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What are Seminars?

Discover how to prepare for seminars and derive benefits from attending one.
© British Council

When you attend lectures, you’re usually with a large group of students, and there’s little or no opportunity for discussion. Seminars, however, are small group sessions that give you the opportunity to discuss topics in some depth. These are often related to the lectures, but in addition, you may be given work to do beforehand. Depending on your academic field, you might be asked to;

  • read a case study
  • investigate some research
  • read and evaluate a journal article

In all cases you’re expected to contribute to the discussion at the seminar, putting forward your own points, agreeing or disagreeing with the opinions expressed, and asking someone to clarify their ideas if you’re not sure of what was said. Expressing your ideas and opinions orally helps you to clarify them in your own head, and the response you have from other students may give you different perspectives on the topic. In UK universities this process is considered an important aspect of learning.

If you’re nervous about speaking, consider using some of the ideas outlined below, which have been suggested by other international students.

  1. Prepare well – if you have an article to read, make sure you do this in plenty of time. Think about the topic – do you agree with what is being said? Make notes of some of the opinions you might like to offer.
  2. Decide that at each seminar you’ll make at least one contribution – even if your heart’s pounding; in this way, you can build up your confidence step by step.
  3. Really listen to what other students are saying – sometimes students are so keen to give an opinion they don’t really pay attention to what the others are saying.
  4. If you have to start off the seminar by summarising an article, practise beforehand; pick out the key points, make brief notes, and go through these aloud, to build up your confidence. It’s not the same if you practise in your head.
  5. You might be surprised to know that quite a few home students also find it difficult to speak up in seminars too.

Online Seminars and Groupwork

If the seminar is being held online, you may be asked to speak using your computer audio at certain points or by using the comment or ‘chat’ function. Many online collaborative tools have features that make communicating online easier and your seminar tutor will explain how they expect you to use these at the start. Don’t be afraid to join in just because a seminar is online. Try to communicate with your group as though you were learning in a classroom.

Your university may have a code of conduct for communicating online but here are a few tips:

  • Don’t interrupt what others are saying
  • Try to respond to comments made by others rather than always starting a new topic
  • Don’t use all block capitals
  • Ask ‘open questions’ (questions that require more than just a yes/no answer)

 

© British Council
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