Natural Sciences

Teaching and learning

Students in a lecture theatre 

Teaching and Learning 


Teaching at the University is provided via a modular structure where each subject is divided up into units of teaching and assessment called modules. Modules are measured in terms of credits, and notionally each credit requires up to ten hours of study time. Students take 120 credits worth of modules each year, with the subjects they are studying contributing equal weightings in each year (40:40:40 in year one, 60:60 in year two and 50:50 in year three alongside a 20 credit project).

Each year is divided up into two 15 week semesters (Autumn and Spring) and modules will run in either one of these semesters or will span the full year. The modular approach to teaching allows for both flexibility and specialization within the course as students will take a mixture of compulsory modules, which are essential to the understanding of a subject, and optional modules, which enable students to further tailor their degree to their interests.


Types of classes 


Teaching at University-level is very different from what you will have experienced at School. The major difference is that at University you are being taught and assessed by academics who are working in the very field they are teaching. As a result they have a profound understanding of their subject and the enthusiasm to be able to share this with others.

Because you are studying three different subjects you will experience many teaching styles and types of class during your time at University. The common types of classes are:

Lectures: Range in size from 20 students up to 400. The lecturer presents material from the front of the room and there is not usually much interaction. 

Tutorials: Small groups of students (5-6) meet with a member of academic staff or postgraduate student to discuss lecture material in more detail. In some cases you will be set specific work to discuss at the tutorial.

Workshops: The emphasis of these classes is doing work which supports or reinforces ideas introduced in lectures. Similar in size to classes you have experienced in school. You will be assigned work to complete in class. These classes are the practical component of maths or computing modules. 

Seminars: Small classes of between 5 and 25 students which allow for discussion and debate about what you are studying. You are usually assigned a topic or several topics to discuss.

Laboratory Classes: Practical classes that take place in a laboratory, work to be completed is introduced at the beginning of the session, you carry out the experimental work, record observations and data and write up the work as a lab report. Lab work becomes more self-led as you progress through the course going from conducting prescribed experiments to designing and conducting your own experiments. There are usuall less than 50 students in the lab at one time.

Fieldwork: Practical work that takes place in a field setting. The fieldwork you do may be to collect data and make observations for a standlone report, it may be a stage of a larger report that will also include other types of analysis or it may be specifically for you to gain experience of field techniques. Fieldwork is conducted individually, in pairs or in small groups.  

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Typical timetable 


The following timetable is based on the full first-year timetable.  The initials denote which subject each class belongs to, so you can look through and work out how many contact hours are required for your pathway.  Only lectures and practicals classes are shown, where a module has tutorials or workshops these are additional. 

The number of contact hours in a typical week ranges from 18 to 25 depending on the pathway. Generally speaking modules with less contact time involve more self-led study, so having fewer hours of contact time does not mean there will be less work to do. 

Mock Timetable for first year Natural Sciences 

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Types of assessment 


There is a major difference between how your learning is assessed at University compared with School. All assessments whether coursework or exams are set by the lecturers who are teaching you.

Some modules will be assessed entirely by exam, others entirely by coursework but more commonly by a combination of the two.


  • are organized during specific examination periods held during the last 2-3 weeks of each semester.
  • range in length from 1 to 3 hours
  • may contain one or more of the following elements: multiple-choice questions; short-answer questions; long-answer questions; essay questions


  • is both assigned and submitted during the semester in which the module is taught. 
  • a module may have one piece of coursework, several pieces of coursework or even regular weekly deadlines with work that is continually assessed (common in laboratory classes)
  • may include one or more of the following types of work: lab reports; written reports; essays; projects; poster presentations; oral presentations; in-class tests.

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Natural Sciences

School of Chemistry, University of Nottingham
University Park

Tel: +44 (0) 115 823 2376
Fax: +44 (0) 115 951 3555