Skip to content

Welcome to this guide. It is intended to help you make the most of your time at university by helping you to understand the systems that universities use and avoid the pitfalls that sometimes hold students back or discourage them. Many students think when they start university programmes, ‘I don’t think I’m clever enough to be here’; and, sometimes, having difficulties with understanding what is required of you can reinforce that view. This guide is written to help you prevent that situation happening to you.

How Higher Education works

Universities are part of the wider education system. The education system is designed to give every child the basic foundations they require to be successful in society as they age. Education systems help you move from acquiring basic skills, to helping you acquire higher order skills. As such each step in the educational journey has different expectations and rules. Primary school is about you learning facts in a rote manner. Secondary schools are about you beginning to choose those areas of education, which you enjoy and allow you to learn in more complex ways.  Universities are the last step in this process and are designed to provide you with the unique skills you require to be successful in a chosen area of education or life as well as to develop the ability to challenge, research and think about knowledge in different ways.

Read our guidance on how University Differs from School/College

How do you succeed at University?

As you can see from the information you have already read, universities have their own guidelines on what students need to do to be successful. These guidelines are called academic conventions. The most helpful guidelines are set out below;

Guideline 1 (Independent Learning)

The first guideline is that you are expected to be an independent and self-directed learner. You are responsible for attending classes and reading around the topic under discussion. This is an important point as the whole system is based on the notion that the lecturer will direct you towards the information you need to learn. Lecturers will not teach you everything you need to learn.  This tells you that you will be required to undertake your own research and in particular you will be expected to read around the topic. As a general rule of thumb, the more you read the more you have to discuss.

Guideline 2 (Writing Conventions)

The second guideline relates to how students are assessed and in particular how students write assignments.

There are four basic rules which are based on the premise that the marker of your work needs to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you understand the concept under discussion. The reader of your work is looking for ‘evidence of understanding’. To a lecturer evidence comes from books and research. The four basic rules are:

  • The work should be focused on the concept/ concepts being investigated
  • The work has a logical structure
  • The work uses evidence based arguments
  • The work is objective and logically argues accepted positions on the concept under investigation.
    We shall no look at how you can begin to understand the course you have registered for and provide you with some basic guides on how you can prepare yourself for studying at university.

How to understand your course

Education can be thought of as a ladder that allows you to reach the best of your abilities. You have to climb each rung of the ladder before you can reach the top. Below is the ladder on which your programme of study is built. Each rung of the ladder equates to a year in your educational journey. The bottom rung of the ladder is your last year in school or college. The next step up entitled “understand” equates to level 4 study at university. Each step up the ladder is equal to a step up in terms of educational level. The level entitled “create”, equates to level 8 study (Adams, 2015).

Your formative schooling was based on getting you to remember information. When entering higher education, you are being taken on a journey from a passive learner (someone who can retain information) to an independent learner (someone who is in control of their learning and can think critically about what is being taught). These steps are designed to allow you to evidence the skills and knowledge required by future employers or to be able to practice effectively. At level 4 you are asked to evidence understanding of information; at level 5 you are asked to apply information (link the theory you learn in the classroom to your practice); at level 6 you are asked to analyse (ask questions about why theory and practice are different, what factors contribute to this difference and how these differences can be addressed); at level 7 you are asked to evaluate the knowledge you read and make judgements about how reliable that knowledge is.

The professional accreditation bodies (NMC, HCPC, etc.) have validated this university to deliver health and social care education. They instruct the university to help you learn those things, which are essential for health and social care professionals to be able perform their work effectively. These essential requirements are called the learning outcomes. Learning outcomes are introduced to you at the start of every module and quite often in between lessons. They are always available for you to read on all module sites, within a document called the learning descriptor. All of the lessons you are taught relate to one of the learning outcomes set. If you are unsure which learning outcome is being taught, then you should ask the module leader for clarification.  During each lesson you should take notes so that you can structure your own learning to identify all relevant points that require assessment. To pass any module at level 4 you must convince the marker of your assessed work that you understand the learning outcomes set for that particular module. This is an important point to remember as it tells you exactly what you should be learning, thinking and writing about. If you are not addressing the learning outcomes, then you are not focused on what is required.  To pass any module at level 5 you must convince the marker of your assessed work that you can apply or interpret the learning outcomes. To pass any module at level 6 you must convince the marker that you can analyze the learning outcomes. To pass any module at level 7 you must do all of the above plus question the validity of the research you discuss. The people marking your work are a bit like a judge.

They must be sure ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that you understand, can apply or can analyze the learning outcomes. This is also an important point, because just as a judge would not believe the opinion of a single witness, then the marker of your work will not believe the word of a single witness. A judge and a marker will review the evidence. The evidence for an academic piece of work can be found in books and research articles. Therefore, you are being judged on the work you have read and how well you understand what you have read or can apply or can analyze what you have read.

References: Adams, N. E. (2015). Bloom’s taxonomy of cognitive learning objectives. Journal of the Medical Library Association: JMLA, 103(3), 152.