The Oxford Tutorial


Date of Publication: 01 February 2016

One of the main appeals of attending an Oxford Summer Courses program is that we teach in a unique Oxford and Cambridge style of learning – this involves lessons being taught in small classes and tutorials which heightens teaching intensity and promotes a strong personal tutoring system. 

This way of teaching is unique to the Oxbridge collegiate universities and subsequently, hasn’t been previously experienced by the majority of students who come on our courses, making it a new and enlightening experience with great learning benefits. 


What is an Oxford Tutorial?

At the core of the teaching style at the University of Oxford and Cambridge is the tutorial – these are typically hour-long conversations between students (usually two or three) and their tutor (the expert on a specific subject). They offer a chance for you to talk in detail about the subject you’re studying and receive rigorous, individual feedback on your essays and other pieces of work.

As an open and relaxed forum for discussion, tutorials are designed as a safe space for students to try out new ideas, develop confidence and bounce knowledge between themselves, their peers and their tutor.

You should be ready to present and defend your opinions, accept constructive criticism on your work and be prepared to listen to others in the group. The central role of the tutor in the Oxford tutorial system is to help you reach the answers, not to tell you them. They’ll prompt you to think about your subject differently, provoking discussion on unfamiliar ideas and complex issues, helping you to think critically and creatively.

The Oxford tutorial system also recognises and reinforces the value of independent study. As such, during the week following your session, you are expected to complete further reading and research for the next, as tutorials rely on the exchange of ideas between you, your tutor and your peer(s).


What Are The Benefits of Oxford Tutorials?

Although Oxford tutorial sessions are quite intense and demanding on the student, they are considered to be highly effective for those in higher education and beyond, as you embark on your future career.

There are a whole range of benefits to be had from the Oxford learning style, with critical skill development and academic foundations being laid in every single session. Take a look at just five of the most prominent benefits below. 

1. Improved understanding of your chosen subject

The number one goal for every teacher or tutor is to make sure every single student leaves their class with a better understanding of the topic or subject which they are being taught. 

And this is where tutorials really shine. 

Because of the one-on-one structure (or very limited class sizes) of the tutorial, the teacher is able to build the sessions around your every learning want and need. If you struggle with a topic, they can revisit it at a later date, or try angling it in such a way that speaks to you.

You will progress at a pace which is right for you, taking your learning in a direction that means you leave with better knowledge of the topic, and an improved understanding of your subject as a whole.

In this respect, it’s hardly surprising that after attending one of our summer courses, 91% of students agreed they had an improved understanding of their chosen subject. (2020, Oxford Summer Courses) Tutorials ensure you fully understand topics and always leave the session having learned something new. 

2. Helps you to form constructed arguments

One of the greatest academic strengths you can take away from the Oxford learning style is the knowledge of how to form a well-constructed argument and defend your opinion. 

Tutorials demand that you prepare before the session with reading, facts, and knowledge on your topic, so you can unpick themes, topics and arguments within the session. 

Your tutor will use the time to pose questions and provoke discussion within the tutorial, where you will be prompted to present your argument and use your preparation material to defend your viewpoint. 

As a result, you’ll develop a highly sought-after skill base, with the ability to validate opinions and present your ideas coherently, and with ease. You’ll be able to better defend your arguments and opinions, which is a skill needed throughout your education and later on in life too.

3. Improved essay-writing skills

When students attend their Cambridge or Oxford tutorials, the session is usually spent exploring the student’s work which they have prepared that week. Typically, this comes in the form of an essay which they have written based on previous research, tutorial sessions and further reading. 

As daunting as this may seem, the student will be supported the whole way through, with the tutorial giving you plenty of ideas and opinions to consider within your essay. You’ll also have access to a whole range of further reading and caring deans (fellow Oxford students or alumni) to give you advice, should you need it. 

The rhythm of regular tutorials and subsequent essay-writing will inevitably improve your skills. With the knowledge you’ve gained throughout your tutorial sessions, and the skills the Oxford way of learning demands from you, you’ll have a comprehensive set of tools needed to help you master essay writing now, and in the future. 

4. A robust skill base for future employment

The tutorial system creates a rigorous and rounded analytical set of skills which is favoured upon by employers. 

In a recent survey, some of the most sought after skills by employers were found to be: persuasion, adaptive thinking, and time management – all of which are key traits you will develop whilst participating in the Oxford tutorial system.

As we’ve uncovered, the Oxford tutorial demands you are effective with managing your time, ensuring you have completed all preparatory reading, research, and writing before you arrive for your tutorial. 

The sessions themselves will also demand you to construct valid arguments and opinions, building your tools for persuasion which will benefit you in the workplace.

But the Oxford tutorial goes beyond simply forming opinions and preparing you for debate. Your tutor is there to help you think outside the box, see your subject in a 360 degree view, and build on your adaptive thinking. And, when it comes to the workplace, the ability to think creatively when resolving problems or thinking of new ideas is what makes the Oxford learning style so incredibly enriching. 

5. Improved student satisfaction

Finally, aside from the obvious academic benefits that come with the Oxford tutorial, there are also plenty of statistics which suggest that the tutorial style of teaching improves student satisfaction more than the regular method of purely seminars, lectures and independent study.  

In a recent report comparing the student experience at collegiate universities to the student at other Russell Group and UK universities…

“The results show that, compared to other Russell Group students as well as students across all UK universities, Oxbridge students:

  • Are more satisfied with their courses;
  • Are less likely to wish they had chosen another course;
  • Are more likely to say they receive good value for money; 
  • Have higher life satisfaction;
  • Are more likely to feel their lives are worthwhile;
  • Are happier;
  • Have a higher workload (across a range of disciplines);
  • Spend more hours per week studying outside of class; 
  • Are more likely to have classes with 0 to 5 other students; 
  • Receive more useful feedback;
  • Receive faster feedback; and 
  • Believe they are learning more.”


Tutorials at Oxford Summer Courses (for students aged 16 and over)

Although we aren’t part of the university, Oxford is at the core of everything we do.

That’s why, each week at Oxford Summer Courses, alongside your group seminars, if you are aged 16 and over and studying in Oxford or Cambridge, you’ll have a tutorial with a current university researcher or academic – someone who has a lot of experience teaching undergraduates and who can offer you an authentic Oxford tutorial experience.

Each week, you’ll have an essay or a set of problem questions to take away from seminars, and to research and write up on your own. In the tutorial, you’ll discuss what you’ve written, and our tutors will give you their undivided attention, one on one. 

They’ll closely attend to your thinking and arguments – and force you to articulate and justify your arguments and conclusions. The tutorial is an exchange of knowledge and enthusiasm: our tutors will share their own approaches, honed throughout many years of intense study and reflection. They’re at the cutting edge of their respective fields, and will be able to include you in their thinking and passion for their subject.

Each year, our students tell us they love our tutors – it’s because we use the tutorial system that students at Oxford Summer Courses are able to make the most of their time with us, learning new ways to work, marshal evidence and communicate ideas with flexibility and flair.

Your tutorials, quite simply, will shape your thinking forever.

Find out more about what your classes could look like with information about our teaching style.

Alternatively, take a look at the courses we have available for 16-17 year-old students and our 18-24 year-olds and discover how you could be experiencing the authentic Oxford tutorial system for yourself. 

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