When Life Gives You a 55 for Your First Essay Grade (and Other Long-Winded Titles)

Scott Abrams
November 19, 2016

So, as I have mentioned previously, the education system at Oxford is pretty different than what we typically see in America. The basics are basically that, instead of having four to five classes that meet several times a week, you have two courses (tutorials).

Your primary tutorial, which is worth eight credits (usually comparable to two classes at your home university), will meet for an hour each week. Your secondary tutorial is worth four credits (the equivalent of one class), and you will either meet for an hour some combination of four weeks throughout the eight-week term. (There are also some circumstances in which you might be able take three “secondary” tutorials instead of a secondary and primary, but you’d need to work it out with IES Abroad and St. Catz.)

On Wednesdays, I have my primary tutorial—Screenwriting and Dramatic Analysis—at noon and my secondary tutorial—Charles Dickens—at 14:00 (better get used to that military time!) every other week. While I’m lucky enough to take Screenwriting around 20 feet from my bedroom, the Dickens tutorial (or “tut,” as we affectionately refer to them) is sadly a 20 minute walk away at Wolfson College, one of the few Oxford campuses which only accepts graduate students.

After walking the muddy path through the park to get there, my “tutor,” an American woman recently christened a “Doctor of English,” takes me to her office and starts to quiz me on the essay I emailed her 24 hours earlier. To some, the experience can be a little daunting at first—one of my friends was so overwhelmed after her first class she cried—but frankly I love it. There’s something rather exhilarating about having your work attacked. I feel like a knight defending my paper’s honor. However, don’t get me wrong: typically, any major problems my tutor points out within the essay are justified. There have been many a criticism that I’ve basically just nodded and agreed with (while writing up to 4500 words and reading over 1200 pages of a novel per week obviously teaches you better writing and time-management skills, it’s unreasonable to expect yourself to be on you’re A-game at all times), and (hopefully) learned from.

Before my tutor handed back my first essay, she told me to remain calm. This was only my first essay and I wrote it under a completely new system and obviously it’s not going to be perfect. If I knew everything from the get-go, what would she have to teach me?


I got a 55 on my first essay at Oxford. You might too. And that’s okay.

The grading system is so different from America that getting a 55 is actually okay. My tutor did her undergrad in America, so she helpfully translates the number grade to a letter (my 55 was equal to a B), but that’s very uncommon for most tutors to do. Anyway, each of my essays since then has received steadily higher marks—keep in mind a 70 or above is an A, or a “first-class” degree—and I think it’s good to use a grading system that doesn’t condition you with a need for perfection.

Just maybe don’t share that first grade with your parents.

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Scott Abrams

<p>Scott Abrams is an English Literature major at the University of Rochester and is attending Oxford through IES Abroad Direct Enrollment in the fall semester of 2016. His favorite things include warm woolen mittens and celebrity Twitter feuds. He hopes you won&#39;t judge him too harshly.</p>

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