Skills Hub

Academic skills for international students

If this is your first time studying in the UK, it is likely that the teaching and learning methods will be different to what you are used to. 

The International Student Support team will help you throughout your time at Sussex.

English Language for Academic Study (ELAS) at the Sussex Centre for Language Studies provides workshops, Time to Write sessions and tutorials for full-time international and European students with English as an additional language. 

If you are registered as a full-time international or European student you can get help with academic development and English language from the Sussex Centre for Language Studies. For further information and resources, please enrol on our Canvas site here.  

Student Perspectives

Listen to international students talking about their experiences of studying at Sussex:

Studying in the UK

The UK university education system is based on a ‘constructivist' model of learning that places emphasis on you ‘constructing' your own knowledge about a topic rather than being taught what you need to know. Instead of learning what is contained in textbooks and reproducing it in the exams, you are expected to take responsibility for your learning and form your own understanding of the subject.

At Masters level, you are expected to work in a similar way to academic staff, researching debates and coming up with your own carefully considered positions. Make sure you learn about the academic conventions in the UK well before you present or submit your work.
Refer to the English Language for Academic Study (ELAS) team at the Sussex Centre for Language Studies for help.

University students in the UK

In the UK you are expected to develop your own understanding of the subject and a good student is someone who is able to do this well and can demonstrate that they have done so.

At Masters level, you are expected to work in a similar way to academic staff, researching debates and coming up with your own carefully considered position.

Independent study

Assessments evaluate the extent to which you have developed your own understanding of the subject rather than your ability to repeat information. It is likely that you will spend most of your time studying independently and few hours being taught in the classroom.

Just because there are times when there are no lectures timetabled, this doesn't mean you have time off!

You will need to manage your time to ensure you do all your reading and research, are prepared for your classes and complete your assignments on time. Get help with time management and planning your work.

The role of the university teacher

Academics at UK universities have a dual role. They teach students and spend considerable time doing research. You will be often be taught about the latest ideas in your subject, which is a great benefit. But your professor may have less time to spend with you than the teachers at your previous institution. You may spend more time interacting with Associate Tutors than with your professors.

University teachers help you to develop your own understanding. They will not tell you what to think or give you the answers but will ask you questions, start discussions and suggest relevant reading materials.


Addressing tutors

At Sussex, it can be normal to address academic staff by their first name. If you feel this is too informal, you can find out their correct title and last name from the Sussex website, e.g. Dr Smith or Professor Smith.

Note that ‘professor' is not a general term for academic teaching staff.

Your tutors will usually have office hours when you can go and see them to discuss your work. You may need to email them to arrange a meeting. There are plenty of people to talk to if you have questions or need advice. Don't be embarrassed to ask for help whenever you need it.


Teaching in the UK

There are various teaching formats, including lectures, seminars, tutorials, workshops and labs. Teaching methods will depend on the subject you are studying.

You will probably have some seminars or discussion-based classes, in which you will participate in discussions or present your work.

Your teachers might ask questions to check to see how well you are progressing and you can ask questions too.


Preparing for seminars

Contributing to discussions and debates in seminars, workshops and tutorials is an important part of learning in the UK. If this is a new type of learning for you, find out how to prepare for your seminars.

Participating in seminars

If you are nervous about speaking in seminars, don't worry - you are not alone. Your confidence will improve with practice. For advice see seminars.

Research skills

You may previously have got most of your information from one or two textbooks, but in the UK you will need to read widely on a subject and be able to use different sources.

You will need to develop strong research skills so that you can identify and locate suitable sources that go well beyond textbooks or quick internet searches.

Most British academics believe that academic journals are the best source of up-to-date, reliable (peer-reviewed) information. The University of Sussex offers access to an extensive range. Only registered students can access journals, and access is often online using a password.

The librarians can help you find suitable literature, and the Library offers training sessions on how to use the university's resources. You can learn how to access and search databases, including journal databases, and use the library collections.



Improving research skills

To improve your skills, see our pages on Reading and research or attend some Workshops and training.

Getting a good grade

The most common form of assessment for demonstrating your understanding of a subject is an essay. This might be a long piece of coursework (several thousand words) or essay-type examination questions.

If you are not used to writing long essays in English, you can go to the workshops, tutorials and drop-in sessions offered by the English Language for Academic Study (ELAS) at the Sussex Centre for Language Studies. They will teach you about UK academic conventions and give you the opportunity to develop your essay-writing skills.

Get more help with Critical Essays, Reports and Dissertations.


In academic writing, it is vital to acknowledge other people's words or ideas. This is called referencing. Referencing is important because it shows that you have read other sources and used them to develop your own understanding. Your references should clearly indicate where your ideas come from.

If you do not properly acknowledge the sources you have used in your essay, you may be accused of plagiarism. Plagiarism is a serious form of academic misconduct for which there are strict penalties.

Make sure you understand how to reference your work correctly and how to avoid plagiarism.

Advice and guidance

As well as the tutors for your modules, you will have an Academic Advisor who can provide you with advice and guidance. Academic staff have office hours when you can see them. You can also make an appointment to see staff outside of their office hours.

Sussex provides a range of support services to help you do well while studying (see People to talk to). All these resources are free but it is up to you to contact the support services and ask for help.

It is OK to ask for help, and your concerns will be kept confidential. Remember that many students struggle with similar problems.


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Review example essays to see real examples of what is expected at a UK university.

turnitin logo

Try using the Turnitin - Originality Reports Canvas to check your draft assignments for text matches.

Please note that uploading your document to Turnitin does not count as a submission and it will not be seen by your tutor.


Useful links 

Getting ahead as an international student, Dave Burnapp (Open University Press, 2009)

Prepare for Success
Learning activities to help international students prepare for study in the UK

Using English for Academic Purposes UEfAP
A guide for international students with language exercises and quizzes, developed by Andy Gillett of the University of Hertfordshire

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