Tag Archives: assignments

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.


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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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 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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Learning about administrative procedures at your new place of study

Submitting an assignmentThis week’s blog post introduces some of the new administrative procedures that you may need to learn when you arrive at your new place of study.

Many international students are now arriving at UK universities and colleges and waiting expectantly for their course to begin. Learning how the administrative system works in your new place of study is an important aspect of settling down and making a good start on your course. These news procedures which you will need to follow for such things as submitting assignments or organising a meeting with your tutor may be very different from what you have done in your previous place of study.

Universities are increasingly adopting an online submission system for students’ assignments. This may involve uploading an electronic version of your finished assignment online to an area for your particular course by the submission deadline and not taking a physical copy to your tutor’s in-tray. If your institution uses an online submission system like this, you will probably then receive a confirmation email detailing the date and time of your submission. Similarly, your assignment grade and feedback may only be made available to you electronically. Many institutions will require students to confirm online at the time of submitting that they have not plagiarised in their work and institutions automatically use plagiarism detecting software such as Turnitin on all student work.

Because your tutor will be in many places other than their office, if you need to see your tutor it’s not a good idea just to go to their office expecting to see them. The normal practice in most UK institutions is either to sign up for a meeting in advance on an appointment list, often pinned up outside their office, or to email and request an appointment.

Universities and their faculties and departments increasingly use social media as a way of informing their students about what is going on. Subject-related events, subject-specific student group meetings and news are often communicated through blogs or Twitter. It can be useful to set up a Twitter account when you arrive in the UK and find and follow them.

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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Assignments and grades

Writing an assignmentThis week’s blogpost is about academic assignments and the grades you may receive.

A part of their course that many international students worry about is the course assignments and the grades received for them. This is understandable as passing or failing a course usually depends on how well you have performed on assignments and/or in exams. Assignments on courses in the UK can take different forms. As well as common kinds of written assignment such as an essay or report, in many subject areas you may be required to give an oral presentation as part of your course assessment. This might be done on your own or in a team. Depending on the specific subject area, there are also other kinds of assignment tasks for which you can be awarded a grade.

Whatever kind of assignment you are asked to do, the criteria on which your work will be judged should be available from your tutor or departmental office. These written criteria will help you become aware of what your tutor will be looking out for as they mark your work.

An important point to note for international students is that typical grades awarded in their own country may be very different from typical grades awarded in the UK. Don’t be too shocked if you don’t receive a grade over 80% for an assignment. As a general rule, at postgraduate level, a ‘Distinction’ will be a grade over 70%, with only very exceptional work getting a grade over 80%. Most grades will fall into 50-59 (Pass) and 60-69 (Merit). Below 50 is usually considered to be a Fail.

Lastly, don’t just focus on the grade you receive. You will do many assignments during your course so there is a lot of opportunity to improve your grades as you get more practice at doing assignments! Tutor feedback on your assignments will help with this. Take time to read the comments and remarks your tutor has written when you get your assignment back. If you cannot read or understand a comment, ask for clarification. Slowly but surely your assignments and grades should improve!

For more information in this area, see ‘How will my assignments be graded’ under ‘Assignments’ on the FAQs page of Prepare for Success. See also the learning resource Preparing for course work and exams.

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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Managing the reading on your course

A student readingThis week’s blogpost concerns the reading part of your course. A challenge for many international students is managing the amount of reading that is required, particularly on postgraduate courses. Reading lists given to you by the lecturers on your course may include many different kinds of literature in your subject area. As well as books and journal articles (often available to borrow or read through your university or college library), the list may include online journal articles and source material. You may also sometimes still be required to buy one or two texts for your course. The amount of reading on a list may seem daunting but, in most cases, you will not be expected to read everything on the reading list, but to choose selectively according to your interests and course tasks and assignments. To guide you further in selecting what to read, your lecturers may divide reading lists into key (or essential) reading and further (or additional) reading.

Once you have selected what you need to read, it’s a good idea to set aside regular time each week to do the reading, making clear notes that include the source details as you do so. These will be invaluable later when you come to revise for exams or write your course assignments. There are different ways to read according to your purpose. These are sometimes referred to as skimming (to get the main ideas in a text); scanning (for specific information); close reading (of complex ideas and content requiring a thorough understanding). Reading at speed is also a useful reading skill to practise. This skill involves keeping a good level of comprehension at the same time.

For practice activities that will help you learn how to manage the reading on your course, you may find this resource helpful: Reading for your course

To practise two useful reading skills for postgraduate study, look at these resources:
Skim reading for gist
Scanning for specific information

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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