At university you will come across lots of different terms that you aren't familiar with so here we've gathered together some of the most common to act as a reference point for you during your studies.

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Personal Tutor

This is usually a member of academic staff who is allocated to you for the duration of your course to offer help and support
 on academic or personal issues. They will also follow your progress throughout the course to help keep you on track to succeed. Find out more about the role of tutors.

Academic Tutor

Similar to a Personal Tutor, some departments will allocated you an Academic Tutor instead or as well as a Personal Tutor. The Academic Tutor has more emphasis on your academic progress and performance whereas a Personal Tutor will help with all aspects of university life.

Senior Tutor

Most departments have a Senior Tutor whose job it is to oversee the personal and/or academic tutors. The Senior Tutor is the person to turn to for further advice or if your personal tutor is unavailable for any reason.

Academic Representatives

Imperial College London has over 400 academic representatives across both undergraduate and postgraduate courses and research groups. Representatives collect invaluable feedback from students about all aspects of their academic experience, which is then followed up with relevant staff. They are often the first point of contact for course-specific issues. You can talk to them if you are unhappy about your course, research or facilities. Find out more here.

Degree Classifications

The way your work is graded at university is different from at school. You will often still get a percentage as a grade, but how these grades are added together to give you a final 'classification' is detailed more here. The final result you get is referred to as your degree classification i.e. First Class, Second Class, Third Class.

Pastoral Support

Pastoral support refers to the support available to you if you need help with any aspects of your personal life. If you are having any difficulties either at College or at home, then there are various people you can turn to for advice. Find out more about who to ask for help.


Essays are a common method of assessment and are a way for you to demonstrate many of the desired skills you should be learning on your course - critical analysis, qualitative knowledge, mathematical and logical skills, and written communication capability. Essays will form part of your coursework as well as examinations.

Problem Sheet

A problem sheet is similar to a traditional “test” that you might have taken at school. They are a highly efficient and targeted way of testing a specific area of knowledge, and they’ll let your tutor build up a good picture of how comprehensive your understanding is. Find out more about methods of assessment.

Negative Marking

You will be familiar with multiple choice questions, but do you know that you can lose marks for incorrect answers? This is negative marking. If you don't know the answer and leave it blank, you won't get a point, but if you guess an answer and it's incorrect, a point will be deducted. So if the assessment uses negative marking, don't just guess answers - make an informed or educated choice, or leave it blank.

A Placement

If you undertake a period of your programme at an external location and under the direct supervision of another organisation this is called a “placement”. For many this is a Year Abroad (a year of study at another university) or a Year in Industry, while in some departments it is a shorter study period abroad or a shorter industrial placement or project.

In Medicine, clinical attachments and final year electives are placements. Some placements are compulsory and may only be available should you have been admitted to the relevant programme in Year 1. Some undergraduates can seek extra ECTS credit for vacation internships, and these are also treated as placements.

You can see that the options available to you will depend on your programme. If you are unsure as to the options available speak to your Director of Undergraduate Studies for further information. Guidance for students and their academic departments is available here.

If the Year in Industry or shorter forms of industrial placement are of interest to you, then the Careers Service’s Placement and Internship Unit can also provide support with searching and applying for host companies/organisations, as well as support in searching for extra-curricula internships. Assistance with understanding the impact on any financial support you are receiving when undertaking a placement can be obtained from the Student Financial Support Team.

Course Organiser or Convenor

This is the person with overall responsibility for the development and delivery of a course within your department. They will have developed the teaching resources, and will be the main point of contact for any questions you have about the course content and structure. You will usually be able to contact them through Blackboard, email or in person.

GTAs (Graduate Teaching Assistants)

GTAs are usually PhD students with departmental teaching responsibilities. They provide indispensable academic and administrative support to course lecturers and contribute greatly to the quality of each course by teaching, tutoring, and supervising projects. GTAs have already completed an undergraduate and often a postgraduate degree, and are now undertaking their own research in a specific field.