Woolf guide to tutorial teaching

Read the guide

What Happens During the Tutorial Session?

During the tutorial, students will discuss and defend their written work while exploring the subject matter of the essay with a faculty member for 75 minutes. Student will read key sections of their essays aloud for discussion. If the student reads a long sentence or single paragraph aloud, this is often enough to generate meaningful discussion, though some tutors will have the student read an entire essay aloud. Reading their own writing aloud strengthens the student’s presentation skills, and benefits the other students in the tutorial.

If two or three students are in a weekly tutorial, the position of first reader should be on rotation, because this often sets the direction of conversation. Faculty members should ask all participants about how, in their essay, they have addressed the issue under consideration, or how they view the topic in light of the reading.

Towards the end of the tutorial discussion, the next assignment should be surveyed, and faculty members are permitted to adjust next week’s essay prompt, tailoring it to the student’s interests or weaknesses. These adjustments must not introduce new reading requirements if these would demand that a student purchase outside texts. Instead, adjustments to the assigned essay question should highlight key areas within the scope the resources available as part of the course.

Tutorial teaching is used primarily at the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, but it is also used at several other universities around the world.

Here are some examples of tutorial teaching at other institutions:

Student Preparation for Tutorials

How should I prepare for my tutorial meeting at Woolf?

Tutorials are used in the natural sciences and the humanities. Every tutorial requires intensive preparation from a student. Full-time students are assigned 45 hours of work per week. Students typically study two short courses concurrently, and thus divide their time while preparing for two different tutorial meetings each week. Students enrolled in an intensive course may undertake two tutorials per week in the same subject, and complete the course in half the time.

When studying for two tutorials concurrently, students can be expected to work about 22.5 hours per week per tutorial. In the humanities, a student will typically review 75-150 pages of material (depending on the difficulty level) and prepare an essay of about 1,500 -2,000 words, or a similar assignment. The assignment is submitted a day before the tutorial meeting. In the sciences, equivalent written work is submitted on the same pattern. Other disciplines have equivalent requirements.

In addition to reading texts, students may be assigned videos or podcasts of lectures, and these will proportionally reduce the reading and research required for the tutorial. Here is an example breakdown of a workweek for one tutorial:


Reading and note-taking (75-150 pages)
Lecture videos or podcasts
Essay composition (1,500 -2,000 words) or similar assignment (e.g. financial model or presentation)
Tutorial session

It is important for both faculty and students to understand the level of refinement expected of a tutorial assignment or equivalent submission. A successful tutorial essay or assignment should be well-structured, clearly articulated, and rigorously argued, however, it does not need to be as polished as an examination essay or final project: footnotes are not required, a bibliography is not required, and minor spelling, grammatical, and formatting errors can be ignored. If a tutorial assignment quotes material from the readings, this should be documented, but generally, students should write tutorial essays in their own words. What is being tested in the tutorial assignment is whether a student has grasped the ideas and made a convincing argument in response to the assignment prompt.