The skills you need to be successful in your home country can be different from those you need to succeed whilst studying in the UK. Adapting to the UK educational system can be even more challenging when English isn’t your first language. We have compiled a list of helpful hints and tips to help you adjust to your studies as an international student.
1. Ask questions
If you don’t understand something in class, ask for clarification. It’s best to ask as soon as possible so that you don’t risk missing out on important information. If you are still working on your English language skills, your lecturers and fellow students will be more than understanding. Just take your time and they will help you to understand. It’s also a good excuse to practice speaking English!
2. Read everything carefully
Reading course materials carefully is particularly crucial if English isn’t your first language. When you start to read a book or article, it can be useful to scan through the contents page and introduction. This will help you to understand the general themes of the text and the ideas that will be discussed.
We advise you to take your time when reading and, if possible, to read things at least twice. This is useful even if English is your first language.
Try to take notes as you read and don’t forget to record any reference information. If you copy a section of text directly in your notes, put this in quotation marks to help you remember to reference it in your work.
Finally, it is a good idea to try and summarise the work in your own words. This will help to clarify the arguments within the text.
If you are still struggling to understand course material, please see point 1 and ask questions!
3. Find out what your university guidelines are for essays and exams
It’s important to know what you need to do to fulfil the course requirements. For example, do you know when your essays are due? How they will be assessed? The word-count? What proportion of marks each essay or exam represents? These are the kind of questions you should be looking to answer.
All universities have departmental guidelines regarding essay presentation and exam etiquette. Looking at these guidelines, which will be specific to your university, should be your first port of call to help you get to grips with what is expected of you.
It may take some time to adjust to studying in the UK. Academic culture and expectations vary according to subject, the level of study and the type of institution. As well as the basic guidelines for writing essays and sitting exams, there are some general trends in UK universities. For example, students are expected to work independently and to develop critical judgement about their reading materials.
Overall, if you know what is expected of you and what you need to do to fulfil your course requirements, your life will be a lot less stressful!
4. Start early
Moving to a new country can be daunting, which means it can be tempting to spend a lot of time settling in and ignoring your studies until later in the academic year. This is great – until you find yourself with an overwhelming amount of work to catch up on!
Try to map out a study plan as soon as you arrive. This will get you into a routine, which will help you to settle into university life.
Although you will not be expected to participate directly in lectures, it is important to make sure you take notes.
It can be a daunting prospect if English isn’t your first language and so here are a few tips to help:
- You don’t need to write down everything the lecturer says. Try to concentrate on the main points.
- Abbreviations and symbols for common words or phrases can help you to write faster. Try to make them memorable though, so you don’t forget them when you read back through your notes.
- If there is something you didn’t understand, make a note of it and ask your lecturer about it later.
- It can be a good idea to type up your notes as soon as you can after a lecture.
- A lot of lecturers will make the lecture slides available to students afterwards. If not, you could ask your lecturer to send them to you, they will usually oblige.
Try not to worry too much about lectures. You will get used to them and you’ll find them easier to understand as your English improves.
You will be expected to participate directly in seminars. This can be intimidating at first, especially if you are not used to this kind of teaching. Try not to panic, most students feel the same way! Try your best to contribute, even if you are just asking lots of questions. At university, you are expected to develop independent critical thinking skills, so if you have an opinion don’t be afraid to share it.
The best piece of advice we can give about seminars is a simple one: do the reading! It may help to make notes before the seminar. This will help you to better understand the subject and allow you to think about any points you would like to raise in class.
7. Make study a social activity
Getting together with fellow students can help to make learning easier and more fun. Group study doesn’t necessarily have to be a formal occasion. It could just mean asking other students their opinion on something you have learned about.
Study skills classes are a good way of developing your academic writing skills too, so you could think about getting a few friends together for this kind of activity.
8. Plan ahead
When it comes to study and revision, it can be hard for any student to motivate themselves. Give yourself a realistic study schedule and try to stick to it as best you can.
This kind of planning can help to make the transition to higher education a smoother one.
9. Make time to relax
Studying abroad can often come with an increased sense of responsibility. After all, you or your parents have invested a lot of time, money and effort into getting you where you are. In addition to this kind of pressure, life without your usual network of friends and family can mean fewer social distractions. As a result, it can be tempting to overwork yourself.
It is important to remember to make time for relaxation in your schedule. Whether it’s meeting with new friends, enjoying a film or taking a walk alone, make sure to set aside time to unwind.
10. Don’t panic
Studying abroad certainly has its challenges. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed. However, there are people at your university who are there to help. University staff are always happy to support their students through challenging times.
Just remember, you are not alone. You’ve got this!