Tutorials have been at the forefront of some of the world’s best universities for hundreds of years. In the UK, The University of Oxford and The University of Cambridge centre their entire learning system around this method. The Oxbridge tutorial system, as it is commonly called, is recognised as one of the most intensive and rigorous teaching tools used anywhere in the world. But what exactly is this system, why is it so well-renowned and what are its benefits? Read ahead to find out.
What Is the Tutorial System?
The tutorial or supervision system is a unique feature of the undergraduate student experience at Oxford and Cambridge. In addition to traditional lectures, classes and laboratories (for STEM students), all undergraduate students at Oxbridge have weekly tutorials or supervisions.
|Learning Format||Number of Students||Frequency|
|Labs||100+||Once a Week|
|Classes||8-12||Once in Two Weeks/Depends on the Subject|
|Tutorials/Supervisions||1-3||Once a Week|
- Typically, you submit a problem set or essay a day before your tutorial.
- You then meet with a professor or tutor one-on-one (or one-on-two/three) to discuss the work you have submitted.
- The tutor would have reviewed the work you submitted before the session, with the tutorial serving as an opportunity to discuss, debate and dig deeper into the topic.
The intention of the tutorial system is for you to acquire a breadth of learning through independent research for your essays whilst deepening your understanding and honing your ability to critically analyse arguments during the debates that take place.
This approach to learning is truly unique and transformational in building skills that become vital for success in life and work. Here’s how:
1) Tutorials Force You to Think Creatively and Critically:
The primary objective of a tutorial is to dive deep into the arguments and perspectives you’ve shared in your essays and assignments submitted during the week, unpack them, explore alternative views and have your thinking challenged by your tutor and tutorial partner. This process of defending your viewpoint (or allowing it to evolve) based on thorough questioning truly challenges your brain to think critically and creatively, a skill you will take with you wherever you go.
2) Tutorials Help You Build Confidence:
Having your work and arguments critiqued by expert tutors in your field of study and learning to share your point of view in a one-on-one setting is immensely helpful in building confidence. Unlike a lecture hall, where you can passively listen to and absorb content, tutorials require you to speak up and actively participate in a vibrant discussion around the topic for the week. You might feel intimidated or nervous about sharing your ideas or opinions during your first few tutorials. Over time, you will develop the confidence to freely share them (no matter how ludicrous you think they are!)
3) Tutorials Hone the Ability to Digest, Dissect and Prioritise a Lot of Information:
My first week at Oxford, I was handed a reading list of 50 books. Not for the entire year, just for that week. Of course, reading that many books cover-to-cover in a week is impossible. The tutorial method trains you to look at several different sources and decipher what’s most relevant and important for the question at hand. It hones the art of reading effectively and efficiently while taking good, clear and critical notes that extract the key information.
Through your tutorial experience, you will learn how to structure your notes in a way that not only summarises your reading but also enables you to find your voice in the essays you write.
Interesting fact: At Oxbridge, students refer to “studying” as “reading”, so instead of asking, “Which course are you studying?” you say, “What are you reading at Oxbridge?” This stems from the tutorial/supervision system, which requires you to undertake a tremendous amount of reading, note-taking and analysing!
4) Tutorials Allow You to Explore Creative Problem Solving:
The debates you have in tutorials, particularly in social science subjects, often have no right answer. Rather, the tutorial allows you to explore new ideas and avenues, bring together learnings from multiple disciplines and consider a topic or problem from a new angle. This agile and free-flowing approach provides room for you to harness your creativity. For the most part, tutorials mimic the kind of open-ended discussions in which you are expected to bring new ideas and solutions to the world of work.
5) Tutorials Teach You to Build Strong Relationships:
The tutorial method of teaching, in many ways, is both intimate and personalised. It is a space not only for the tutor to teach but also for a lively discussion between tutorial partners and tutors about your work. Having someone to reach out to when you need a reference for a future job or further education is extremely useful and, in turn, pushes you to learn valuable skills in relationship building which is vital for working in teams throughout your career.
These are just a few factors that make the Oxbridge tutorial system exceptionally unique. If you are considering applying to Oxbridge for an undergraduate degree, it is important to know that you can only apply to ONE, not both. Besides having exceptional grades and a passion for your subject, you will also need to stand out in the interview. For more information on application and admission processes, get in touch with us.
Prerna Aswani is the Director of Strategy and People at the Centre for Tutorial Teaching. She is a seasoned development consultant with experience in education consultancy, youth development and social mobility.