Ten tips to maximise your Study Abroad at St Andrews

Samantha Lister
Monday 19 October 2015

The Collaborations and Study Abroad team are delighted that you have chosen to spend your Exchange or Study Abroad semester or year at the University of St Andrews.

Studying away from your home university may seem daunting, but familiarising yourself with the academic practice and culture at St Andrews before you leave home will help you to settle more quickly into your studies upon arrival.

The team want your experience at St Andrews to be positive and intellectually stimulating. To help you prepare for our academic culture, below are ten tips to maximise your study abroad experience at St Andrews.

1. Focus on independent learning

The focus on independent learning constitutes a key element of the academic system at St Andrews. In Arts and in Divinity, although you will have numerous lectures, seminars and tutorials to attend, you may find you have fewer contact hours per week than at your home university for certain subjects.

For Science, you may also have laboratory classes or practicals. Here, the modular academic system means you will be provided with reading lists, tutorial topics for discussion, and assessment information at the beginning of the semester. It is making the most of this time to read (the core reading list and beyond it) and reflect on the topic of study that holds the key to high performance. There is lots of information and support available to you, through departmental web pages and handbooks regarding module choices, teaching styles and assessment methods.

If at any point you have questions or doubts, you should not hesitate to seek advice. Academics hold office hours and you can use these to seek clarification or specific feedback.

2. Adopt good academic practice

To perform well in assessments, it is necessary to read lots of sources, consider them, and refer to them. However you must adopt good academic practice from the outset. For example, appropriate referencing is important in avoiding academic misconduct. Crucially, it is important to never make assumptions based on the rules, regulations and academic practices and culture of your home institution.

Prior to arrival, it is advisable to familiarise yourself with what constitutes good academic practice at St Andrews by consulting the University good academic practice guide, and also to attend any courses and information events provided by CAPOD (Centre for Academic, Professional and Organisational Development). You must also complete the Training in Good Academic Practice Moodle course within 3 weeks of matriculation and prior to submitting any assessed work.

3. Adapt to a new style of writing

It is important to reflect carefully upon the style of academic writing expected at St Andrews. There is a lot of advice and information, and even courses available to you on this topic to help you adapt to the British style. It is not sufficient to read only the key sources and align yourself with one standpoint, nor do lecturers or tutors wish to read their own opinion simply recounted back to them. Be agile, read broad and wide, reflect and use your voice to present a considered, professionally-written argument.

4. Assess the assessment

Assessment at the University of St Andrews comes in many forms:

  • essays
  • reports
  • worksheets and dissertations
  • class tests
  • exams
  • oral presentations
  • leading a seminar
  • group-work presentations or projects.

Most modules are assessed through a combination of ‘continuous assessment’ and a final module examination. To succeed, it is advised that students consult each module handbook for advice regarding the nature of the assessment and to seek clarification if you are unsure.

Research the subject area thoroughly. Remember, you must not only communicate your knowledge in assessments but also your critical thinking skills and academic qualities in constructing an argument. Once you submit coursework, you will not be able to amend the coursework for a second submission.

However, reflecting on and assimilating feedback is an integral part of your independent learning and enables you to improve next time. You are welcome to seek further guidance, advice and clarification where necessary. Consult module handbooks for information on how specific Schools require you to reference and organise citations.

5. Embrace tutorials

Tutorials are a key facet of teaching at St Andrews, particularly in Arts disciplines. These classes are small and offer opportunities for discussion of key topics. Tutorials do require preparation in order to get the most out of them (reading, the consideration of the topic of discussion and in some cases submission of un-assessed written work). However, tutorial topics often correspond to potential final module examination topics and so your preparation and insights from tutorials can frame your revision. At Honours-level, you may be asked to lead a tutorial as part of your assessed coursework.

6. Manage your time

Managing your time and creating an effective personal schedule is essential to smooth navigation through the semester. It is advisable to form a provisional timetable of assessment early in the semester that includes the totality of module expectations so that you can try to space out your assessment and ensure adequate preparation.

Take advantage of a free hour to scan/copy some sources that are likely to be in demand later in the semester. Crucially, starting your reading early in the semester will ensure there is plenty of time to cover appropriate material for assessment deadlines.

7. Boost your success

You can certainly boost your success by taking advantage of the numerous measures in place to help you. For example, CAPOD provide a range of programmes, courses, workshops, seminars, resources and services to support personal, professional and academic development for students. CAPOD provide academic support on a wide range of topics including: citing and referencing, note taking, study techniques and more. They also offer one-to-one appointments; professional skills curriculum.

The University English Language Teaching Department (ELT) also offers an In-Sessional Language Service (IELS), providing workshops and tutorials to non-native speakers of English who wish to develop their language in an academic context. Individual School web pages, handbooks and module handbooks also contain lots of key and tailored information.

8. Love the library

The University library provides an excellent range of books, collections and electronic resources. Exploring the shelves, SAULCAT, and particularly the subject guides  will enable you to go beyond the core reading list. Consult the library website for information relating to Orientation library tours, virtual tours and details of departmental libraries.

9. Maximise your academic experience

St Andrews is a research-intensive university and a vibrant hub of academic thought. Opportunities abound to broaden your mind beyond your subject by attending public lectures by international scholars on a wide variety of topics. You can maximise your academic experience by taking advantage of research seminars, cross-faculty lectures, inaugural professorial lectures and talks by visiting world-renowned scholars. Also, get involved with subject-based societies as these often host lectures by eminent scholars or prominent individuals.

10. Get involved

With more than 140 student societies and over 50 sports clubs, the St Andrews experience extends beyond the classroom. St Andrews has a vibrant student drama and music scene and well-established charities and volunteering groups. You can explore Scotland with the hiking club, get involved behind the scenes at events or try something completely new. Opportunities abound to get involved and to meet people through this diverse range of student groups and the rich historical traditions of St Andrews.

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