Making the most of tutorials

Tutorials provide an opportunity to explore topics by discussion, and to identify and resolve any questions that may arise after lectures.  This section will look at how to prepare for a tutorial, and what to expect from one.


What is a tutorial?

A tutorial is generally a small group meeting that often happens after a lecture.  During a tutorial, students and a tutor discuss a particular topic. This may be directly linked to the theme of the lecture, or might be a related topic which the tutor introduces as a means of broadening the students’ knowledge.

Who does what?

Often the tutor will give the students a topic or reading to prepare in advance of the tutorial.  To get the most out of the experience, you should take the opportunity to do some research or read the required text, and you should be prepared to contribute in some way to the discussion.

Many students find speaking in front of a group and voicing their opinions uncomfortable, particularly early on in their studies; if you have told the university about your autism, the tutor should be aware and may be able to make reasonable accommodations for you – for example, perhaps you could produce a PowerPoint to show your research, instead of speaking directly to the group.

The tutor’s role is generally not to lecture during a tutorial, but rather to encourage and facilitate further discussion.

Why are tutorials important?

Seminars allow you to:

  • Explore topics in greater depth
  • Learn from other people
  • Share ideas
  • Gain different perspectives and  points of view
  • Clarify any misunderstandings
  • Explore the language, vocabulary and ‘jargon’ of the course
  • Practice debate and turn-taking in conversations
  • Collectively advance your level of thinking through an effective combination of independent reading and group discussion

How could this affect me?

Tutorials can be quite open and unpredictable in their outcomes. Although the tutor may have an agenda, it is not necessarily clear from the beginning where the conversation leads to. This can be unsettling as you may ask yourself “what’s the point?”

One important aspect of attending a tutorial is realising that other students may be experiencing the same worries and difficulties as you.  Often this is helpful, as it can put your own worries into perspective, and understand others’ reactions.

You may also be mixing with students from other disciplines during the tutorial;  you may realise from the other students’ experiences, that there are many different ways to approach a topic; how one student researches a topic will be completely different to another.  All of these different approaches are what make your own learning experience richer and fuller.

By participating in the tutorials, you will develop skills that are not only useful at university, but also later in the workplace; these skills are often called ‘transferable skills’:

  • Listening
  • Negotiation
  • Leadership
  • Teamwork
  • Oral communication
  • Turn-taking – when to say something and when to stop
  • Taking responsibility
  • Sharing knowledge
  • Time management
  • Developing an argument
  • Collaborating with people from different backgrounds
  • Dealing with conflicting opinions
  • Producing and using visual aids

What to do next?

Take advantage of tutorial opportunities as they offer a chance to really deepen your insight on a topic.

Practical tips

  • Make sure that you are aware of which tutorial group you are in
  • Check your timetable and be aware of when and where your tutorials are (the sessions may not be every week, and may fall on different days)
  • Familiarise yourself with the tutorial room, e.g. you could spend some time there before the tutorial (when it is not in use)
  • Make sure that you have copies of any required readings or research, well in advance of the tutorial
  • Listen to the other students’ ideas and opinions
  • If you feel you would be unable to verbally take part in the tutorial session, speak to the tutor well in advance, and see if they can suggest a reasonable adjustment such as presenting your research as a PowerPoint presentation
  • Follow up any interesting new ideas from the tutorial, by doing independent research

Questions to think about

  • What do I need to do to prepare for the tutorial?
  • Are the reading materials available online?
  • Do I know where I have to be and when I have to be there?
  • Can I present my research in a visual format? – PowerPoint, Mindmap etc?
  • Do I know who else is in my tutorial group, in case I need to check any details beforehand?
  • Is my tutor aware of my autism; do I need to let them know?

Additional information and links

There is more useful information on seminars on the Glasgow Caledonian University website:

About the author

This article was written by Jackie Hagan, Learning Support Coordinator at the University for the Creative Arts at Rochester.