The Working Life of a First Year Psychology Student


Hi, I’m Sarah, a first year psychologist at Hildas. I have written a short review of the working life I experienced in my first year in order to provide you with some helpful tips of what to expect, how to go about term time work and holiday work and what to do when you need help.


So firstly, your weekly timetable. For the first two terms you will have about five or six lectures and three tutorials a week. You will be expected to write two essays and do a set of statistics questions each week. Although this seems like a lot you will quickly after the first couple of weeks settle into a routine of the days you devote to reading and writing in order to make your deadlines.

For the first two terms working towards you prelims (first year exams) reading for essays is not as extensive as for part one (second year exams). Prelim reading is mainly text book based and most of the time you only need to read two- three chapters per essay.


Your tutors will provide you with reading lists but for neurophysiology the book ‘Neuroscience exploring the Brain.’ by Mark F.Bear et al (2001) is essential reading prior to writing any essay. It gives you a rough outline of the topic in its simplist form. This is especially useful for anyone that did not do Biology A level. However, you have to be careful as it doesn’t always include all the neccesary details. In general though the main points to cover are in the lecture slides so using your lecture notes as a guidline to what you reading should expand on always makes sure you don’t stray too far off the topic.

For developmental psychology I found the book ‘Understanding Children’s Development by Peter K. Smith, Helen Cowie, Mark Blades (1998)’ particularly helpful, and for perception ‘Fundamentals of Sensation and Perception by Levine (2000)’ is just about essential reading for every topic you cover.

Most of these books can be obtained in St Hilda’s Library, but if not the Radcliffe Science Library has a large collection of psychology books along with the psychology departmental library. Most of the books in the departmental library however are only overnight loan, so it’s better to use this as a last minute resort. If you can’t find a book if you email your college tutors they will purchase another copy for the Hilda’s library.

Note taking

So what additional tips can I give you about work? The first tip is to write up the notes you take in your tutorial straight after the tute. Although it may seem at the time like your writing perfect sense, reading your notes following the tute is always slightly interesting and you’re much more likely to understand what you were trying to say straight after the tute. Also, it is sometimes useful straight after a tute to type up your revision notes on that topic by including bits from your essay (which will have come from the relevant reading you did), the lecture and your tutorial notes. You could also add ideas from additional reading you didn’t manage to look at before the tute after the tutorial or if you don’t have time during term in the holiday. This is a particularly good idea in the second term in the build up to prelims. You will only have very limited revsion time so it’s helpful to have all your revision notes ready from the previous term so you can get straight down to revision.


Another tip is not to get too stressed, especially in the first few weeks of term. It takes everyone a while to settle in, get into a new routine and get used to the new teaching style. The important thing is to talk to your friends, tutors and your college sisters (or brothers now!) if you have any worries but to realise that no-one finds the change from school to university easy. If you’re struggling with work email the tutor who set the work, preferrably in enough time to ammend your work before the deadline i.e. after you’ve read around the topic before you write your essay. If you ask specific questions, you will get specific answers back which is far more useful than simply emailing them telling them you are struggling. Also remember that no essay is going to be perfect, any errors made will be picked up by the tutor and discussed in a tutorial so don’t worry too much if you find a topic hard just write to the best of your ability.

If you have any problems whether work related or about Oxford in general college tutors are very approachable and will help you with any problems you encounter. The easiest way to get in touch with them is by email but you can also phone them if you have an immediate query. Their exact contact details will be given to you at the beginnning of term.


At the beginning of every term you will also have collections, in college tests (these are taken quite seriously). I found it was particularly helpful when I came to prelims that I had made organised revision notes in preparation for collections. It not only saves you time directly by not having to write your revision notes but it also means that when you come to revising these topics again they are much quicker to learn the second time round. Much of the work you do in vacations thus should be: reading over the topics and making sure you understand everything, doing additional reading on anything you are unsure about/ didn’t have time to cover during term time that you would maybe write an essay on in the exam, followed by making revision notes and then revising for collections. It is also a good idea to look at past exam papers to see which topics come up most and how the questions are worded. Looking at the short notes papers is especially important in the build up to prelims as the same short notes come up time and time.

Time out

Despite the above, it is also important to relax in the holidays. Oxford at times can be quite intense, especially in your first term when everything is new. So try and have a good break and relax before you get back to the books!

Part 1 course

In the third term of your first year you will start your Part 1 (second year) course. In EP this consists purely of psychology and some research methods and statistics, although some neurophysiology is embedded within the brain and behavior module. Three main topics are studied: Social Psychology, Perception and Brain and Behavior. You have 16 lectures and four tutorials for each topic in the term. In general tutors often ask you to write essays on two out of the four topics covered in tutorials and you may also be asked to prepare a presentation for the tutorials when you do not write an essay. Although this seems like a lot less work than in terms 1 and 2 in fact there is more work to cover. The reading list is a lot more diverse and includes many related articles which you find online via oxlip and following the OU ejournals link. Few reading lists are text book based except for maybe in perception. You’re required to do much more reading for each tutorial and essay, about 6-8 items on the reading list. The topics are also a little more demanding then what is previously encountered at prelims level. However, much of your work in Perception and Brain and Behavior builds on the work from your first two terms so again having organized notes from prelims can be useful. The style of tutorials also changes. They become more divergent with less emphasis on teaching and more emphasis on discussing interesting areas of the topics covered. In your third term you also do core practicals every other week, two of which must be written up and count towards your finals. Information will be given telling you exactly how to write up such reports and although it is worth making sure you tick all the boxes and write the reports well, they are only worth a tiny percentage of you final degree so there is no point getting too stressed out over them.

Anyway, I think I’ve said enough and enjoy your first year at Oxford!