Beginning your studies as a medical student at Oxford can be a shock to the system, especially if you are one of the many returning from a gap year of sun, sea, and travelling. So here I offer some insight into what you can expect in the hope of making the transition a little less stressful, but also providing some answers to possible interview questions for any prospective applicants.
Famed for its academic rigour, you may not be surprised to learn that Freshers’ week at Oxford is almost non existent. Lasting only six days, new undergrads are allowed to arrive in their College from the Tuesday of 0th week with teaching commencing the following Monday of 1st. During this time though the JCR will make every effort to integrate you into College life with numerous organised activities. In recent years the University has begun to place emphasis on promoting non-alcohol based events, so besides the usual club nights and sports welcome drinks a wide variety of activities take place ranging from picnics in Uni Parks to midnight trips to G & Ds Ice cream parlour. During this time you will also have the opportunity to attend both your College and University wide Freshers’ Fair, which are excellent opportunities to sign up to societies and sports clubs. Just like the terms at Oxford, Freshers’ week is short, sharp, and intense so really enjoy it before 1st week comes around.
University vs College teaching
Even by Oxford standards undergraduate medics have A LOT of work, with teaching provided both by the University Medical Sciences faculty and College associated tutors. Your days will primarily be filled with lectures and labs at the Medical Sciences Teaching Centre (MSTC) where medics from all Colleges congregate for University provided teaching. Primarily this is in the form of one hour lectures but you will also find yourself in the lab a few hours a week conducting experiments either on yourselves or animal models. In addition every Wednesday morning is devoted to hands on anatomy to compliment your lectures, with both cadaver sessions and so called “living anatomy”, where surface anatomy is observed on yourselves and you learn to interpret the different modalities of medical imaging.
Late afternoons and evenings are then filled with College teaching. Traditionally this assumes the form of a one hour tutorial which in many ways is not dissimilar from the Oxford admissions interview. Typically the tutor asks students to prepare and submit an essay or short questions a few days prior to the tutorial both as evidence of your preparation but also for the tutor to identify gaps in your understanding. The tutorial itself then comprises a number of problems for discussion to test and apply knowledge you have learnt and develop new concepts. As a medical student there will be six of you at most in your College and for tutorials you’re often broken down into groups of three, two or even one. Achieving a ratio of 1 student:1 tutor is essentially the Collegiate systems biggest strength and something the University really prides itself on. Arguably it is where you can learn the most but it is a mode of teaching where you really do get out what you put in since tutors will not spoon-feed information; this being said they are always eager to answer questions. Tutorials can be scheduled on the weekend, the preparatory work usually occupies eight hours of your time, and it is not unusual to have up to five per week. Like I said, even by Oxford standards medics have it tough.
Collections are conducted by both the University and the College in 0th week of your first Hilary and Trinity term. Basically these are mock exams that mimic the structure of exams at the end of your first year in 9th week of Trinity. In the MSTC you sit the multiple choice mocks which seek to test your core understanding of basic principles that were taught in lectures over the previous term. These are computer based and so return an instant percentage mark, in the real exams the pass mark is usually in the region of 72%. Meanwhile in College you write the essay papers with your scripts marked by your own College tutors. Whilst these also require a core understanding of basic scientific principles they are also your opportunity to really show off the depth of knowledge you have obtained, with a real emphasis placed on providing evidence cited from scientific journals. Many Colleges offer awards to those who do particularly well in Collections (often cash)!
And in a nutshell that’s it, on paper it sounds like a lot but just remember the terms are only eight weeks long and the time flies by. It’s a big jump from A-levels where you can no longer hope to learn the whole syllabus, instead just learn what interests you and learn it well and don’t forget there’s always time to make for relaxing be it sports, a musical instrument or watching TV in the JCR.