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A guide to tutorials

Written by Eleanor Sanger, posted on Friday, February 2, 2018

A student in a tutorialTutorials are an intrinsic part of the Oxford experience, and they're one of the many things that have contributed towards giving Oxford its excellent reputation for teaching. But they can seem quite daunting if you’re not really sure about what will be involved, especially if you’ve heard the term but aren’t quite sure how it differs to teaching at school. So hopefully this will help to give you a bit more of an idea of what they’re like!

Essentially, tutorials are a session with you and your tutor, and perhaps one or two other students, where you discuss the previous week’s work, which will probably have taken the form of either an essay or a problem sheet, depending on your subject. You’ll spend the time going over your essay or problem sheet and talking in more detail about the issues that have been raised or the concepts that were covered. Your tutor will ask you questions about your work and, based on your answers, the discussion will develop from there.

They’re intended to make you think more deeply about the work you’ve already done, rather than specifically to teach you new things, as it’s expected that you’ll have done a lot of the actual learning of that particular topic in your own work during the week, such as through further reading or attending lectures. So once you’ve handed in that work, tutorials are great for allowing you to gain a valuable insight into the nitty gritty of your subject thanks to the input of an expert academic who’s giving you tutorials on that paper. A good way to think of it is as a great opportunity to learn directly from one of the leaders in your field!

If there are a few of you in your tutorial you’ll probably have all focused on a similar area or set of authors if you’re doing an arts subject, and if you’re a scientist you’ll have all been working on the same problem sheet or questions, so the discussion will centre Students in a tutorialaround that. The fact that there are a few students in there with you can help to settle your first tutorial nerves, as you’ll all be part of the conversation and you can actually learn quite a lot from what the other students contribute.

It’s important to prepare well for a tutorial as, although you’re not exactly being tested on the work that’s been covered, you’ll be expected to provide insightful contributions to what’s being discussed. So it’s not really the kind of thing where you can expect to just turn up and blag your way through it – especially if you’re on your own. Your tutor might challenge you at times – but it’s only to get you thinking!

Tutorials might seem slightly worrying before you get started, but once you get used to how they work you can actually start to enjoy them! They’re an amazing opportunity to discuss your subject with a tutor one-on-one, and they’re hugely beneficial for gaining a deeper understanding of what you’re studying, going beyond lectures and group work.