Psychology in the first year and how it may differ from A Levels: teaching

Posted in: Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, Undergraduate

Hi there. This blog post is directed primarily to prospective psychology students. I think that’s a sizeable audience, due to our psychology department being quite high up in the league tables, and its relatively relaxed application process compared to Oxbridge. I hope this post will be informative in how the course is taught here at Bath and in my following post, how we are assessed. Also I hope to provide a personal perspective of the course from someone who came into it without much psychology-related knowledge (I did Biology, Chemistry and Maths at A Level). There are four main ways we are taught in the first year: lectures, seminars, PC labs and self-teaching. Let’s get started!


Most lectures in psychology are two hours long, with a ten minute break. The topics that are covered are (in my opinion) pretty interesting and include both theoretical and applied approaches in psychology. To make up for the long lecture times, we have less of them. On average one lecture a day, which makes for a lot of free time. Once assignments start however, things are a fair bit busier. Alongside the core modules, at the beginning of the year we are required to pick two optional modules. This is not a decision to take lightly - even though modules will give you the same number of credits, they vary significantly in their content, method of assessment and even in how many contact hours there are. For example I would advise prospective psychologists that haven’t taken psychology (or any essay based subject) at A Level, and are used to non-essay exams (e.g. in biology or chemistry) to consider taking the optional biology modules. They require more contact hours than other modules but if essays are a weak point they are really helpful. Some of the second year optional modules require you to take specific first year modules, so that is something else I have had to think about. So if you know you want to take a neuroscience module in the second year, you’ll have to take the biology optional module in the first year.

Our sports psychology lecturer describing how he beat his co-lecturer in a race


Seminars are basically classes, much like in secondary school. In our first year we only had one one-hour seminar, called ‘Controversies in Psychology’, every week. It offers a more one-to-one interaction with the teacher, which is definitely useful in getting feedback for the essays I had written. Unlike in lectures, class participation is somewhat expected (although some definitely speak more than others) and attendance is recorded. The seminars I have taken in my first year have been less about content and more so about honing critical analysis and essay writing skills

PC labs

PC labs are sessions in the computer labs where we are guided through how to use the software ‘SPSS’ for statistical analysis. This is essential for the lab reports we need to write. These sessions are less structured than lectures or seminars, and we can pretty much do your own thing. Since they provide us with on-screen instructions, it’s not that hard to figure the program out although there are PhD students on hand to answer any questions we may have.


Self-teaching plays a big part in how this course operates. That might sound scary, but in reality what it really means is that we are given the freedom to learn what interests us as opposed to being told what to learn. Exams and essay questions are deliberately left open-ended so that we can choose which perspective you want to take to answer the questions, and therefore what material we have learnt. Unlike at A level where everyone is taught the same content from general textbooks, at university everyone is thrown into quite specific and deep areas of psychology from the get go. Reading published research papers is very different from reading a more general textbook- it can be challenging, but is also very interesting. Having said that, some modules do have a ‘set’ textbook, although it is not compulsory to buy it. I’ve found that although I do refer to the textbooks a lot, it’s more because it’s the style of learning I’m most used to, and there are plenty of people who do the course without the textbooks and are doing brilliantly.

I think that covers most of how the psychology course at Bath is taught. I’ve avoided going into detail about specific modules because over time they might change. However if you do have a question, please post it in the comments below and I will try to answer them! My following post will be on how we are assessed on the course which, as students on a competitive degree, we are arguably more concerned about!

Posted in: Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, Undergraduate

Find out about applying to study psychology at Bath


  • (we won't publish this)

Write a response