The Earth Sciences course at Oxford differs from many of the other courses in that the teaching all takes place in our modern 24 hour department (yes, you can look at thin sections at 3am if you really want to). Like the other sciences, it is taught through a combination of tutorials, classes/labs and lectures. The basic course content is delivered in its entirety through the lectures and labs, whilst the tutorials work to support and deepen both interest and understanding. With it being such a small size (approximately 35 students per year) and due to the field trips, you really get to know the other people on your course, with whom you share all your lectures in the first 2 years. In my opinion I find this a really nice aspect of the course as it means you have friends at different colleges and not just at St Anne’s.
One of the things I have found most challenging about first year has been getting to grips with such a broad range and quantity of content, requiring different types of skills. The course as a whole is highly numerical and there is a joint maths module with the Material Scientists which forms quite a large time commitment in first year; the content of which is mainly founded on the A-level further maths course, but extended. Another module is ‘PCB’ which teaches concepts in mainly Physics and Chemistry with a small amount of Biology. These concepts are then applied and given a more global and solar system wide perspective in ‘Planet Earth’, which covers a wide range of topics from meteorites to volcanoes to the physics of the ocean and atmosphere. Complementing these highly numerically based modules are two geology modules which require qualitative, spatial and practical skills to tackle topics such as geological mapping, mineralogy, palaeontology, sedimentary processes and field work. All these modules are taught in parallel streams and one of the things I have enjoyed most so far is seeing how they all interrelate and crossover to provide greater holistic understanding, which other narrower courses must miss out on. In tutorials you are constantly pushed to critically analyse the scientific papers you read and ask yourself just how the author has arrived at a particular figure or conclusion. For each tutorial you are expected to prepare for about 6 hours by either completing a problem sheet, writing an essay, carrying out practical/lab work or doing directed reading.
Most schools don’t offer Geology A-level and you really shouldn’t worry if you haven’t studied it; in my year only about a third of us did geology A-level. Instead when preparing for interview you should concentrate on being secure in the A-level subjects you do take and being prepared to talk through your thought process. It is quite possible that during your interview you will be presented with a geological specimen of some sort. You won’t be expected to be able to identify it; instead the tutors will be looking to see if you can simply describe what you can see and talk through your ideas.