By Grace Walters
One mistake I repeatedly make – probably because it’s really tempting and seems like the right thing to do whenever I feel under-prepared – is to cram in an intense note-reading session in the hour or so before the tutorial. Whilst reading over notes obviously helps to refresh the ideas in your mind, I always have to be a little careful not to do so too intensely. Often when I walk into a tutorial feeling the most ‘prepared’ is also when I perform the least confidently. This happens when I start to treat the tutorial as a time to spurt out and ‘flaunt’ as much knowledge as I have, going a mile a minute to prove that I haven’t wasted the week and have instead been poring over the reading list. However, just as anyone who’s read a mark scheme before knows, the biggest mistake you can make is “not answering the question”. And so over-preparing and over-stressing before a tutorial can have the same effect. Instead, try to approach every question as it comes. Your tutor will be able to see in your essay and in your speech confidence that you’ve done the reading, and it’ll make you realise that tutorials shouldn’t be exhausting or stressful, because that’s not sustainable.
I’ve noticed if I drink coffee before a tutorial, the instant kick of caffeine always seems like a smart plan at the time (especially if the night before ended up in Plush or Spoons, and caffeine feels like the only available option) … but the reality it that it sometimes makes me a little too hyper-focused and stressed. So, if you can avoid this, it’s helpful – and also making sure you eat before a tutorial is good, because the worst feeling is when a tute overruns and all you can think about is your growling stomach instead of the question your tutor is asking you directly.
It probably seems quite obvious, but I’d want to stress that your tute partner is never someone you’re supposed to be comparing yourself to. Your tutor won’t be doing this, so neither should you. My tutor once said that we’re ‘collaborators, not competitors’ – they’re there as a sounding board, someone you can take inspiration and ideas from. And, hopefully, they’re occasionally someone who can save you from floundering over a tricky question.
Oxford tutorials can feel especially alienating if you come from an educational background of large class sizes and not much possibility for contribution, so don’t feel stressed if certain people adapt to them quicker than you. We’ve all been given an offer for our potential, and lots of us suit some aspects of the Oxford education whilst struggling with others. Your particular strength might lie in your written work, time management, or creative ideas, and this might be a weak spot in others; so try not to beat yourself up after a hard tutorial, because all you can do is move on, take it as a learning point, and focus on the next week of improvement. Good luck!