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Durham University

Durham Centre for Academic Development

Pre-sessional Programmes

Our Pre-sessional programmes are open to students who hold an offer for a Durham University degree programme and have narrowly missed their language condition. Students with unconditional offers are also welcome to take the course.

The deadline for applying to any of these programmes is two weeks before the course start date, but you should apply as soon as possible to allow enough time for application processing and to apply for your visa.

The Summer Pre-sessional courses are 20, 10 or 5 weeks long, and are designed to help you develop the academic language and literacy skills you will need to succeed in your academic department.

We also have an 8 week 'Pathway to PhD' course designed for students whose first language is not English who have an offer to pursue PhD studies at Durham. This course is open to students who have narrowly missed their language condition as well as those have met the language requirement but wish to develop their language and literacy skills in preparation for their PhD.

Course Information

Which Pre-sessional course should I take?

We offer 20, 10 and 5-week Summer 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.

We also offer an 8 week 'Pathway to PhD' course specifically for PhD students who have a January start date for their PhD course.

I have an unconditional offer; can I take a Pre-sessional course?

Yes. You can take the 5-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 is Pre-sessional taught?

Summer Pre-sessional is an intensive course and you will be in class between 15-18 hours per week. There is also significant homework and you should expect to study for a minimum of 10-15 hours per week in addition to your class time.

The 'Pathway to PhD' course is more intensive, and you should expect to be in classes, courses or tutorials for approximately 20-22 hours per week, as well as the additional 10-15 hours per week of self study. However, you will have a 3 week break from classes over the Christmas period to write final assessments, as the course is split with 6 weeks before the break and 2 weeks afterwards leading directly into your program- see next tab for more information.

How many students are in a class?

You will taught in classes of approximately 16 students on the Summer Pre-sessional.

What will I study on a Pre-sessional course?

Summer Pre-sessional

In addition to focused work on language skills, Pre-sessional students engage in extensive reading and through this process develop an awareness of academic culture and conventions at British universities. 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.

'Pathway to PhD'

This is a full time course covering English language and research skills. Students will develop their Academic English through a variety of tasks devised in cooperation with their prospective supervisors. These may include:

  • Presentation and seminar skills
  • Developing a research proposal
  • Attending lectures and producing summaries
  • Critical evaluation of texts
  • Developing skills in organising long pieces of work (thesis chapters)
  • Report writing

Students will also attend courses appropriate for their discipline delivered by the Durham Researcher Development Programme. These may include:

  • Research skills and techniques
  • The research environment
  • Research management
  • Personal effectiveness
  • Communication skills
  • Networking and team working
  • Career management

What does a week on Pre-sessional look like?

In general, students should expect to be in classes most mornings and some afternoons. There will usually be one day a week allocated as self-study time, to allow you to work on reading, assessments and homework.

Below is an example timetable from a typical week on Summer Pre-sessional:


Writing: Introductions and Conclusions

Writing: Argumentation

Speaking: Managed Essay group presentations


Writing: Paragraph structure (1)

Writing: Exemplification


Writing: Referencing

Speaking: Timed Essay seminar

Discipline Workshop


Self-study day


Timed Essay 1

Writing: Noun phrases

Discipline Workshop

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 level required by your department.

The assessments on the the 20 and 10-week programmes include:

  • A 1,500-2,000 word essay based on extensive reading
  • A reading into writing task under timed conditions
  • A 10-minute presentation
  • A lecture listening test

The assessments on the 5-week programme include:

  • A short process essay
  • A 1,500 word essay based on extensive reading
  • A 10-minute presentation
  • A lecture listening test

The assessments on the 'Pathway to PhD' are designed in conjunction with your academic department, and will include:

  • A 3000 word piece of written work
  • A 10 minute presentation
  • A listening test

Is there a social programme?

The College experience is an important part of a Durham degree and during Pre-sessional we offer Pre-sessional students the full ‘college experience’.

Most students stay at Josephine Butler or one of our other pre-sessional colleges during the course and are offered a full and varied social programme including formal dinners, clubs, sports, entertainment nights and a local mentor to help you adjust to life here in Durham.

Course Details


Start Date

End Date

Cost (GBP)

Apply Before

20 Week*

27 April 2020

18 September 2020


March 2020

10 Week

13 July 2020

18 September 2020


June 2020

5 Week

17 August 2020

18 September 2020


July 2020

‘Pathway to PhD’
(8 weeks)**

2 November 2020

15 January 2021


September 2020

* The 20 week course has a 2 week break after the first 10 weeks of the course

** The 'Pathway to PhD' course has a 3 week break over the Christmas period (11 December- 4 January)

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!