Uni know-how: How classes work
Going to uni is a pretty exciting time, regardless of if you’re staying at home, or making the trek across the country to go to your chosen institution. It’s a change. Change is exciting.
Change is also hard to predict.
Many of us don’t really know what any of uni will be like in terms of study until you’re actually there. Words like tutorials and lectures are thrown around and most of us nod like we know what these are and you very may well, but a lot of us also don’t.
If you fall into the latter category, this is the article for you! We’ll be breaking down some of the main uni class-lingo, what it means, and how it’ll affect you.
Over a year.
We’ll start with a macro perspective (yeah, we used macro outside of an English classroom).
Over the course of a year, you will take six to eight papers. Think of these like your subjects for the year. Each of these papers will happen on either the first or second semester (or trimester, if you’re down with that Vic chat).
Over one semester, you will take three to four papers. This will depend on how many points they’re worth, your major requirements, and whatever other papers you chose to take, but three to four is the norm.
The logic behind this is because, for your entire undergraduate degree, you need to accumulate 360 points. Most papers are worth 15 or 20 points so you’re aiming to receive around 120 points a year for three years of study total (if it all goes to plan).
There are also some other kinds of papers that are worth 30 (or more) points, but these typically span across the whole year so it works out the same either way.
In the first one or two weeks of your courses starting, you’ll be given a week or two by the uni to make any changes if you’ve decided against that course and want to pick up something else instead (it happens a lot). When doing this, you want to make sure you’re not dropping a mandatory course, or one that you only dislike because you don’t wanna do that 9 am wake up.
If a course really doesn’t vibe with you, or contribute to your area of study, then consider changing. You can usually tell pretty quickly if it’s going to be a paper that will suit you or not.
Once you have the year locked in, you don’t really have to worry much more about it. Conveniently, all uni’s have course advisors whose job it is to tell you what kinds of papers you should be taking and if you’re on the right track or not. It’s a good idea to hunt these people down if you’re worried at all.
Here’s a tip: You will be given your course outline either before the course starts or within the first week of being in lectures (typically). These will tell you all of your assignments and tests for the semester so it’s a really good idea to write these down in your diary/wall planner/digital calendar so nothing creeps up on you.
Over a week.
Over the course of a week, you’ll have work and classes for each of the papers. This will vary hugely depending on the course you’re taking so it’s a good idea to have a look at this early.
Typically, you’ll have three lectures a week and one tutorial for one paper, but there are some courses which have lectures most days, and other courses where you only have one lecture a week (these are usually 2-hour slots and are called ‘seminars’ instead but it’s the same).
Tutorials come in two different flavours: actual tutorials which are usually held once or twice a week and labs.
Tutorials are like a small class of people from your course. They’re either held by your lecturer, or by a tutor who is a couple of years ahead in the course you’re studying, so they know the content and are able to help you. Tutorials are to reinforce the information from lectures and to have an opportunity to ask questions about any of the content you’re unsure of.
Labs are commonplace in science courses and become longer and longer throughout your degree until you’re in third year with full-day labs. In the first year, you can expect these to be about 2-hours or so. These are pretty self-explanatory but you can think of labs as your practice sessions for the content you’ve been learning in your lectures, and to see how things are carried out in the lab environment.
Tutorials and labs are organised within the first few weeks of your course, so unlike your lectures that you can see on a timetable, they have to be booked after. I.e. check it against your lectures so you’re not double-booking yourself)
You will be given a few different streams that you can book yourself in for tutorials (the bigger the course, the more options there will be). It’s usually best to try and find times that are between lectures or complement your existing study schedule. There’s a bit of a frenzy when tutorials open, as heaps of students are looking to get their ideal slot, so it’s good to think of some back-up slots if the one you want gets filled quickly.
There’s not a lot of rhyme and reason behind the time allocations you’re given, so it’s up to you to try and make your class schedule make as much sense as possible for yourself.
It’s a good idea to create a timetable for yourself that collates all of your courses, labs and tuts included. This will really help in ensuring your days make as much sense as possible and that you’re not shooting yourself in the foot by having one 9am lecture and a 3pm tutorial in one day (which you can totally do but we promise you will hate).
Over a day.
Considering the variance you can see in just a week, it’s a bit difficult to get a regular daily schedule down.
In this sense, it’s usually easier to have a rough plan for each of your days (which are regular from week to week) that you can carry out each week instead.
In planning out your day, think about when your breaks are, and what you could do in that time instead (e.g. completing your readings for the week, writing out some notes, or working on an assignment). Independent study is no longer an option when you get to uni, if you’re not doing work in your own time, you won’t pass. There are no teachers to hold your hand, remind you when tests or assignments are due, nor to chase you up if you’re not doing the work.
It’s entirely up to you.
That’s why it’s good to have your own plan, write your assignments in a calendar early, and use the time between your lectures to do more than spend your first-year money at the various food places around your campus.
It’s good practice to segment your time as much as possible. This is also one of the biggest challenges of being in first-year when everything is all over the place and you have no one to tell you that staying up until 3am smashing frozen cokes at the nearest Maccas is not a good idea. It’s also a case of valuing your own time and dedicating it to the things that are important to you. Time is a resource and you want to be using it in a way that makes you happy and feel on top of things.
Chunking our your day may look like a formal plan of the day, but if this sounds like a lot, take baby-steps. For example, getting up at a regular-and reasonable-time every day. You can think of organising your schedule as some of your first concrete steps in being an adult and actually deciding your life.
You don’t have to get it right the first time, nor the second. But understanding that you are the one responsible for the decisions you make (e.g. to study, or not to study) is important for accountability later down the track.
You’ll particularly see this when you have some days that are loaded with three lectures and a tutorial, then absolutely nothing the next day. This isn’t unusual so get used to having to make your own sense of things.
Your uni schedule is going to be about 1000x more complicated than high school and relies on you having a level of self-management that will be clutch in having a really successful year.
Understanding the way that all of your classes work, and what will be expected of you is one of the best steps you can take in terms of preparation for the coming year. Everyone will find their own groove and method that works for them, it’s about knowing how you work, what you have to work around, and keeping to the routine you create for yourself.