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It’s not too long now until many of you will have your first days, weeks and months at university. Practically everybody will have some sort of anxiety surrounding their transition from school to uni, so don’t feel alone if you genuinely have absolutely no idea what’s going on.

At first, there can be a bunch of new terminology to get your head around. Considering you’ll be trying to adapt to a new teaching style, people, campus and expectations, terminology might be the least of your worries. That’s why we’ve constructed a short list here of terms you should know. It’s definitely not exhaustive, but it’s a start! You can find out heaps more about uni in this thread: How University Works.


Contact hours

The number of hours you’re required to spend on the university’s campus per week. If you add up all the hours you’re timetabled to spend in labs, tutorials, lectures and seminars (plus any other formal teaching session), that number represents your total contact hours. This number will vary degree to degree. For example, a degree in Engineering or Laws will typically require more contact hours than a degree in Arts. It also depends on the individual student, however – individual units may be more demanding than others in terms of time requirements.

Note that having 20 contact hours, for instance, doesn’t mean you have to spend precisely 20 hours per week on campus. In some teaching outcomes, attendance will be non-compulsory. You may also spend many more hours on campus for independent study/to chill out.

Credit points

Points awarded for successful completion of a subject. Nearly all subjects are worth the same number of credit points, but others can be worth more. That’s why each degree requires a certain number of credit points, and not a certain number of subjects, in order to graduate (because you might take a particularly intense subject worth twice the number of regular credit points).


CSP stands for “Commonwealth Supported Place”. This means that the Australian Government is subsidising a lot of your degree, so you pay smaller fees than someone in a full-fee place.


An overarching administrative body to which your degree belongs. For example, the Faculty of Science might include degrees such as a Bachelor of Science, a Bachelor of Biomedicine, a Bachelor of Applied Science, and so on. Your faculty may have particular requirements or standards for academic work, and you’ll go to them if you need help, but otherwise you shouldn’t worry too much about what faculty you belong to. In some cases, you may even have more than one applicable faculty (if you’re doing a double degree, for instance)!


Acronym for “Grade Point Average”. This is usually counted on either a 7-point or a 4-point scale (depending on your university). The GPA indicates your average mark across all of your units. On a 4-point scale, for example, a High Distinction may be worth 4 points; a Distinction may be worth 3 points, and so on. A 4.00 or 7.00 GPA (depending on scale) is the equivalent of a perfect 99.95 ATAR.

On a day-to-day basis, your GPA doesn’t mean too much, and is rarely if ever discussed. But it might become important for employment, exchange or other opportunities. You can find Monash University’s excellent explanation of how the GPA is calculated here. The University of Melbourne does not provide a GPA, instead emphasising WAM (see below).

Hurdle requirement

An assessment task or attendance requirement you have to pass in order to pass the unit at hand. If an assessment is not a hurdle requirement, you could feasibly fail that task, but still pass the unit. If you fail any hurdle requirement, you can’t pass the unit.


A colloquial acronym for first-year university students. “Just Another _______ First Year”. You fill in the blanks (we like to think the F denotes “Friendly”)! It sounds harsh, but is generally said with affection.


The stereotypical university class (but it’s definitely not the only type of university class). You sit in a lecture theatre (traditionally hierarchical rows of seats), listen to a lecturer, and take notes. It usually involves one-way communication, but some lectures may involve interaction or group discussion. You can read more about the ins and outs of uni lectures here.


A major is an area of specialisation. In a standard three-year undergraduate degree with 24 subjects, a major is a concentration of eight subjects taken in a particular area (e.g., Philosophy).

Mid-semester break

Don’t let the name fool you: this break isn’t always in the middle of the semester, and it’s rarely a break. But it’s a one-week non-teaching period (so, you don’t have classes) at some point during the semester. You might use this week to catch up on readings, work on assignments, or do literally nothing uni-related and then lament that decision later on. It’s up to you.


Like a major, a minor is an area of specialisation, but involves fewer units (and is subsequently “worth” less) than a major. In a standard three-year undergraduate degree with 24 subjects, a major is a concentration of four subjects taken in a particular area (e.g., Biology).

Non-teaching period

Any period in which the university isn’t running regular classes. For universities operating with a semester-based year, there are holidays (non-teaching periods) over summer and winter. Each semester also has a mid-semester break and SWOTVAC (see below), which are non-teaching periods, but not quite the same as “holidays”.


Taking more than a full-time load of university subjects. For the traditional model of two semesters per year where four units is considered a full-time load, a student overloading takes 5 units or more in a single semester.


An abbreviated form of “Orientation Week”. This usually occurs the week immediately prior to the first week of classes for the semester. You should go to your first O-Week; subsequent O-Weeks may be less necessary. They typically involve introductory sessions (which may or may not be compulsory), administrative matters, and an opportunity to join clubs and societies.


The gloriously horrible period after the semester finishes, but before exams commence. It’s the name we give to the intense period of exam revision that’s usually one week in duration. Stereotypically (and perhaps typically), students use this period to cram before exams (but constant revision throughout the semester/trimester is definitely preferable!).


Typically a learning environment more reminiscent of a high-school classroom. Tutorials cater for 5-30 students, and may involve class discussion, group work or other activities. They are usually designed to complement that week’s lectures or other reading materials.


Taking less than a full-time load of university subjects. For the traditional model of two semesters per year where four units is considered a full-time load, a student overloading takes three units or fewer in a single semester.


A specific subject. Typically, you will study four units per semester. A specific subject might be something like “Chemistry 1”.

Unit code

For sake of ease, each unit typically has a corresponding “unit code”. This might look something like FIN1011 (naming convention changes a little uni to uni). Generally, the letters represent the type of unit – so, in this case, “FIN” for Finance. And the numbers are also often representative. For example, a code beginning in a 1 might denote a first-year unit; a code beginning in a 2 might denote a second-year unit, and so on.


Your “Weighted Average Mark” – basically, your average score for your units across your degree to date. For example, a WAM of 72.00 suggests that, on average, you’ve achieved a 72 for each of your units. It’s an alternative to GPA; some unis (and potentially employers) consider both.