How is the course taught?
College teaching is the bedrock of the undergraduate experience at Oxford. In each term your tutors will arrange a combination of tutorials (one or two students with a tutor) and classes (with your college year group), so that you benefit both from the intensive individual attention of the tutorial and from discussing your ideas with your peers. In the English Faculty, lectures are given by tutors from all colleges which supplement and complement this work, so you have access to the expertise of tutors from the whole University as well as those in your college.
During most of your undergraduate career you will be studying one or two papers in each term (a ‘paper’ is a course on a particular topic or period of literature), and will thus have about three tutorials a fortnight, supplemented by one or two college classes each week. You will also normally attend a number of lecture courses and seminars in the English Faculty.
It is usual to have one tutor for each paper, and this means that the tutor gets to know you and your work well, and is able to tailor the course according to your own individual interests, while guiding your progress throughout. The weekly tutorial, usually based around your own essay, gives you the chance to explore and clarify your ideas about the author or subject. Oxford tutors are active academic researchers at the forefront of their specialisms, and the tutorial system brings advantages both to students and tutors. Our students find that studying a tutor's area of research improves their own work; in addition, our third-year courses and dissertations enable students to work even more closely with tutors on current research areas, preparing them for graduate study. Our tutors also find that tutorial discussions often prompt them to reflect on their own research in new ways.
Oxford places considerable emphasis on the production of regular written work, normally in the form of essays. This ensures that you have brought your ideas on a subject to a point where you are able to express them cogently on paper. This kind of training is also excellent preparation for many of the kinds of careers available to you after university.
What can I study on the course?
The English degree at Oxford is one of the broadest in the country, and you will have the chance to study all periods of English Literature, from 650 AD to the present day.
In the first year, you will study three periods of English Literature (Early Medieval, Victorian and Modern Literature), in addition to an introductory course to studying Language and Literature, which is designed to furnish you with skills that you can draw on for the remainder of your studies.
In the second year and third years, you will study English Literature from 1350 to 1830. There is one compulsory author paper, on Shakespeare. In addition to these, you can choose from a lengthy list of topics for your Special Options paper in the third year. This is the only paper delivered primarily through seminars. The convenor for each option will guide you as you decide on a facet of the topic to pursue in an extended essay. You will then write a dissertation, which can be on any topic of your choice, or which might approach Language and/or Literature from a more thematic point of view.
Alternatively, in the second and third years, you can follow our course focusing on earlier literature and the history of English (Course II). The compulsory papers cover the literatures of England from 650 to 1550, along with textual criticism (in which you will begin the study of many aspects of manuscript culture) and the history of the English language up to c. 1800. Optional papers for this course might include Old Norse, Old French, Shakespeare and Literature in English from 1550 - 1660. As with the other second and third year course, you will also write a dissertation on a subject area of your choice.
How is the course examined?
The course is examined through a combination of examinations and submitted written work. First-year work requires you to submit one piece of coursework, a portfolio of two 1,500-word essays, towards the start of your third term. The year then culminates in a set of examinations, in which your other three papers are assessed through three-hour written examinations. You must pass all of these papers in order to pass the examination as a whole and to enter into the second year, but the marks that you get do not count towards your final examination result; effectively you start anew in the second year.
In the second and third years, the four period papers are assessed by three-hour examinations at the end of the third year. The Shakespeare paper is examined by a portfolio of written work, and the Special Option paper by an extended essay of 6,000 words. The Dissertation is a submitted essay of 8,000 words. This means that submitted work will comprise nearly half of your final assessment.