The tutorial system
The academic year at Oxford starts in October and is divided into three eight-week terms, known as Michaelmas, Hilary and Trinity Terms. There are six-week vacations at Christmas and Easter and a Long Vacation in the summer. Undergraduate courses last three or four years depending on the subject being studied.
Central to academic life at Oxford is the tutorial. This is your opportunity, once or sometimes twice a week, to discuss your work with a specialist tutor, usually a Fellow or Lecturer of the college to which you belong. Where the field of study is particularly specialized and is not covered by any Fellow or Lecturer (normally later on in your course), Queen’s arranges for you to be given expert tuition by a tutor in another college. The weekly tutorial is the heart of your week’s work, your chance really to discuss a topic in depth, but it is supplemented by faculty classes, seminars, lectures and laboratory work. In some subjects you will also attend classes in College.
The character of tutorials varies from subject to subject. Sometimes you will be on your own, sometimes paired with another student. Undergraduates are usually expected to present an essay, solutions to a set of problems, or some other project. The tutor’s role is to assess this work and, through discussion, help undergraduates to think clearly, critically and creatively about their chosen subject. Often this is a two-way process, a dialogue which is equally stimulating for tutor and student and which will orient your work in new directions. The tutor will have given substantial guidance on what books or other material to read and how an essay or project should be approached, but the ultimate aim is to learn how to work effectively on your own. The Oxford system encourages independence and originality, structured by discipline.