Guide to Study and Assessment Q+A

During Week 2 of Autumn Term 2019, the GSA held an event to help new students learn about the differences in study and assessment at York compared to universities around the world and indeed the UK. As part of the event there was a question and answer session. We have written up some of the most common questions and provided answers from GSA and University Staff where appropriate. Got a question that is not answered here? Email and we’ll try our best to answer it!

Q : What is the difference between a formative and a summative assessment?

A: Formative assessments are for training and practicing essay writing. They don’t count towards your final module grade but they’re still important to do as you’ll receive feedback that will help you improve your summative assessment. Summative assessments count towards your final grade and you’ll receive feedback on them as well.

Q: What are the grade boundaries in the UK? Aka – What is a “good” grade?

A:  The University applies the following mark scale to postgraduate work:

Distinguished (Very good) performance at postgraduate level: 70-100

Good performance at postgraduate level: 60-69

Satisfactory performance at postgraduate level: 50-59

Fail: 0-49

The pass mark for masters-level modules is 50.

Q: Where can I go if I have academic difficulties aka academic misconduct?

A:  This really depends on the kind of academic difficulties you are having. If you have been suspected of academic misconduct, you should make an appointment with a GSA Adviser to discuss this on the GSA website.

If you are having any personal difficulties or illnesses which are affecting your ability to engage with your assessments, you can submit an exceptional circumstances claim – this is a form you submit to your department which tells them about the problems you are having. You also have to submit evidence of the difficulty you are experiencing and the impact which this is having on your study. You can find out more about this on the University website here. You can also discuss this further with a GSA Adviser.

If you are having difficulties with your programme more generally (such as struggling to keep up with work or understand concepts) you can speak to your tutor or your supervisor about this. As with academic misconduct, you’re also more than welcome to speak to a GSA Adviser about this.

Q: Where do I go if I have special requirements (e.g. dyslexia / mental health)

A: It’s really important that you tell the University if you have a disability. This is because they can then help to mitigate the effect which your disability has on your studies.

It is also really important to remember that disabilities aren’t only physical – a mental health condition can also be considered a disability. The Equality Act states that a person has a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse affect on their ability to carry our normal day-to-day activities. If you have depression, anxiety or another mental health condition which affects you in this way, you can be considered to have a disability and therefore have the right to access support from the University.

The University would mitigate the effect of your disability on your study with a document called a “Student Support Plan” (SSP). This is a document which is shared with your department and tells your department about any adjustments you need for your teaching or assessments as a result of your disability.

Disability Services may also be able to offer mentoring which can help you to reduce the impact of your disability on your study.

You might also be eligible for Disabled Students’ Allowance, which can help to pay for technology and study aids to help to mitigate the effect of your disability on your study.

In order to make the University aware of your disability, you will need to speak with Disability Services. You can find out more about the support available, and how to get in touch with Disability Services, on the University website here.

Q: Where can I find bibliography guides for the University of York? What system of referencing does my department use?

A: The information on the referencing style for each department can be found on the integrity website. Some departments have specific variations on the main styles which are also detailed. If you have any questions about referencing you can email Each student also has to complete an integrity tutorial before submitting their first assignment. The tutorial should be available through the VLE.

York supports three different reference managers: Paperpile, Mendeley and Endnote. The skills guide has guidance on how to use each of the programs:

Q: How should we prepare for and contribute to seminars? Do we sit and listen or is it more discussion?

A: You may have “required reading” for a seminar. This is reading you must do to be able to take part in the seminar. You may also have “recommend reading” which is reading that may help you understand more the topic that you are currently studying.


In seminars we will be expected to both ask and answer questions on the subject often covered in a lecture you have had previously. It is a discussion between you and your classmates rather than a lesson where you sit and listen.

Q: What is my relationship with my supervisor? What can I ask them to help with?

A: You should meet with your supervisor twice a term. It is an informal meeting but an important one. Your supervisor has a number of duties to you including making sure you feel welcome in the department, answering any academic concerns you may have and being a sign post for if you have any wellbeing concerns.

Q: How can I gain more experience in “Academic writing”? Sometimes it is difficult to interpret academic reading too, any tips on improving understanding?

A: Formative assessments are a great way to practice your academic writing as you’ll receive feedback from your supervisor. The skills guides provided by the library also have guides on ‘Finding and Researching’, ‘Creating and Communicating’, and ‘Being Critical’. All the skills guides are available through the library website:

The Writing & Language Skills Centre offers online and in-person writing support. One-to-one appointments can be booked from Week 4 and are held in the Harry Fairhurst Building. Information on how to book an appointment with the Writing Centre can be found through the website:  

Q: Are there any guides to study techniques to succeed available on the University website?

A: The skills guides have a wealth of information on techniques that you can use during your time at York. The guides are available through the library website:

Q: Is your dissertation worth more than your end-of-modules essays?

A:  Generally, your dissertation will count towards a larger proportion of your final grade than any of your other individual modules. This depends on the credit value of your dissertation or ISM module.

A taught masters programme is made up of at least 180 credits. You achieve these credits by passing modules, and each module will contribute a certain number of credits towards your final programme.

Q: When do exams / assessments take place at York?

A: Exams take place during the common assessment period. For this academic year exams will take place during the following periods:

Monday 6 January to Saturday 11 January 2020
Tuesday 14 April to Friday 17 April 2020
Monday 11 May to Saturday 30 May 2020
These dates are available on the University website that provides more information about examinations such as what you need to bring with you and when you’ll find out your exam dates.

Q: Is there any way to pass if we have failed in one of our class modules?

A: Yes, it’s possible to progress to your dissertation and to receive a Master’s degree if you have failed some modules. The rules around this can be quite tricky, so if you have failed any modules or assignments and have questions about this, it’s a really good idea to make an appointment to speak with a GSA Adviser. You can book an appointment at

Q: How do professors mark essays? Is there any criteria we can access?

A: Assessment criteria are determined by departments. They will be available in your student handbook and on your departmental webpages.

Q: How can I make friends outside of my class?

A: There’s lots to get involved with outside of your studies at York where you can meet new people! The GSA has a number of events, network groups and volunteering opportunities where you can interact with other postgraduate students. If you have a particular interest, hobby or sport that you like playing you can have a look at the YUSU website for information on sports and societies too.

Q: How can I avoid procrastination?

A: Often we procrastinate because we don’t want to do something or because we’re scared that we’re not going to do it right. This means that we avoid our work and do things like watch TV, tidy our rooms, or spend time on our phones. However, we know that we should be working, so we don’t enjoy the time we spend procrastinating and feel guilty. We can then end up not enjoying the time we spend procrastinating, and then rushing our work.

Try and remember that your essay, revision or project isn’t going to go away if you avoid it, and it’s just going to get harder to complete it and you might end up panicking.

The best way to avoid procrastination is to start working! This might seem really silly or simplistic, but once you start working, you’ll often find that it isn’t as bad as you had thought!

There are some really good practical tips about how to avoid procrastination on the University website here. The University also offers “Stop procrastinating” workshops – you can find details about these here.

28th October 2019