Blog: August 2017

2017 Excursions – Punting on the river Cherwell

Although our day trips offer students the chance to savour famous British landmarks and the heritage they represent, it is our packed schedule of extra-curricular activities that truly epitomizes Oxford culture. With each day of their stay with us, students immerse themselves in classic Oxford pastimes. Our student helper Hugo provides a first-hand account of the challenges and triumphs of one of the foremost of these; Punting –

Punting is one of the most well-known aspects of Oxford’s array of entertainment, therefore no course seeking to emulate the famous university experience would be complete without it. Sadly, not many students, or staff members for that matter, have had punting as part of their education curriculum. As such, what should be a lovely and relaxing evening experience is more akin to a rugby scrum on water. Chuckling chaos ensues as soon as there are more than two boats in close proximity.

“Not to worry”, you might say, “punting is an easy sport to master”. Not so, says I. As peaceful as it may seem to the onlooker’s untrained eye, punting is one of the most illogical water-based sports to ever have been invented. Presented with a long piece of metal scaffolding and a tiny wooden oar about the size of an average kitchen utensil, an unfortunate punter is expected to master this art form as if it were second nature. Even if there are no other brave adventurers on the water around you, the looming trees over the river provide ample opportunity for calamity.

After many individual struggles, it was only when a brave student on my punt decided that Oxford had gotten it wrong, and decided to punt in reverse, that the whole experience became somewhat practical. Leading from the back of the punt determinedly forward into the waters, this student seemed to have conquered the treacherous Oxford seas. However, our boat was soon on course for a collision with the co-founder of Oxford Summer Courses – Harry Hoare. In slow motion, our punt raced towards impact. Harry, attempting to stand firm, collapsed forward into the boat with the crash. After taking out Oxford Summer Courses’ high command, our punt decided that it was time to call it an evening, and sheepishly returned to the dry land.

Student Highlight –

We were moving very well by now, the fastest and ahead of everyone else. Suddenly, my paddle got stuck in the water! We were going so fast that I couldn’t stop and pull it back, so there it stood as we raced off. We looked back and luckily flagged another group for their help – but when they came by us, they pushed us so that we started turning in the other direction! Luckily we were next to the edge of the river, so I stepped off and head back to triumphantly recover my paddle. I managed to get it out but everyone was reluctant to let me back on because I made us lose the race… Funniest punting moment!

Posted: August 31, 2017

2017 Excursions – Warwick Castle

Continuing our showcase of what makes your time with us more than just a summer course, we revisit our trip to the history-steeped Warwick Castle. Read on for gallant knights, fearsome siege engineering and more –

On Saturday 15th of July, our Course 3 13-15 year old students embarked on a trip back in time to Warwick Castle. Warwick Castle is a medieval castle, orignally designed by William the Conqueror in 1068 and developed from the original structure since then. Situated on the bend of the river Avon in Warwickshire, England, the original castle built by William the conqueror was a traditional wooden mote and valley style castle. In the 12th century, this was rebuilt in stone; more closely resembling the castle today. The students were given the opportunity to go off in groups around the castle to explore the many different rooms and towers open to the general public.

We started off by exploring the Horrible Histories maze which educated us on what life was like in England during notable periods in British history; from the Terrible Tudors to the Frightful First World War. For those who successfully navigated their way around the maze, they were awarded a “War of the Roses” Badge. After the excitement of the maze, we stepped through the impressive iron gates of the castle’s main entrance onto the front lawn. Our first stop was the Great Hall, whose grandeur left us all standing in awe. With stain glass windows, coats of arms, numerous swords and many knights in shining armour, there was plenty to take in and enjoy.

After a break for a modern take on a hog roast lunch, we descended down to the Dungeons. Students were able to learn about what life was like inside the castle during the plague as well as be introduced to medieval torture techniques. Live actors and spooky sound affect made for a frightening experience for both staff and students alike!

Once everyone’s heart rates had returned to normal, we sat and watched the world’s largest working trebuchet in action. This impressive feat of engineering is 18 meters tall and weighs in at a staggering 22 tonnes! The trebuchet set up takes 8 men half an hour to load and release, with 4 men running in 4 metres high wheels to lift the 6 tonne counter weight into the air. It was designed to fire projectiles as far as 300 metres. This was the weapon of choice used during the War of the Roses. What our students found most interesting was the fact that it was often women who were in charge of operating the trebuchets and ensuring that they were fired exactly when needed.

A personal highlight of the day was being able to watch the birds of prey in action! A spectacular aerial display by the resident variety of birds of prey was put on despite the typical English summer rain. Red Kites, Bald Eagles, Eagle Owls and Giant Falcons were among the stars of the show. Eric the Eagle was up there with the Giant Falcon as one of the most awe inspiring, graceful and terrifying bird in the show! The sheer visible power behind their skilled flight and crowed dives left the children mesmerised.

Following a long day of exploring the rich English history at Warwick Castle, we headed back to Oxford for some well deserved banquets and plenty of sleep.

Posted: August 25, 2017

5 Useful Tips for Writing Essays

The essay is a particularly academic form of writing, where importance lies in the ability to demonstrate intellect and understanding of an argument. Therefore developing skills in essay-writing is crucial to success in your studies. We ask Victoria, a recent student helper on our summer courses in Oxford and a graduate from Lady Margaret Hall to provide 5 tips for writing a strong essay.


Essays that start off with a great opening keep the reader interested. Particularly in exam essays where the examiner will be reading hundreds of the same essay. Starting off with a cool fact, quote or a rhetorical question such as ‘did you know…?’can be effective. Another method is to begin the essay with a clear and concise statement outlining the importance and relevance of the essay topic. Both approaches can draw the reader in and make your essay stand out.

The introduction of an essay is one of the most important components. It is a place for background information on the subject you are going to be discussing. Additionally, the introduction should also include a brief outline of the content of the essay and should detail the order in which the key points of the essay will be explored. It is also a place to include any key definitions. The introduction can be thought of as a menu, it outlines the detail of the meal you are going to eat and the order in which the courses will be served.


A good essay structure is quite easy to achieve and is of great importance. Even in some final exams at the University of Oxford marks are awarded for a strong essay structure. The layout of a science essay will generally consist of a clear introduction followed by the main arguments of the essay split up into paragraphs and finally the conclusion. One useful tip for keeping clear sections is to have essay headings throughout, like the headings for each of the tips used here. Planning is vital to achieve a good structure.


Planning is also useful to ensure the essay flows well – to make sure the paragraphs link together. The plan is like making a booking for a meal, it ensures everything is organised such as the number of points and the order in which they are going to be made. A good flow makes an essay easy for the reader to follow. It is also important to make sure the arguments flow in a logical order, for example, in order of discovery.


It can sometimes be tempting to include points from all of the reading you have done when writing an essay. However, despite all of the time it has taken, you should only include relevant information, otherwise the essay loses focus. This is true for both unnecessary breadth and unnecessary depth. Being concise is a useful skill.


The conclusion is the place where the main points of the essay are summarised. It is not a place to introduce new arguments or ideas. The conclusion, along with the introduction, are the most important parts of the essay. Back to the meal analogy, the conclusion is like the desert – it can make or break a meal! If the essay has been strong throughout but there are weak conclusions it can ruin an essay. This is the last part a reader will consider, particularly for examiners as this is the last part they read before giving you a score. So, be sure to go out with a bang!

Victoria Pike was recently a student helper and has just graduated from Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford with a degree in Biological Sciences. She’ll be starting an Oxford Interdisciplinary Bioscience Doctoral Training Partnership later in 2017. Follow her updates on Twitter, @victoriapike95

Posted: August 21, 2017


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