Experimental Psychology: The course and surviving Oxford

So coming to the end of my degree, it has been a love hate relationship with my degree. In this post, I’ll go through the course outline of Experimental Psychology at Oxford University and tips to surviving each stage of the degree. I hope that if you are on your course now that you’ll find this helpful or at least comforting in some sort of way. I should also mention that this post is in no way meant to scare anyone on their course. I’ve simply written this to hopefully help acknowledge that the course is challenging and that you are not alone if you are not feeling good enough or if thoughts of rusticating have ever crossed your mind x



Year 1 and Prelims 

Year 1 was extremely tough for me just because I had not written any essays through A levels so developing that skill took so much time. I think coming in, I was very hopefully and determined to do really well and get a 1st. This feeling very quickly disappeared after my first tutorial where my essay was pretty bad  as compared to my tutorial mates. I remember feeling very defeated and kind of accepting that I just wasn’t as good as my coursemates. So in case you don’t know this, if you are on the Experimental Psychology (EP) course, you do three options (Psychology, Statistics and Neurophysiology). I did not enjoy one bit of Neurophysiology. I basically used to write my essays by copying out of a book and for the exam I literally memorised facts that I honestly did not even understand.

Another really challenging aspect about first year is that the exams for Psychology are at the end of Hilary (2nd term). For most other subjects, exams are at the end of Trinity (3rd term). So it was so much harder to motivate myself to revise and work in the weeks running up to my exam as most of my friends were less busy than I was. Exams are in the 8th week of Hilary usually and lectures run up to 7th week which can also be challenging as you would need to juggle both learning and revising. Not surprisingly, I did pretty badly for my exams. Although I just about managed to average a 2.1, I almost failed my Neurophysiology paper.

But honestly, it DOESN’T MATTER. As you read on, it’ll become clearer that prelims really did not hold me back in any way. The only thing really that you’ve to do is to pass them. I’m not trying to suggest that you should completely ignore them. But it is not worth the excessive stress and damage to your mental health. Coming to a new environment on itself is really stressful, and if the work is getting to you – take a break! There’s no need to feel guilty at all.

 

Year 2 and Part Ones (40% of degree mark)

Then came the dreaded part ones. I remember being asked which were more stressful (Prelims or Part ones). The answer is slightly complicated. You become more familiar with the expectations of your writing and essays so it is more comfortable in that sense. But the content is definitely way way way more. You start Part Ones in Trinity of First Year. You have a total of 8 options + 1 statistics paper. The paper for each option consists of writing 3 essays (out of 5 options) and a short answers paper. When I started learning material for Part Ones, I was led into a false sense of security. Less essays were expected of me (3 every two weeks) as compared to Prelims (3 a week). As such, the only work I did was for my essays – I did not really bother learning much of the other parts of the course. I only realised this to be a mistake during the Summer when I was trying to revise for my collections. I found the content really overwhelming and had no idea how I was going to able to sit any of the papers. I had contemplated rusticating at this point (and again a few more times in the months following this). There were also a lot of bits such as developmental psychology which I didn’t really enjoy so doing well became bigger challenge. Surprisingly, I ended up doing pretty well for my Part ones (I’ll leave tips for this below) but it was not an easy journey getting there.

Year 3 and Part Twos (60% of degree mark)

Final year and freedom. In the final year, you get to choose options you’re actually interested in. No more learning bits you’re not interested in! You have to do a total of 4 papers (one of which is the research project). Each paper has a weighting of 15%. I chose to do an option run by Prof David Clark, Prof Anke Ehlers and Prof Daniel Freeman (Developing treatments for anxiety disorders and Psychosis) and one run by Prof Chris Summerfield (Your brain as a statistician). I decided to do a Library Dissertation with Dr Lucy Bowes (which I’m working on now). But by far the best part of my degree was my research project supervised by Dr Lucy Bowes. I looked at the relationship between mood change and social rejection, and how this may be moderated by psychosis. I really loved doing my research project – designing my experiment and the execution was so much fun. I think this was probably due to the control I had over my project and the hands on element of it as compared to my options. The ability to tailor your options according to your interests really made the last year the best! 



Advice to my Year One self 

  1. You’re doing really well! You’re in a tough situation away from home. This on itself is really really stressful. 
  2. Don’t push too hard. While exams are important, your physical and mental health are so much more important. Do not neglect yourself.
  3. Don’t feel defeated. Push on through the bad essays. I gave up so soon after my first few tries. I really wished I had just remained motivated to learn and do well.
  4. Prelims are important but they don’t count towards your degree – so don’t worry too much.

Advice to myself in Year Two 

  1. Stay organised. Don’t just do the essays – make notes for each module while you’re learning. I did all my notes in Hilary (a month before my exam). This was so overwhelming given the heavy content.
  2. Find a strategy that suits you. I was literally struggling to remember anything for my short notes and I would sit there staring aimlessly at my notes. Cue cards really helped me remember the pesky details.
  3. For short notes, base your notes on the lecture slides. This will ensure that you’re not missing out any details that you may be tested on.
  4. Put effort into your essays during term. They come in so handy nearer to exams and serve as good revision. 
  5. Don’t be afraid to speak to your College Parent. I remember being a panicked 2nd year contacting my college mum (Sarah) so often. They’ve all been through it – they understand and potentially give the best advice especially if you are going through a specific problem (content related or revision related)!

Advice to my Third year self  and things I hope to do in the next term 

  1. Choose options that really interest you – this is so incredibly important! You don’t do much in your third year so choosing options you enjoy will keep you so much more engaged and interested.
  2. Do not delay data collection – start as soon as you can. Same goes with the dissertation. Really hope I would’ve started my dissertation earlier!
  3. Time – you have a bit more time in 3rd year and so take the time to relax and venture into things that you actually enjoy doing – watch tortoise race, borrow a dog? In fact – do what you love throughout your degree! 

The past 2 years has been quite tough but I promise third year is so much more fun and fulfilling! You just need to push on. I think what has helped me most over my course is to acknowledge I am struggling and seek help in terms of talking to tutors and college parents. Everyone is so much more helpful than you think and are always willing to make time to help you or simply listen x

 

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