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The Tutorial System and Interviews

By Carys Hogan

If you’re anything like me, when you’re applying to Oxford, you’ll be told that your interview will be very similar to a tutorial - but what exactly are these mysterious tutorials? Are they as scary as they may seem? And how do interviews reflect this?

A tutorial in Oxford usually consists of one tutor to two or three students, depending on the subject and module, and will most likely take place in their office. They’re intended to be places to discuss the topics that have been covered in lectures or that should be covered in your course. However, what exactly they consist of and what format they take varies with the tutor.

I’ve had tutors in the past who ask you to read or summarise your essay and then will use each paragraph/point as a springboard for a discussion with your classmates as to what they think- whether they agree, whether there are challenges to this theory or what evidence there may be to back this point up. Some tutors don’t do this through your essays but rather general discussion points. If, as Wilde stated, the truth is rarely pure and never simple, tutorials (at least in Psychology and Linguistics, my disciplines) are a useful way of showing that. One common mistake when you first come to university is to write about the “truth” in your essay as you will quickly come to realise that truth is subjective and mostly unknown. No theory is ever perfect and there is so much more we need to learn about in order to be able to have a definitive answer to so many questions that remain in different disciplines.

Tutorials then can be seen as a springboard for discussions about key theories and topics, critically examining them and allowing you to test out new ideas and theories with an expert in the field. The groups are so small that you have a perfect opportunity to both ask questions and work on things that you did not understand. The more you give to tutorials, the more you get back so it’s important to always try and engage in a discussion, even if you think you might be wrong as, often, there’s no right and if there is, being wrong simply allows you to know what’s right next time.

What an interview will look like therefore will vary by subject but they’re mostly ways for the tutors to see how well you would cope in the tutorial system. They want to see your enthusiasm for the subject but they also want to know some key things- are you able to speak with them about your ideas clearly? Are you able to justify your ideas and explain your reasoning? And are you able to adapt your theories based off evidence which may contradict the original theory? These are all crucial skills for tutorials that they’ll be looking for and ones that you should work on before coming to interview.

This may sound daunting and, for some people, it is. However, interviews and tutorials are so rewarding and such a great opportunity to learn. Show your enthusiasm and don’t be afraid to get things wrong and you’ll get so much out of them.


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