in the news, current affairs and other topics, which are regularly updated. Some suggestions: The BBC, the Guardian, the Economist, or the Financial Times.

Write a diary in English
  • Write an English diary of the interesting things that happen to you each day.

Possibly, you might like to focus on the travel plans you are making to come to the UK. What differences do you think there may be between living in London and the city you are currently living in? How do you feel about coming to London and UCL?

Aim to write 100 words a day, try to use new words and phrases, and take your writing practice seriously.

Experience authentic British English
  • Experience authentic British English by listening to the radio and watching television.

If you're in the UK, listen and speak to native English speakers.

You can listen to more formal English – more similar to your lectures – by listening to BBC Radio 4 or the BBC World Service. Pay particular attention to broadcast news and current affairs programmes.

If you are outside the UK, have a look online for radio and television broadcasts and podcasts in authentic British English, and listen to the BBC World Service.

'A Very Short Introduction to...'
  • Read a series of very short books which introduce you to a variety of topics.

You could read some of the 'A Very Short Introduction to...' books from Oxford University Press. These very short books introduce you to a variety topics relevant to your studies like Mathematics, Art, Music, Globalization, Politics, Philosophy and Classics.