Oxford's core teaching is based around conversations, normally between two or three students and their tutor, who is an expert on that topic. We call these tutorials, and it's your chance to talk in-depth about your subject and to receive individual feedback on your work.
As well as tutorials, depending on your course you will also have a combination of seminars, lectures, lab work and language classes each week. Together, these opportunities provide the perfect environment for an outstanding education.
Tutorials are central to teaching at Oxford. They offer a very rare level of personalised attention from academic experts.
Each week I was required to complete one or two several thousand word essays, ticking off sources from the reading list as I went by. I was encouraged to read beyond the facts, to make my own assumptions and to prove and disprove theories. Another shock was that - for the first time - my opinion actually mattered. Rather than simply regurgitating the textbook, tutors were asking me what I thought.
How does it work?
Usually students have one or two tutorials every week, often taking place in their college. Tutorials normally last about an hour, during which the tutor will give you feedback on prepared work on a particular topic. They may also use the opportunity to introduce a new topic and discuss this.
At the end of the tutorial, your tutors will set a new piece of work for you to get ready for the next. During the following week you will be expected to work independently to complete this.
A tutorial relies on the exchange of ideas so you need to be ready to present and defend your opinions, accept constructive criticism and listen to others. Such regular and rigorous academic discussion develops and facilitates learning in a way that just isn't possible through lectures alone.
Tutorials are a fantastic way to explore ideas and get new perspectives. They develop your ability to think for yourself – an essential skill for academic success and something that the best employers look for in Oxford graduates. Regular tutorials also allow for close progress monitoring so tutors can quickly provide additional support if necessary.
Weekly classes: seminars, labs, practical sessions
As well as teaching in tutorials, many courses have seminars and/or practical sessions each week. These might cover specific areas of your course, or concentrate on developing your language or other particular skills. These may be compulsory or optional depending on the course. The quantity of these classes is also likely to vary depending on the stage in the degree.
Some courses have more weekly classes to allow students to develop the specific skills they need for their subject. For example, medicine, science courses and languages will have more practical classes every week.
These classes might also give you an opportunity to find out more about the current research being undertaken by academics in your subject department.
Seminars, lab work and other practicals are organised by your subject department, so visit the course pages to find out more about what your course may offer.
Lectures: extending your learning
Lectures cover important topics relating to your course, and are organised by your subject department. Different courses vary in the number of lectures that students have to attend each week, and at each stage of the degree.
Science subjects tend to have a lot more lectures than arts or humanities subjects and these are normally compulsory. Lectures are intended to supplement and support your independent studying and give information that will be relevant to what you are studying that term.
Oxford also offers a whole range of fascinating talks on different subjects which are available for anyone to attend. See what else you might be interested in hearing about by visiting the University events listings.
Lectures are organised by your subject department, so visit the course pages to find out more about what your course may offer.
Workload: how busy will you be?
All our undergraduate courses are full-time, and on average our students spend around 40 hours a week studying. Every student will manage their time differently, making sure they can fit in all their studies, hobbies and interests. Learning how to juggle all your commitments is an important part of managing your time.
As an Oxford student you will be expected to spend a good proportion of your 40 hour week studying independently.
Every course involves slightly different independent study, but the basic principle is the same no matter what you study. Around your tutorials, lectures, seminars, labs, or other classes, you'll be expected to do your own research, usually by going through a given reading list.
In this way, you will develop your knowledge and understanding in order to work your way through problem sheets or complete an essay. At your following tutorial, your tutor will feedback to you on the work which you present. Sometimes you will be expected to hand this in in advance of your tutorial or you may be asked to take it along at the time.
Independent study in arts or humanities degrees
You are likely to have a couple of hour long tutorials a week, as well as lectures and classes, but will be expected to manage most of your time yourself.
When you're preparing an essay you will be given a reading list to start from, and you will need to find the books in your college or department libraries, or in the main University libraries.
Independent study in science subjects
Typically, science courses are more structured as they include time in labs or on fieldwork.
When you're preparing a problem sheet or an experiment, you will be given a reading list to start from, and you will need to find the books in your college or department libraries, or in the main University libraries.
Managing your time
Students approach their work in their own way: whilst some people like to tackle an essay straight away, others prefer to wait for a looming deadline! Whichever style suits you, Oxford gives you access to all the resources you need. For instance, the 24 hour opening of many college libraries in Oxford - plus vast amounts of online resources like Oxford University podcasts - mean that you can always find what you need to do your work, whether you are up with the lark or prefer to hang out with the night owls.
…it initially felt like a bit of a culture shock as the onus to motivate yourself and get all of the reading and work done is completely on you.
New to time management?
If you haven't managed your own time or studied independently before starting at Oxford, then don't worry. All our new students will have different experiences of working, and that's why we offer a lot of support at the start of your degree to help you develop the skills you'll need. The type of help you can expect could include:
- support from your tutor to get you started
- an induction to your department or faculty library, with explanations of where things are and how you can find them
- many courses will also offer you study skills and time management training
The University also has a lot of guidance about managing your time, and writing essays; for instance take a look at these really useful videos about:
Find out more about our academic year.