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School of Social and Political Science: Undergraduate study


Honours Study Tips

Lectures and Tutorials

At honours level in SPS, the structure of lectures and tutorials becomes more variable across courses.Honours courses are normally 20 contact hours over 10 weeks of teaching.In some courses you might encounter a one-hour lecture and a one-hour tutorial in each week, possibly held at different times.In others you will meet once a week for two hours, which may flexibly combine lecture and turorial-type formats. You will need to consult course materials and conveners to find out exactly how each course is run.

The purpose of lectures is to provide an introduction to the material covered by the course. They provide a basic understanding of a topic, issue or idea as well as raising questions about it.

Tutorials provide a forum for discussion of material presented in the course. They should assist you in grasping key issues and acquiring a range of skills. You can use tutorials to follow up issues or raise questions about material discussed in lectures, or to examine topics that complement the lecture programme. Tutorials help you make an important shift from passive understanding of material to active consideration and a deeper grasp of it.

A tutorial normally consists of a group of around 12 students and a tutor. Its success depends on your preparation and participation, and on your willingness to make critical, constructive contributions, so give yourself enough time for preparation and try to participate fully and fairly in tutorial discussions. Don't be afraid to raise questions in a tutorial, no matter how naive or trivial they may seem to you. The important thing is to respect different viewpoints, including your own! If you are a listener, be prepared to talk; and if you are a talker, be prepared to listen! Both skills are needed for a useful discussion.

Remember that both lectures and tutorials are designed to engage with readings, and you are expected to do a substantial amount of reading for all of your courses. As a rule of thumb, you should expect to spend about ten hours per week on reading and preparation for each course, though the time will vary according to how quickly you work and variations in course requirements over the year. Therefore, a normal load of 3 courses translates to 30 hours per week in reading and preparation, in addition to time devoted to lectures and tutorials.

Projects and Dissertations

Honours programmes normally include a 40 credit research project or dissertation, which may involve extensive library research, original empirical research, and/or some field work, according to the subject you are studying. If you are studying for a joint degree you may need to decide which subject you will do your project/dissertation in. Projects and dissertations require you to develop much further your independent study skills, your capacity for time management, and your ability to work effectively with a supervisor. Detailed guidance about how projects/dissertations are conducted can be found in your subject area honours handbook.

Study Skills

There are study skills resources you can use to improve your learning capacities. The Study Skills section, in the Reserve Collection in the left-hand corner of the Ground Floor of the Main Library, has some excellent books on a whole range of practical skills, such as reading, taking lecture notes, preparing for tutorials and revising for exams. A general Study Skills package ("Learning to Learn") is available on the PC computers in the Main Library. Ask computer support for help in accessing this package.

The University's Centre for Teaching Learning and Assessment, (Paterson's Land, Holyrood Road: 651 6661; runs workshops in study skills in semester 1. These cover note taking, essay writing, tutorial work and preparing for exams, as well as other more general issues. Check the notice-boards, or get in touch with the Centre, or consult its web page on advice for students ( to learn more. In addition, the Centre produces a pamphlet of Advice about Learning and Studying which offers suggestions on contacts and reading, as well as actions you can take to improve your own study skills.

Most learning occurs through practice. The teaching and assessment assignments in first and second year are geared to give you practice in a range of important skills. In first year, for example, the emphasis is on extracting and interpreting information, assessing and constructing arguments, and on writing skills. Examination also contributes to learning, through the challenge it sets you to revise and integrate the materials and ideas you have acquired through the course.

Learning does not take place in a vacuum. You may be anxious and uncertain about embarking on a new course of study, but most students are in the same boat and it helps to share ideas and experiences. The teaching staff are also there to help you, most obviously your tutor but also your Director of Studies and your lecturers or course organiser. Do not hesitate to seek advice on problems related to your studies.

Resources and other Facilities

The University Library produces an information pack about the services it provides. These include:

  • Reserve Collection (ground floor Main Library)
  • Off-prints Collection (ground floor Main Library)
  • Social Sciences, including Short Loan Collections (fourth floor Main Library)
  • Social Sciences journals (fourth floor Main Library)
  • Current Periodicals (first floor Main Library) and e-journals (follow the links on the Main Library web page)

as well as:

  • Government Publications (second floor Main Library)
  • Reference Collection (second floor Main Library)
  • Audio-Visual Collection (ground floor Main Library).

The Library website ( is easily accessible from the University's home page and is an excellent information gateway from which you can access learning resources on line, such as e-journals (for which there is a simple registration procedure). It also holds past exam papers for each course at: You will receive information at the beginning of the academic year from your Director of Studies about accessing other IT facilities within the university.

If you have any queries about where to find a book or journal, do not hesitate to ask the library staff. The readings listed in course guides are designed to set you thinking; they are not definitive. If you cannot find a particular book or journal, then use others. Remember that almost every item on the reading list will refer in its footnotes to books and articles of related interest. If you need further material, check some of these references to see whether they are in the library. If you still have difficulty finding the material you need, consult your tutor or the appropriate lecturer.


SPS courses are normally assessed by some combination of coursework and examination, but the modes of assessment are more variable and course specific at honours level. Deadlines for different pieces of coursework assessment are given in the individual course guides and are also published on course notice-boards. Each course is examined separately, at the end of the semester(s) in which it was taught and none allows an exemption from the final examination. Unless you are informed to the contrary by registered mail or recorded delivery, you can assume you are entitled to sit the degree exam.

The Honours Examination Boards

These boards, one for each subject area, consist of the all the staff actively teaching in the previous year, the internal examiners and the external examiner for each subject area. Course organisers draw up the exam questions, which are vetted by colleagues and then approved by an external examiner (who will always be an experienced member of staff from another university). Coursework and exams are normally first-marked by the staff member(s) who taught the course, and a sample of the student work is second-marked by a colleague to check standards and consistency within the marking for the course. The Exam Board reviews all honours work for the year - coursework as well as exams. It scrutinises consistency and standards across all the honours courses in a subject area, and may seek an external examiner's opinion on specific, perhaps borderline, cases.

The Board may take into account written evidence of medical or other personal circumstances which may have affected a student's performance in either coursework or examination. It is your responsibility to inform your Director of Studies of any such circumstances and ensure that such evidence is made available to your Director of Studies in time for it to be forwarded to the course organiser for consideration by the Examination Board. This must be done no later than one week after the degree examination.

Visiting, or non-graduating, students should note that credit will normally only be awarded for a course if a student successfully completes all normal attendance and assessment requirements for the period they are here.

For further information on assessment see ˜Coursework Requirements" and "Examination Requirements".