Mathematicians have always been fascinated by numbers. One of the most famous problems is Fermat’s Last Theorem: ie if n≥3, the equation xn+yn=zn has no solutions with x, y, z all nonzero integers. An older problem is to show that one cannot construct a line of length 3√2 with ruler and compass, starting with just a unit length.
Often the solution to a problem will lie outside the confines within which the problem has been posed, and theories must be constructed in order to prove a claim. This is true here, and you will see the second problem solved in your course; the first is far too deep and was famously solved by Andrew Wiles.
These are questions in pure mathematics. In applied mathematics we use mathematical concepts to explain phenomena that occur in the real world. For example, you can learn how a leopard gets its spots, examine the intricacies of quantum theory and relativity, or study the mathematics of stock markets.
Mathematics at Oxford
We will encourage you to ask questions and find the solutions for yourself. But in order to do so, you must have a solid grounding in the concepts and the methods. In one sense, you will ‘start from the beginning’. We will teach you to think mathematically and so will start with careful definitions from which we build the edifice. Above all, Mathematics is a logical subject, so you will need to argue clearly and concisely as you solve problems. For some of you, this way of thinking or solving problems will be your goal. Others will want to see what further can be discovered. Either way, it is a subject we want you to enjoy.
This degree prepares students for employment in a wide variety of occupations in the public and private sectors. Recent Mathematics graduates include a managing director of an international school in Hong Kong, an analyst for a professional services organisation, a PhD researcher in geophysical fluid dynamics and an IT consultant.
Christina is currently a Senior Research Fellow at University College London doing mathematical modelling applied to healthcare. She says: ‘I think having a degree in Maths from Oxford definitely opened doors and made people more open and receptive to letting me do things I didn’t have any experience in. The course required a lot of self-discipline and motivation, so I had the confidence to believe I could tackle completely new things.’
Students interested in this course might also like to consider the three joint degrees with Mathematics.
There are two Mathematics degrees, the three-year BA and the four-year MMath. You will not be asked to choose between the degrees until your third year.
The first year consists of core courses in pure and applied mathematics (including an introduction to statistics). The core part of the degree is completed in the first term of the second year, introducing complex analysis and ideas from topology. Options also start in the second year – five long options and three short options are taken – with the third and fourth years offering a still wider variety of courses, with some options from outside mathematics. The fourth year will, naturally, be more challenging, when some of the courses offered will be shared with students reading for graduate degrees or require study by means of guided reading.
New MMathPhys Fourth Year
From 2015/16, the Physics and Mathematics Departments in Oxford will jointly offer a new integrated masters level course in Mathematical and Theoretical Physics. Mathematics students will be able to apply for transfer to a fourth year studying entirely mathematical and theoretical physics, completing the degree with an MMathPhys. The course features research-level training in Particle Physics, Condensed Matter Physics, Astrophysics, Plasma Physics and Continuous Media. Read more about this fourth year.
A typical weekly timetable
In the first two years, you will attend eight to ten lectures a week, with one or two tutorials and one or two classes within your college. In your third and fourth years, when you specialise, you may have fewer lectures, combined with classes.
In your first year, you will also have classes to develop computing skills, using mathematical packages to solve problems related to your studies. Later, there is practical work associated with options in numerical analysis and statistics.
Compulsory first year includes:
AssessmentFirst University examinations:
Five compulsory papers
AssessmentFinal University examinations, Part A: Two core papers and six optional papers
|3rd and 4th years|
Large variety, which may vary from year to year, ranging across: Algebra; Analysis; Applied analysis; Geometry; Topology; Logic; Number theory; Applied probability; Statistics; Theoretical mechanics; Mathematical physics; Mathematical biology; Information theory; Mathematical finance; Actuarial mathematics; Undergraduate Ambassadors Scheme; Dissertation; Mathematical philosophy; Computer Science options; History of Mathematics
3rd year: Final University Examinations, Part B: Four papers or equivalent
- A-levels: A*A*A with the A*s in Mathematics and Further Mathematics (if taken)
- Advanced Highers: AA/AAB
- IB: 39 (including core points) with 766 at HL
- Or any other equivalent (see details of international qualifications)
Candidates are expected to have Mathematics to A-level (A* grade), Advanced Higher (A grade), or Higher Level in the IB (score 7) or another equivalent. Further Mathematics is highly recommended.
The majority of those who read Mathematics will have taken both Mathematics and Further Mathematics at A-level (or the equivalent), but this is not essential. It is far more important that you have the drive and desire to understand the subject. Our courses have limited formal prerequisites, so it is the experience rather than outright knowledge which needs to be made up. If you gain a place under these circumstances, your college will normally recommend suitable extra preparatory reading for the summer before you start your course.
All candidates must also take the Mathematics Admissions Test (MAT) as part of their application. Please see how to apply for further details.
All candidates must follow the application procedure as shown in how to apply. The information below gives specific details for students applying for this course.
You do not need to submit any written work when you apply for this course.
All candidates must take the Mathematics Admissions Test (MAT), normally at their own school or college on 5 November 2014. Candidates must make sure they are available to take the test at this time. Separate registration for this test is required and the final deadline for entries is 15 October 2014. It is the responsibility of the candidate to ensure that they are registered for this test. See www.matoxford.org.uk for further details.
Applicants will be shortlisted for interview, to a ratio of around three applicants per place, on the basis of the test score and UCAS application. Further details can be found on the department’s website: www.maths.ox.ac.uk.
What are tutors looking for?
We will be looking for the potential to succeed on the course. A good mathematician is naturally inquisitive and will generally take advantage of any opportunity to further their mathematical knowledge. While AEA and STEP papers are in no sense part of our entry requirements, we encourage applicants to take these papers, or similar extension material and papers, if they are available.
If interviewed in Oxford, you are guaranteed at least two interviews, which will be predominantly academic. You may be asked to look at problems of a type that you have never seen before. Don’t worry; we will help you! We want to see if you can respond to suggestions as to how to tackle new things, rather than find out simply what you have been taught. Ultimately, we are most interested in a candidate’s potential to think imaginatively, deeply and in a structured manner about the patterns of mathematics.
Candidates may wish to refer to the selection criteria for Mathematics.
Reading lists for prospective Mathematics applicants can be found on page 11 of the departmental prospectus, available to download from the Maths Department website.
Chris, 2nd year
'The Mathematics course is absolutely fantastic and is essentially problem-solving on a daily basis, which I love. You attend lectures to learn the material and then complete problem sheets on the topics. Certainly, for me, the most rewarding aspect of mathematics is solving problems, especially when they have been initially unyielding, or seemingly unapproachable; and this is right at the core of the course.
I chose to read mathematics at university because I have a real passion for the subject, and wanted to gain a deeper understanding of some of the beauty it holds. I’ve found the course has really pushed the boundaries of what I thought I could achieve, which is extremely rewarding.'
Ed, who graduated in 2010
He is now a Financial Consultant at Oliver Wyman. He says:
‘Oxford has given me the opportunities to get where I am today through two main areas in my personal development: academia, as the drive and discipline required to complete a degree at Oxford have to come from yourself; and the interpersonal skills developed through sport, student politics and relaxing in the bar with some very bright and interesting people.’
The Key Information Sets provide a lot of numbers about the Oxford experience – but there is so much about what you get here that numbers can’t convey. It’s not just the quantity of the Oxford education that you need to consider, there is also the quality – let us tell you more.
Oxford’s tutorial system
Regular tutorials, which are the responsibility of the colleges, are the focal point of teaching and learning at Oxford. The tutorial system is one of the most distinctive features of an Oxford education: it ensures that students work closely with tutors throughout their undergraduate careers, and offers a learning experience which is second to none.
A typical tutorial is a one-hour meeting between a tutor and one, two, or three students to discuss reading and written work that the students have prepared in advance. It gives students the chance to interact directly with tutors, to engage with them in debate, to exchange ideas and argue, to ask questions, and of course to learn through the discussion of the prepared work. Many tutors are world-leaders in their fields of research, and Oxford undergraduates frequently learn of new discoveries before they are published.
Each student also receives teaching in a variety of other ways, depending on the course. This will include lectures and classes, and may include laboratory work and fieldwork. But the tutorial is the place where all the elements of the course come together and make sense. Meeting regularly with the same tutor – often weekly throughout the term – ensures a high level of individual attention and enables the process of learning and teaching to take place in the context of a student’s individual needs.
The tutorial system also offers the sustained commitment of one or more senior academics – as college tutors – to each student’s progress. It helps students to grow in confidence, to develop their skills in analysis and persuasive argument, and to flourish as independent learners and thinkers.
The benefits of the college system
- Every Oxford student is a member of a college. The college system is at the heart of the Oxford experience, giving students the benefits of belonging to both a large and internationally renowned university and a much smaller, interdisciplinary, college community.
- Each college brings together academics, undergraduate and postgraduate students, and college staff. The college gives its members the chance to be part of a close and friendly community made up of both leading academics and students from different subjects, year groups, cultures and countries. The relatively small size of each college means that it is easy to make friends and contribute to college life. There is a sense of belonging, which can be harder to achieve in a larger setting, and a supportive environment for study and all sorts of other activities.
- Colleges organise tutorial teaching for their undergraduates, and one or more college tutors will oversee and guide each student’s progress throughout his or her career at Oxford. The college system fosters a sense of community between tutors and students, and among students themselves, allowing for close and supportive personal attention to each student’s academic development.
It is the norm that undergraduates live in college accommodation in their first year, and in many cases they will continue to be accommodated by their college for the majority or the entire duration of their course. Colleges invest heavily in providing an extensive range of services for their students, and as well as accommodation colleges provide food, library and IT resources, sports facilities and clubs, drama and music, social spaces and societies, access to travel or project grants, and extensive welfare support. For students the college often becomes the hub of their social, sporting and cultural life.