Welcome to the Prepare for Success blog!

This blog is part of the Prepare for Success website. Through it, we will answer your questions about living and studying in the UK. As well as writing about topics of interest, we answer questions from international students about living and studying in the UK on our blog.

If you have a question, please post it on the Question Wall. One of our team will then answer it through a blog post.

Guest bloggers: from time to time we include posts written by guest bloggers. If you are interested in contributing a blog post on a topic of interest to international students, please contact elang1@soton.ac.uk.

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08 November 2018

5 Tips for Postgraduate Study

Studying at a deskThis month’s guest blogpost is provided by Callum Dawson, a writer for Mears Student Life, a trusted provider of purpose-built student accommodation across the UK.

The jump from secondary school or high school to sixth-form? It’s a big one. How about going from sixth-form to university? Even bigger. There’s not much talk about the jump from university to postgraduate study, though, but there should be, because it’s monumental.

The change can be a big culture-shock if you’re not prepared. Postgraduate study requires far more independent learning than undergraduate study, not to mention a great deal of self-motivation. For this reason, we’ve collected five tips for you that will help you to succeed at postgraduate level. Here they are!

1. Pick a subject you love (but can still be objective about)

There’s a unique point to be made with this one. On the one hand, you want to study something that you’re passionate about, and something that you obviously enjoy. On the other hand, you need to be able to step back from the subject at hand and view it with impartiality. You need to be critical with the work. This is important if, for example, you’re studying English literature and you choose to write a dissertation on your favourite novel. Is that really the best choice – the one book you’ve held dearest all these years? Probably not. You could be too close to it – bias is the scourge of the academic community, remember!

2. Prepare for epic amounts of reading (epic in the actual sense of the word!)

At postgraduate level, there’s a lot more focus on reading around your subject. As an undergraduate, your reading list will consist of a limited number of texts, with the option of reading around the subject. You might not expect such an increase in workload when you move on to postgrad work, but the reality is that you have to make a big step up.

You need to show that you’re capable of extensive research and can go down avenues that you found on your own. It’s all about working independently and trying to do things a little differently.

When you’re planning your dissertation or thesis, pick a starting point (a core text, or maybe an overarching question that you intend to answer) and plot a few points which are mentioned to investigate. As you do this, you’ll land upon ideas that you may not have come across before. Basically, be prepared to read as much as possible! Postgraduate work is hard, but you’ll soon get the hang of it.

3. Talk about your work with others – it helps!

Although independent learning is, as we’ve said, important at postgraduate level, you should still engage in group work (as much as you may hate it!). Discussing work with your peers, or even a few family members or friends, will give you some precious outside perspective.

It’s quite common for postgraduate students to get ‘tunnel vision’, which is having too much focus on a single specific point. When you’re so far into your research and you’re so close to the work at hand, it can be difficult to look at the bigger picture. It helps to get outside of your groove every now and then and talk to others! You might come across a few gaps or holes in your theory – ones that you’ve not noticed before.

4. Rethink your strategy

The old phrase ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ doesn’t really apply at postgraduate level. Your revision strategies up to now may have been fine for your A-levels or your undergraduate work, but things are different now.

Your first few months of postgraduate study are perfect for trying new things, whether that’s revision methods that you’ve not tried before or learning-strategies that you’d like to try. Now is the time! The intensity has increased, and you need to be reactive to this.

We can say that what has worked well for you before may not work anywhere near as well for you at postgraduate level. You’re expected to up the ante, all in the name of academic progression.

5. Get a head-start on your reading

You’ll have been told this at undergraduate level, we’re sure, but it’s vital that you actually get a head-start on your reading list at postgraduate level. This is what your summer is for (although you’ll want to spend some time relaxing too!) Get out in the garden or head down to the park, and get yourself ahead of the game. If you are taking a pre-sessional English course before your postgraduate studies, this will help you to get used to the language and study skills you’ll need.

Every little bit helps. Get to grips with the concepts you’ll be tackling, as well as any bits of vocabulary or terminology that you might not be familiar with. You don’t want to start your postgraduate course unprepared, so it’s best if you do some preparation. You’ll thank yourself later!

It’s a big jump, but you can handle it.

With the above tips, we’re confident that you have postgraduate life planned out. With preparation, forward-thinking and plenty of reading, you’ll be in a great position to do your best!

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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18 October 2018

How to Write an Essay: Tips for ESL (English as a Second Language) Students

This month’s guest blogpost is provided by Grace Carter:

Essay writing can be challenging for ESL students. Essays can be hard enough in your native language, but trying to organise and argue ideas in an unfamiliar tongue is even more difficult. Essay writing can be made more approachable if students follow a few simple tips.

Thesis statements

The basis of your essay will be your thesis statement – this is the point you will be arguing in your essay. Put some careful thought and planning into your thesis statement; it is the most important part of your essay. Try brainstorming some ideas, write down everything that comes to mind when you think about your topic. You can also try mind-mapping. A mind map is a diagram that starts out as one idea, then you branch out into words that come to mind when you look at your idea. Write out some arguments and connect them together, making sure they are directly related to your main idea.

Your introduction

Here is where you will introduce your topic and thesis. You will also want to get the reader interested in reading more and orientating them on your topic. You should also briefly outline the points you will be arguing in your explanatory paragraphs. Short quotes can be a good way to engage your reader, so as you do your research keep your eyes peeled for a quote you might be able to use for this purpose, and make sure that you take down details of your sources so that you can reference any quotes you use.

Explanatory paragraphs

A basic essay structure is the five-paragraph essay, which includes three explanatory body paragraphs. Each one of these should argue one of your three supporting points. State your point, explain it and expand on it, and then back it up with evidence and references. Prioritise clarity by breaking down complicated ideas into short, simple sentences. Supporting with evidence is important. Use different kinds of sources such as book references, statistics and quotes.

Concluding paragraph

Your conclusion should contain a summary of your main points and a repeat of your thesis statement. This is your final opportunity to make your case and drive your points home. Be careful not to add any new information in your conclusion; you should just be summarising and restating.

Try out some online writing resources for help

Writing an essay can be challenging enough when it is in your native tongue, but it can be especially tricky when you are writing in a new language. There are plenty of resources available that can help make the process more accessible. Here are some good sites to get started with:

  • ViaWriting, AcademAdvisor and StateOfWriting – Grammar is a common topic for ESL students to struggle with. English has many grammar rules, and they can be confusing. These grammar resources can help you to improve your knowledge of grammar, so you can use this knowledge to improve your writing.
  • WritingPopulist and LetsGoandLearn – These are blogs devoted to proofreading. Proofreading is a critical step in any essay writing process, but it is one that is often rushed. Read some blog posts and see what other writers have done to improve their proofreading process. You learn a lot from other writers’ successes and failures.

When you come to the UK to study, you will be expected to use UK English spellings so it is important that you are familiar with these.

Conclusion

Essays can be tricky, but hopefully these tips will make essay writing a bit simpler and more approachable. A good thesis, some well-argued main points, and a conclusion that summarises and restates the thesis make for a well-rounded essay.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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18 September 2018

Lecture Tips for International Students

NotebooksThis month’s guest blogpost is provided by Daniel Sefton, a writer for The Student Housing Company:

The UK is home to outstanding academic institutions. As a result, students come from far and wide to get a taste of UK student life. There is a very particular culture around being a student in the UK, and for international students who are not used to the way that higher education works here, it can be a difficult task to settle into proper learning habits.

You might be a fluent English speaker or you might not be. Either way, lectures and seminars are fast-paced learning environments where you have to keep up with what the tutor is telling you, and you have to take your learning into your own hands.

Follow these tips to take control of your learning…

Ask Plenty of Questions

Your tutors are there to make sure that every student understands the concepts that they are learning about. Unless you are taking a specialist course, it is likely that the tutors will be teaching the content to many other students; because of this, the tutors will cover topics quickly and will expect you to absorb the information just as quickly.

Nonetheless, the tutors are still dedicated to helping you pass your degree, and are there to answer any questions you have. If there is something that you don’t understand, ask questions until you have a clear understanding of the topic. Tutors will often have set office hours where you can go and see them to discuss any issues or gaps in your knowledge – make use of this time.

Selecting a book from the Library

Read Ahead

Either before you start your course or on your first day, your tutors will give you a list of textbooks that you should go out and buy (and, of course, read). They recommend this reading because it will enrich your knowledge of the course content and it will help you gain a better understanding of the topics that you study. After your opening lectures, head to the library and borrow these textbooks, because they will become useful resources for you.

Reading the relevant sections ahead of lectures will give you an advanced understanding of the points being taught, and will therefore help you to follow what the tutor is saying more clearly than you would without prior knowledge.

Study Together

UK universities accept applications from thousands of international students each year, so when it comes to studying your course, you won’t be alone. There will be other students in the same situation as you, and you are in a great position to help each other out.

University libraries have group-study rooms that you can book at particular times of the day. If you and your friends allocate time once per week to get together and discuss the lectures from the week before, you will find that you can fill the gaps in each other’s knowledge.

Use Study Apps

Technology has changed the way that international students learn new information. Laptops and smartphones now have a lot of useful software and apps to help you understand what your lecturer is telling you. Here are our favourites:

  • Voice Notes: Sometimes lecturers can talk through topics quickly, making it a little bit difficult to keep up. Recording the lecture on your smartphone means that you can revisit the lecture at a later date and listen to it at your own pace. Available from Apple and Google Play.
  • Google Translate: If your lecturer uses a word that you don’t understand, you can write it (or speak it) into the Google Translate app and it will translate the word to a language that you understand. Available from Apple and Google Play.
  • Duolingo: When you’re tired of using Google Translate, you can use this app to teach yourself how to speak English as a second language. It breaks the language elements down into easy-to-follow steps so that it’s not too overwhelming. Available from the Duolingo website.

Enjoy!

During your time at university, you’ll be meeting new people, experiencing a new culture, and learning new things every day, so make sure that you take the time to appreciate it while it lasts. It’s hard work, but it will pay off in the end!

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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27 July 2018

Things I wish I’d known before I came to the UK

This month’s guest blogpost is provided by Madalina Lupu, from international student account provider UniZest:

When asked about things they wish they’d known before coming to the UK, international students have a lot to say. Here are a few examples:

  • “I wish I’d known more about the cost of public transport – I’ve spent so much by now I should have just bought a good second-hand bike.”
  • “That getting accommodation as an international student with no UK guarantor is difficult.”
  • “The accents of people in the UK are a lot different than the ones that are on TV.”
  • “That using cash is very rare in the UK (most things happen by card).”

Heading off to a new country and a different culture requires a lot of planning and you might not even be aware of some of the things you need to sort out before or after you arrive. We have pulled together a ‘listicle’ which we think you might find useful.

1. Essential things

Here are some of the essentials you will need to bring:

  • UK plug adapter: It is advisable to bring one with you if you don’t want to pay outrageous prices to buy one at the airport.
  • Compression bags: Of course it is difficult to pack your whole life into two suitcases. Try using compression sacks. You put your clothes inside and then suck the air out of the bag, maximising the space in your luggage.
  • “>Spare passport photos and copies of your passport: You might need some extra passport photos when applying for Student Passes, IDs or public transport cards. It is also worth having a couple of extra photocopies of your passport and other important documents.
  • Umbrella: Remember that you are coming to the UK, so a folding umbrella that will fit into your hand luggage is a must-have.

2. Banking system

The UK banking system might be a bit different than the banking system in your home country. Even if you already have a bank account in your name, do you have any idea what are the differences between an account number, a card number and an IBAN? Even more, have you ever heard about sort-codes? These are all terms you will need to learn in order to become familiar with the UK banking system and be prepared to make international transfers from your home country to your UK account. Here is a brief explanation of the terms mentioned above:

  • Account number: 8-digit unique number which identifies the holder of a bank account. This is used for UK to UK bank transfers.
  • Card number: 16-digit number written on the front of your bank card. Used for online purchases.
  • IBAN: Stands for International Bank Account Number, and it is used when making or receiving international transfers.
  • Sort-code: It is a six-digit number which identifies the bank and the branch where your account is held (format: xx-yy-zz). Together with the account number, it can usually be found written on your bank card.

Opening a UK bank account should be one of your top priorities. You will need to book an appointment with a bank as soon as you get here and it can take weeks to get your account opened. Some bank names you might want to research in advance are Barclays, Santander and HSBC.

However, you can also open an online account offered by UniZest, which is designed specifically for international students. You can apply online and open it before you leave home, deposit funds and start making payments out. This means that you arrive in the UK with everything sorted and receive your card overnight.

3. Getting a job

The list with things you need to know before coming to the UK can be quite extensive but we had to choose a few to write about. The last one we decided on was finding and getting a part-time job.

One of the first and most important things you need to do is apply for a National Insurance Number (NINo). This is a unique personal number used to record National Insurance contributions (taxes). You do not need to have a NINo before starting work, but you must obtain one when you get a job.

Finding work can be challenging if you don’t know where to look. You can find advertisements for jobs in your local newspapers, in shops, on notice boards around your university or college, in the careers service or your Students’ Union. There are many job search websites and job agencies. Check out this UKCISA article which explains more about the process of getting a job and the things you need to look out for.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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20 April 2018

Staying Focused When You’re Missing Home

Studying away from homeThis month’s guest blogpost is provided by Dom Gibson, the educational content editor at Tutorful, the UK’s fastest-growing tutoring marketplace. He spends most of his day researching new topics in education and writing articles on the subject. He spent a year abroad in Germany whilst at university, so knows a thing or two about the highs and lows of studying away from home! He is a passionate learner and believes education is the most valuable gift a person can be given, which is nice, because so does Tutorful. You can find details of some of the subjects they cover, including languages, here:

Moving away from your home to study at university opens a new chapter in your life. Whether it’s your first degree, or your third, it brings new opportunities for learning, making friends and exploring a whole new world. At the same time, it often brings a solid dose of that homesickness.

Homesickness is very common amongst students starting a new course, at a new campus. Even if many students do not tend to express it, everyone has felt the sense of sadness at missing home. This is especially true for the first few months of your new life on campus. It is perfectly natural. You miss the home, the family, the friends, the lifestyle back home – simply because you’ve been used to it for such a long time.

Missing home provides you with an opportunity to grow as a person. Some emotional pain is the key ingredient to emotional growth. The good news is that this feeling goes away with time. Here are some tried-and-tested tips that will help you beat the ‘blues’ and let you get up-to-speed with your new life at university.

Get out of your room

That’s it. Don’t sit in a corner and think too much about this feeling of homesickness. The more you isolate yourself, the stronger the feeling is going to get. To beat it, get out, go on a walk, explore the eateries at your new university, check out the sports facilities, go swimming or simply visit the nearby town. Divert yourself and get busy; find things that you enjoy and indulge. This may be as simple as finding yourself a cafe, getting comfortable and having a quiet cup of tea or coffee.

Get busy

Every university comes with a wide range of opportunities for curricular and extracurricular activities. The first few months of your new course are the perfect time to find and join the ones that match your interests, especially if you are feeling homesick. Joining these activities will embed you in social groups with interests similar to you. It will also give you an opportunity to spend your time constructively.

Ask yourself what is a better use of your time: to sit in your room and think about all things home, or to build a prototype, find a position on a sports team, become a member of a charitable society, a music group or something similarly productive. It may be understandably hard and you may have to drag yourself to do things during those first few weeks but if you succeed, you will be the stronger and better for it.

Define your goals and focus

You have joined your university for a reason. It is time for you to define concrete goals in line with that reason. Do you want to score the highest academic results and secure scholarships? Are you looking to join a research-intensive field during your final year? Do you have a definite career towards which you want to work? The time to start work on these goals is the first months of the initial year.

Defining your goals will help you focus on them more clearly and ward away the feeling of homesickness. A good rule-of-thumb is to define short-term as well as long-term goals. You can give yourself weekly or monthly milestones or challenges. Completing them will give you a sense of achievement that you are heading in the right direction.

Connect with other people

When you arrive at university as a new student, you are a complete stranger to your surroundings, even more so if you’ve travelled from another country! This means that you have to get used to the surroundings, and to make an effort to form new social connections in the classroom, at your accommodation and around the campus in general.

Doing so will be a lot easier if you are socially active. Simply join the communities, organisations or clubs that you find interesting or that are relevant to your course. This will immediately open the doors to various social groups where you can share your thoughts, grow intellectually and form friendships.

Have Constructive Fun

Yes, you are at the university to study, learn and work towards a career goal. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. Everyone has his or her own idea of fun. An awesome way of maximising your time at university is to combine fun with productivity. You can, for instance, learn new languages at the university and enrol on language courses that you find interesting. Many universities offer free conversational language exchanges which are a great way to meet people, hone your abilities and make the most of your free time.

You can even explore tutoring and teaching opportunities at the university or in the cities or towns nearby. Getting yourself set up as a language tutor can give you a great opportunity to earn a bit of extra cash, subsidising your living costs whilst helping you to connect with local people and really get the most out of your time experiencing another culture. You could cover anything from French to Mandarin and everything in between – it’s really up to you! Before taking on any work (paid or voluntary), check the terms of your visa (if you require one) as some may not permit you to work or may place limits on your working hours. More guidance on this is available on the UKCISA website.

Such courses, qualifications and work may require as little as an hour of your time on a daily basis. The long-term rewards can be significant – from stand-out qualifications which give you an academic edge over peers, to work experience as freelance teacher or tutor.

Homesickness is a perfectly natural feeling. At the end of the day, the best way to overcome it is to embrace your new life and your new surroundings. Find things that are of interest or value to you and get busy. Connect with people you like. You have made the choice of going to university and starting a new chapter of your life – and you will be able to write it best if you take its challenges head-on with confidence, boldness and courage.

If you want to learn more about moving to the UK to study, visit our activity “Settling down to study“, which includes a video of students talking about the challenges of studying away from your home country, and “Adapting to a new life“, which will help you to prepare for the cultural challenge of moving abroad.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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06 April 2018

Study Tips for International Students

Revising and studyingThis month’s guest blogpost is provided by Daniel Sefton, a writer for Dwell Student Living:

When you choose to make the UK your home throughout your studies, you are stepping into a new culture, you are trying out a new language, and you might even be experiencing new teaching styles. Studying in the UK can be a challenge if you are not used to the way universities and colleges are structured, but there are a few things that you can do to make your studies a bit easier:

Ask Questions

Make sure you ask plenty of questions when you’re in class, especially if English is not your first language. It’s important that you take in the right information, and if you need your tutors to clarify any concepts for you, don’t hesitate to ask. Even if you think that the question might be worth asking, you should still get your tutor to explain it to you in terms that make sense to you.

Asking the right questions will help you to understand topics when you to come to study for your exams. If you don’t understand a topic and don’t ask, you may find that you have to teach yourself the concepts, which may then have an impact on how you manage your revision time.

Study with Friends

Sometimes it is better to study alone, because you can put real thought into the work that you are doing. One negative to working on your own is that when you encounter a difficult concept which you struggle to understand, you have nobody to ask for help. A solution to this problem is to study with friends.

If you revise with other people, they will be able to help you fill any gaps in your knowledge, while you will help them by explaining any concepts that you already understand. Working collaboratively with other people is a great way to quickly develop your understanding of a topic, so it is worth booking out a private study-space in your university or college library and getting together for a study session.

Practice

Practice makes perfect, so once you feel like you fully understand a topic, it will be time to put your knowledge to the test. Make use of the resources that your university or college has on offer, especially past exam papers and example answers from previous assignments. Find out from your tutor how long your examinations will last for, and recreate exam conditions when you test yourself.

Working in this way will get you used to the atmosphere of the exam hall, which means that when the actual test comes around, you will be able to perform to the best of your ability. Once you have tested yourself, take the time to mark your own work, and use this to find any gaps in your knowledge which you can then work on before your actual exam.

Plan Ahead

When you have settled into your course and have a good understanding of the syllabus (the topics you will be learning), start planning how you are going to study throughout the year. Make sure that you give yourself plenty of time to absorb all of the information that you are being taught. The best way to retain new information is to dedicate an hour or so each evening to revising what you have learnt throughout the day. When you do this, you should put it into your own words, because this will help to improve your understanding of any confusing concepts. This will be crucial closer to exam season, because you will not be attempting to learn new things – it will just be a case of refreshing your memory.

Use Study Apps

If you need extra help with your studies, you can make use of some of the amazing smartphone apps that are available. There is genuinely an app for everything, so if you can pinpoint what it is that you struggle with, you will be able to find an app to help you.

If you have difficulty with taking in information, you can use apps like Soundnote to record your lectures, which will help you with your revision, because you can play the lecture back at a slower pace. You should check with your lecturer first to make sure they are happy to be recorded in this way. If you struggle planning your time, you can use apps like Class Timetable to plan your time effectively. It’s just a case of finding the right app for you.

Hard Work Pays Off

It can be a challenge trying to learn in a new environment, but with careful planning and hard work, you can be capable of exam success in no time!

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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06 February 2018

How to Make Friends at University for International Students

A group of student friendsThis month’s guest blogpost is provided by Becs Christofides, a writer for Mears Student Life:

It can be difficult settling into university life as an international student. Many things are new: the country, the culture, the people, and sometimes even the side of the road you’re supposed to drive on. Making friends at university can be a daunting experience for anyone, because the pressure to make friends and meet new people is always there. But to help you feel more at ease, here are five ways to make friends as an international student:

1. Get involved!

To help welcome international students to student life, many universities run welcome events specifically for international students. It’s definitely worth finding out the dates of your welcome week so that you don’t miss out. Once you get to your university, you’ll meet lots of new international students who are going through the same thing. There will often be ice-breakers (ways to get to know each other) too, so you won’t have to worry about starting a conversation, or being nervous and shy. There are many activities to choose from: walking tours, coffee outings, cinema trips, and more. So, take your pick and get yourself involved!

2. Join a society!

Universities are known for their numerous societies and sports clubs. They’re great fun and the perfect place to make new friends. No matter what you’re interested in, there’s plenty of choice to find your preferred hobby. Many university societies run regular social events for students to get to know each other. You’ll have the chance to meet like-minded people who are interested in the same things as you.

Many universities have an International Society specifically for international students to meet each other, go on days out, and make new friends. So, what are you waiting for? Get yourself down to the Freshers’ Fair and sign up!

3. Follow your Students’ Union!

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. Whatever your choice of social media, make sure you’re following your students’ union so you can stay updated on events. Club nights, comedy nights, open mics, and quizzes – there’s always something happening in your students’ union. Even if you don’t fancy a big night out, spending time in your students’ union space is a great way to meet students from different areas of your university. There’s nothing stopping you from putting on your own event-night either.

4. Get adding!

Nothing sparks a friendship like making it official on Facebook. Don’t be afraid to connect to your new coursemates, peers, and housemates on social media. Social media is a perfect way to find out what everyone’s doing, giving you the opportunity to join in. Make sure you’re following university pages. There are often Facebook groups for all sorts of different things: specific course pages, university pages, and don’t forget the international students page either. Make sure you’re following all three to be sure not to miss out on anything.

5. Put yourself out there!

University is all about experiencing new things and gives you the chance to meet people from all backgrounds and walks of life. To get the most out of your experience, try putting yourself out of your comfort zone and be brave when it comes to being open to new things. Make that conversation, go to that party, attend that study group. Don’t let any opportunities pass you by. If there’s an invitation, accept it. It’s time to create new experiences and make new friends!

If you’re nervous about settling in to your new university, there is always help on hand. On your first few weeks, there will be student volunteers to advise you on any issues you might have. Remember: everyone is in the same position, so go and enjoy yourself.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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04 January 2018

Getting into Higher Education for Refugees

Aim Higher - University Jargon quizThis month’s guest post is provided by by Julie Watson, Emeritus Fellow in eLearning and creator of Prepare for Success, and follows on from last month’s post about Teaching Syrian and other refugees:

For refugees wishing to enter UK Higher Education, it can be a challenge to know how and where to begin. There are many practical questions such as how to apply; how to finance your studies; how to provide evidence of your previous studies and, of course, how to provide evidence of an adequate level of English.

A very useful website to use as a starting point is Refugee Study. This website contains lots of practical information about scholarships and grants as well as advice about how to obtain funding for study and links to website listing recognised qualifications obtained overseas.

Many of the questions that refugees have are also addressed in the open and free online course (MOOC): Aim Higher: Access to Higher Education for Refugees and Asylum Seekers. Student participants can create an account and select ‘register interest’ to receive information by email about the next running of this MOOC.

There are also MOOCs covering IELTS, which is an examination that many students choose to take to demonstrate their English level for UK study. These include:

There is a lot of jargon around the process of applying to university but a useful resource that explains some important terms has been created by the Aim Higher MOOC team: Aim Higher University Jargon.

Finally, there is of course the Prepare for Success website and its range of learning resources dealing with the academic skills and language needed, and practical aspects of study in higher education in the UK.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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15 December 2017

Teaching Syrian and other refugees

Volunteering with Refugees MOOCThis month’s guest post is provided by by Julie Watson, Emeritus Fellow in eLearning and creator of Prepare for Success:

To date the UK has received c. 8000 Syrian refugees through its Syrian Vulnerable Person resettlement programme towards the quota of 20,000 by 2020 set by the government. Vulnerable Syrian families attempting to adjust to life and culture in a different country after the loss of home, livelihood, possessions and community in their country of origin and much other hardship besides, face a level of challenge which is unimaginable to most of us. Resettlement programmes prioritise providing support for housing, finding work and learning English. The latter is a vital step in the process of resettlement. Unfortunately, not all adult refugees are able to start English classes when they arrive in the UK; some are having to wait a long time, even several years, before being able to start learning English. These problems are not confined to Syrian refugees but are commonly experienced by all refugees in various parts of the UK.

ESOL courses delivered by Further Education colleges and by charities and partnerships supported by funding through local councils, the EU and the lottery are typical means of providing English language support. However, there are waiting lists for class places in some parts of the country. Increasingly, volunteers are coming forward to help deliver free classes. These volunteers include very experienced teachers with an armful of qualifications as well as individuals new to teaching, to ESOL or to teaching refugees. A problem commonly faced is the lack of suitable course books for teaching refugees since most publications are designed for an EFL market and are far too Euro-centric in approach, especially for students with no, or very little, English. Where possible, the best approach is to design or evolve a tailor-made course for students following an initial language assessment and needs analysis. Then a ‘mix and match’ approach can be adopted using volunteer-created materials, which include realia and authentic material from everyday life, and mixing these with carefully-selected teaching materials freely available on the internet.

A Google search will throw up lots of websites hosting or sharing free teaching ideas, activities and downloadable practice exercises for all aspects of standard EFL. However, there are also websites which cater more for the circumstances that refugees find themselves in, providing contextually relevant material and an introduction to practical aspects of living in the UK and so-called ‘Skills for Life’. One example is the Excellence Gateway ESOL page. This site is a bit challenging to navigate around but there are some useful resources here. Users need to create an account.

For prospective or new volunteers, or teachers wishing to understand more about volunteering with refugees there are several free and open courses (MOOCs) online. See for example Volunteering with refugees. This MOOC is due to run again from 15 January 2018 or you can sign up to join a later course.

The Crisis Classroom website also offers some useful background for volunteers.

Next month’s blogpost will consider the situation of Syrian students aiming to study in Higher Education in the UK and the resources that are available to help them with this.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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04 December 2017

Should I employ an English tutor to help with my university studies?

ProofreadingThis month’s guest post is provided by Henry Fagg, founder of UK tutor directory The Tutor Pages:

It is becoming increasingly common for international students to hire a private tutor to help them with their studies at British universities. But what are the advantages of this, and are there any pitfalls?

Check what your university offers first

Most universities these days provide very good additional support for students in all areas of academic life. Courses are generally offered in how to develop academic English and your communication skills for the academic environment.

Other courses may be offered in further study skills such as critical thinking, presentation skills, revision skills and exam technique.

Consult with your supervisor or tutor about employing a proofreader

If you do not think that the support you can access is adequate for your needs, you should discuss this with your supervisor or tutor.

If you are concerned that your written English may contain grammatical mistakes, then your supervisor may suggest that you employ a proofreader to help you check your work. It may not be appropriate in all circumstances, and so you should check with your supervisor beforehand.

The role of a proofreader is to identify and correct errors in your written work, and it is likely that you would have to pay for this yourself.

Do not stray into plagiarism

Be very clear that a proofreader must not substantially change the meaning or content of a piece of work. For example, they must not correct factual errors or rewrite your work to improve the arguments you make, or re-arrange paragraphs to improve the structure of your work.

If you ask someone else to write something for you, or if someone makes substantial changes to your work, this is classed as plagiarism. Other forms of plagiarism include copying another student’s work or including a quote from a book or website without referencing your source or using quotation marks.

Universities take plagiarism extremely seriously because the point of university study is to develop the ability to think for yourself. There are serious consequences if you are caught plagiarising, ranging from the loss of marks to being expelled from the university.

The problem of ‘essay mills’

In recent years, there has been an increasing issue of students purchasing essays, often online, to submit as their own work. Companies which provide this service are called ‘essay mills’, and the UK university exams regulator has recently asked the government to introduce laws to ban such services altogether.

What about employing a tutor?

Employing a tutor is entirely different to plagiarising. Tutors will typically offer a range of services. These will include proofreading as mentioned above, but also other guidance which will improve your academic writing overall.

A tutor can help you with such areas as expanding your vocabulary, structuring an essay, developing a convincing argument or improving sentence structure.

You can sometimes find a tutor or proofreader through your university. Other ways to find a tutor include searching for a local or national tuition agency. Finally, a tutor directory – where tutors advertise their services – is another straightforward means to find a tutor suited to your needs.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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