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Hilary Term

Written by Eleanor Sanger, posted on Wednesday, January 17, 2018

We're currently in the first week of Hilary Term, which is when undergraduates will start this term’s lectures, tutorials and classes. Despite being the term when you’re most likely to get the worst of the weather (except the snow, which is always welcome in Oxford’s beautiful quads), there are plenty of things to look forward to in Oxford during the second term of the academic year.

But before we go into that, a brief history lesson. This term is known as ‘Hilary Term’ because it’s named after St Hilary, whose feast day is on 14th January. A bit of trivia for you – we’re one of only three places in the country that use these name (the others being the University of Dublin and Deepdene Students walking through Tom QuadSchool). Its use as the name for a term originates in the legal system, with the legal years of the courts of England and Wales having four terms – Hilary, Easter, Trinity and Michaelmas. In other universities this term is known as Lent, Epiphany, or Candlemas.

In lots of respects, there are similarities between Michaelmas Term and Hilary Term, such as in the likely set up of your teaching and the number of essays or problem sheets you’ll do. In many cases you’ll be moving on to new topics in your second term of any academic year, starting on new papers that form part of your course, but you might also carry on with topics that you made a start on in a previous term.

If you’re really unlucky, you might even have exams this term. Your first university exams are either ‘Prelims’ (short for ‘Preliminary Examination’) or ‘Mods’ (short for ‘Moderations’), and while most of these are taken at the end of Trinity Term of your first year, for some subjects (such as Classics) you’ll take them during Hilary Term of you second year. This means you get bragging rights when everyone else is stressing over exams in first year while you’re enjoying an Oxford summer, but does mean you have to do them when everyone else is making the most of an exam-free term.

In your later years, this will also be the term when you have to complete some of the dreaded coursework. Many subjects require you to hand in dissertations during this term, and some subjects such as English also have papers that are due in at some point earlier in term, so it’s a busy one for many Finalists studying arts subjects. But you’ll get through it – and then you’re on the final stretch towards completing your degree!

However, it’s not all work and no play. Both within college and further afield there are all of the usual entz offerings, such as bops, club nights and other activities, plus the further excitement of this being the term when the college balls start taking place. Although most will be during Trinity Term (either in A band at an Oxford ballaround 5th week or in 9th week once most of the exams are over), some colleges hold them later on in Hilary Term, giving you the perfect opportunity to get dressed up and find out what other colleges have on offer. There’ll be food, music, dancing, and many other forms of entertainment, and apart from anything it’s nice to have something like this to look forward to as you get through the cold and dark winter months.

This term also brings with it the countdown to Torpids! This is basically a big rowing event down on the river, with each college fielding teams of rowers who race against each other to try and ‘bump’ the boat in front, and therefore overtake them in the rankings. It takes place over the course of seventh week of Hilary Term, and is something that each college really gets behind – there’ll be plenty of people down at the river to watch, especially on the Saturday when the headships (the ultimate winners after the week of racing) are decided. So if you haven’t experienced the rowing side of Oxford before, this is a great chance to get your first taste of it!

Rowers racing on the river in OxfordThere’ll be plenty of other sporting events this term, including cuppers (between Oxford colleges) and varsity (between Oxford and Cambridge) matches in various sports, plus the all-important Oxford vs Cambridge boat race during the vacation. The banks of the Thames are always packed with students and alumni cheering on their university, and colleges such as Christ Church often have rowers in the ‘blue boat’ (Oxford’s boat in the race). This year Oxford will be aiming to retain the men’s title and take back the women’s title, so it’s sure to be an exciting day of racing!

So as you can see, there’s always a lot going on in Hilary Term, both in terms of work and the fun stuff that you can get up to in your free time - plus many more things that there just isn't space for here! Whether you're in your first year or your final year, or anywhere in between, Hilary Term has the potential to be great - so make the most of it!