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A-Z of Teaching

A great deal of terminology is used when describing learning and teaching at the University. The following A-Z offers definitions, explanations and when necessary further links to information.


A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J   K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 


Academic practice

A term used to describe the collective responsibilities of academic staff in higher education.  These are usually: learning and teaching, discipline-specific research / scholarship and academic management activities, and - for some - service requirements.


At the top of the hierarchy of specifications used to define a learning experience.  They provide the student and teacher with overarching general statements regarding the intended consequences of a learning experience.


Accreditation of prior (experiential) learning.  APL takes into account previous ‘certificated’ learning, gained either as whole or part of a programme, towards all or part of a new qualification.  AP(E)L also counts experience towards obtaining a qualification.


Granted under the University’s powers (as set out in its Charter) to an individual successfully completing a programme.



Communication and Information Technologies.


A means whereby fail marks in one or more modules do not prevent satisfactory completion of a Stage, or the gaining of an award, due to the strength of performance in other modules.  The Programme Specification specifies which modules are compensatable or non-compensatable for that particular programme.  If there are specific learning outcomes which it is essential every student must attain in order to obtain a particular award, then a module with those learning outcomes will be non-compensatable.

Compulsory Module

A module for which every student on the programme has to enrol.  The compulsory modules are set out in the relevant Programme Specification.


This term is used to refer to both smaller module-sized units of study and to larger units encompassing a set of modules which comprise a programme of study, leading to an academic award.


Indicates the amount of learning which is likely to be necessary to achieve the learning outcomes as set out in the Programme Specification.  One credit equates to 10 learning notional hours of work.  Credit is awarded on satisfactory completion of a Stage.

Criterion-Referenced Assessment

Judges how well a learner has performed by comparison with predetermined criteria.


Distance Learning

Learning away from the institution.  Most often, this involves students working with web-based learning resource materials.


External Examiner / Examining

External examiners are part of the University’s self-regulatory procedures and play a key role in maintaining standards between institutions in a particular discipline.


Final Classification Mark

Used to determine classification for awards which are classified according to formulae set out in the Taught Course Regulations.

Formative Assessment

This is assessment that is used to help teachers and learners gauge the strengths and weaknesses of the learners’ performance.  Areas for improvement are often expressed in words rather than marks.  Formative assessment is designed to improve student performance and does not count towards the final classification mark.



Higher Education Funding Council for England.



Joint Information Systems Committee.


Key / Core / Transferable Skills

The QCA skills have been defined as:

  • Communication
  • Information Technology
  • Application of Number
  • Working with Others
  • Improving Own Learning and Performance
  • Problem Solving

There is expectation that there will be opportunities for students to improve their skills within their degree courses, building on key skills developed in school. 


Laboratory / Practical Class

A type of teaching session, usually included in curricula in experimental sciences, biomedical sciences and engineering disciplines, which is broadly intended to offer training in techniques and learning how to carry out experimental investigations.

Learning Outcomes

Learning outcomes are relatively general statements of what a student is expected to know, understand and / or be able to demonstrate at the end of a period of learning.  They are phrases which complete a sentence of the form "A student who completes this programme successfully should be expected to …", or "… should be able to …"

It is good practice for learning outcomes to comprise a verb, object and context.  An example (from Human development) would be:

"Critically examine [verb] theoretical frameworks [object] relevant to neonatal development and adaption [context]."

All three parts are needed to make the learning outcome workable.

Learning outcomes are an essential part of programme and module design and should be clearly related to the content / aims of a programme / module.

Learning outcomes should be written under one or both of the following two categories:

  1. Knowledge and understanding - these are outcomes which describe broadly the subject matter of the programme/module.
  2. Skills - these are outcomes which can come under one or more of the following three sub-headings:
    1. Intellectual skills - the abilities required to process the subject matter
    2. Professional / practical skills - those skills specific to a particular subject area, such as lab or field work, or the requirements of a specific professional or regulatory body
    3. Transferable / key skills - more specific skills which will commonly comprise most of the following:
      • Oral and Written Communication
      • Team Work
      • Self Management
      • Problem Solving
      • Critical Thinking
      • Professionalism
      • Information Technology
      • Literacy
      • Numeracy


See the Quality Manual for further information


The level of a module, and of a qualification, indicates how intellectually demanding it is.  Each level has a descriptor which describes the characteristics of learning demand which the learner will encounter, and these are set out in the UNQF.



A mark is a numerical indication of the standard achieved by the student.  The pass mark indicates that the standard is at a level such that the learning outcomes of the module have been satisfactorily achieved.

Mode of Assessment

The type of assessment chosen to test the attainment of a module’s learning outcomes (e.g. written examination paper, coursework).  The relevant Modes of Assessment are set out in the Module Specification.


A module is a self-contained formally structured component of a programme with a coherent and explicit set of learning outcomes and modes of assessment.  There are three different types of module, defined below – compulsory, restricted or optional – with the possible properties of either compensatable or non-compensatable.

Module Non-compensatable Compensatable
Compulsory By default Only if specified
Restricted Only if specified By default
Optional Never Always

Module Catalogue

The University’s Module Catalogue contains the definitive approved set of information about each available module.

Module Convenor

The individual responsible for overseeing and managing a specific academic module.

Module Specification

A description in a standard format of each approved module including, amongst other things, its learning outcomes and how they are assessed.


Norm-Referenced Assessment

An assessment which measures how well the learner has done in comparison with the norm established by their peers.


Optional Module

Any module other than a compulsory or restricted module which a student may choose (either from within or without their own School) in order to broaden their study, or to acquire additional skills or knowledge.  A Programme Specification will not list optional modules, but may constrain students’ choice to certain areas.  Note that a particular module may be an optional module for one programme but a compulsory module for another.


Objective Structured Clinical Examination.  A mode of assessment used to examine students' ability to show clinical reasoning and appropriate medical or veterinary skills.


Problem-based learning (PBL)

A pedagogical method introduced in the 1960s, and much used in medicine.  Curriculum design involves a large amount of small-group teaching.  Learning is through a process where students identify and manage their learning needs from a trigger in the form of a scenario.  The teaching role involves facilitation of this process rather than giving information.

Programme Leader

The individual responsible for overseeing and managing a specific academic programme.

Programme of Study

A programme of study is a set of modules in a specified combination of levels which meet the requirements for a particular named award in a specified subject.  A programme of study must be approved by a specialist University committee, through consideration of the relevant Programme Specification.  In particular cases (for example, Modern Language courses involving a Year Abroad) an approved Programme of Study may include one or more additional components which do not have credit, but which must nevertheless be completed satisfactorily in order for a student to progress to the next Stage or to gain the award.  The relevant Programme Specification will set out the precise conditions for satisfactory completion.

Programme Specification

A description in a standard format of a programme of study which leads to a particular University award including - amongst other things - the learning outcomes, how these are assessed, the curriculum, and how students progress through the various stages of the programme.  Every Programme Specification is approved by a specialist University Committee, is reviewed regularly, and is published.



Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.  The national body that oversees quality assurance in Higher Education in the UK.

Quality Manual

The Quality Manual sets out, as clearly as possible, the University’s policies and procedures relevant to both teaching and supervision of undergraduate and postgraduate students (both taught and research).  The University has agreed that as far as possible the Quality Manual should be consonant with the precepts set out in the QAA for HE Code of Practice for the Assurance of Academic Quality and Standards.  Schools should be able to rely on the fact that by complying with the University’s Quality Manual they will be adhering to the QAA precepts.


Restricted Module

Students may choose a specified number from a restricted set of modules.  The restricted modules, and any rules governing their choice, are given in the relevant Programme Specification.



The academic year is divided into two Semesters of about 15 weeks each of teaching, learning and assessment.  The first is the Autumn Semester; the second is the Spring Semester.


The term seminar is used with different meanings in different disciplines across the University but always in relation to some form of discussion-based small group teaching.

Small Group Teaching

A term used to encompass all the various forms of teaching involving ‘small’ groups of students, ranging from one-to-one sessions to groups of up to 25 (or even more) students.  Includes tutorials, seminars, group work and problem classes.


A programme of study is divided into stages, each corresponding (for a full-time programme) to years of study.  The stages are, in order from the start of a programme of study (although not all programmes contain stages):

  • Qualifying
  • Part I
  • Part II
  • Part III

Some programmes may have additional stages, such as a period of study abroad.  For full-time programmes, a stage extends over two semesters.


The term used to refer to student attainment in terms of expected and actual levels of attainment.

Summative Assessment

This type of assessment typically comes at the end of a course / module, and awards the learner with a final mark or grade for that section which counts towards the final degree classification mark.



A term is a largely continuous period of teaching-related activities and at Nottingham is divided into autumn, spring and summer terms.  Each term is about 3 months long and separated by holidays.  Terms, along with holidays and examination periods, exist within the structure of semesters.


Unit of Assessment

Students’ attainment of the various learning outcomes of a module may be tested in different ways, and modules may have more than one assessed component (e.g. two pieces of coursework, or one written examination paper and one piece of coursework).  Each assessed component is known as a unit of assessment.  If a module has more than one unit of assessment, the single module mark is produced by combining the mark for each unit, using a formula set out in the Module Specification.

University of Nottingham Qualifications Framework (UNQF)

The UNQF underpins course approval and review activity, and:

  • Defines University awards and places them in context with each other and with the awards of other institutions
  • Demonstrates that appropriate progression occurs between levels before arriving at a final award
  • Ensures an accurate mapping of learning outcomes and assessment to clearly defined levels as proposed in the QAA Code of Practice
  • Assists staff formulating new courses in deciding upon the appropriate structure, title and final award of those courses


Viva Voce Examination

An oral examination, typically at the end of a programme of study.  It can be used as one part of the assessment strategy in undergraduate programmes and is the principal means of validating a candidate’s thesis submitted for a postgraduate degree.


Weighted Average

The weighted average is the mark obtained by summing the product of each module mark and its module credit, and then dividing this total by the sum of the module credits.

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