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Laboratory and practical classes

In many Science and Engineering disciplines students spend considerable parts of their time doing a wide range of practical or laboratory work. Here the learning is very 'hands on' and classes are designed to allow students to practise and develop a wide range of discipline-based techniques and personal skills.

James on doing lab classes at university

"Paint me a picture of what it's like for a student to do practical classes at university"

"Labs in university are very different from what you expect from A-Level. A-Level you're given a bunsen burner and a piece of tin and told go enjoy yourself. Here it's more structured ..."


Depending on the discipline and the topic, specific purposes will vary but they may include -

  • Providing an opportunity to apply and investigate theoretical and conceptual knowledge
  • Developing a range of experimental techniques and approaches
  • Improving skills in collecting, analysing, interpreting and presenting findings and data
  • Practising a wide range of personal and transferable skills such as problem solving, team working, observing and following protocols
  • Learning how to manage resources (including time)
  • Working more effectively and safely in a laboratory or in the field.

Lorna says "Don't worry about labs"

"Before I came to university I hadn't really done much practical work. So for me it was quite a big change ..."


In many courses, lectures and practicals are integrated with the view that theory can be explained in the lecture and then applied and tested in the practical class. It is therefore important that you are clear when a practical class has been designed to complement material that has been presented in a lecture.

The high value placed on skills learned in labs and practical classes goes beyond your university course. Future employers will be very interested in the skills you can display from having been active in laboratory classes and practicals, as well as the knowledge and understanding that you have attained during your degree.

Hear from students and staff

What to expect in lab classes

"if I was a brand new student starting chemistry here at Nottingham, what can I expect from the laboratory and practical classes?"

"First of all before the students do any practical they'll have their introductory talk ..."



Doing laboratory classes

"Could you describe the experience students will have when they participate in a laboratory or practical class?"

"The laboratory sessions are quite exensive in chemistry so students will be in for a 4 hour or a 3 hour session ..."



Lorna on a typical lab class

"So what would a typical lab class look like?"

In a typical lab class, I'm not sure how many people we've got but there's quite a few people and you all wear your lab coats ..."

Student in laboratory
Student in a lab class 

Further reading


Being organised

Studying at university

Reading and interpreting sources and data

People who can help

Talk to someone in your school or a specialist support service


Studying Effectively

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