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.




An abstract is a small summary – typically around 150-200 words – of a substantial piece of written work. You will encounter abstracts in published articles and reports. The purpose of an abstract is to outline the main themes and findings of a piece of work, but not every detail and complexity. An abstract will help a reader decide whether they should read a piece of work.

When completing assessed work, you may be required to submit an abstract of your own as part of your reports or long essays. Abstracts should be written once a report or essay have been completed, so you can provide the most accurate summary of your work. For more information, head to the Library’s Learning Support pages.

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.

Academic Tutor

Similar to a Personal Tutor, some departments will allocate 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.


When completing a sizeable written assessment, you may have large volumes of additional data which, while too large to include in the text, may make for useful additional reading. Your appendices do not count towards your word limit, but you must refrain from using them as a way of getting around word limits. All information that is essential to your argument must be included in the main body of your text.

Letter A


Positioned at the end of a piece of an essay, a bibliography is a clear list of the texts you have referred to – also known as references – in your writing. For more information, see Referencing.


Alongside your timetabled learning on campus, a lot of your study time will be spent learning independently. Departments at Imperial use Virtual Learning Environments to host materials such as lecture notes and reading lists, alongside discussion forums and the means for students to submit assignments online.

Imperial’s most widely-used Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is known as Blackboard. While different departments might use alternative VLEs, most students will encounter Blackboard during their time at the College. 


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.


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.



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.


GTAs (Graduate Teaching Assistants)

GTAs are usually PhD students with departmental teaching responsibilities. They provide 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.



Internships are usually work experience for a short length of time (e.g. 6 - 12 weeks) often over the summer vacation and not part of your course. They don't even need to be in an area related to your course.

To find out more about internships visit the Career's service Internships & placements page.


Lab book

A lab book is a detailed journal that you keep of your experiments and work in the laboratory. It should be used to record you what you did, how you did it, what happened and to record any relevant observations or notes.

Lab report

A lab report brings together all of your lab work into a clear and structured format to communicate any findings and theories to the reader. Producing lab reports is a specialist skill and they will frequently be used to assess your work in the lab.


Lectures allow experts to share their knowledge, enthusiasm and experience about their particular field of research. They will introduce you to the main topics in your subject area and give an overview of the literature, evidence and arguments. Teaching takes place in very large groups - some lecture theatres hold up to 300 students – and each lecturer will have their own style of delivery.

More information on lectures can be found on the Success Guide 'How we teach' pages.

Literature review

A literature review is a written explanation of existing research on the topic you are writing about, and will likely be a feature of some written assignments you will complete during your degree. A literature review will help to situate your writing in context and show your understanding of your subject. It will also help you to show why your research is important, and where it fits in with existing work.

More information on literature reviews, and how to write them, can be found on the Library’s Learning support pages



Degree courses are broken down into a series of smaller units known as modules. ‘Core’ modules are compulsory components of each course, while ‘elective’ (or ‘optional’) modules can be chosen from a wider group, allowing you to tailor your learning to your own academic interests.


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.


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.

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.


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”.

More information on placements can be found on the Success Guide 'How we teach' pages.


Plagiarism is the presentation of another person's thoughts, words or images and diagrams as though they were your own and which is a form of cheating, must be avoided, with particular care in coursework, essays, reports and projects written in your own time and also in open and closed book written examinations.

More information on plagiarism, and how to ensure you don’t plagiarise in your work, can be found on the Library’s Plagirism awareness page.


‘Practicals’ is a broad term, and covers a range of practical work you might encounter during your degree. This might range from laboratory work to fieldwork and clinical practice. Practicals are more about learning than teaching, they give you an opportunity to apply the information you may have heard and discussed in lectures and tutorials. Labs are very hands on, so there are plenty of opportunities to ask questions and get support if you need it.

More information on practicals can be found on the Success Guide 'How we teach' pages.

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.


Reading list

Reading lists provide you with recommended reading (and occasionally other resources) to assist your learning. They will help direct you towards general background reading for courses and specific lectures, as well as more targeted reading for assessed work.


When producing a piece of academic writing, it is important to reference where you have sourced your information from. Referencing shows that you have researched your subject well, and that your ideas are based on relevant academic knowledge. Proper referencing also helps to prevent plagiarism.

Your references will be stored in a bibliography at the end of your writing.

For more information on referencing, and on which referencing style you should use, head to the Library’s Learning Support pages.


Senior Tutor

Most departments have a Senior Tutor whose job it is to oversee the Personal Tutors. The Senior Tutor is the person to turn to for further advice or if your Personal Tutor is unavailable for any reason.



Every undergraduate student should be allocated a Personal Tutor who you can turn to for advice or support during your studies. However, the tutorial system varies from one department to another, and you will likely also take part in more academic, subject-based tutorials. These tutorials involve learning in small groups with your fellow students, and allow you to explore topics in more detail with your tutor and your peers.

More information on tutorials can be found on the Success Guide ‘How we teach’ pages.