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Introduction to university study: Tutorials & seminars

Tutorials (some disciplines call these seminars) are small group sessions designed to complement lectures and are generally more informal in nature. They give you the chance to discuss issues with fellow students and allow for more interaction than a traditional lecture. Each tutorial/seminar is led by a tutor who is one of the team teaching your module. This could be a member of academic staff or a doctoral student in your discipline.


The purpose of a tutorial (or seminar)

Tutorials are designed to give you a space to engage more actively with the course content. They provide a much better opportunity to get to know your lecturers and fellow students than most lectures offer.

By hearing other perspectives and voicing your own opinions during discussions, you can test your ideas and develop the type of analytical thinking that is required by graduates. This can be extremely helpful when preparing for assignments and exams.

Tutorials often have activities that are described as formative assessments. These do not directly count towards your final module mark but are important staging posts to help you develop the skills you will need for your summative assessments (the ones that count).

Some tutorial activities are part of your summative assessments. Participation in discussions can be graded as can oral presentations and other activities. Your tutor will let you know if this is the case.

Tutorial discussion


Tutorial activities

As can be seen above, tutorials have a variety of different purposes depending on the module and discipline and therefore the activities you are expected to take part in will differ. Below are some common tutorial activities:

Group discussions - on a lecture topic or on set reading material. In some disciplines, participation in these can be graded and count towards your module mark. This means more than just turning up - you must actively contribute.

Working on exercises or activities such as case studies or prepared questions.

Giving short oral presentations - often as starting points for discussion. These can either be formative (to gain necessary skills) or summative (count towards your module mark).

Question and answer sessions regarding assignments.

Learning academic skills such as journal searching, referencing, critical reading, critical writing, public speaking, debating skills and so on.


Getting the most from tutorials

To make the most of your tutorials you must participate. Although turning up and listening is useful, to profit fully you need to be an active contributor. Below is some advice for making sure you prepare effectively and participate usefully.

Preparing for a tutorial

As a general rule, the more preparation you do for a tutorial, the more useful it will be. You can prepare by:

Being aware of the topic of the tutorial - check your module handbook on Canvas.

Complete any required reading. This may be in your Reading List or provided on your module's Canvas site. If you are very short of time, scan through it at least.

Look over the notes from your last lecture - they are often relevant to the following tutorial.

Note down any questions that you have from your reading or from the lecture. 

Write down a few ideas for ways you could contribute - any thoughts, comments or information you can bring to the topic.


As with lectures, even if you have not had a chance to do the preparation, you should STILL ATTEND! There is a lot to benefit from listening and you can still use the opportunity to ask questions and therefore make a useful contribution.

Participating in a tutorial

Group discussions

Even if you are initially nervous about speaking in tutorials (which is very common), you should aim to gradually participate more actively over time. A tutorial is a really supportive environment in which to gain confidence to speak in front of a group. Contributing to a discussion does not mean you have to talk a lot. Here are ways to contribute:

Agree with something suggested by someone else - giving reasons if you can. "Yes, I agree because ...".

Disagree (politely) with something suggested by someone else - explain why. "I'm not sure, I don't think that is the case because...".

Ask questions - either something specific or for clarification from a previous speaker. "What do you mean?", "Have you got evidence to back that up?".

Add some points or examples of your own. "There is more though, for example...".

Point out particularly important points. "Yes, great point - I think that is the key issue".

If you are just too nervous to speak, listen actively. Lean towards the speaker, nod and genuinely look interested in what is being said. Hopefully you will eventually feel comfortable enough to speak but in the meantime at least make it clear you are paying attention.

Presentations

In some modules, you will be required to give a short presentation in your tutorial. This is often described as an 'oral presentation' which can mean simply standing up and talking about a topic but it could also mean preparing an accompanying PowerPoint. If this isn't clear, check with your tutor to see what the expectation is.

We have a complete Academic Presentations SkillsGuide but here are some simple tips for tutorial presentations:

The topic you need to present on will usually be quite small - so you should be able to learn a lot about it. Note how it relates to the wider module. The more you know, the more confident you will feel.

Don't go over your time limit. There are often back-to-back presentations and you don't want to annoy the person coming after you. 

Even if the presentation is short, still think about its structure. Make sure there is a clear beginning, middle and end.

Prepare for questions - there will be some! Imagine you had to ask questions - what would they be?

Practice, practice, practice. It's the best way to boost your confidence and your presentation skills..


Some of the material on this page is adapted from the University of Melbourne's downloadable pdf - Tutorials - how to get the most out of 'tutes'. This can be downloaded here: https://services.unimelb.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/471279/Tutorials_Update_051112.pdf