Lectures, practical work, maths and physics classes, and Part II supervision are all provided by the Department. Tutorial teaching is organised in Colleges.
In the first two years of the course the lectures cover entirely core material, and so all students follow the same scheme of lectures. There is a small amount of choice in the practical course, once the key skills have been learned. The third year continues coverage of core material in lectures but also offers a choice of more specialised Options which cover a wide range of topics, some relating to research interests in the Department.
Practical work in the third year offers students more choice as well, with opportunities to tackle longer experiments (over several days), combining skills that have been covered in the earlier years of the course.
The fourth year is spent entirely on a research project, working with a supervisor chosen by the students. There is plenty of scope for students to choose their area of research and drive the direction of their project, within the limitations of the resources available. Students also have the option to choose to undertake their Part II year in a related field outside of the Department of Chemistry – these options vary from year to year.
University exams are sat at the end of each academic year (1-3). There are no written exams in the fourth year, instead a thesis is submitted for assessment.
1st Year: Preliminary Examination in Chemistry (usually referred to as “Prelims”)
Four papers, one in each of Inorganic Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Physical Chemistry and Mathematics for Chemistry. Students must pass in order to progress to the second year of the course. The level of examinations is set so that with reasonable commitment the vast majority of students do pass. For the few who fail there is an opportunity to resit in September. Marks in these exams do not count towards the degree classification.
2nd Year: Honour School of Chemistry Part IA
Three papers, one in each of Inorganic Chemistry, Organic Chemistry and Physical Chemistry. Overall these exams count 15% towards the MChem degree.
3rd Year: Honour School of Chemistry Part IB
Seven papers, two in each of Inorganic Chemistry, Organic Chemistry and Physical Chemistry, and one Options paper. Overall these exams count 50% towards the MChem degree.
4th Year: Honour School of Chemistry Part II
Thesis submitted for assessment. This counts 25% towards the MChem degree.
In the first year the practical marks do not count towards the degree classification, but students are required to complete the course to a satisfactory standard in order to progress to the second year. Practical work in the second and third years is combined to make up 10% of the MChem degree.
Both are excellent universities for teaching and research, and they are often found at (or near) the top of UK university league tables. Both employ tutorial-style teaching. The main difference, from a chemistry perspective, is that Oxford offers a Chemistry degree course, while Cambridge offers a Natural Sciences degree course where students specialise in Chemistry later in the course. The Oxford course contains more chemistry in terms of breadth and depth, and is designed for students who know they want to study this subject at University. Cambridge gives you a chance to try out a broad choice of science at the start and to home in on what you want to do later in the degree.
The Part II year
The Part II year is the fourth year of the course. It is entirely devoted to a research project, with no additional teaching or examinations. Students benefit from being active members of their chosen research group and have the opportunity to make a real contribution to chemical research. This is when many students make up their minds to pursue a career in research.
Have a look at our research website to find out about the research going on in the Department of Chemistry. The majority of supervisors in the Department will take Part II students in their group, although there are slight variations each year. Students also have the option to choose a project in a related field outside of the Department of Chemistry. Details of these options vary from year to year but in the past they have included: Biochemistry, Geography, History of Science, Materials, Medicine, Physiology and Plant Sciences.
The Oxford MChem course does not have a formal “year in industry” option. Depending on the supervisor and project, there may be an opportunity for an industry collaboration in the Part II year. Students should discuss this with supervisors when making their choices in the third year. This kind of project is usually undertaken by one or two students each year.
The Oxford MChem course does not have a formal “study abroad” option. Depending on the supervisor and project, there may be an opportunity for some or all of the Part II year to be undertaken abroad at an institution with whom the Oxford supervisor is collaborating on some of their work. There is currently also an arrangement for 4-5 students each year to complete their Part II at Berkeley (University of California).
Tutorials are the College teaching system. A tutor (usually a fellow of the College) teaches undergraduates in very small groups (usually 2 or 3 students). Students attend, on average, one or two tutorials every week of approximately 90 minutes in length and must undertake a considerable number of hours of preparatory work for each tutorial, including background reading, essay-writing and problem-solving. Tutorials are a great opportunity for students to ask questions, work through problems with the tutor’s guidance, address specific areas of the work that they have found more difficult or delve deeper into topics of particular interest.
Collections are tests set by College tutors, usually at the beginning of each Term (starting from Hilary Term of the first year). They are usually made up of past examination questions or related problems, and allow students and their tutors to assess progress. They also provide an opportunity to practise attempting problems in an exam-style setting. Collections do not count towards the degree classification, but they are an important part of the tutorial teaching system.
For the October 2022 application deadline there is no admissions test for Chemistry at Oxford.
Our admissions criteria explains in detail what we are looking for. In short, we are looking for students who are interested in chemistry and have the potential to do very well on our course.
Our admissions criteria do not require students to study Further Maths, Physics, or Biology at A-level (or equivalent). The first year of the MChem assumes that students have only studied Chemistry and Maths to A-level. Given that the MChem does include some maths, physics and biology beyond A-level, taking a third science A-level may strengthen your application; for example, it may indicate that you are more interested in (and suited to) the course than a candidate who does not offer a third science. However we do make offers every year to candidates who are not taking a third science.
We will only make an offer on three A-levels; we appreciate that many schools are not able to offer a fourth A-level. However, we are interested in your ability to manage the academic demands of a challenging degree course, and there are instances where offering a fourth A-level can be argued to be an indicator of this ability. Typically just under half our A-level students have four or more A-levels and just over half have three.
Note that it is more important to achieve the three grades in the offer than to jeopardise your grades by over-extending yourself.
When we assess your application, we only have limited real data to help. Your predicted grades are an important indicator in the assessment. We do not normally shortlist candidates who are not predicted to achieve the standard offer, but every year we do shortlist a few, as we are looking at your academic potential, which may be on an upward trajectory.
We don’t have a recommended reading list, but we’d suggest reading A-level texts from other syllabuses and/or anything that particularly interests you in Chemistry or in other related subjects. Read what you enjoy reading!
We are aware of the difficulties of finding relevant work experience, and the nature of your work experience will have no impact on your application to the Chemistry course.
Make it personal! The personal statement is your opportunity to explain your own enthusiasm for the subject, why you want to spend the next 4 years studying it in great detail, and how your enthusiasm has already led you to find out about aspects of chemistry beyond the A-level syllabus, for example. But please don’t make things up! We might use something in your personal statement as a starting point for your interview, to put you at ease, and our attempts may have the opposite effect if you've not read the books you've listed. Note that personal statements are usually a relatively unimportant part of a candidate's assessment.