Things you need to know about studying in the UK for the first time

1 December 2020

If you are coming to study at UCL from abroad, you may find that the UK academic system is different to the education system you have known so far. Here are a few basic guidelines on what to expect.


Independent work and research

While in some countries the focus will be on spending many contact hours in the classroom, studying in the UK is typically more independent. Most lectures or seminars will last one or two hours, and you will be expected to work and prepare for classes autonomously.

UCL is also a very research-driven institution, which means you will often be asked to answer complex questions with real-life applications. Studying at a UK university, you should expect being asked to elaborate your own opinion. You will be encouraged to engage in debates and challenge existing viewpoints – including academic theories.

More information on studying in the UK can be found on the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) website.

Different teaching methods

There are different teaching styles depending on your programme of study. Typically, most students will attend lectures and seminars for each subject they take. To address the current challenges of COVID-19, teaching styles have been adapted in the most part to online provision. 

During a lecture, an academic will present new concepts to groups ranging from 20 to 350 students, while seminars will involve discussing these topics in depth in smaller groups (from 5 to 30 people) after having prepared and done additional reading on the subject. Students are encouraged to ask questions and actively participate in seminars.

Other teaching methods include:

  • Practical work (lab courses, field trips, installations etc.)
  • Tutorials (one-to-one and/or small groups)
  • Private study (individual, study groups etc.)

Different assessment methods

The most common forms of assessment are examinations, which usually take place at the end of the academic term, and written coursework, which is usually in the form of essays and reports. You may also be asked to prepare individual and group presentations, and to work on collaborative projects. These have also moved online, and range from open-book exams to coursework and portfolios. 

You will likely be marked on an increasing scale from 0 to 100, although scaling may be different according to your discipline.

For more information, you can take a look at the UCL student guide to assessment and feedback.

You can also find out more about how UK marking compares to other countries from the Graduate Recruitment Bureau.

Academic integrity at UCL

Academic integrity means being honest in your academic work, and making sure that you formally recognise and reference the existing knowledge and ideas on which your work is based. If you do not acknowledge the work or ideas of others, you could be penalised for academic misconduct. UCL requires high academic standards in order to maintain trust and confidence in our world-leading research and teaching, as well as the individuals who work and study here.   

Through your UCL education you will become an independent learner and knowledge creator. To be successful, you must develop good academic practice skills and avoid any type of academic misconduct, including plagiarism.

Find out more about academic integrity.

Take our 'Introduction to academic integrity course' on Moodle before you start your programme (UCL login details needed, which you'll receive as part of pre-enrolment later in the summer).


At UCL there are also a number of services you can access to improve your language and study skills. All services provide a range of support in person, online or via video calls. These include:

UCL Academic Communication Centre (ACC)

The ACC offers faculty-specific support to both native and non-native English speakers studying for an undergraduate or postgraduate degree.

Read more about the UCL Academic Communication Centre.

IOE Academic Writing Centre

The Academic Writing Centre provides specialist support for UCL Institute of Education (IOE) students.

Read more about the IOE Academic Writing Centre.

UCL Doctoral School

The Doctoral School provides a wide range of support for postgraduate research students.

Read more about the Doctoral School.

Students' Union UCL - Language + Writing Programme

Students' Union UCL runs the Language + Writing Support Programme to help international students with their academic writing and speaking.

Read more about the Language + Writing Programme from Students' Union UCL.

Further information 

More information about study skills and e-learning can be found on the 'Academic support' webpages.

Information about academic life in the UK, including English language support, can be found on the 'International students' webpages.

If you have any questions or would like to know more about studying in the UK and at UCL, contact the International Student Support team.

Last revised: 7 September 2021

UCL Student Support and Wellbeing