What is an Oxford tutorial like?

Most tutorials start with a searching question and a list of sources to help guide your response to that question over the next week. As you go about your research, you arrange your thoughts and opinions to form your argument. It is this argument that you then need to explain and justify to your tutor at your next tutorial. Once your tutorial is over … your tutor gives you another question for the next week.

Some thoughts from students at the end of the programme on their tutorials

The speed, research quality, and style of my writing was stretched and improved far more than I thought could be possible in one semester.

 

It felt very welcoming and intellectually stimulating. Where I could act like a scholar and discuss my ideas with someone who is interested and passionate about similar subjects.

 

I woke up every morning excited for what the next day’s research would bring and for the opportunity to put my thoughts and arguments to paper. To have not only survived, but enjoyed, such a rigorous academic experience has given me a boost of confidence that graduate studies truly is the path I want to travel down.

 

The material is fantastic, the essay questions are engaging, and the list of secondary sources provided is supremely helpful.

 

We had fruitful discussions, and my tutor helped create a wonderful learning environment. I looked forward to meeting weach week and asking about the various questions that came up as I researched and wrote my essays.

A student looks back on her tutorials at Oxford

I think it’s important to go into tutorials with a good sense of humor because, honestly, tutorials are intense. Every idea and argument gets questioned, challenged, minutely examined with an attentiveness that is unsettling. But the very things that make tutorials so daunting—their individuality, their newness, the feeling of there being nowhere to hide—are also what make tutorials so incredibly wonderful and transformative. It’s okay to be daunted or uncertain at first. That fear goes away.

At Biola University, I majored in sociology with an emphasis in social work, but for Michaelmas Term 2017, I decided to study philosophy and political theory. I had never studied either topic in depth before, but since I had always been deeply fascinated by politics and engaged with political texts and themes as often as I could, I figured this was the perfect opportunity to dive right in. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

And it was a good idea; although, it took me a long while to recognize that. Both my primary and secondary tutorials (and four mandatory lectures) were scheduled at the beginning of the week, with two essays due on the same day. So I began the term in a state I can only describe as panicked. Struggling through those first two essays, I was convinced that I had made a huge mistake by pursuing a discipline I hadn’t been trained in, that my prior ignorance of the subject meant I would never be able to write something worth reading. The rich delight and fascination I had experienced during British Culture seemed like a thing of the past. I didn’t know what I was doing. I briefly doubted whether I had ever truly written an essay. I felt like a fraud.

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Angela King: what is a tutorial in Oxford like?

Joy came to temper that humility. While I never felt completely satisfied with my abilities, or arguments, or essays, (A good thing! Complacency is the enemy of growth.) I did grow in my assurance that I could do the work. More quickly than I had thought possible, the laborious grappling with books and concepts became manageable, enjoyable. The bitterness of doubt was replaced with the zest of challenge, the sweetness of triumph, as my tutors required me to examine my thoughts, notice my assumptions, articulate my own opinions and either defend or refine my arguments. (Pro-tip: the question is a question, not a prompt, and requires an answer, not a musing.) The topics were rich, the sources engaging, and many a time I would walk through the university parks almost humming with pleasure at the ideas I had just encountered in the library, the conversations I had just left, the arguments I could discuss with friends as soon as I climbed the hill back to the Vines. Initially so perplexing and humbling, tutorials developed into a steadying sort of rhythm, underlying and enhancing my enjoyment of all of my other experiences in Oxford. When I returned to the US, I was constantly referring back to authors I had read and ideas I had discussed with my tutors, and I was profoundly grateful for the way they shaped not only the content but the method of my thinking.

Since then, I’ve read more and written more and graduated from college, but Oxford will always hold a treasured place in my memory. I’m currently working towards graduate school and a degree in political theory. And I owe that dream to Oxford—and tutorials.

Angela King, a student from Michaelmas term (Fall) 2017

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