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What is the academic year like at a UK university?

What is the academic year like at a UK university?

by Peter Jackson

The standard of education in the United Kingdom is very high. In fact, the UK is known for having some of the highest-ranking universities in the QS World Rankings and Times Higher Education World Rankings. This is why a degree from the UK is respected by employers all over the world.

If you’re interested in studying in the UK, but still deciding if it’s the right choice for you, we’ve answered some of your biggest questions about how you'll study and how you'll get your degree.



  1. What are the term times for UK universities?

  2. What is studying in the UK like?

  3. How are students assessed?

  4. How do UK grades work?

  5. What are the benefits of studying in the UK?


What are the term times for UK universities?

UK universities usually split the academic year into three terms across two semesters. 

Semester One runs from the start of the new academic year in September, ending before Christmas; Semester Two starts in January and runs until the start of the summer break, which is normally in June. 

For most universities, Term One will be in autumn - starting at the beginning of the new academic year and ending in the middle of December when you will have a winter break. 

Term Two - or spring term - starts in January and ends in late March. Term Three - the summer term - starts in April and ends in June. 

Many universities will also have ‘reading weeks.’ These are short breaks part-way through a term to give you time to catch up on your course reading.


What is studying in the UK like?

The most common type of undergraduate qualification studied at a UK university is a Bachelor's degree. This usually takes three years of full-time study to complete, but there are exceptions, such as Medicine and Dentistry degrees.

During each academic year or stage, you will complete a number of different modules. At Newcastle, for example, in Stage One of a three-year Biology degree, you will study modules on topics such as genetics and evolution, and ecology and conservation. In Stages Two and Three, you will study different modules as well as complete a dissertation in your final year.

At the start of each stage, you will get a timetable showing your modules and the classes for those modules. These classes can include lectures, seminars, workshops or tutorials.



Your lectures can take place in large halls on campus or online. At Newcastle, all students studying on an on-campus programme will receive in-person teaching. Where online and digital options have improved the student experience, or have been requested by our students, we will continue to use them to benefit learning.

Lectures may be attended by students from different degrees that are related to your course and can be as short as an hour, but sometimes longer for more in-depth topics. 

The lecturer will present to you, and teach you about their research topic, and students are expected to take notes. As each module progresses, the lectures will get more in-depth and detailed.

It’s unlikely that you will need to interact during a lecture. However, you may be asked to do some reading beforehand to help your learning.

If there’s anything you don’t understand, you will usually get the chance to ask questions at the end. Or, if you’re uncomfortable with the idea of talking in front of people, you can always speak to the lecturer afterwards, or even email them at another time.



Seminars are a bit different from lectures, as they’re a lot more interactive. This is your chance to discuss the things covered during a lecture and talk with your fellow students. 

You will often have to do some seminar preparation. This can be anything from reading to answering some questions or even preparing a presentation.

Don’t let this part scare you! Seminar groups are usually very small, with students from all walks of life and backgrounds. They are a safe space for you to share your ideas and ask questions about the teaching material or upcoming assignments. 




How are students assessed?

Each module you study has a credit weighting, with the majority of modules worth 20 credits each. If you complete a dissertation as part of your third year, this is usually worth 40 credits.

As a full-time student on an undergraduate degree programme, you must complete 120 credits in each academic year of study. For a full honours degree, you need 360 credits over the course of your three-year degree.

You will be assessed on what you have learned in each module, but don't worry, you will be given plenty of notice about the details of your assessment so you have time to prepare. Your work is marked and moderating processes are in place to make sure marking is fair and consistent.

Assessments can take any of the below forms: 

  • coursework
  • exams 
  • group work 
  • essays 
  • presentations 
  • dissertations 


How do UK grades work?

Your final university degree depends on your assessed work. The marks you receive from each module in a particular year or stage are combined, with modules that are worth more credits contributing more to your overall mark for that particular stage.

At most universities, the mark you get at the end of Stage One doesn’t count towards your final degree. This is to give new students a chance to understand the way degrees work, perfect their academic skills, and get into the right mindset to study at degree level.

Instead, your final degree is based on the 'Honours stages' - Stages Two and Three of your degree programme. Your overall marks from these two stages are combined to give a final score that leads to your degree classification.



Degree classification

70% or above

First-Class Honours



Upper Second-Class Honours



Lower Second-Class Honours



Third-Class Honours






What are the benefits of studying in the UK?

There are lots of benefits to studying in the UK, including: 

  • UK degrees are generally shorter than other countries, which means you save money on tuition fees and accommodation costs
  • UK universities are inspected regularly by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA). A world-leading quality agency, it ensures students experience the highest standard of teaching possible
  • most UK universities offer merit-based scholarship programmes and funding opportunities to international students to support their studies and cost of living
  • many countries follow the UK education system as it is considered among the best in the world
  • degrees from UK universities are respected by employers

Read our blog on the benefits of studying at Newcastle University for international students


Get more advice for your journey to university HERE