To be successful at university, you need to have the right academic skills. Your university may offer free classes to help you improve your study skills. In this post we explain the study support that may be available to you at your university and how you can use it for academic success.

1. Free ‘In-sessional’ Courses

When you first register with your university, you may find that they offer ‘in-sessional’ English language and academic skills courses.  Don’t confuse ‘in-sessional’ with ‘pre-sessional’. In-sessional courses are free of charge and you can take them along-side your degree.  For pre-sessional courses there’s a tuition fee and you take a pre-sessional course before your degree course begins.

Each university will decide the type of in-sessional support to provide based on what they believe is going to be most helpful to you.  At Nottingham Trent University (NTU), for example, we have found that students benefit from a range of in-sessional courses, from how to write essays, to developing the right study skills, improving your numerical skills and revising for exams. We will look at some of these and other areas throughout this article.

2.  Who Is Academic Support for?

Once you have started at university, think about the skills that you want to improve.  For example, you may want to attend a course or workshop to develop your reading, listening, speaking, writing or grammar skills.

You may be strong in these areas already, however remember that the academic styles and expectations for your course may be slightly different to what you’re used to.  This is why many NTU students opt to take in-sessional courses.

3.  Improve Your Speaking, Listening and Reading

Let’s look at ‘academic reading’ to see how an in-sessional English language programme can help you improve and further develop those skills for academic purposes.

In academic reading classes you don’t simply practice reading and understanding academic texts.  What you do is work on your ability to read academic texts – ‘critically’. This means not simply accepting or repeating information that you read, but asking challenging questions, such as: how does the author make his or her argument? What are the strengths and weaknesses of their argument? Does the author belong to a particular ‘school of thought’? Do you agree or disagree with their theory and ideas? What is your own opinion?

4. Essay Writing

Whatever your degree subject, academic essay writing will play an important part in your learning.    Writing a good essay takes practice and the academic expectations and standards for what makes a good essay can vary.  This is why students who participate in essay writing courses at Nottingham Trent University tell us how much these courses help them produce good essays.

When writing an essay start by understanding the essay question or title

We use real essays to demonstrate to students how to plan and structure their own essays, including how to write a clear introduction, how to present their paragraphs, and what a good conclusion should look like.   We also give students the techniques for proofreading their own work, and for using the feedback they get from their lecturers to improve their next essays.

5.  Presentation Skills

Much of what and how you learn at university is designed to give you the right skills for the future.  Verbal communication skills are an important part of this.  Again, no matter what your degree subject, you can probably expect that at some point you will be asked to make an in-class presentation to your lecturer and other students.  This can be a short, informal presentation, or be longer during which you use slides and other visual material.

Holding a presentation can seem scary and intimidating, which is why UK universities usually include classes or workshops in their in-sessional programmes to give students the opportunity to improve.  Practising your presentation skills is also great for increasing your confidence.

6.  Your Subject

There are academic rules and styles that are relevant to any degree subject and there are important differences between subjects.  For example, if you’re studying business the vocabulary and academic texts you use will be different compared to someone studying architecture, medicine, law or music.

By focusing the course content on the areas that are most relevant and helpful to the students’ subject groups, we can ensure our in-sessional English and study skills programme really meets the needs of our students.

For example, our students get familiar with the specific vocabulary of their subject area, they learn about the different assignments styles, which in addition to essays can include writing reports and policy papers), and we also cover the relevant ‘referencing’ and ‘citation’ styles.

7.  Citation and Referencing

‘Referencing’ and ‘citation’ refers to the practice of stating where the information you’re using in your work comes from.   So, whenever you use other people’s words, ideas, books and other publications in your assignments, you need to tell the reader where you’ve read or heard this information and who said or wrote it.

Citations and referencing are an essential part of academic work. There are a number of citation and referencing styles for students to choose from which can also be confusing.  Some subjects prefer or even require to you use a particular style.

When your degree course starts, make sure to find out from your university about their citation and referencing workshops.  This will not only help you produce better academic work, but it will also help you avoid ‘plagiarism’.

8.  Plagiarism

Plagiarism happens when you copy or use another person’s ideas, words or work – but you don’t acknowledge that they’re not your own.  Some students plagiarise on purpose, for example when they copy something from another student, a book or the internet.  However sometimes students plagiarise by accident – if they don’t know or understand what makes something ‘plagiarism’.

Plagiarism is a serious problem and can have negative consequences for your studies

When you join university make sure you find out about and take the support offered by your university in this area.

9.   Thesis Writing

If you are a research or PhD student, we always recommend that you take advantage of any specific English in-sessional classes that are available within your university.

For example, here at NTU we provide thesis writing courses that all our research and PhD students can take part in.  These classes focus on planning your thesis, developing your thesis sections or chapters, as well as familiarising yourself with the relevant vocabulary and grammar rules.

This type of preparation is invaluable, especially if you have not written a long, independent piece of research before.

10. Individual Tutorials

Academic and English support classes are normally taught in groups. For example, at NTU we teach these classes in groups of 16 students or less.  However, you can book individual tutorials with one of our lecturers to receive individual advice and support and discuss any questions or doubts you may have.

Your university may or may not advertise this service, but if you feel this could be helpful, you can always ask to meet with one of your tutors.    Our students mostly request individual tutorials to get more help with academic writing.  Usually, they bring an essay they have written to discuss with the tutor.  The tutor doesn’t proofread or correct the essay, but gives the student feedback on the strong and weak areas and how the student can improve their work.  This means the student receives individual advice that they can follow whenever they work on a new essay.

11.  English for Everyday Use

In addition to English for academic purposes, you may be interested in improving your English in general.  Or, in developing your understanding of English in a number of different situations, for example writing business letters, meeting new people or improving your pronunciation.

Many UK universities offer these types of general English courses as part of their in-sessional programmes.  The lessons may, in addition of focusing on the English language, also cover aspects of British society and culture.

12.  Special Skills Support

Depending on your subject area, you may also want to renew or improve a specialist skill that is essential for academic success in your degree area.  For example, if you are studying Economics, you may need extra support in Math or Statistics.  Again, this is something that your university may offer support in, as we do here at NTU for example as part of our free in-sessional programme.

13. Exam Preparation

Your academic success is dependent on how you do in the classroom, in your assignments and in your exams.  However, the word ‘exam’ is often enough to make us worry.

As an international student you may find exam support especially valuable, as the way you’re examined in the UK may be different to what you’re used to.

This is why we would recommend taking the exam preparation support offered at your university.  In our specialised course on exam preparation here at NTU we take students through the steps of planning their revision time.  Our students receive methods and techniques for revising the material they have covered in their lessons, and they also learn about how to best use the resources and material available to them.


UK Universities offer a whole range of free in-sessional courses aimed at helping you improve your English and academic skills.  Take advantage of the opportunities available to you.

Find out from your university what support they offer for your level of English language ability, the study skills you want or need to improve and for your subject area specifically.

If, after attending an in-sessional lesson or workshop, you have specific questions or feel you need more advice, ask your tutor for a one-to-one tutorial session.   Don’t be shy about this – remember, your university wants you to reach academic success and to have a positive study experience.  In-sessional support courses are designed to help you achieve both.

About the Author

Andrew Plant Nottingham Trent University

Andrew Plant is Head of International Development, Art Design and Built Environment at Nottingham Trent University.

NTU is located in Nottingham – one of the most popular student cities in the UK.   Of the university’s three campuses, the City site is located in the city centre.  The university aims to guarantee accommodation in student halls to all applicants who make NTU their firm choice when accepting an offer to study.

Over 90% of NTU’s graduates find a job or continue their education within 6 months of finishing their degree.  As part of its commitment to prepare students for success, NTU offers a wide range of extra study support.

Interested in Finding Out More?

Find out about scholarships, meet our international students or  meet us in your country.

Contact the Nottingham Trent International Team with any questions – we’d be happy to hear from you

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