Lucy, 2nd Year, Experimental Psychology
I chose Psychology because I enjoyed the subject at A-level and liked the idea of studying a vast range of different topics, many of which are often directly relevant to everyday life. The course here is split into three sections: Prelims, Parts Is and Part IIs. Prelims make up the first two terms and are a general introduction to different areas of psychology, neurophysiology (or philosophy for Psychology & Philosophy students) and statistics. There are exams at the end of the second term which you need to pass, but these don’t count towards your final degree. In terms 3-5 you do Part Is, studying 8 modules in more depth and taking part in core practicals where you carry out experiments in class and then write up reports. Part IIs (term 6 onwards) offer a wide range of advanced options to choose from; you also carry out your own research project and have the option of doing a dissertation.
As a guide to the work involved, typically during Prelims you’ll have 3 tutorials a week with an essay or problem sheet set for each. The number of tutorials then drops to 1.5 a week for Part Is and around 1 a week for Part IIs; you'll have fewer essays than in Prelims but will be expected to do plenty of independent work and reading, as well as writing up lab reports. Since the course is departmentally run, this structure is consistent across all colleges. The workload can be difficult to get to grips with at the start but you soon get used to it, and it needn’t take over your life! With a bit of time management you can still comfortably fit in other activities like sport, drama and music, while still leaving time for general socialising and relaxing, of course!
Without having studied the subject very much before, it might be difficult to know whether Psychology is the right course for you; I remember reading long lists of topics on university course structure outlines and having no idea what most of the titles meant. The main thing to know about Psychology at Oxford is that the course has a strong scientific basis and pretty much everything you learn and discuss is centred around what can be concluded from experimental evidence. You won’t explore topics like psychoanalysis and introspection, for example, and the focus is more on the academic discipline than clinical applications. Within these constraints, however, the breadth of the subject is still huge, ranging from social psychology, to language, to cognitive and behavioural neuroscience. You learn quite a lot about the biological mechanisms relating to behaviour (for example, how each of the senses operates and which parts of the brain have been linked with certain aspects of cognition and behaviour).
From an academic point of view it doesn’t really matter which college you apply to (since, as mentioned above, teaching for all students is coordinated by the university Psychology department), so your choice of college should be based on other factors such as the social scene, accommodation and location. Worcester is a beautiful place to live and work and has a really friendly atmosphere with lots of social events. The college offers accommodation throughout your degree (very convenient) and good quality, cheap food. It’s also really close to the station, several clubs, and the main shops (5 minute walk from Tesco = win).
The Application Process
As part of the application process you are required to sit an admissions test, the TSA (Thinking Skills Assessment). The purpose of this is exactly what the name suggests: it tests your reasoning abilities and does not assume any specialist knowledge. The best way to prepare for the TSA is probably to try a practice paper or two, just to get a feel of the types of questions you’ll be asked. Past papers can be found at http://www.admissionstests.cambridgeassessment.org.uk/adt/tsaoxford/Test....
Hopefully you will then be invited to interview. It can be hard to know how to prepare and everyone will probably tell you different things about what interviews involve! It’s very difficult to predict exactly what will be required of you since it varies between tutors and between colleges. From my own experiences and from talking to other Psychology students, I think the best idea is to do some relevant reading over the summer – maybe have a look at a general psychology textbook as well as a few books and articles on areas of Psychology that particularly interest you. There’s no need to go crazy (tutors in Psychology are mainly looking for potential rather than lots of prior knowledge) but it’s useful to have an idea of what the subject entails, as well as something more specific you can talk about if asked about areas you are particularly interested in.