Glossary of Terms and Reference Guide

The definitions on this page are meant as a guideline to help new and prospective students understand some of the terminology used at the University. In some cases information on this page is specific to the Faculty of Science.

Select a letter:

If the word you are looking for is not here it may be on the Future Student Glossary on the University of Sydney site.

Advanced course

These are advanced degrees for students (eg. Bachelor of Science (Advanced)) with excellent results in the HSC. Usually this is limited to students who receive high ATAR or excel in one particular science subject. It is a requirement of these degrees that approximately half of your course is studied at the advanced level.

Assumed knowledge

For some units of study, a student is assumed to have passed a relevant subject at the HSC and this is called assumed knowledge. While students are generally advised against taking a unit of study for which they do not have the assumed knowledge, they are not prevented from enrolling in the unit of study or course. (See also Prerequisite.)

Students without the relevant Assumed Knowledge may like to investigate Bridging Courses.

Bachelor's degree

The highest undergraduate award offered at the University of Sydney. A Bachelor’s degree course normally requires three or four years of full-time study (or the part-time equivalent).


The grounds on which the University is situated.

Combined Degree

Combined degrees or combined courses allow students to complete a course of study which leads to the award of two degrees, they are usually five years in length and very popular as they allow students to combine a range of interests at University.

Combined Degrees


A coursework program of study may include a component of research (see entry for Research) however other forms of instruction and learning will normally be dominant i.e. lectures, practicals, tutorials and examinations.


Credit can be given for previous studies (usually from TAFE or another university) which shortens the length of your studies at Sydney.

Credit Points (cp)

A measure of value indicating the contribution each unit of study provides towards meeting course completion requirements. Each unit of study will have a credit point value assigned to it, normally 3cp or 6cp in Science.

A certain number and type of credit points must be accumulated in order to be eligible to graduate in each course - the number and type required for each course are detailed in the Handbook.


The head of a faculty. eg. The Dean of the Faculty of Science.


A university qualification, such as Bachelor's degree, Master's degree or PhD. We also refer to degrees as courses.

Discipline (also School)

A section within a faculty that relates to a specialist area. The Faculty of Science is made up of Schools, Units and Disciplines, each of which relates to a specific area e.g. The School of Physics or the the Discipline of Human Nutrition which is part of the School of Molecular Bioscience.

Schools and Disciplines teach the Units of Study in the Faculty and each has it's own offices, staff and website.

School and Discipline websites


See Science Elective.


Enrolment is the process by which you officially accept your degree offer and become a student at the University. You will register (choose) your units of study (or subjects) for the coming year and pay fees owing to the University.

Students must first apply for a degree program, then recieve an offer and lastly they must come in to enrol if they wish to take up that offer.

UAC entrants must enrol on their allocated enrolment day or make alternative arrangements otherwise they risk losing the place they have been offered.

Enrolment for new students.

Enrolment for continuing students.


Headed by a dean, a faculty is a formal part of the University structure, responsible for all matters concerning the courses that it supervises. As well as having it's own offices and staff, a Faculty consists of a number of Schools and Disciplines in specific subject areas.

As a student in a Science course you will be in contact with the Faculty of Science for all queries regarding your overall enrolment and with the Schools and Disciplines within the Faculty regarding individual subject areas and units of study.

Generalist course

The Bachelor of Science can be regarded as a generalist course. It allows you the choice of over 30 majors in one course using one UAC choice and has a very flexible structure.

See also the entry for specialist courses.

Who might want to study a generalist course like the BSc?

  • Students looking for flexibility in their studies
  • Students who wish to specialise in any of the 30+ majors offered in the BSc
  • Students who are unsure which science area to study
  • Students who may wish to transfer into a Science specialist course later


What you are when you've finished your course! It is also a term used to describe a course offered only to graduates e.g. Graduate Diploma.

Students complete their course by studying all the required units and achieving the required results and then graduate through a formal ceremony where they are given their testamur (degree certificate.)

Graduation information


Some courses may be completed “with Honours”. This usually involves the completion of an additional Honours year. In Science this is generally a research year.

Honours are awarded in a Class (Class 1, Class II, Class III) and sometimes there are two divisions within Class II.


It may help to think of junior, intermediate and senior units of study as being first year, second year and third year units respectively.

When structuring your course you will need to take a certain number of Junior units before you can progress onto the Intermediate units of study which are in turn the basis for Senior units - a major is usually a certain number of Senior units in one area of study.

This terminology is in use because the flexibility of some courses means that students may not necessarily take all their Junior units in their first year, Intermediate in second year etc.

A weighted average mark takes into account the level of study (junior, intermediate or senior) not the year it was taken in (first, second or third).


See entry above for Intermediate.


One of the three main methods of teaching at uni. Unlike high school, where you may be in a class of 25-40 other students doing the same subject, at university you will go to lectures, where the lecturer (university teacher) will give a talk to sometimes more than 200 students. You will take notes during the lecture, and it is usually a one-way process (that is, the lecturer talks and you listen!).

As well as lectures, you will also attend tutorials and (depending on the subject) laboratory practicals (or 'pracs') which are always much smaller. This is where you will get a chance to interact with the academic staff, clarify questions and put forward your own ideas.


In Science, a major is an area of specialisation in the senior or third year. It is a certain number of units of study in one subject area and the requirements for each major are in the Science Handbook. In the BSc and some other Science courses, students must complete at least one major and may choose to complete a second.

Majors in the Bachelor of Science

Mature Age

At Sydney Uni, this means that you will be 21 years or older on 1 March of the year in which you want to study, and have not completed the high school qualifications you would normally need to gain entry.

See the Mature Age Entry scheme information for more details.


A term used to describe a course leading to an award such as graduate diploma, a Master’s degree or PhD, which usually requires prior completion of a relevant undergraduate (or diploma) course. A 'postgraduate' is a student enrolled in such a course.

Practical classes

Like science at school, most science and technology subjects have practical classes. Students can check the Handbook for the number and duration of the practicals in each unit of study.


A prerequisite is a unit of study or HSC subject that is required to be completed before another unit can be attempted. In the Faculty of Science, courses have assumed knowledge rather than prerequisites, however units of study (subjects) within a course may have prerequisites.

Unit of study prerequisites are listed in the Handbook.

Progression requirements

Some courses in the Faculty of Science have progression requirements. These are unique to each course and are specified in the Handbook. These would usually require students to maintain a certain average grade in their course, either in specific units of study or overall in their studies.

Generally, students in specialist courses who do not meet progression requirements for their degree are moved into the Bachelor of Science.


A course in which at least 66% of the overall course requirements involve students in undertaking supervised research, leading to the production of a thesis or other piece of written or creative work, over a prescribed period of time.

Honours in Science is usually a research year. A PhD is one of the most well known postgraduate research programs. It is also possible to study a Masters by Research.


At the University of Sydney, this can mean the same thing as a department, or a few departments grouped together. See entry for Discipline.

Science elective

In the context of units of study and degree structure in the Faculty of Science handbook, the term Science Elective refers to any unit of study offered by the Faculty of Science which you are allowed to enrol in as part of your course and which will count towards the completion of your course.

An elective unit in this same context refers to any unit offered in the University, not just the Faculty of Science.

Some units of study are only available to students in specific courses and therefore cannot be chosen as electives by students in other courses.


A semester is the academic teaching period of about 14 weeks duration.


See entry above for Intermediate.

Specialist course

A defined award course, which requires the completion of a set units of study as defined by the rules for that course. A specialist course will appear with the award course name on testamurs e.g. Bachelor of Psychology.

Students who would like more flexibility in their degree structure may like to look at a generalist course (see entry on this page).

Talented Student Program

The Talented Student Program is a special program of study intended for students of exceptional merit who are enrolled in courses administered by the Faculty of Science.

Talented Student Program


An umbrella term, to include all providers of education after secondary school. This includes universities, TAFE colleges and private colleges.


A class where you get to discuss the concepts talked about in lectures in more detail. Also known as a 'tute'. This is where you get to participate in the subject, and will be expected to have done readings, perhaps some writing, and occasionally present a paper.


The official name for the degree certificate that students receive at their graduation. The award conferred is displayed along with other appropriate detail.

Universities Admissions Centre (UAC)

The Universities Admissions Centre (UAC) receives and processes applications for admission to undergraduate courses at recognised universities in NSW and the ACT. An ATAR is a measure of overall academic achievement in the HSC that assists in ranking applicants for University selection.


A term used to describe a course leading to a Diploma or Bachelor’s Degree. An 'undergraduate' is a student enrolled in such a course.

Unit of Study (UoS)

Units of Study are the building blocks (or subjects) which make up a course. They are taught by Schools or Disciplines within Faculties and cover specific information within that School's area of expertise. Eg. one UoS in the School of Biology will cover "Living Systems" and another UoS will cover "Human Biology" and so on.

Students pick the UoS they want to do according to their area of interest, the course they are in and their course structure (as laid down in the Handbook). They are worth a specific number of credit points (3 or 6 in Science) and most last for one semester. Most courses recommend that full time students take four 6cp units of study in each semester.

Units of study taken as part of a student's degree are listed on their academic transcript which is given to a student on graduation along with their testamur (degree certificate).