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School of Social and Political Science: Undergraduate study


Pre-Honours Study Tips

Lectures and Tutorials

First and second-year courses taught in the School require that students attend two lectures and one tutorial each week (please note, the schedule of lectures and tutorials varies for Science and Technology Studies and South Asian Studies, consult course entries on DRPS).

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.

It is because tutorials depend so much on participation that you are required to attend.  If you know that for some good reason you have to miss a tutorial, you should inform your tutor or the Undergraduate Teaching Office beforehand. Please note that pressure of work or problems of time management are not considered an acceptable reason for non-attendance at tutorials (or for late submission of work).

Remember too 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 tutorials and essays 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.

Study Skills

At university, you may study a subject for its own sake, but also to acquire and develop intellectual skills. Your degree will testify not only to your knowledge of a particular subject, but also to your general capacities to acquire and use knowledge in various ways.

In all our courses, we aim to provide an environment supporting the acquisition and development of a range of skills. Some of the most useful ones are those that are general and transferable, such as learning to question assumptions, criticise and construct arguments, or write effectively. We also emphasise some skills because they are intrinsic to social and political studies, such as interpreting data and drawing conclusions from evidence.

There are study skills resources available to improve your learning. The Study Skills section, in the Reserve Collection 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.

The Institute for Academic Development (IAD) provides study development workshops and self-study learning resources as well as general study advice. Workshops cover note taking, essay writing, tutorial work and preparing for exams, as well as other more general issues. Check the web pages on advice for UG students to find out more.

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 Personal Tutor and your lecturers or course organiser. Do not hesitate to seek advice on problems related to your studies.

Why not create a study group and book a University study space?

Or find out if there is a peer assisted learning group within your subject area.

Main Library Resources

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

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

as well as:

  • Government Publications
  • Reference Collection
  • Audio-Visual Collection

The Library website is easily accessible from the University's home page and is an excellent place to access learning resources online, such as e-journals. It also holds past exam papers for each course. Library resources also include the online Skills4Study portal, which provides useful advice on all aspects of studying. 

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.

Make use of the online library search. Key readings, tutorial readings and essay readings are usually available on Learn but further readings are not. If a reading is not available on Learn it is because the University does not have copyright clearance for it.

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 available 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 a combination of coursework and examination. Deadlines for different pieces of coursework assessment are given in the individual course guides and are also published on course notice-boards. For all first and second-year courses in Politics, Social Anthropology, Social Policy, Social Work, Sociology, Sustainable Development and the Schoolwide courses, you must pass the degree examination in order to pass the course. Each course is examined separately, at the end of the semester 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 Board of Examiners consists of the principal lecturers and the course organiser (the internal examiners) and the external examiner for each course. Internal examiners draw up the exam questions, which are then approved by the external examiner (who will always be an experienced member of staff from another university). Internal examiners also mark exam scripts, which are then checked for consistency and standards by the full Examination Board by, for example, second reading a selection of scripts by another internal examiner, or seeking the external examiner's opinion on specific, perhaps borderline, cases. The Board of Examiners reviews all work for the course, coursework as well as the final examination. The Examination 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".

University of Edinburgh - Student Information Points

If you have questions about where to go for support or advice, you can visit one of our Student Information Points. Click here for further information.

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