My Advice on Making the Most of the Tutorial System

By Clara Marks

For the average student arriving at Oxford, the tutorial system can be daunting and intimidating. As a now second-year theology student, I want to give some of my tips and advice on how to make the most of tutorials and hopefully dispel some of the myths about it!


1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions


Your tutor is likely to be a world-leading academic in their field, which means they have a lot of knowledge to impart on you. It also means that they are academics first, and tutors second. If you are unsure about something you’ve read, feedback they’ve given on your essay and just want them to rephrase something they’ve said you are perfectly fine to do so! The tutorial system is there to work for you, so try not to be afraid of steering the conversation to suit your needs.


2. Be honest


Older students, whispered gossip or outdated Oxford myths may have given you the impression that your tutor is someone to be feared, but this is not the case. It can be hard, but it’s important to be honest with your tutor, especially if you are struggling. This means telling them if you didn’t understand the reading, if you think your essay isn’t the best you can produce or if you are struggling physically or mentally and will not be able to perform to your best ability. Honesty is honestly the best policy!


3. Do your best to be prepared


There is no neat way around it, you have to prepare for your tutorials, because your tutor will probably figure it out if you aren’t prepared. If you know you will be strapped for time before a tutorial, email your tutor ahead of time and ask for their best recommendations on the reading list or tutorial sheet. If you share a tutorial with other students, reach out for help!


4. Collaborate with your tutorial partners


Say it with me, tutorials are not a competition! It’s easy to feel like you’re being pitted against and compared to your tutorial partner(s), especially if you do a humanities subject and take it in turns to read out your essays. But in reality, students should be supporting each other and working together. If you have to walk to your tutorial, why not arrange to walk with your partner and you can discuss your reading or problem sheets on the way there?


5. Reflect on your tutorial afterwards


It’s easy to leave a tutorial, let out a sigh of relief and forget about it until next week. However, it’s important to make sure you are reflecting on your tutor’s comments. I find it helpful to write out some brief reflective notes, inspired by secondary school, think WWW (what went well) and EBI (even better if). It sounds childish but it can be an easy and not time-consuming way to make sure you are growing and learning after your tutes. You can even write this on your phone on the journey back and save time!