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How much face-to-face time with tutors should you expect?

How many hours a week will you be busy in lectures, seminars or one-to-one sessions with subject tutors? It depends on your course, but expect a big shift from school days…

First, some definitions. Your student life will be an assortment of different learning experiences:
  • Lectures: formal sessions in a large venue to inform and (ideally) entertain you. The teacher may be a member of staff or a guest speaker. Typically they talk, you listen, while taking notes or recording their words of wisdom for future reference
  • Seminars: smaller sessions, more interactive. The tutor is a facilitator rather than a teacher they may lead, and you’ll be expected to follow with comments, ideas and opinions of your own, so you will need to prep in advance. Often students give presentations to get the discussion rolling.
  • Tutorials: tinier still. Possibly just a handful of students, maybe (yikes!) only you and the tutor. Nowhere to hide. A narrower focus than a seminar, usually centring on a paper or essay that you have written or discussion topic agreed in advance.
  • Practicals: hands-on time usually supervised by a tutor in labs, studios and so on.
  • Classes: over-arching term to describe any of the items above.

How you'll spend your time

You can find out how you'd be spending your time on different courses here on The Uni Guide by looking at the 'How you'll spend your time' section on any course page. This shows you the proportion of time you'll spend each year in either lectures, seminars or practicals, in independent study (that's the time you'll be expected to spend reading, revising, preparing for classes and researching / drafting assignments) as well as time on work placements or studying abroad.

Even the same course at different universities may be taught in different ways, so it's worth comparing between courses and seeing which ones best match the way you like to learn. Indications of actual contact hours are often tucked away at the back of the prospectus. If in doubt, check the small print or ask at an open day.

Different subjects, different teaching

The number of timetabled teaching hours and what you'll be doing during those hours - is very much down to the course and subject area you're studying.

Most sciences, for instance, involve lengthy spells in the lab or the workshop, as well as time in class. Law students can expect to be busy with wall-to-wall seminars and lectures. Performing arts and art and design courses are also pretty full-on options; fewer lectures, but practicals-a-plenty, often with a tutor hands-on or hovering in the background.

If you’re taking an arts or humanities subject such as English, politics or history, contact time is a lot more fluid, maybe less than eight hours a week. That doesn't mean less work. The remainder of your working day is meant to be passed in the library or language lab reading, researching and preparing independently not frittered away on Facebook.

You can find out the average number of teaching hours for the subject you're interested in (compared with the average across all subjects) within our subject guides

What about one-on-one time?

Does tutors + students  = individual attention? Rarely.

As you see above, it can be crowded in most sessions. Tutorials are your best opportunity for one to one exchanges, but you’ll probably still have to share space. If in-depth discourse is what you want, best to speak to the teacher at the end of a class or arrange a separate appointment.
The canny student can maximise contact time with staff by looking for opportunities outside scheduled course hours. The library, the academic skills unit and the IT unit are likely to run short courses to support students to make the most of their time in higher education.

Many students do not take the opportunity to visit academic staff during their office hours - this is always worth doing, as it means you get one-to-one feedback and advice from the experts. Instead of badgering staff via email, take the time to drop in in person if you can - you will both get more out of the encounter. National Union Of Students (nus)

Personal tutors

All students are allocated personal tutors from their department.
  • What they are: an academic agony aunt or uncle, should this be necessary.
  • What they‘re not: minders or mind readers. If you need them, it’s up to you to ask for help.
Your personal tutor is there to offer support and assistance, as well as guidance and direction on larger pieces of independent work such as a dissertation, thesis or research project.

Don't forget your fellow students

Finally, don't underestimate the value of contact time with class mates discussing the course and the ideas that you are engaging with.
While it might feel that contact with teachers offers the best value, discussing unfamiliar ideas with people who are as lost as you are will help you get things straight in your head and will help you understand the different perspectives your coursemates bring to the table. There is never one solution or one way of looking at things, so focus on making contact with as many different people as possible and you are guaranteed to get the most from your time at university. National Union Of Students (nus)


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