What is learning like at Oxford? | University of Oxford
Learning at Oxford
Learning at Oxford

What is learning like at Oxford?

Some students want to study their favourite school subject at university, others want to learn about something new. Choosing a course is the most important decision students make when applying to university. We know it can be difficult to decide, but what matters most is that your child chooses a course they really want to know more about and will enjoy studying. Whatever their degree course, our students have a choice of exciting careers when they finish here.

How can they choose the right course?
There are several different ways to pick the right course to study.

  • A favourite subject - Some people have a favourite subject from school that they want to study at university. It is worth looking at the detail of what is involved in the course, as some subjects can be quite different at university than at school.
  • Several subjects combined - Oxford offers a range of ‘joint’ courses, which are different subjects studied together at the same time. This means that students can explore different subjects they are interested in, and see how they can work together.
  • Something new - There are also lots of courses that are not normally available at school, for example Archaeology and Anthropology, Biochemistry, and Human Sciences. These courses are perfect for students who want to learn about something new that fascinates them.
Are courses at all universities the same?
Courses at different universities can be very different, even if they are called the same thing. It is a good idea for your child to look at the detail of what is involved in the course to make sure it covers what they are interested in.
 
What are courses at Oxford like?
There are a wide range of courses at Oxford, but they have some things in common.
  • All of our courses last at least three years, but some can take four or five. This is usually if they include a year abroad or an extended project.
  • All of our courses include essential topics, plus various options that students can choose from, depending on what they are most interested in.

What grades are needed to get in?
The grades that a student gets at A-level (or equivalent) make a big difference to the university courses that might be open to them. Students also need to have studied certain subjects to be able to apply for some courses.

To make a strong application to Oxford, a student would be expected to get three A-levels (or equivalent). The grades they need vary depending on the course they apply to, and many successful candidates actually get higher grades than these, but it is usually around:

  • A-levels: A*A*A-AAA
  • If your child is taking any science A-levels, they are also expected to take and pass the practical components.
 

Oxford teaching is different to most other universities. Each student gets a great deal of personalised attention from their tutors, whilst also being encouraged to learn independently.

How are students taught at Oxford?
Students at Oxford normally receive regular tutorial teaching during term time. A tutorial is a conversation on a course topic, usually between a tutor and two or three students, and lasts about an hour. During this time, they will talk about what the students have been learning that week and they will be given feedback on prepared work. Depending on what course they are doing, this may be on an essay or a problem sheet.

Are there other types of teaching?
As well as tutorials, students also attend lectures, where a tutor talks to a large group about a topic. They might also have weekly classes with a group of students. Some courses, particularly science ones, have practical sessions in laboratories or fieldwork out and about.

Do they also study on their own?
At Oxford, students are expected to do a lot of work on their own. This often involves working through a reading list of books, writing an essay or completing a problem sheet of questions. Students work on these tasks independently, but their tutors may be available to answer questions and give support. This style of working means that students can learn to manage their time very well. Students doing science courses with practical work are likely to work less on their own that  those doing essay-based subjects like History or English.

Are there exams?
Courses at Oxford are mainly assessed by exams but, depending on the subject, might also involve projects or long essays. In most courses, students take exams in their first year. They must pass these, but they do not count towards their final class of degree. Over the next years, students work towards ‘final’ exams, which usually take place in their last term. The results of these exams decide their class of degree.

Students work hard at Oxford, but there is plenty of support available, and lots of libraries and other facilities make this as smooth as possible. We do our best to make sure that all students, whatever their circumstances, are able to get the most from their course and time at Oxford.

Who can they go to for support?
Every student at Oxford is given a personal tutor, who oversees their studies. They might not always be taught by this person, but it means there is someone they can go to with questions or concerns. This tutor gets to know each student very well, and can give them a lot of personalised attention and support.

What if they have specific needs?
If your child has any particular needs – for example, if they are eligible for extra time in their exams or need specific IT equipment – the Disability Advisory Service is there to help them get the support they need. To help cover any additional costs, your child may be eligible for the Disabled Students’ Allowance.

What about libraries and places to learn?
Students also have access to amazing facilities to help with their studies.

  • Oxford libraries -Students have free access to most, if not all, of the books they will ever need, and plenty of quiet places to study. They will be trained to use the libraries, and our expert staff can help your child make the most of the huge number of printed and online books and information available.
  • Museums and galleries - Oxford has seven museums and collections. These are great to explore in spare time, but are also used by students on a wide range of courses.
  • The Language Centre - Students at Oxford don’t have to be studying a language degree to be able to learn a language whilst they are here. We have a centre that runs classes for everyone from beginners to experts. Learning a language here can help your child’s future, whether in their studies, their career, or travel.