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Guidance for international students

Expert guidance from the Library and Study Advice at the University of Reading


Even if you have been used to studying at university level in another country, you are likely to find that there are many differences when studying in the UK that follow from the specific academic culture that we have in the UK. 

This page brings together brief guidance on some of the differences in studying that you might find, with links so you can find out more if you need to.

Understanding UK university study

The main purpose of higher education in the UK is to develop students' ability to take a critical view of the world. You will not only be discovering new knowledge about your chosen subject, but also thinking about how that knowledge works: why is this idea more believable than another, how was the idea developed, what can you do with it to make new knowledge (e.g. by applying it to practical experience, or comparing it to other ideas).

This purpose leads to other important aspects of UK university-level study. For instance:

  • We are more interested in your ability to question and challenge the authoritative view than to just repeat it
  • Your tutors will expect you to select reading, and perhaps to find texts beyond your reading list
  • You will be working towards becoming co-creators of knowledge with your tutors - so they will expect you to be more equal with them than you may be used to
  • In the UK, we place strong importance on punctuality and timeliness, so you will need to organise yourself to avoid lateness with attendance and submitting work

You can help yourself to find out more about what it's like to move into university study in the UK by reading through these guides.

Developing effective practices for UK study

The best way to develop your study skills is to practise them! For instance, reading academic texts may seem hard at first, but the more you do it, the easier it will become.

There's a lot you can do for yourself to find out how to develop your skills: we've included links below this box.

  • For study skills, have a look at our Study Guides or watch a video tutorial
  • To find out more about using the Library, see their training guides and videos
  • If you're not sure about something to do with your course, ask your course tutor
  • Many professional services at the University offer free seminars and workshops
  • If you have a quick query (for example, how to reference a particular text), ask at the Study Advice information desk about their drop-in service

If you have tried all of these and still feel there's something you don't understand, you can book an individual advice session with a Study Adviser or Academic Liaison Librarian.

Studying with academic integrity

Academic integrity refers to the values that underpin everything you do in your university studies. The purpose of academic study for both students and tutors is not just to develop and build new knowledge but to do it in ways that maximise accuracy and fairness across the academic community. In order to achieve this, you need to understand, develop and practise particular academic skills, including:

  • correct referencing
  • good academic writing
  • independent thinking and active reading practices
  • the ability to find and evaluate sources
  • efficient notemaking and record-keeping.
Essential tip: The best way to avoid unintentional plagiarism in your writing is to understand how the principles of academic integrity work in academic study in the UK.

Our Academic Integrity Toolkit will help you develop the tools you need to avoid plagiarism and succeed at university by studying with academic integrity.

Proof-reading and editing

If English is not your first language, you may feel that you would like someone to read through your work to check that your expression is correct. However, students are not permitted to use another person (‘third party’) to proof-read or edit their assessed work, whether a friend, family member, classmate, or a professional or paid proof-reading or editorial service (except, in the case of Higher Degree by Research students, where third-party proof-reading is undertaken during the publication process for part of the thesis). As a result there is no proof-reading service available through the University.

If you feel you need to develop your academic English skills, do consider attending the University's Academic English Programme (link above). The Study Advisers can discuss how to make your writing practices more appropriate for UK academic writing. We also have guidance on academic writing, including effective proof-reading to help you to check your own work.


Preparing for exams in the UK

In your university degree, you will be assessed by various methods. These are likely to include written examinations. If you are an international student, these may be quite different to the examination or other assessment methods you are used to. For instance, we do not usually have oral exams (except on language courses), and many exams require you to write essays rather than short answers. 

Our guide on Preparing for exams has more information on the best ways to revise and what to think about when you're in the exam room, as well as specific information on Assessment by examination in UK higher education, including 

  • features of written exams in the UK
  • what you need to find out
  • helping yourself to get better results
  • tipsheets and exercises
  • what to do if you're feeling anxious
  • links to our video tutorials