Date of Publication: 15 May 2014
One of the great strengths of the tutorial system is that you are forced to defend your position. The benefit of having to present, clarify and defend your argument is that you are forced to take a side and get off the fence on important issues. This might seem mainly to apply to humanities, arts, and social science subjects, but it’s often the case in the “hard sciences” as well that key positions are up for debate, or at the very least their consequences and political implications. Often, unless you have to defend a position in reasoned (if sometimes heated) debate it’s difficult to see the full strengths and weaknesses of that position.
Having to defend your argument also sharpens your rhetorical and presentation skills, and improves your confidence, of course. But I think even more valuable is the fact that you know you will have to stick up for what you think. That forces you to make your mind up and genuinely think deeply and carefully about tricky issues.
Some tips for defending your argument in a tutorial:
First, you have to prepare your argument with a view to what sort of facts somebody unsympathetic to your position might bring up. How do you deal with those facts? Are they anomalies that can’t be explained by your account—or is the person disagreeing with you misinterpreting those facts? Can those facts be put into a different narrative that actually supports your argument? This is an important insight in any academic context (and in many contexts outside academia).
Second, the tutorial doesn’t end when the Tutor calls time on the discussion, there are wealth of books and articles out there to read, and if someone at Oxford Summer Courses has had a tutorial on the same topic then you will have all afternoon, and the next day to sit and talk together about it, to unpick the issues together and ask new questions of one another’s arguments that you hadn’t covered in your respective tutorials.