Lectures and Tutorials

Sections on this page:

  • How many lectures should I go to?
  • How do I choose which lectures to go to?
  • What happens if the Lectures offered in any given term don’t match up with what I’m studying in tutorials?
  • What can I expect from tutorials?
  • What happens if I don’t get on with my tutor?
  • How do I know how well I’m doing?

How many lectures should I go to?

Lectures at Oxford are not generally compulsory so that (with the possible exception of classes for some papers) there are no lectures that you absolutely have to attend (though in the theology faculty some lectures will be designated as ‘core’ lectures which you will be expected to attend). On the other hand, you (or your grant awarding body) are paying for the privilege of entitlement to attend lectures, so you might as well get your money’s worth. Besides, many of the lectures are very good, and lectures can often clarify or fill in points you missed in tutorials.

It is quite difficult to know in advance which lectures will prove useful. It may only be when you come to revise for Finals that you become grateful for some important insight that you managed to scribble down in a lecture note a year before. It is thus usually worth persisting with a course of lectures even if the lecturer appears to get off to an unpromising start, although if you really feel you are getting nothing from a particular course of lectures after the first two or three of the series you should, of course, give it up.

It is better to start with a coherent plan of about four to six hours of lectures per week that you mean to attend throughout a term and stick to it, than to rush along to everything in sight in the enthusiasm of First Week and give them all up in the essay crisis of Third Week. To repeat a point I have already made, lectures can often turn out to have been more valuable in retrospect than they appeared at the time, and you could be losing out on a valuable source of information and insight by not seeing a course through.

How do I choose which lectures to go to?

If you have not already got your own copy of your Faculty Lecture list, you can probably obtain one by asking at your Faculty office. The Theology Faculty also publishes a booklet giving details of what each course of lectures will be covering and I assume most other Faculties do the same. You should make it a priority to study the list and the fuller descriptions in Noughth Week each term.

An average of seven lectures per week is probably the absolute maximum you should consider attending if you are to give yourself sufficient time to complete your tutorial work. In some terms (particularly Michaelmas terms) you may find many more than this that look potentially useful or interesting. There is a tendency for the same lecture courses to come round again in subsequent years, so you can always make a decision to defer some of the useful-looking lectures to another year (but be warned that this is only a tendency and cannot be relied upon in every individual case). Beyond that, you will simply have to devise your own system of priorities and select the most useful-looking six or seven (or four or five).

Alternatively, and just as validly, you can choose from your short-list of potentially useful lectures on the basis of what will give you the most convenient lecture time-table. In Theology lecture provision for Prelims is often relatively thin. If this is also the case for your Mods or Prelims you should consider attending all the lectures that are relevant to the papers you are offering.

What happens if the Lectures offered in any given term don’t match up with what I’m studying in tutorials?

Frankly, this really doesn’t matter, since lectures are just as valuable (and in some cases more valuable) as revision for a subject already covered in tutorials as for an introduction to the subject. You ought to be able to complete all your tutorial essays on the basis of the reading lists provided; lectures on the same subject may prove helpful, but it is in no way essential to have covered a topic in lectures before attempting to write an essay on it.

What can I expect from tutorials?

In the standard Oxford tutorial (in humanities, science ones are different) you normally first read your essay and then your tutor discusses it with you. The style of discussion varies greatly from one tutor to another. Some launch into a monologue (in which case, don’t be shy about interrupting) while others will ask you a series of questions on the topic (at least one tutor I had has perfected the art of the leading question as a teaching technique), whilst many will offer a brief comment on your essay and then start a more informal discussion.

Provided you have put a reasonable amount of effort into your essay (for which see below) you should look forward to the tutorial as an opportunity for an interesting discussion on the topic you have just written about, rather than dreading it as an inquisition. Remember, the primary function of the tutor is not to sit in judgement upon your efforts but to help you pass your exams. Since tutors are generally enthusiastic about their specialisms, you can also expect them to respond well to a corresponding enthusiasm on the part of their students.

What happens if I don’t get on with my tutor?

This is unlikely to happen: all the tutors I have had have been entirely friendly and helpful. It could happen, though, that there is an unfortunate personality clash or that a particular tutor’s teaching technique is getting you nowhere. If that should occur, according to academic etiquette you are theoretically meant to raise your problem with the tutor concerned. In practice this may well be an impossible requirement, since if relations are strained the tutor in question will be the last person you want to discuss the problem with! In that case your best recourse is probably to request a change of subject tutor from your supervising tutor. I would repeat, however, that you will have to be very unlucky for such a situation to arise.

How do I know how well I’m doing?

Some tutors are better than others at signalling this within tutorials. The chances are, however, that if you are doing either very well or very badly this will be evident from the tutor’s response to your work. A non-committal response is thus likely to be an indication of a middle-of-the-road performance (though this is only a rule of thumb, and if a particular tutor seems discouraging it may be worth checking with his or her other students that this is not simply his or her manner: the classic example must be a tutor I had when reading Engineering Science at Oxford twenty years ago, who handed me back a practice Maths Mods paper I’d done over the vac with the comment “I can’t actually find anything wrong with this” in a tone of voice which suggested deep disappointment with my having achieved a paltry 100%).

At the end of term each subject tutor who has taught you will write a report on your work, and you will (normally) be allowed to see this report at the start of the following term. This report should give you a fairly clear indication of how you are doing. Another indication will come from the marks you get on your collections (for which see below).