You've looked at the course guides, maybe you even went to the Open Day, but there is just so much information! You just want to know exactly what you'll be reading and doing, but nobody seems to be able to tell you! Whether you are thinking about applying for English at Oxford, or already have an offer for October, I completely remember feeling slightly confused (and bit worried!!!) about just what I had got myself in for.
I just finished my first year, and I thought I would look back on what I've studied so far to try and explain the course layout a bit more clearly! It's really difficult to describe a 'typical' first year on the Oxford English course because while everyone does the same four papers at the end of the year (I'll get to those in a minute!), everybody's teaching is really different depending on their college, the year and what each person is interested in. This is what makes the Oxford English degree so special - you get to pick what you are excited about and focus on that. Saying that, I'll run you through what I did this year anyway, to give you a bit of an idea how your first year might look!
Just before results day I got sent reading lists for some of the papers, there are usually a few big books on there but don't let it freak you out too much! I nearly fainted when I saw Middlemarch for the first time, but the reason why the tutors ask you to read during the holidays is so you have more time for essay writing and reading shorter things during term time, so it actually makes your life so much easier. The lists go out early to give you plenty of time to work through things (hopefully in the sunshine). You don't have to worry about making too many notes or anything - you can do all of your thinking about the books when you actually arrive. Just try and enjoy them!
October - December
In the Michaelmas term (the winter one), we started three of the four papers:
The mysterious 'Old English' paper is mostly some really, really old poems, even older than Chaucer, so like seriously old, and it language itself looks more like German than English! It is literally another language? There are lots of stories about famous battles and monsters (look up Beowulf), and men exiled on the sea pining after their mates. This paper definitely seems the scariest to begin with (hello, I signed up for an English course?), but rest assured that everybody is in the same boat (i.e: completely clueless), and it ends up being lots of fun figuring everything out together as a class in college! We spent all of this term with our tutor translating the poems with dictionaries until we understood what was going on in them, and talking about the way the language works.
We started the coursework paper, which is two 2,000 word essays to be submitted in May. The first essay is just linguistic analysis (a bit like English Language if you did/do that at school), you take any two texts you like (seriously anything at all), and compare them, looking at things like how language affects power, if people of different genders or nationalities use language differently, or how the language of social media works. This paper is really cool because you can look at whichever texts you want, people have analysed everything from rap lyrics, to screenshots of their Facebook group chats, car advertisements or their favourite poems. We wrote two practice essays, and the rest of the work was just reading essays and articles to discuss in class, which was once a week.
And then for the 'Victorian' paper (which is from 1830-1910), we did four weeks on prose and four weeks on poetry. We'd been given really popular authors to read over the holidays (think Moby Dick, Charles Dickens, Tennyson), but were really encouraged to read and write on the things that we were interested in. I wrote two essays on prose, and two on poetry, and in the other weeks we had classes where we would talk more generally about the period! There were loads of really cool lectures to go to for this paper too , which gave you loads of ideas for things to read that you had never heard of before! Who knew you could write about cannibalism in Dickens? You can go to as few, or as many lectures as works for you!
More on the rest of Jessie's year coming soon!