Tag Archives: pre-sessional

What are Pre-sessional courses?

Pre-sessional PathwaysThis week’s guest blog post is by Linda Hurley, Assistant Director of Pre-sessional Programmes at the University of Southampton. In it, she addresses international students’ questions about university Pre-sessional courses:

Being an international student on a summer Pre-sessional course in EAP (English for Academic Purposes) is a positive introduction to the academic life and culture at a UK university, and many former Pre-sessional students say how valuable it has been when they move on to their future courses. Courses may vary in length – at the University of Southampton they range from 16 weeks to 6 weeks, depending on students’ entry point (usually reflected in their IELTS grade). There may even be a pre-arrival online component to a Pre-sessional course. Most of the students who participate in Pre-sessional courses are required to do so in order to improve their academic English skills; however, some participants, who have already met their university’s entrance requirements, may choose to do a Pre-sessional course to improve their readiness for their future studies. Each university will have a website outlining their Pre-sessional provision for their own international students.

Pre-sessional courses provide an opportunity for students to work intensively on all their linguistic skills within an academic framework and their university environment. While IELTS is generally the recognised exam taken by most students when applying for entrance to their chosen subject area, it does not prepare students for the demands of academic study. On a Pre-sessional course, students will practise researching, preparing and writing long essays, and using academic sources to support their arguments. They may be required to practise giving presentations based on aspects of their research too. Reading journal articles, attending lectures and participating in seminar discussions are also key components of most university courses so a Pre-sessional course is a very useful ‘dry run’ for the real thing! Students’ progress and achievements are made clear both during and at the end of a Pre-sessional course, and tutors will always want to ensure that students are moving on to their future courses with the skills they need to do well. This means that ‘yes, the learning curve is steep’ and a significant amount of student work is produced during the course, but by the end, students will feel that the rewards and sense of achievement are definitely worth it.

Pre-sessional courses are also a great way to meet and make new friends and are, hopefully, a time to experience some of the best British summer weather! It’s a busy time and an opportunity to really focus on getting ready for your future studies.

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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What is studying in the UK like for Chinese students? (part 2)

StudyingXiangping Du, Academic Skills Tutor at the University of Hertfordshire, writes her second guest blog post for Prepare for Success and shares more of her experiences of dealing with the challenges faced as a Chinese student in the UK:

I also had to learn to write in different formats for essays and reports. I can still recall the first piece of work I completed, which was an essay. I thought it was good as I used headings, subheadings, and bullet points as clear signposts. However, I was shocked to only get a mere pass of 40%. I realised I had used the wrong format, and referring to the mark, I was shocked because in China, 60% is a pass, and students would normally achieve 80% or 90%. However, it appears that achieving 80% or 90% is quite rare in English universities, and getting 60% or 70% is regarded as a high mark.

Critical evaluation was another key new concept I had to learn in the UK. In China, we used to believe in whatever was published and regarded it as the authority. However, after coming to study in the UK, I learnt to think and write critically, where I had to look into different facets of an issue and ask questions like a detective. I had to synthesis various views from different scholars, analyse and critically evaluate them before presenting my own ‘informed’ opinion. This method of critical evaluation is not easy for an international student because It not only requires critical thinking, but also extensive reading from academic, reliable and credible sources, as well as writing skills such as paraphrasing and synthesising.

In addition, I learnt to manage my time and to study independently which are vital skills because students do not necessarily have classes every day. It’s all too easy to waste time by watching movies, social networking or playing computer games! This was particularly important when I was doing my PhD research as, apart from only a few one-to-one supervisions with my supervisor, there was not any compulsory class to attend.

A lot of assessments in the UK also involve group-work and managing teams can be challenging. I found working with others from different cultures could be challenging, but gradually I learnt that this experience was very valuable for my professional life, and my English language development.

In all, my own experience shows that academic expectations in the Chinese education system are very different from those in the UK. It is very important for Chinese international students to know what to expect beforehand so that they can fully prepare themselves for their study in the UK. This is why I co-authored our book Study Skills for Chinese Students because I know that such a book would really have helped me so much when I first came to study in the UK. I want to make sure that all Chinese students in the UK have this essential information now, about the differences and challenges of UK study, and the academic skills and techniques expected 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.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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What is studying in the UK like for Chinese students?

Chinese studentsWhat are the challenges that Chinese students face as international students in the UK? Xiangping Du is an Academic Skills Tutor at the University of Hertfordshire, and in the first of two guest blog posts for Prepare for Success she shares her own experience of dealing with the challenges she faced as a student in the UK. Having studied in both a Chinese and English higher education environment, she understands the academic challenges Chinese students face when they come to study in an English context:

In the past 4 years of study, I have been through many ups and downs. Thanks to a high IELTS score, I did not have to do a pre-sessional preparation course; however, I felt that I was disadvantaged as I missed all the lessons on academic expectations and skills required in an English-speaking environment. Consequently, the first semester was the most challenging, when I had to manage different academic expectations while I was adjusting to a completely different physical environment.

Coming to study in the UK was considered a short-cut after I completed 3 years’ diploma in China. The idea was to spend 1 year on a final year of my undergraduate (UG) degree, and 1 year on my postgraduate (PG) degree. That is to say, within 2 years, I would be able to graduate with a Master’s degree, which would normally need 5 years if I chose to study in China. As a matter of fact, I ended up with the award of PhD after spending 4 years in the UK (1 year on UG and 3 years on a PhD).

The first day coming to the university was very memorable. I was surprised to see so many international students from so many different countries, with different accents and limited English. The first week was International Orientation Week, particularly organised for international students, and home students only came a week later for Induction Week. Nonetheless, l had fun during that week and I participated in various social activities, met many friends from different parts of the world and built my confidence speaking English with other international students.

After the course started, I was surprised that a textbook wasn’t given to us, only a few ‘Module Guides’ which contained only brief information about the course, the assessments, and a long reading list. There were no course textbooks like in China, and I was expected to read widely from books I found for myself, and also journal articles, news items and other database information as recommended in the reading list. The reading was just killing me at the beginning! I was not used to reading full English texts without any Chinese explanation / translation so it often took me ages to finish reading a recommended chapter or an article. Gradually, I learnt to read for ‘gist’ – skim and scan for information – instead of reading every single word, and I also kept a good dictionary with me.

Gradually, my improved reading helped with my writing, although the paraphrasing techniques I had to use in writing, as well as referencing, were other difficult things for me initially. When I used to study in China, I didn’t need to include any references in writing, or acknowledge sources, because we regarded citing others’ work as an honour for them, and we regarded things written by them as available for others to know and to use. However, I learnt that in the English academic world, referencing is a serious matter and if it is not followed properly, students can be accused of ‘plagiarism’ which is a serious academic misconduct issue and has serious consequences. Therefore, referencing is definitely something I had to quickly learn in the UK.

In her next guest blog post, Xiangping discusses more of the challenges she met whilst studying in the UK, especially in academic assignments and critical thinking. Xiangping has co-written Study Skills for Chinese Students with Michael Courtney, who is also an Academic Skills Tutor at the University of Hertfordshire. They have taught Chinese students in China and the West for many years, and using her own experience both as a student and as a Tutor, Xiangping shares strategies for effective study. Chinese students interested in purchasing the book via the Sage website can receive a 25% discount using this code: UK15SM04 (enter it in the promotions code box during the checkout process). This offer is valid until the 20th March 2015.

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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