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Durham University

Durham Centre for Academic Development

Pre-sessional Programmes

UPDATE: We will be offering 20, 10 and 6 week Online Pre-sessional programmes in 2021 for entry to courses starting in October 2021.

Our Pre-sessional programmes are open to students who hold an offer for a Durham University degree programme. Programmes are suitable for both those who have narrowly missed their language condition and those with unconditional offers for their main programme.

This year, all pre-sessional courses will be offered online only, due to the ongoing restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic. There is more detail on this in the FAQ section below.

The Summer Pre-sessional courses are 20, 10 or 6 weeks long, and are designed to help you develop the academic language and literacy skills you will need to succeed in your academic department. To see more details of the courses, click 'Apply Now'.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

How has Coronavirus affected the courses?

Due to the current global pandemic, the decision has been made to provide all pre-sessional courses via online learning only. This means we will not be providing any face to face teaching in Durham during the pre-sessional courses. See next question for more details.

The Admissions team have provided some advice for applicants affected by the pandemic here.

What is the Online Pre-sessional?

This will be our first year as a fully online pre-sessional and our main goal is to ensure you receive an excellent pre-sessional experience that prepares you for your Durham programme.

We are working closely with Durham University’s learning technologists, who have considerable expertise in this area, to adapt our existing programme to the online environment and to ensure we offer high-quality provision.

The course will be taught by the same highly qualified, experienced teachers who would have been delivering the face to face programme, and they will receive specialist training to ensure they can deliver the online programme to a high standard.

More details on the specifics of the course have been answered in the other questions below.

Which Pre-sessional course should I take?

We offer 20, 10 and 6-week Online Pre-sessional courses suitable for both Undergraduate and Postgraduate students. The length of course you should take depends on your current IELTS score and your department’s language requirements.

You will need to complete a short induction course in the week before the start of your programme.

I have an unconditional offer for my main programme; can I take a Pre-sessional course?

Yes. You can take the 6-week or the 10-week course. Many students with unconditional offers find the course offers excellent preparation for their degree programme.

Please note, however, that you will still need to the pass the course in order to progress to your department.

How will pre-sessional be added to my offer?

The relevant pre-sessional length will be added to the start of your main programme, and you will receive an updated offer.

How is Pre-sessional taught?

Despite being an online learning course this year, you will be expected to participate in activities, discussions and video classes with your teacher and classmates on a daily basis (Monday-Friday) within our Virtual Learning Environments (VLE).

We provide full course materials digitally, along with detailed answers, examples and supporting video content.

You will also still have homework and assessment tasks to complete and submit, as well as being expected to dedicate significant time to reading and studying relevant materials.

We will be expecting you to be spending at least 25-30 hours a week on your pre-sessional studies while engaging in the above activities.

This is broadly the same course as you would have received in Durham, simply delivered digitally, so you will still have a 'class' with dedicated tutors and a small number of classmates that you can get to know. Within your class, you will have regular opportunities for video conferencing and access to dedicated discussion space to work on academic tasks, share questions and ideas and work together in developing your learning.

In addition to class time, you will have frequent one-to-one contact with your tutor to discuss your learning, progress and work you have produced. You will also get regular, detailed written feedback on work produced to help you improve.

How many students are in a class?

You will generally be taught in classes of approximately 10 students on the Online Summer Pre-sessional, but these may be further broken down into smaller groups for discussions or to work on specific tasks.

What will I study on a Pre-sessional course?

The course covers the 4 skills of Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking, but in addition to focused classroom work on language skills, Pre-sessional students will also engage in extensive reading. Through this process they develop an awareness of academic culture and conventions at British universities, and by the end of the programme students are linguistically and culturally better prepared for the demands of higher-level study in the UK, and, more specifically, at Durham University.

Students who take Pre-sessional usually find the course extremely beneficial for their future studies on their Durham degree programmes. This is because we teach essential skills not covered by 'English' courses such as IELTS preparation.

The skills you will learn on Pre-sessional include:

  • Effective reading & navigation of academic articles and other text types
  • Notetaking skills
  • Summarising arguments from several sources and synthesising these in order to express an academic position
  • Learning to avoid plagiarism through effective notetaking strategies, drafting and re-drafting of writing, and academic acknowledgement (citation and referencing)
  • Giving formal presentations and participating in / leading discussions and seminars
  • Developing effective lecture listening skills

These are precisely the kind of skills you will need to cope with and succeed on your degree programme.

What does a week on Pre-sessional look like?

In general, students should expect to be working through directed activities and exercises each day (Mon-Fri) in order to effectively participate in class discussion, followed by a virtual classroom teaching session. There will also be additional ongoing and project work, with time allowed for you to work on reading relevant materials and complete assessments and homework. You will have regular scheduled meetings with your tutor.

How will I be assessed?

In order to pass the course you will need to attend 90% of all classes, submit all assessments, and achieve the exit level required by your department.

Assessments include written tasks based on extensive reading (that you will write in your own time and submit by a specific deadline) and presentations on a topic covered during your studies. With all assessments, you will have multiple chances for feedback and development. There will also be informal assessments and tests designed purely to help you develop your skills.

Is there a social programme?

Durham is keen to ensure that our distance learning students still get to enjoy some of the College Experience that makes Durham special. To ensure you are able to develop your social speaking and listening skills and learn about life in Durham, Josephine Butler will offer an ‘online College experience' for all pre-sessional students that will include social and pastoral activities.

How do I pay for the Pre-sessional Course?

You can check how much your Pre-sessional tuition fees are in the 'Apply Now' section. Payment for your Pre-sessional course tuition fee is required within 2 weeks of the course starting, but we strongly recommend you pay in advance to avoid any issues.

Payment can be made via a range of methods, including bank transfer, direct debit and Flywire options. You can check the details for how to make these payments here.

If a student leaves the pre-sessional programme for any reason within the first two weeks, they will not be charged for the programme. If the student leaves the programme after the initial two week period, there will be no automatic entitlement to a refund, but a partial refund may be offered at the discretion of the programme team.

Course Details


Online Induction Starts

Course Start Date

Course End Date

Cost (GBP)

Apply Before

20 Week* Online Pre-sessional

29 March 2021

6 April 2021

27 August 2021


22 March 2021

10 Week Online Pre-sessional

14 June 2021

21 June 2021

27 August 2021


7 June 2021

6 Week Online Pre-sessional

12 July 2021

19 July 2021

27 August 2021


5 July 2021

* 20 week students have a short break between the first 10 weeks of their course and the second 10 weeks.

Application process

Undergraduate students:

If you would like to take a pre-sessional course in order to meet your language condition, you should contact the admissions enquiry team (with your language certificate) to see if you are eligible for a pre-sessional course - get in touch here.

Postgraduate students (including PhD):

If you are eligible to take a Pre-sessional course, this condition should be added automatically to your Durham University offer once it has been issued. You can then choose whether you wish to attend the Pre-sessional course or re-take a language test instead, as a way to meet your language condition.

You can do this by selecting the pre-sessional option from the drop-down menu next to your offer on your applicant portal dashboard.

If you have not had a Pre-sessional condition added to your offer, and think you should have, please contact us via your applicant portal to see if it can be added- it may be that you need to provide more (or different) evidence of your current language ability, or we may need to contact your academic department.

If you have already met your language condition, but wish to take Pre-sessional for the boost in skills and experience, you can contact us via your applicant portal or our enquiry form to request this be added.

Student Feedback

"I would like to say the 3-month period when I took pre-sessional course in DCAD has been one of the most fantastic periods in my year 2018. To be honest, I felt quite depressed when I knew I have to take the pre-sessional course because I did not meet the request for the IELTS test at first. However, I ended up gaining a lot more than the IELTS score! I not only learnt knowledge about academic reading and writing, but also met the greatest teacher and classmates in this summer. I do appreciate the pre-sessional course!"

Zhang, Zhenrui (Iris) (MA TESOL DCAD)

"It was a wonderful experience, I learned a lot of useful academic learning skills, which helped me get ready for my department. What's more, I got 2 more months than other students to know about Durham, this beautiful town. I loved it."

Xueyan Ouyang (LLM Law)

"It has been my pleasure and privilege to be here at the pre-sessional course, and it is fair to say that this has been the best experience after three English schooling experience in US universities! …I value and appreciate the hard work of all the pre-sessional team, the lovely and brilliant people who are working hard to making this programme a remarkable place! Thank you, all indeed!"

Ahmad Ashaye (MSc Islamic Finance Business School)

"It was a good opportunity for me to take part in the pre-sessional course in Durham. Throughout the three-month course, not only could I learn more about academic writing, but also I got accustomed to life here faster than I thought. I am able to improve myself through teachers' feedback as well as seminars with classmates. I also met many fantastic friends and brilliant teachers during the summer, and most of them remained good friends even after the course finished. Josephine Butler College supported us by organizing various activities such as Wolf Night, Harry Potter's Night and various travels. This period of life is so fulfilling that I believe I will never forget it."

Fang, Wuyun (Skylar) (MA TESOL DCAD)

"I am really appreciate that I can take part in the pre-sessional course. The atmosphere of the class is fantastic, wonderful Jane, lovely Katy and interesting classmates…I learned lots of academic writing skills which helped me a lot in the LLM study. It is a memorable experience."

Chen Zhuang (LLM Law)

"This summer was the best summer which I have ever had! In this summer I studied a lot about how to write appropriate academic essays, such as the structure of academic writing, what content should we write about, and note-taking skills. After three-month's of learning, I feel more confident in academic writing. The EAP course divided us into different groups based on our major, and many sessions were related to our main course. For example, I study in TESOL, so reflective writing was taught. These helped me a great deal when I started my main course. Our teacher also taught us many life tips besides academic writing, what impressed me most is “noticing”, not only observe in the study but also in daily life. Therefore, it is the best choice to have the EAP session whether whatever your IELTS score."


Student Blog

Name: Lifeng Xu

Course: MA Translation Studies

Year of study: 1

I’m very lucky that I took this year’s pre-sessional course. Although it lasted for only four weeks, less than a month, but still I feel it is very helpful to both my future academic studies and my life in the UK.

As a foreign student, I felt a little bit nervous before I came to the UK because I have never taken any courses oversea and I’m not familiar with the education system in the UK. However, Durham’s pre-sessional course offered a great opportunity for us to get used to the academic life and enable us to be more prepared for the future courses. During the pre-sessional, the main task for us was to get good command of how to write an academic essay and improve our presentation skills. It was combined with lectures and seminars. Some lectures helped us to understand our essay topic better, other lectures helped us learn some useful technique such as how to cite correctly, how to search for more useful materials on the library website and so on. Our teachers were very nice and patient. They used technologies to make the class more vivid and attractive. The course was detail-oriented. We started from how to understand a broad topic to how to write a paragraph and how to form a completed section, which really solved many problems we have while we are writing an academic essay. Apart from that, we also had many opportunities to do presentations based on our essay, which gave a chance for us to practice presentation skills that are needed for the future study. The teachers always gave feedbacks in time, and we really learned a lot from their feedbacks.

We were all members of Josephine Butler College when we were studying in the pre-sessional course. Josephine Butler College played an important role during that month. It really helped me to feel comfortable in a foreign country far away from home. All the students in pre-sessional course had a mentor. We had a mentor night every Tuesday evening. My mentor would tell us interesting stories and famous area about Durham city. We also discussed things about the University and traditional events in the UK. Josephine Butler College also held formals and balls for the pre-sessional students. These were very unique experiences for us and is also a great chance to make new friends. The best part was that we have trips to other cities every Saturday. My friends and I visited York, Edinburgh and Alnwick Castle and had a wonderful time when traveling.

To sum up, I feel every day in the pre-sessional course is useful and meaningful. I really appreciate that I had this great opportunity to spend such a wonderful time with my lovely school mates and the pre-sessional team!