The first of May is celebrated across the world, no less so than here in Oxford. The day begins the night before, as the most popular dance nights swing into town for all night parties, ending just before six in the morning. At daybreak, as the sun rises, the townspeople and students congregate together underneath the Tower of Magdalen College, on the High Street and Magdalen Bridge, for what is a special occasion each year in Oxford.
As the sun rises on the thousands of revelers underneath the tower, many in their dinner suits and ball gowns from the night before, the choir of Magdalen College begin to sing from the top of the tower, something that has happened there on May Morning for five hundred years!
After the singing of the Hymnus Eucharisticus, there is a prayer for the City and University. Then the wider festivities begin, from brass bands to Morris Dancing troops, the city’s streets are filled with traditional entertainment to welcome in spring. Finding people dressed as trees is not uncommon as one winds one’s way through the crowds and into the many pubs and coffee shops which open early for the revelry.
After a pint, or more likely a large coffee it is time to roll back into College, grab breakfast and then collapse in the library for another day at the books (or more likely fall asleep on the quad!)
It is not an experience to be missed for any Oxford Student: completely bizarre and a smashing good time!
The Tutorial is structured around the essay you write. Before you go to the tutorial you will write an essay on a question set by the tutor, they will give you some reading to do and from that you will write them an essay before the tutorial itself. If this sounds a little scary then don’t worry! Not only will you have all the reading, but you will also have the residential deans (all Oxford students or alumni) to give you advice. Once you’ve written the essay the next stage is the tutorial itself. The tutorial will take your essay as the starting point for the discussion, the tutor will work through the argument you’ve made and take the discussion from there.
I found, as I had my first tutorials here at Oxford that I really had no idea how to write a good essay, but my fears were quickly allayed. While I wasn’t happy with what I had written my tutors were so helpful in guiding my arguments, helping me to understand what I had missed and how better to present it in my essays.
The good news is that along with your tutor at Oxford Summer Courses, the Residential Deans are there to give you advice. When you leave us at Oxford Summer Courses I can guarantee that you will not only have more confidence in writing your essays, but you’ll be writing better essays!
The discussion of your essay in the tutorial can be invaluable if you find that you’ve missed out some important content, or missed an argument – or (hopefully) whether you’ve managed to cover all the content you needed to! As you talk about your argument you’ll also see how you could improve your essay structure, you’ll also get comments from your tutor on the essay, which will help you with writing the next one.
This is incredibly valuable since writing essays is vital both at school and university, but it is really quite difficult to get right. It took me a long time to work out how to do it well. But, unlike submitting an essay to a teacher or to a lecturer you will be able to talk in detail about what you wrote with the person you’ve submitted it to. This is incredibly valuable and one of the best things about the Tutorial.
For these blog posts I thought I would write a series on the value of the tutorial system of teaching. Oxford and Cambridge, as I noted in an earlier post, are rightly famed for the tutorial system of teaching, which sees you taught by a tutor in groups no larger than two or three (and often one-on-one).
You can see my earlier blog post for more on the system in general, but it is one of the things which makes Oxford Summer Courses so special, we teach our courses through tutorials rather than lectures or workshops, making sure you get a true taste of Oxford’s education system!
In the next few blog posts I will cover some of the benefits of tutorials, including how they improve your essay writing skills, how they improve your self-confidence, how they help you better understand your subject, and how they help you learn to defend your argument. These are all different aspects of the tutorial system and each one deserves a blog post in its own right.
So check back in a week or so for the first installment: “How Tutorials at Oxford Summer Courses help improve your essay writing skills”