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If you’re studying chemistry, you’re studying the world at the smallest scale: the molecular and atomic make-up of the elements that compose all matter in existence. This sounds like a formidable task, and Chemistry is certainly a notoriously difficult degree. But what’s it really like to be an Oxford Chemistry student?

What’s the workload like?

Chemistry is an intense workload, with the addition of weekly compulsory lab hours. At your first year in Oxford, you will have two days a week where you have contact hours from 9 til 5, made up of both labs and lectures. Every day you will have two lectures, at 9am and 10am, and the three days when you don’t head to labs after these are more relaxed. To get an idea of what you’ll cover, see our guide to the Oxford Chemistry course.

How do Chemistry tutorials work?

On these three days you will also have tutorials, held in your college, in small groups of usually two or three students, plus a tutor. You will usually complete a problem sheet, or an essay, in advance of the tutorial, and the tutorial will be spent going through it and making corrections and talking about solutions. Typically, in your first year you will have two tutorials a week. One will be for maths, going through a maths problem sheet, and one will focus on the chemistry content. The maths tutorials are usually held in slightly bigger groups, more like classes. 

Within the problem sheets, some questions will be problems to solve, and some will essay style questions that require longer answers. For example, on a first year problem sheet you may get the question, “Compare the transition metals”. Here, your tutor will either expect a few pages of notes, or a longer answer essay style response. 

How is the course examined?

As with all Oxford degrees, the first year doesn’t count, but you will then be examined in all the other 3 years of this 4 year course. In fourth year you will join research groups, and will have to write a thesis

How much of your time is spent in labs?

Labs are a huge part of your Chemistry degree. You have two full days of labs a week, and you are assessed on them throughout the degree. 10% of your overall grade will come from assessment from the labs held over second and third year. You will have to do a risk assessment beforehand online, and then afterwards a lab write up, where you will be expected to do graphical and statistical analysis of the results you have obtained. All the maths skills that are required you will be taught in maths lectures and computer labs. 

Conclusion: Is it worth it?

Chemistry is, undoubtedly, a difficult degree – but as are all Oxbridge degrees. Although it’s difficult, it’s also immensely rewarding. Chemistry underpins our changing, innovative world, and developments in chemistry push forward what we can achieve as a society. The most grandiose transformations can come from the close study of the smallest particles. In the end – of course it’s worth it. If you’re looking forward to it already, why not take a look at our guide to getting ready the summer before for your Chemistry degree?

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