Introduction to the UBC classroom

Course formats

Most UBC undergraduate courses include three hours of class time per week. Courses are offered in the following formats:


Most courses are offered as lectures. Lectures are 50 to 80 minutes in length and may involve anywhere from 30 to 200 students. Lectures, along with other classroom settings, are fairly informal. Although different professors have different standards, it is generally acceptable to, for example, have a beverage on the table; in larger lectures, you can usually also enter and leave the classroom for washroom breaks without asking for permission. If you are late to arrive, take a seat as quietly and quickly as possible without disrupting the professor's teaching. If you have to leave early, tell the professor before class begins. When you are unsure of classroom etiquette, you can always ask your professor during office hours.


Tutorials are common for lecture courses. They provide an opportunity for smaller group discussions. All students are expected to participate in group discussions. In some cases, grades are given for attendance and active participation.


Many science, math, and engineering courses have laboratory (lab) work, which involves practical projects done in small groups under the direction of a teaching assistant (TA). You must pass the lab in order to pass the course.


Seminar courses offer smaller classes that are less formal than lectures. They encourage discussions and sometimes involve presentation work. Students are graded on presentations and participation.

Problem-Based Learning

Rather than listening to a lecture, students solve real-life problems in Problem-Based Learning classes. Work is done in small groups under the guidance of the professor.

Student evaluation

On the first day of class, your instructor will hand out a course outline or syllabus that you will follow throughout the term. It will provide important details on class readings, exams, and assignments. At university, students are expected to take charge of their own learning and success, so be sure to see your professor for the syllabus if you missed the first lecture. You will also be responsible for any course material you may miss during the term. There are three main methods of student evaluation at UBC:

Class participation

In many courses, you will be expected to discuss your opinions, ideas, and perspectives related to the coursework, readings, and assignments. You may even be graded on your participation. The goal of classroom participation aligns with the broad academic skills of critical thinking, connecting and creating ideas, and defending perspectives or arguments. Therefore, memorizing lecture notes and course materials is important but often not sufficient for the best results.


Instructors may assign term papers, essays, problem sets or other assignments like group projects, oral presentations, or lab projects.


Most courses have two major exams: mid-term and final exams. Your courses may have one mid-term halfway through the term or several mid-term exams throughout one semester. Final exams occur at the end of each semester during exam periods in December and April. Exams will test your knowledge using varying formats, such as short/long answers, essay questions, true or false, and multiple choice. Make sure you familiarize yourself with common key terms and content words used in essay questions, such as analyze, contrast, compast, prove, and explain.

Final exams

You’ll have to be available for exams during the entire exam period. Exam schedules are posted in mid-October (Term 1) and mid-February (Term 2). Don’t make arrangements for end-of-term travel until you see your exam schedule. Prepare for your exams by:

  • Taking a Learning Commons workshop on exam preparation
  • Getting your readings done well in advance
  • Visiting the exam database to review old exams
  • Checking your personal exam schedule online at the Student Service Centre
Exam clashes and hardships

When the exam schedule comes out, check to make sure you don’t have any exam clashes or hardships. Visit the exams page to find out more about clashes, hardships, and other exam scheduling policies, and how to deal with them.

Missing an exam

There are a few legitimate reasons for missing a final exam:

  • A sudden illness or injury
  • An appointment for surgery that cannot be rescheduled
  • The death, sudden onset of a life-threatening disease, or serious injury of your spouse/partner, parent, sibling, child, or grandparent
  • The birth of your own child
  • A car accident on the way to your exam
  • Religious restrictions concerning observance of designated days

If you have a legitimate reason, you will need to show proof. Contact both your dean’s office and your instructor before or shortly after the exam. For more information on UBC’s exam policies, visit the Student Services exams page.


Undergraduate classes are taught by professors. Some courses will have teaching assistants (TAs). Be sure to speak to your professor or TA if you:

  • Cannot submit your assignment on time
  • Don’t understand a concept that was covered in class
  • Are feeling overwhelmed by your course load due to circumstances outside of the course
  • Need more information about an essay, project, or other assignment
Office hours

Most instructors hold office hours which are times you can drop by to discuss course materials, assignments, questions, and other concerns. You can also schedule an appointments with professors and TAs. 


Each professor is different but student-faculty relationships are different at university than they might be in secondary school or in other countries:

  • Relationships are informal and you may hear students call some instructors by their first name 
  • Students may respectfully challenge and question their instructors in class or in office hours
  • It’s considered inappropriate for instructors to date their students

Plagiarism and citation

Plagiarism is the act of submitting the intellectual property of another person as your own. It is one of the most serious of academic offences. Penalties for plagiarism may range from a failing grade in a course to suspension from the University. Acts of plagiarism include:

  • Copying all or a part of another person’s work and presenting it as your own
  • Purchasing a paper from someone (or a website) and presenting it as your own 
  • Re-submit your work from one course to fulfill a requirement in another course

Intellectual property includes ideas, arguments, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, or results of research.  When you use excerpts from someone else’s work in your essay, paper, or presentation, you must acknowledge the original author in a footnote or another accepted manner of citation. The UBC Library can help you with proper citation.

University Regulations

It is your responsibility to be aware of University regulations. A complete listing of academic regulations that apply to every student at UBC can be found in the “Policies and Regulations” chapter of the UBC Calendar. For more information, visit the Library’s web page on how to cite or the UBC Learning Commons guide to avoiding plagiarism

Academic resources

UBC offers a variety of academic services and resources to help you succeed: