Starting at Sussex

Clare introduces this section on starting at sussex

  • Video transcript

    Clare: In this section we're covering starting at university. When you start university, it can feel daunting and you're not sure exactly what to expect. These pages will help you to prepare, feel more confident and understand what's expected of you at university. We talk about teaching and learning at Sussex, effective study strategies and how you can become an independent learner. We also run workshops throughout the term, and you can come along to any of those to help you with your studying at university.

Welcome to Sussex

This is the start of your time studying with us, and we want to make your time here as successful as possible. It is normal to feel apprehensive at first, since university study is very different from learning at school. Likewise, if you are a master’s student or an international student, or both, it is likely that studying at Sussex will be different to your previous learning experiences. In this section, we will look at what you can expect when you start, and what skills you will be developing.

The first few weeks of university can be daunting, as there is a lot to learn and get used to. We promise that your confidence and ability will grow throughout your time at Sussex. In particular, your academic study skills will improve through use, repetition and practice. You are not expected to start university or write your first essay with fully developed writing and research skills. Part of the point of university is to deepen these skills while you are here.


Elena and Reuben talk about the skills hub

  • Video transcript

    Elena: So the Skills Hub is, I think, very developed in Sussex. I came across it because in our first year, one of the first weeks during induction week, we had an introductory lecture. And there, our module convenor really recommended it. She took us through it and it has many different sections which help students, and which actually helped me during the first week to get and understand my study methods and how I could get along with studying in university.

    Reuben: I've used the Skills Hub before and if you do get a chance in your Foundation year, that is brilliant because you very slowly go through all of the Skills Hub information and all the different lessons and it was really worth it; it made the biggest difference. So if you're not doing Foundation, just spend a little bit of time just working through it slowly. Even if it doesn't seem to be making sense, as time goes on, the pennies will drop. And it probably is the most useful thing that I've done at university so far is go through that.

Support at Sussex

We want your time here to be as successful as possible, and we understand that this may mean that you need some extra support. We offer help with many issues, including for students with disabilities, specific learning differences, mental health conditions, financial concerns, and with English as an additional language. There is also general support available to everyone. Please check this page for a list of support that students can access while at Sussex. Skills Hub is a resource for you to come back to again and again, whenever you need it.

The skills needed at university – and beyond – are skills that you have already started developing. Remember studying at Sussex will refine and deepen these skills.


We also run workshops on academic skills throughout the year.
Find out about academic skills workshops and other support.


How teaching and learning works at Sussex

In this section find out how you’ll be taught and assessed as well as information regarding marking criteria and universities grading system.


  • How will I be taught at university?

    There are various teaching formats, including:

    • Lectures. These are large-group sessions, usually in lecture theatres on campus, led by the lecturer. Students are expected to take notes. There may be some activities during the lecture.
    • Seminars and tutorials. These are small-group teaching sessions, where you discuss your learning with your tutor and other students. You are expected to participate with your ideas, opinions and questions.
    • Workshops and labs. These are practical sessions where you will learn and apply new skills.

    Teaching methods depend on the subject you are studying.  Much of your teaching will be in-person and some teaching will be online. In your first year, you will have plenty of guidance about how to prepare for your classes, for example, suggested readings to do beforehand. It’s always helpful to talk to other students about how they prepare, and think about what helps your own learning.  During your second and third years, there will normally be a greater emphasis on seminars and project work. In the final year, you will usually carry out an in-depth, independent study of a particular topic. This will allow you to develop a specialist interest or expertise in your chosen subject. See Student Hub for more information.

  • What types of assessment will I have at university?

    When you start your course at the University of Sussex, you will come across a range of assessment methods that are designed for you to demonstrate your learning and knowledge. You should consult Sussex Direct for the details of how your modules will be assessed. Some examples of assessment methods are:

    • essays
    • projects
    • presentations
    • exams
    • take away papers
    • online exams

    See Student Hub for more information.

  • What are marking criteria?

    Your assessments will be marked against a set of marking criteria, which you can find on your module Canvas page or in your module or course handbook.

    Marking criteria:

    • ensure that you meet the learning outcomes
    • help you to understand how your work is assessed
    • allow tutors to focus their feedback. They will note the areas in which you are doing well and those where you could improve.

    Before starting any piece of assessed work, check the assessment brief and marking criteria. For example, if you are writing an essay, check what is expected in terms of argument or description, and how many marks are allocated to structure, writing style, presentation etc.

    See Student Hub for more information.

  • How does the grading system at university work?

    In order to gain an undergraduate degree, you must score an average of at least 40%.

    • 40%-49% is a Third
    • 50%-59 is a 2:2
    • 60%-69 is a 2:1
    • 70% and above is a First.

    See Student Hub for more information.


Georgia and Rodrigo talk about their grades

  • Video transcript

    Georgia: Probably the biggest adjustment coming to university is what a good grade is. I think especially people who tend to do well, like seeing that they've got 90% or things like that, which at university just isn't - like, 90% is like an academic journal standard. So seeing that you get 60% or something, if that's your first assignment, that's incredible because that's sort of a 2:1 kind of level. For a first assignment, that's amazing. But it feels like that's just over 50%. And making that adjustment, I think actually was probably my biggest jump. And I think that was the same for a lot of people that I studied with and readjusting in my brain what a good grade meant.

    Rodrigo: I think it's more difficult to explain to my parents why I got to 60 or 70. 'Oh, why did you not get like an 80 or 90?' And I'm like, it doesn't work exactly like that. So yeah, from the very beginning, I understood how the system worked, but it's still a little bit difficult to explain my parents that.

  • How much studying do I have to do each week?

    You will need to spend about 40 hours a week studying. Some of this time will be in taught classes (lectures, seminars etc.) and some in independent study. Access our Time management page for more information.

  • How does essay writing at university differ from school/A levels?

    A big difference at university is the amount of research you need to do for an essay. This means you can’t write it the night before the deadline from notes that you’ve taken in lectures. You will also need to read, cite and reference academic literature relevant to your topic. You’ll need to use critical thinking skills to analyse the information you gather, rather than accepting it at face value.
    Access our Writing and assessment page for more information.

  • What is referencing?

    In academic writing, it is vital to acknowledge other people's words and ideas, rather than pass them off as your own. 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. Not doing this counts as plagiarism, or copying, which has serious consequences.
    Access our Referencing and academic integrity page for more information.

  • What is Turnitin?

    Turnitin is an online system for handing in written assignments. It checks documents for referencing accuracy and plagiarism. You can use the Turnitin Draft Check tool in Canvas to check a draft of your work to make sure you have referenced sources correctly. Always use the tool before you submit your work. See Student Hub for more information.

  • What should I call my teachers?

    At Sussex, it is 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 Wang or Professor Adebayo.


If you are struggling with any aspect of your course, talk to your tutor. Most academic staff have office hours when you can see them. Check their module Canvas site for details.

How to be a successful student

Independent learning

During your university studies, you'll need to do a large amount of independent learning. A lot of learning at Sussex takes place outside of teaching sessions, including, reading, making notes, and group work with other students. It is your responsibility to get this done, and to be successful, you must motivate yourself to do so.


Sara, Elena and Tavian talk about their early days at sussex

  • Video transcript

    Sara: I think the best thing is the community. Everyone is very supportive. People really want you to succeed and you get so much help that you never feel like you're alone. Because if you're just doing independent study, which you do a lot of that in university, it can be quite lonely. But then we have so many people that are around you, not just peers, but teachers, mentors, reps. We have so much support that you never truly feel like you're just drowning in work and you're completely alone.

    Elena: The first few weeks of university were the most challenging because it's a different study method. You need to acquire a different study method. It's quite different from high school or sixth form. So what I did was just asked for help. I asked other, third-year students or second-year students, more experienced students, what they would do and what would help them with their study methods. But yeah, what I think they were the most challenging - also because you have to start adapting to university life, adapting to living alone. So studying might not be your first priority in those first few weeks. So I think it was very challenging. But slowly you get there - you find your study method at the end.

    Tavian: I think I probably did the most work in the first few weeks because, you know, you don't know what's expected of you. So you put in a lot of work. I know for me, I did pretty much all my readings, made sure I was at every lecture, every seminar, taking notes. I actually think it's funny how in first year I might have done the most work. But yeah, definitely in those first few weeks I was really like, 'Oh, got to get my work done, got to get on top of everything'. So yeah, I wouldn't say I was stressed, but I was definitely eager to make sure that I was getting as much out of those first couple of weeks as possible.

Motivating yourself to study

It is perfectly normal to not always feel like finishing the chapter in your book or attending the day's lecture. At these moments, it can be helpful to revisit why you have come to Sussex, and what you would like to get out of your time here.

Look at the following list of personal and external reasons for coming to university. Ask yourself if any of these reasons are motivating factors for you:

Personal reasons for coming to the University of Sussex:

  • to learn more about my subject
  • I want to have the full university experience
  • I’m trying to get better educated
  • I’ve dreamed of becoming an expert in something
  • I love learning
  • I would like to prove to myself that I can succeed
  • to learn the skills needed for this degree
  • as a bridge between school and future career


Decorative: Giving a view of Sussex students working in the student centre
Sussex students working in the Student Centre


External reasons for coming to the University of Sussex:

  • it’s part of my career path
  • to gain a qualification for my job
  • I’m more likely to get a promotion at work
  • I want to earn more money
  • I’m trying to make my family proud
  • to improve my life circumstances

Keep a note of your reasons for coming to university and remind yourself of them when you are struggling to stay motivated.


There are no right or wrong answers for what motivates you to get down to the work needed for your studies at Sussex.

Being organised

The university is a large institution, and much of your time will be spent learning independently. To be successful you will need to get organised!

Ten student tips for staying organised

Here are some tips that students have given us over the years. Have a look through the list and think which ones would help you the most. Look at the list regularly and try to add more habits to your organisation system.

  • Ten student tips for staying organised (text version)


    1. Set up a filing system at the start of term. You could use a box folder for each module for lecture notes, handouts, notes from reading and photocopies. Alternatively, use a digital tool for making and organising materials.
    2. Make sure you know how to access your learning materials. Log in to Canvas for your modules and Sussex Direct for your course information.
    3. Keep a calendar to get a visual overview of your commitments. Mark in all important dates, including when assignments are due. Write a daily and weekly timetable to schedule your study times. This will help you to allocate specific times for studying and keep on track with your learning
    4. Get the most out of your lectures by doing some preparatory reading, thinking and note-making beforehand. Your lecturers will provide you with introductory course materials, including suggested reading for each lecture.
    5. Prepare for seminars by checking Canvas for any tasks or readings set by your tutor, and also by thinking of what you might want to say beforehand.
    6. Stay informed - The University provides vital information about your teaching timetable, so check Sussex Direct for updates or changes. You should regularly check your Sussex emails and the Student Hub.
    7. Keep a list of the emails and phone numbers of important university contacts. E.g., your school office, the library, your teachers, the Student Union.
    8. Always back up your important files online or on a USB stick.
    9. After feedback from your first assessment, create a document outlining any points for improvement so that you can refer to it for future assessments. Keep adding to the document with each assessment feedback, so you can see common areas to improve on.
    10. Spend some time not studying! Relax and socialise, which will not only make you happier, but more refreshed and ready to keep studying.

You can download this list as a Word document or PDF to print out or to save for future use.
(Important: The PDF will open in this window so remember to click on the browsers back button to return to the Skills Hub).


Reflect on these tips and whether they work for you. Make your own list and keep adding more organisational habits as you move through university.

Being an active learner

Successful students are all active learners. Instead of passively receiving knowledge from books, lectures and tutors, try to actively search for information, check your understanding, and prepare for teaching sessions in advance.


Activity: Active or Passive

Look at the following 10 questions below and decide which of the two sentences are active or passive study habits (there is a text only version below the activity):



  • Text only version for the activity above (with answers)

    Question 1. Creating action plans to complete an assignment or improve on a particular skill.(Active)

    Working on whatever you feel like throughout the day with no set goals. (Passive)

    Question 2. Attending your lectures and seminars without having done any reading or thinking about the topic (Passive)

    Preparing for lectures and seminars by pre-reading, thinking of questions about the topic, and looking for gaps in your knowledge. (Active)

    Question 3. Logging into Canvas just to collect course information and to turn in essays. (Passive)

    Contributing to forums and chats on Canvas. (Active)

    Question 4.Seeing each section of your course as a discrete chunk of knowledge. (Passive)

    Trying to find the connections between new information and what you already know. (Active)

    Question 5. Researching course details and dates so that you know what is coming up. (Active)

    Waiting for instructions to be given to you. (Passive)

    Question 6. Expecting your brain to retain everything after learning it the first time. (Passive)

    Using revision and memory techniques to retain what you have learnt. (Active)

    Question 7. Making sure that you never talk about your studies with your friends. (Passive)

    Attending (or starting) a study group with other students to help you better understand the material (Active)

    Question 8. Treating university as something that is happening to you. (Passive)

    Treating university as something that you are in charge of succeeding at. (Active)

    Question 9. Copying out your notes after lectures to make them easier to read. (Passive)

    Reworking your notes after lectures to make them easier to understand, linking them to previous notes and filing them in a system. (Active)

    Question 10. Collecting and using feedback on your work to improve your progress. (Active)

    Reading feedback simply to find your grade. (Passive)

Are there any active study habits that you are already doing? Make your own list of active learning strategies that you’d like to try at university.


Passive students pass through university. Active students act to get better results.

Being a reflective learner

Being reflective means asking yourself important questions and acting on your answers if needed. This process will help you to be an active learner.


Activity: Reflective Learner

Click on the ten hotspots on the image below and consider your answers (there is a text only version below the activity).



  • Text only version for the activity above (with answers)

    These are the ten questions to ask yourself that appear on the activity:

    1. At what time of day am I most motivated? 
    2. Are my study methods as effective as they could be? 
    3. Am I improving my grades/my knowledge? 
    4. What skills do I need to improve? 
    5. What gaps do I have in my knowledge? 
    6. Which parts of my study are easy or hard? Why? 
    7. What or who could help me get better? 
    8. Which parts of my study do I find most interesting? Why? 
    9. How much have I learnt of this topic? 
    10. What have I accomplished so far that I can acknowledge myself for?  


Gibbs' Reflective Cycle

Now look at the image of Gibbs' Reflective Cycle below. This model is a good way to work through an experience.

Using the cycle reflect on an activity you've done this week (there is a textural description of the cycle below the image).


Gibb's reflective cycle. Read text version below


  • Gibbs' Reflective Cycle (text description)
    This is a simple circle with the words Gibbs' Reflective Cycle in the centre. the circle is broken up in to six equal mini circles with a key word in the centre of each. These six keywords allow you to reflect There is no order to words. these words are:


    Action plan - Description - Feeling - Evaluation - Analysis - Conclusion.


Keep asking yourself these questions throughout your studies. There are always areas that can be improved.

Reflective journals

Creating and writing a reflective journal is highly recommended by many experts. Use a journal to write down your thoughts and feelings about your university studies. You can answer the above questions more fully through writing, and often the act of writing helps you clarify your ideas and find creative solutions.

Keep your journal to yourself so that you can be completely honest about your feelings about any aspect of your course, and feel free to make off-the-wall suggestions that you may never actually follow up. The point of writing a reflective journal is to give you dedicated time and space to think mindfully about your studies.

Successful Master's students

You probably developed good university study skills as an undergraduate. For postgraduate study, you will need to refine these skills, as you are expected to work in a similar way to academic staff. 

      • Time management - You are likely to be juggling a busy life with your university commitments. Even if you have recently studied at undergraduate level, postgraduate study may bring new challenges of self-motivation and self-discipline, as you will be required to work more independently 
      • Primary research – You may be required to conduct your own research and collect and analyse your data. There may be classes providing subject-specific advice on how to do this. If you are new to a particular discipline and are unsure of what is required, ask your tutor for advice 
      • Reading - You will be expected to develop a deeper understanding of your subject by reading beyond the core texts and selecting relevant materials yourself. If you have not used academic journals before, visit the library (online or in person) and become familiar with the journals that are relevant to your discipline
      • Critical thinking - You will be expected to demonstrate your skills in critically analysing your readings. This means that you are able to evaluate the sources that you use and show how the work of others contributes to your own understanding 
      • Writing – As well as other written assignments, you will probably have to produce a dissertation of about 10,000 words, which will take months rather than weeks to complete. Make sure that you allow enough time for all stages of the writing process, and make the best use of meetings with your supervisor to ensure you are heading in the right direction
      • Presenting – Just as with writing, your presentations will be longer and more in-depth than at undergraduate level, and you will be expected to justify your conclusions.


If English is not your first language, ELAS (English Language for Academic Study) at the Sussex Centre for Language Studies provides workshops, ‘time to write’ sessions and tutorials.