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Learning in lab classes

Laboratory and practical classes are an important opportunity for many students to actively test experimentally the concepts and methods introduced in lectures and tutorials. You may be asked to work on your own, in pairs or small groups. This is so you learn how to work both independently and collaboratively.


Working carefully and thoughtfully when you carry out your experiments will mean that you are much more likely to produce accurate and useful data. It is also important to be organised and tidy to avoid mishaps and errors.

Keeping clear and accurate notes of what you see and learn during the laboratory class is a valuable skill. Many laboratory tutors or demonstrators will stress the importance of keeping a lab book or log during the class and of noting your results as you obtain them. This may include making observational drawings and diagrams as well as writing brief notes. For guidance on the specific requirements of your classes please refer to School guidance.

Lab classes are often timetabled for three or four hours so it may seem as though there is plenty of time. However, when you get started there is a lot to do and you might have to wait for one experiment to complete before you can start the next, so you can run out of time if you're not careful. Making a timetable to work to and referring to it often can help you to get everything done on time.


At the end of the class you will probably be expected to report your work. A common approach is to be asked to write a brief laboratory report which you will hand in on a weekly basis or at the end of the semester. These reports may be formative assessments (where you gain experience and feedback) or summative assessments (which also provide a mark or grade that may count towards your degree). However, you may also be asked to present your work using a poster format. Some practical courses use poster presentations; some use online resources and websites.

The process of writing up your work should help you to clarify and fully understand what you have done and what it has shown. However, it is not uncommon to have unanswered questions or points that you don't fully understand. If this is the case, first see if you can answer your own questions. Re-read your notes and the information provided for the practical. You should also look back at your lecture notes and follow-up any suggested readings. If you are still unsure it is sensible to approach your teacher and ask for their help sooner rather than later. Try to keep on top of any follow-up work as it can be harder to catch up if you leave it till the end of the semester and/or the weeks before the exams start. You may also find it helpful to discuss the practical class with your peers and collaboratively solve problems.

Hear from students and staff

Variety in lab classes

"Can you talk me through the student's experience of coming along to a physical chemistry lab?"

"In physical chemistry you'd be given some information about the experiment before ..."



Doing practical classes in synthetic chemistry

"Could you talk me through what a 3 or 4 hour lab session might actually entail?"

"A student might be doing a preparation of Aspirin. They'd already have prepared their safety assessment ..." 



Safe working in labs

"How do you make sure that people are safe working in a lab?"

"Before the undergraduates start they have a safety induction which telss them about the risks you can have in a laboratory environment ..."



Employability skills developed in labs

"What skills do you think you develop during, particularly the lab practical component of, a chemistry degree that you think are particularly attractive to future employers ?" 

"I think the ability to manage your time efficiently ..."

Students in a lab class
Students in a lab class

Further reading


Being organised

Studying at university

Reading and interpreting sources and data

Preparing for assessment

Practical strategies

more from Academic Support study resources 

People who can help

Talk to someone in your school or a specialist support service


Studying Effectively

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