Structuring personal tutorials

All tutorials require a degree of preparation so that time spent with your tutees can be maximised without being too prescriptive. The advice offered below is meant to offer guidance during the planning process. 

Academic vs Personal Tutorials

In some departments there can be a distinct difference between personal and academic tutorials, where in others there are only personal tutorials. Your department will provide guidelines for what you are expected to be cover in your role as a Personal Tutor.

A typical tutorial

A typical tutorial could take the following format:

'Warming up'

  • Introductions (if this is the first tutorial) / welcomes
  • Ask them if there is anything they would like to discuss
  • Friendly small talk to find out:

    • How are they?
    • How have they been getting on?
    • What have they been up to since you last met?
    • What are they (not) enjoying?

This first part may or may not raise any issues for further discussion. However, students may not reveal any concerns they have straight away so it may require some further investigative work.

If an issue has arisen:

  • Explore the issue
  • Listen to what is being said and summarise key points
  • Identify key aspects of the issue
  • Set goals and methods for achieving those goals in order to resolve the problem
  • Keep a record of what has been discussed
  • Follow up on any actions that arise. This might require a subsequent meeting

If no problems have arisen, move on to the next part of the tutorial, which could include:

  • Follow up any issues or action points from the previous tutorial
  • A specific purpose set by your department; eg, discussing the feedback received from an assignment
  • A pre-agreed topic/question decided in advance. This could be as a result of PPD planning
  • A planned activity/discussion point as set by the personal tutor
  • Initial/further discussion about their personal and professional development

Topics to cover

Topics for tutorials

Structuring tutorials

Agenda items for personal tutorials will depend on the student's programme of study, departmental practice and individual needs. The indicative list of topics below is for the first year of study and is intended as a starting point for consideration and adaptation by Personal Tutors.

Beginning of term 1

This is good to run as a group tutorial with all your tutees as it will also afford them the opportunity to meet with their peers and will help everyone relax into the tutorial environment

  • Personal introductions
  • Introduction to the department and UCL
  • Discussion of the role of the Personal Tutor
  • Set expectations of personal tutorials including how to get in contact
  • Referral to the Transitions programme
  • Introduction to PPD
  • Discussion of any immediate problems eg accommodation, financial etc

Mid term 1 / to coincide with first point of assessment

  • Review of academic and general progress
  • Check how they are settling in and discuss any problems that might have occurred
  • Exploration of what is going well and any concerns they have
  • Link the above in with PPD planning and goal setting
  • Cover any departmental requirements
  • Discussion about plagiarism, referencing, structuring, disciplinary/departmental practices for assessment, academic writing etc
  • Transitions programme shifting focus to Peer Assisted Learning

Early-mid term 2

  • Reflection on progress made during the first term
  • Discussion of any feedback received and how they can use the feedback that they have received
  • Based on the above discussion, planning and actions or goals for development. This integrates well with PPD discussions (time management, workload, writing, reflecting on learning etc)
  • Discussion of how they will prepare for exams
  • Any departmental requirements

End of term 2

  • Guidance on revision of exams, stress management etc
  • Module choices and discussion of future aspirations
  • Be aware that students may wish to discuss extenuating circumstances etc during this tutorial

Term 3, after exams

  • Options for progression
  • Review of PPD
  • Summer activities (academic and general)
  • Linking summer activities with PPD so students start to think about their development as being something not just confined to their academic studies

Personal tutorials in following years will probably follow a similar cycle, with the emphasis shifting away from the initial transition to university and towards workload, careers and dissertations.

Planning ahead: annual cycles

It can be helpful when planning personal tutorials to be aware of the typical issues and concerns that arise during different years of study. This can help you focus your tutorials so that they are relevant and useful for students.

It can also help you to get students thinking ahead of time about issues that will become an increasing concern for them and fits into the ethos of PPD (see the section of this website on 'Personal Tutorials and PPD'). 

The following list is intended to give a rough idea of the sorts of issues occurring during different years of study and is not intended to be an exhaustive list nor a list to limit discussion to these areas only. 

1st year tutorials

  • Transitions to university including settling in, making friends etc
  • Practical issues such as housing, student loans etc
  • Referencing and citations

2nd year tutorials

  • How to cope with heavy workloads
  • Managing academic life
  • Mental health issues tend to arise during latter years

Final year tutorials

  • CV development
  • Career planning/help including postgraduate study
  •  Dissertation advice/guidance/discussions

Group Tutorials

Utilising group tutorials

Group tutorials enable Personal Tutors and their tutees to get to know each other and to begin building the mutual understanding and trust upon which successful personal tutoring depends.Tutors, too, are better prepared for individual tutoring if they already know their tutees from the group sessions.

Group tutorials can also provide a context for discussing common problems and give students an insight into how others are responding to the kind of difficulties that they are experiencing. Students can also be encouraged to support each others’ learning through appropriate discussion and mutual inquiry

The sharing of experiences in a group often alleviates anxiety: it can be reassuring to know that one is not alone in having problems.

Group discussions are helpful to those who may be disinclined or just not ready to seek individual help from a member of staff. They can also provide early indications of individual students’ difficulties, which can then be followed up by the tutor before they become too serious


Group tutorials need to be planned and organised just as carefully as any other teaching session – perhaps more so, because the content is less tangible. As with all teaching, students need to be given a clear indication of the aims, objectives and content of the programme and the role of each tutorial within it.

Page last modified on 10 sep 13 09:28