Work Life

Work obviously constitutes an important part of life at Oxford. Perhaps the biggest difference between university and school is the extent to which most work is carried out autonomously. Oxford expects students to initiate their own learning. For humanities and social sciences, this usually means attending lectures, seminars, classes and extensive independent reading, leading to the completion of an essay, translation, or other piece of written work. For scientists, there may be more direct teaching, with lectures and labs forming a greater part of the course, but progress will then be demonstrated through independently completed problem sheets or essays. Students must be able to motivate themselves to complete the work and establish their own working patterns so as to ensure work is completed on time.

This flexibility allows students to fit in other activities around their academic work but you should continue to work regularly as opposed to leaving all work until the last minute.

Humanities and Social Sciences

For Humanities and Social Sciences you will be set an essay title, given a reading list and a date by which to complete the task. In most subjects this is a weekly essay and in many you will complete an essay for a different paper every two weeks in addition. The tutorial will then be a discussion based upon the essay you have completed between yourself, the tutor and possibly 1 or 2 other students. Lectures are also a valuable resource in providing a general understanding of the entire topic since essays may be narrowly focused on specific questions.


Linguists will additionally be set translation and grammar exercises for regular language classes. This normally also includes a weekly list of vocabulary to learn and help improve proficiency in the language. Language skills cannot be crammed the night before and require regular revision so as to improve.


Scientists will be set regular problem sheets. It is tempting to leave them until the last minute because there is a clear amount of work to complete; however, you should allow plenty of time for struggling with new concepts and revisiting difficult questions. You should approach problem sheets methodically. Try to deal with them systematically as they arise, rather than allowing the workload to build up to an unbearable level, and then having to rush through them. Mathematical skills are easily lost if not regularly practiced, so you should attempt to keep up a regular rhythm of work, and shouldn't wait too long between tuition and attempting the problems set.


Many science degrees at Oxford have a practical component, which often forms part of the assessment scheme. The practicals are usually carried out in the University science faculty laboratories, and so are generally referred to as 'labs'. Labs are often undertaken with another student, and you will need to ensure that you have a good working relationship. You should also carefully consult manuals and course handbooks, and take advantage of the availability of your supervisor. Be sure that you plan your practical work in advance, so that you know what to expect. In some cases you will need to reserve space or equipment in advance, so make sure you are aware of the procedures.

Further Information

More in depth and subject specific information regarding work can be found in your Fresher's pack. In addition, your second year subject reps are a great resource for providing first hand advice on how to approach academic tasks. Please see the Subject Reps section to see exactly what they can do for you. The key is to try not to be overwhelmed, work life may initially be difficult to adapt to but you will get the hang of it. There are numerous resources (and people!) at your disposal to provide advice and assistance throughout the academic year.

Source: 'Keble College Academic Peer Support Resource Pack'