Dr Chris Lima offers ten top tips on the basic concepts tutors and learners should keep in mind during EAP programmes.


EAP stands for English for Academic Purposes, which typically means that learners are those who need English to study at university level either in an English-speaking country or in any other country where English may be the medium of instruction (EMI) at higher education level. In the last two decades, the process of globalization and the consolidation of English as a lingua franca have led to a considerable increase in the number of students who want to enter undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in English, either on face-to-face, blended or distance-learning courses.

EAP provision is usually divided into two categories: pre-sessional and in-sessional programmes.

  • Pre-sessional programmes are those in which EAP is taught to students who want to get into university but do not have the language proficiency level to be accepted. The EAP tutor’s job is to help students improve their general language level to the equivalent of IELTS 6–7 while also preparing them to meet with the challenges of reading, writing, listening and speaking in English in a Higher Education (HE) context.
  • In-sessional programmes are those in which language learners are already attending university but still need language support to be able to deal with the demands of submitting assignments, attending lectures, engaging with the academic community and doing research in English.

Whatever the EAP programme (pre-sessional or in-sessional), whatever the degree level (undergraduate or postgraduate), whatever the form of delivery (face to face, blended or distance learning), there are some basic concepts EAP tutors and learners should keep in mind. Here are my top ten.

1. Read, read, read

Studying at HE level requires a great amount of reading. Make sure your students understand, from the beginning, that nobody can successfully complete a degree programme without being a good and prolific reader. There are no shortcuts. However, you can help your students develop some reading strategies in order to be able to cope with such a large amount of reading. Train them in scanning (reading quickly to find a particular piece of information) and skimming (reading a text quickly in order to work out the key topic, main ideas etc). Help them to develop the ability to select the books and articles that are most relevant at particular stages of their courses.

2. Write

At HE level, reading almost inevitably leads to writing, especially in the form of essays and reports. Make sure the lessons and materials you design for your students always include a certain amount of writing. Short summary paragraphs and sentence writing to practise paraphrasing can be done in class but you should leave longer paragraph writing and drafts to be written as homework.

3. Listen

Although the supremacy of reading and writing can hardly be contested, listening is also a very important skill for students to develop, especially keeping in mind that HE students have to attend lectures and seminars. Your EAP listening activities should help learners become more effective listeners and be able to identify speakers’ stance, spot arguments and counterarguments, and take brief notes on what they hear. Above all, your activities should help students understand the importance of having a critical stance towards what they hear while keeping an open mind and being respectful to the speaker.

4. Speak

Participating in seminars and delivering presentations are important aspects of the academic life. Design your EAP course to include opportunities for learners to practise these skills in a safe environment. Organize group seminars, reading groups, mini-presentations and poster competitions – they will all help learners to hone their oral communicative skills.

5. Understand academic discourse

Academic language can be quite different from the language of everyday communication when it comes to levels of formality and the style of the writing, not to mention the vocabulary specific to each discipline. There are plenty of good academic sources available on the internet to help EAP learners to get familiar with academic grammar and vocabulary. Encourage your students to make use of these guides and demand that they observe the language and written conventions of their (future) field.

6. Develop critical thinking skills

Critical thinking is one of the mantras of academic life. Broadly speaking, it means the capacity to make clear and well-informed judgements about the validity and implications of claims and ideas. Design activities that require higher-order thinking skills, such as comparing and contrasting points of view, establishing a hierarchy of values, fully justifying answers and choices, defending positions students personally disagree with, imagining possible future scenarios, and considering consequences and implications of actions and opinions.

7. Be more independent

Moving into HE can be a shock for students who are used to having their programme of study, reading and learning activities well planned for them by their teachers and parents. EAP students need to get used to organizing their own studies, being mindful of their deadlines and managing their time by themselves. Design homework activities that require learners to decide on their own reading, do independent research and work in groups without your assistance.

8. Join the academic community

Entering HE is like joining a new tribe: you need to get to know the new people, understand the jargon they speak and, basically, know who is who. EAP students should start creating their own academic and professional networks as soon as possible. Try to create opportunities for students to attend student conferences, participate in poster competitions and publish their good-quality essays. Involve them in the activities of the department as much as possible.

9. Be honest

Joining the academic community means being responsible for your own work and formally acknowledging the ideas and the work of others. Make sure your students understand the importance of the concept of academic honesty right from the first lesson and the serious consequences they would face if they plagiarize. Point your students towards the tutorials and specific training your institution offers to help them to avoid the trap of plagiarism.

10. Read, read, read

And so we return to the most important skill of them all. Although reading strategies can be helpful, nothing replaces careful and deep reading. Try to create an atmosphere in your EAP course that fosters extensive and critical reading and motivate learners to read widely in both their field and across disciplines. Set up an online reading group and encourage your students to create an academic reading circle so they can support each other with long and more complex academic papers.