What are lectures and seminars?

by Maria Clark

My name is Maria Clark and I am a first-year English Literature and Creative Writing student and a Digital Content Ambassador. In this blog, I'm going to talk about my experience of lectures vs seminars.

One of the biggest changes from school to university is the teaching style. Obviously, it depends on the subject (degrees might also involve lab practicals, workshops, field trips, etc.), but lectures and seminars are the most common.

So what’s the difference between them and how do you prepare for them?


What are they?

Lectures generally involve one member of the department giving a presentation or talk regarding a particular point or topic in the subject. Lectures are held in lecture halls for all the students on the course (which means that there can be a long queue to get in!) and involve minimal participation. The lecturer will talk through the concept or topic with the help of a PowerPoint presentation and students are expected to take notes.

How do you prepare?

Most lecturers will upload their PowerPoint slides onto Moodle before the lecture, so it is a good idea to make a few notes in advance. Make sure you read any required preparatory or additional material, as the lecture might not make sense without it.

During the lecture

Typing or writing notes? Both are done in lectures and will depend on your personal preference. For some subjects, with diagrams and graphs, using a laptop makes it easier to transfer these across from the PowerPoint, but in others, a plain notebook will do. Typing everything means that it can all be organised in one place, rather than losing pieces of paper, but it is worth remembering that exams at the end of the year won’t be typed, so writing every so often won’t hurt.

I think it depends on the lecturer and the type of lecture you are having. Some lecturers and subjects have a lot more content to get through, so typing is better to ensure that you don’t miss anything, whereas, with other lecturers, you can write fast enough to keep up.

Regardless of whether they are typed or handwritten, when making your notes, make sure that you are listening at the same time. The information on the PowerPoint often acts a stimulus for the lecturer to explore the subject further, so if you have made the PowerPoint notes in advance, you can add to these with any additional things the lecturers say.

After the lecture

It is a good idea to go over your notes after the lecture to consolidate your understanding. Lecturers might suggest further or additional reading following their presentation, which is useful at enhancing your knowledge on the subject. Writing your notes up properly is another way to make sure the information goes in and means that you can focus on the most important pieces of information.


What are they?

Seminars are small-group sessions that generally take place after the week’s lectures to further explore the topic that is being studied. There will be around 10-15 people in each seminar group, which means that you will be called upon to participate and contribute your ideas. At the beginning, seminars may appear scary after the relative safety of lectures, but as you get to know your group, it becomes a close learning environment where you can work together to explore and discuss ideas.

Before the seminar:

Remind yourself of the notes taken from the lectures. If there was anything that you didn’t understand or want to explore further, the seminar discussion is the time to ask. Your seminar tutor can again recommend extra reading or explain aspects of the lecture that were perhaps difficult to grasp immediately.

Many seminars will often require preparatory work themselves, whether this is in the form of reading, group work, or prior discussion. You can’t hide in a seminar, so don’t forget to do the work!

During the seminar:

Take notes of the discussion and the points raised by both your seminar tutor and your peers. Often, someone else in your seminar group will raise a point that you wouldn’t have thought of and these can often be points of inspiration or reference when writing your essays or preparing for your assessments.

Don’t be afraid to participate in the seminars! In discussions and debates, don’t be afraid to contradict what somebody else has said, and speak your own opinion. It’s often very insightful to hear from different perspectives and it will increase your understanding.

After the seminar:

Have a look at the notes taken from both the lectures and the seminars, thinking about whether they require any additional reading, or how you are going to consolidate them. It is worth knowing the type of assessment that the topics studied will be involved in, so you can get the best out of your notes as possible.