Studying at university

You may find studying at university to be very different from college, sixth form or any other previous education. There is much more of an emphasis on self-directed learning (sometimes referred to as independent study), time management and actively seeking support when needed.

Self-Directed Learning

Watch the video below to hear from some of our students on what is meant by self-directed learning.

What Is Self Directed Learning?


This way of learning might be quite different to what you are expected of currently and you shouldn’t expect to be able to learn like this straight away. You need to give yourself time to adapt. There are some great tips in this guide by Student Mind, pages 6-13.

There are more videos like the one above on our Student Gateway YouTube channel introducing you to some of the teaching methods used at the university.

Knowing how much self-directed learning to do can be tricky. Have a look at the ‘Teaching and Assessment’ tab under the ‘Structure and Assessment’ section on your course webpage, for an indication of the amount of overall time per week you should be dedicating to your studies.

Remember if your course suggests 38 hours of study per week and you have 20 hours of contact hours, this suggests you should be aiming to do at least 18 hours of self-directed learning.

Time Management

Managing your time effectively is a vital skill you develop throughout your time at university. You may need to juggle your studies alongside socialising, a part-time job, caring responsibilities and mundane activities like grocery shopping, cleaning and personal admin. Having a good grasp of what you need to do and planning your time will help you to reduce stress and achieve your goals.

There is lots of really good advice in the Focus on Time Management guide produced by DMU’s Centre for Learning and Study Support (CLASS). They are also a great place to go for further advice and guidance if you feel you need it.


This paragraph from Student Minds (2018, p.6) summarises how the change in teaching pace at University can be very different to any other previous experience:

“ will likely be covering a lot of material in class, and moving through the material quite quickly. Many students find this difficult at first. Course sizes can be large, which can make it difficult for you to ask questions when you don’t understand something. That can lead you to feeling left behind. You may be required to complete a number of readings in between lectures – some of which will be talked about in seminars and some of which might just be background information. Even if you’re not required to do extra reading, reviewing your notes and doing independent research into the areas you don’t understand can help you keep up.”


When writing an assignment at university you will be expected to reference the sources of information you have used. You may be familiar with doing this at school/college, however at university you might find an increased emphasis put on the quality of referencing. You might even get additional marks for the quality of your referencing.

Referencing is used to:

  1. Help the reader find the sources that you have used
  2. Help support your argument and provide your work with credibility
  3. Show the reader (your tutor) the scope and quality of research
  4. Acknowledge the arguments and ideas of others. Failure to do so could result in a charge of plagiarism.

You might have noticed in the previous section, Pace, that a citation was used on the first line to show you the date of publication of the Student Minds guide and the page that the quote came from. This follows the Harvard referencing style, which is normally supported by a bibliography so that you can find the guide. However, for ease here is a link to the guide online:

STUDENT MINDS (2018) Transitions – helping you to navigate university life. Leeds: Student Minds.

For more information, Library and Learning Services have a comprehensive guide on referencing at DMU including copies of style guides and where to get help and support:

Personal Tutoring

Personal Tutors are academic staff from your School who may or may not teach you, but who can help, advise and guide you throughout your studies at DMU. Your Personal Tutor will follow your progress throughout your studies and will take great interest in your attendance, overall academic performance and personal development; your Personal Tutor will be able to recommend ways of improving and refining your work (even if you are doing well!) as well as ways of developing your ‘softer’ skills such as reflection, team-working and leadership. You should take every opportunity to meet with your Personal Tutor.

They’ll also be able to signpost you to other university support services such as the Centre for Learning and Study Support (CLaSS), Student Welfare and Careers.