During your degree: What to expect

Many school leavers want to know what life at university will be like. In a nutshell, it’s very like still being at school, only everything is scaled up. The university campus is large, there are thousands of other students, the class sizes are often enormous and the work always seems to take longer.

But don’t let that put you off - there is considerably more freedom compared to school, and so much opportunity to enjoy yourself. Many graduates say university was the best time of their lives.

But what’s involved in ‘going to university’? What do you actually have to do on a day-to-day basis when studying geoscience?


In the autumn and spring terms you will usually study between 3 and 5 different subjects.  

Find out more about modules and timetables


Most subjects will have an assessed coursework component:


There are plenty of these at university!

Usually exams are held after each term (2 or 3 times a year).

You sit an exam in every subject that has an exam component:

A significant difference between school and university exams is that many university exams offer a choice of questions to answer. For example, an exam paper may have a total of six questions but will state that the student only needs to answer any three of them. Some exam papers also have a mixture of 'compulsory' questions followed by a choice of other questions.

The pass mark for most exams (and entire subjects) is 40%. Generally, you must pass the exam to pass an entire subject, even if your coursework grades are already high enough to pass. However, some exams, particularly in the 1st year, may have a higher pass mark (such as 60%) as they are considered vital to a successful degree.

Dissertations, Mapping & Research projects

Field trips are a key aspect of undergraduate degrees and are normally carried out once or twice per year for anything from a single day to over two weeks. In 'classic' Geology degrees this culminates in an independent field-based Mapping Project.

Students on specialist courses and those studying 4-year MGeol or MSci degrees usually undertake an an independent research project instead.

After completion of a dissertation some universities will have an oral exam known as a ‘viva’ or a ‘defence’, during which your dissertation supervisor(s) and an additional member of staff ask you questions about your work. Usually these are aspects they are unsure of or things they would like you to confirm. An additional purpose is to check it’s your own work, as you should be very familiar with any dissertation you write.

Geology students on fieldwork