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

Posted in: Choosing a course, Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, First year, Undergraduate

This is a follow-up from my post about how the undergraduate psychology course is taught. This time we’ll be talking about we are assessed. I’ll be talking about essays, lab reports, group presentations and exams. Again I’ll try to provide a personal perspective from someone who didn’t take psychology at A Level. Let’s get into it.


Many of the assignments at university are essays, so even if at the moment they’re not your thing, I’m sure one day you’ll learn to love them (or at least begrudgingly accept them). Even for essay-writing veterans, the style and format of academic writing at university will be new. To that end I would actually recommend buying and reading some books on academic writing and critical thinking in the summer before joining university. Even though we are provided with guidelines and examples, you might still feel a bit clueless writing your first assignment. The books will help with that. On the other hand, the university definitely doesn’t expect you to do any summer prep so it’s definitely not essential.

As I stated previously, essay questions are left open-ended. Everyone will have different answers and you may even use different research papers. Once you’ve chosen the direction to go in the next step is to do some reading of said research papers. The standard of writing in these papers is extremely high, so it can be challenging. To get a feel for what they are like, just open up Google Scholar and search for something you’re interested in. After you’ve done enough reading it’s time to get down to writing. If you want to be a bit more prepared, information on critical thinking, academic essay writing and APA referencing will be helpful for your first assignment. I will end this section on the rather depressing note that if you are not used to essay writing, expect several low to average grades in your first semester. Even if you are used to writing essays, the different style may throw you off. Either way, as long as you listen to the feedback given to you and work hard, the good grades will come.

After a shaky start in the first semester I decided to buy some books. I definitely wish I had these earlier!

Lab reports

I highly doubt anyone will have written a lab report before coming to university. Lab reports are a way of conveying research. In the first year, we do not conduct any experiments per se, but rather we are participants in an experiment conducted by one of your lecturers during a lecture. The results are then given to us to analyse and discuss. Analysing results and statistics actually forms a very small part of your lab report even though it’s something a lot of prospective students worry about. As long as you attend the PC labs it should be very easy. More emphasis is put onto the discussion, which is where essay skills come in handy. There are books out there that guide you through writing a lab report, but if you don’t think it’s worth it that’s completely OK - everyone is a bit clueless for the first one.

Group presentations

Yes. Unfortunately, this is a thing. The good news is that you only ever present to a small audience. The bad news is that, well, you have to present. It’s an understandably scary experience for some people. The lecturers and tutors will be as supportive as they can, but keep in mind these presentations form part of your degree so you can’t exactly wriggle out of them. However, coming from someone who is usually quite quiet and used to be extremely shy, I would say that they’re not that as bad as feared!


Ewww exams. It’s been over three years since I’ve not had yearly exams. I’ve forgotten how it feels to enjoy the sunny weather of April and May without the looming thought that I should be revising. Even worse, this year at university I couldn’t even enjoy December because of the thought of January exams. Do you know how hard it is to stuff your face with turkey when you’ve not done any work all day? (Actually, it’s pretty easy.) Okay, so I’m being a bit melodramatic here. Whether you’re reading this before or after your final exams at secondary school, you should know that they will probably be the most challenging exams you’ll have for a few years. During the first year at university, you will have less than a handful of exams. I only had one exam in January, and will only have one this summer. Please note that this only counts for the psychology course. Most other subjects had four or five January exams and presumably the same amount in the summer. Hooray for psychology!

I think that covers it all for assessments. I’ve avoided going into specific details of our assignments because they do change over time but I hope I’ve given a broad overview of what is expected of us as first year psychologists. I would like to end this two part post by saying that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the psychology course so far, and unlike my A Levels where I was just learning for the sake of passing the exams, I’m finding the content at university interesting and directly relevant to the real world. And finally, if you have any questions, please drop a comment!

Posted in: Choosing a course, Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, First year, Undergraduate

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