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    What's the jump like between doing A-levels to doing a course at Oxford or Cambridge. Is there anything that surprised you about what you expected and what the reality was like?
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    I suppose it varies by course. I felt it was a natural stepping stone. A big difference is ofc the lack of a specification ... in A levels it is very prescriptive defo not the case at Oxbridge. There are no limits really
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    I felt like it was a hugejump, much bigger than I had expected. My first year workload felt at least double, if not more, of 4 A Levels + extras, added to the insecurity of the new style of working at university (you no longer have a specification that dictates everything you need to know, and grinding through past papers doesn't work).
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    As a first year Historian I am not seeing a big jump in quality but I’ve gone from a great school, great teachers, intelligent class discussion every day to about 3-4 contact hours per week, a life in libraries, teaching myself and very few opportunities to engage in intellectual discussion with either tutors or fellow students.

    It is good preparation for post graduate study and beyond but in effect I’m paying for access to theoretically great libraries that frequently have only one copy of key first year undergraduate books if you are lucky. A more cynical student than me might suggest the Oxbridge tutorial system for humanities is a giant confidence trick getting incredibly self-starting people to pay top whack for essentially self-directed learning. I am doing well academically but it is a bit of a drag to be honest, particularly in those weeks when the tutorial essay subject does not grab your interest.

    I am told it improves a little in terms of both contact and intensity in latter years but frankly if you don’t like spending lots of time working alone in libraries and your room emerging every now & then for a brief Staircase natter, Hall meal, occasional club/society or night out it may not be for you. Some people do have more active social lives (but they are often the people who find they are struggling with the workload) and science/engineering has more re structured class/lab/contact time so it does depend on the course. There is also some variation in colleges but almost all have a lot going on that many, if not most students, cannot fully take advantage of because of the work required to keep your grades up.

    I’d be very interested in other views. I’m happy enough. Some of the tutors are brilliant. All are nice/helpful but I do think Humanities needs reform and a few more classes/seminars and at least two tutorials per week would not kill the Dons!
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    Like Plagioclase and DrXavier, my impression is that the biggest shock comes from the change of boundaries. At school, you will almost certainly have got used to a pattern 1. learn the syllabus and marking schemes 2. revise past papers 3. come top in the class.

    At Oxford, 1. the suggested reading each week stretches to infinity. 2. you are tested with something new every week, with no "past papers" or mark schemes to guide you 3. you never feel like you are coming top of the class

    Around 5th week of the autumn term, this results in TSR sprouting threads entitled "I'm thinking of dropping out of Oxford..." This is not necessarily the best option.

    SonOfAGeek - that's interesting. I have seen Oxford life almost exclusively through scientist eyes, so with so much less contact time, the humanities always looked to have an easy time of it. But everyone I have known of has had more than 1 tute a week....One big change since my time seems to have been a shift away from 1:1 tutorials and towards ratios nearer 3 or 4 students to each tutor (in sciences, at least). That would seem to make a tutorial-based system less responsive to the student. Is that happening/significant for you?
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    (Original post by DrXavier)
    I suppose it varies by course. I felt it was a natural stepping stone. A big difference is ofc the lack of a specification ... in A levels it is very prescriptive defo not the case at Oxbridge. There are no limits really

    Have you got any tips on how to work without a spec?
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    (Original post by Plagioclase)
    I felt like it was a hugejump, much bigger than I had expected. My first year workload felt at least double, if not more, of 4 A Levels + extras, added to the insecurity of the new style of working at university (you no longer have a specification that dictates everything you need to know, and grinding through past papers doesn't work).
    Any advice on how to adapt to the change?
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    Languages at Cambridge: I didn't find the content hard as such, but it was the workload that got me, and having to write literature essays - I hadn't done any lit since GCSE so I had no idea how to go about it. I also one of my two languages from scratch so that was pretty intense for the first two years as welll.

    It definitely gets better as you go through, get used to the teaching style, how to do the work and as you specialise. I'm enjoying my final year, and coping well, far more than I ever did in first or second year (though obvs not as much as my 12hr work weeks of my year abroad lol).
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    I found it a huge jump and one that I was not really prepared for. I found my feet eventually, with the passing of time and extra help from my college tutors, but it was a very steep learning curve! :eek:

    Everyone knows "Oxford is hard/Oxford is a lot of work" but it's my humble opinion (and others are free to disagree!) that you can't understand what that actually means, until you're there doing it :nope:

    SonOfAGeek : interesting to read your experience. Granted I was at Oxford ten years ago and doing a different subject (music) and had the £3K tuition fees... but I felt it was a great and challenging (albeit sometimes brutal) intellectual experience. I didn't have any problems with the libraries or tutorial provision (we had 3 tutorials a week most weeks. The maximum I had was 5 one week).


    I wonder whether the problem is less with the humanities overall and more with history as a subject at Oxford? I remember us musos taking the piss out of the historians because we appeared to have far more work than they do, which you would not really expect... :dontknow:

    I really hope things somehow improve with time for you and that you get more out of the experience/place than you're currently getting :hugs:
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    (Original post by Historyisawesome)
    Any advice on how to adapt to the change?
    You just get used to it, to be honest. From your username I'm guessing you're not a scientist so I'm not sure how applicable my advice would be, but I think the thing that helped most of all was doing my best to stay on top of all of the 'facts' during term so I can focus on synthesising knowledge and reading out of term.
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    OxFossil I had 1:1 tutorial last term, 1:3 this term so mixed. I have one lecture, one class, one tutorial per week at the moment. 4 contact hours max. It was 2/1/2 until mid-term due to one course running across 1.5 terms. The workload in history varies between one and two essays per week depending on whether one or two subjects running. The reading list is near infinite and it really takes 20-30 hours reading, prep, writing to get a decent first level mark in my experience. When you are doing two in parallel you have to make compromises. You could conceivably do next to nothing all year then cram for the Mods but that only works if all you want is an Oxford degree not an actual education.

    Oxford History is in effect extremely minimal contact/direction self-guided learning with fairly decent resources. It is terrific preparation for life as a history academic but it isn’t really “teaching” in any meaningful way...at least not in my opinion. We more or less knew what to expect coming and I’m pushing myself, getting a lot out of it as a result but the reality is probably a bit harder/lonelier/less structured than the picture they paint.
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    (Original post by Historyisawesome)
    Any advice on how to adapt to the change?
    I missed this Q earlier. It is a really good one. Initially you either feel over-whelmed with no idea how to start or you throw yourself completely into it and probably over work. Most people I know fell into one of these buckets. In History at least essay titles are so vague it is easy to go off in directions and tangents that the tutors do not expect or want you to take. You learn from doing. You slowly get more feel. In my second term my essays are more consistently hitting the mark than they did first term. I am studying different options this term but that isn’t the driver of the improvement it is simply that I now have more experience at Oxford and can better judge what tutors want/expect.

    In history I personally think the baseline is 20-30 hours combined reading, planning/thinking and (re)writing per essay to hit a first level grade if you are averagely competent for an Oxford historian. Those periods where you are studying two courses at the same time and have 2 essays (and 2 tutorials, 2 classes, 2 lectures most weeks) are fairly brutal but it is still max 6-8 contact hours in 50-60 hours total work which is obviously massively different to school.

    I want to get the maximum out of my Oxford education and may well want to study at post graduate level so I am putting the hours in but it is possible to aim lower and have a different study/life balance. You cannot party hard all the time and do consistently well but if you are a fast reader with near photographic memory I think you could conceivably doss and just cram late for the Mods (harder for Finals as that covers two years) but I would not advise that 😂 The tutors will get on your case as well but some people have very thick skins.

    For me it is the relative isolation (lots of time thinking alone in a vacuum) that is the big adjustment and it is also probably a big driver of stress/mental health issues in humanities students (science and engineering have different but no less difficult challenges). It is very different, it isn’t an easy change but it can be rewarding. I need to do more to get my study/life balance right but for me at least the key in year one is to adjust to the learning process and be on top of my academics. I can never be happy if I’m not doing well in my studies!
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    (Original post by SonOfAGeek)
    OxFossil I had 1:1 tutorial last term, 1:3 this term so mixed. I have one lecture, one class, one tutorial per week at the moment. 4 contact hours max. It was 2/1/2 until mid-term due to one course running across 1.5 terms. The workload in history varies between one and two essays per week depending on whether one or two subjects running. The reading list is near infinite and it really takes 20-30 hours reading, prep, writing to get a decent first level mark in my experience. When you are doing two in parallel you have to make compromises. You could conceivably do next to nothing all year then cram for the Mods but that only works if all you want is an Oxford degree not an actual education.

    Oxford History is in effect extremely minimal contact/direction self-guided learning with fairly decent resources. It is terrific preparation for life as a history academic but it isn’t really “teaching” in any meaningful way...at least not in my opinion. We more or less knew what to expect coming and I’m pushing myself, getting a lot out of it as a result but the reality is probably a bit harder/lonelier/less structured than the picture they paint.
    That's really interesting, and I appreciate your frankness. As a science UG many years ago, I had 1:1 tutes throughout the 3 years, and found they produced a very unhelpful sense of isolation - I had no idea what my peers were thinking, or reading, or how they were coping. My daughter, doing the same subject just recently, had a mixture of tute formats, which was more helpful - but as you say, she had the advantage over you in also having more contact time in labs, field trips, and lectures.

    I think we both had that same feeling that you describe - of missing out on the "rounded education" - and both independently reacted by spending all our spare time socialising with humanities students and/or "townies"!

    After teaching in another RG uni, I'd say that, above all, the Oxford model tends to train one how to assimilate information quickly, identify the salient issues in an argument, and have confidence in one's judgement. UGs elsewhere can create this for themselves, but only with luck or remarkable self-discipline. The flip-side is that it is harder at Oxford to have a more relaxed time. I'm dubious that this makes for a more "rounded" educational experience, but it may be better for some students for other reasons.
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    For me it was a big step up. I had never had to study independently at all really, so that was quite new.

    Your new found independence and finding the right balance of work/play/other commitments of being an adult, like laundry and nutrition on a very tight budget, is also something some people have to deal with and sometimes struggle!

    (Original post by SonOfAGeek)
    ...about 3-4 contact hours per week, a life in libraries, teaching myself and very few opportunities to engage in intellectual discussion with either tutors or fellow students.
    Still more than you'd get at other unis though! It's a bit disappointing you don't get much discussion with other students - my friends were constantly full of politics, philosophy and physics discussion, and I don't even do those subjects!

    I agree that two tutorials per week doesn't seem too much of a stress though. Would you be willing to write another essay for it though? If not what would it be about - just general chit chat?
 
 
 

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