So you’ve heard that you have to do something called ‘Prelims’…

These are the first set of University-wide exams that you will write while in Oxford. Most subjects write prelims in week 8 or week 9 of Trinity in their first year. However, some subjects (like Law) take them earlier. You might sometimes refer to prelims as “mods” (for example, in law), but these are essentially the same thing as prelims. While the results you get in these exams don’t actually count towards your overall degree mark, you do have to pass them to keep studying. Plus, if you get a distinction (which is like getting a first in finals), you get certain perks, like eating free formals on Wednesday and Friday and wearing a scholar’s gown.

Make sure you know where to go!

Prelims either take place in Exam Schools on High St. or at Ewert House which is in Summertown. Exam Schools is a 10-minute walk or 2-minute cycle and Ewert House is a 40-minute walk, a 15-minute bus, or a 15-minute cycle. Of course, you can always take a taxi, but then you risk getting caught in traffic. Make sure to leave early with plenty of time.

To get to Exam Schools: Come out on Turl St, turn right and walk to ‘The Mitre’ Pub on the High St. Then turn left and walk all the way down for about 6 minutes. If you get near the bridge, you’ve gone too far!

To get to Ewert House: Come out on Turl St, turn left and walk towards Broad Street. Once you’re on Broad Street turn left, walk up a bit and then turn right to walk down the narrow road where the busses are normally parked. You’ll pass St Johns’, you’ll pass a little blue wrap shop/hut called Najars but continue walking. You’ll see the road diverge but continue walking on Banbury Road. You’ll pass the Engineering faculty, Kellogg College but keep walking. Eventually you’ll see a bicycle shop called ‘Summertown Cycles’, a Co-op and a Marks & Spencers. Turn right just before the marks and spencers and follow the road down to Ewert House.


If you need to make alternative arrangements for your prelims you must apply for these arrangements by Friday of 4th week in the term of your exams. To organize this, you’ll need to speak to both Sailesh Vyas and the Academic Director, Dr Alexandra Lumbers, as the University or faculty will not do it automatically for you. You may be eligible for special arrangements if you have certain medical conditions, if the exam clashes with a religious holiday or if you need to type your exams.

Dress code

Subfusc (like what you wore for matriculation) must be worn when entering and leaving all your exams. That said, once you get inside the exam rooms you can remove gowns or bowties if you find them distracting. Furthermore, you can make a request an exemption from subfusc if you feel it will negatively impact your exam. Although subfusc is required, the examiners cannot actually prevent you from writing your exams if you are wearing the wrong things, so definitely don’t stress about it! A reminder that subfusc consists of:

  • One of: a dark suit with dark socks, a dark skirt with black tights or dark trousers with dark socks

  • Black shoes

  • White shirt

  • White bowtie, black bowtie, black normal tie or black ribbon

  • Gown

  • Mortar board (which must be carried but not worn!)

Traditionally, carnations are also worn to exams; white for the first exam, pink for the middle, and red for the final exam. Your college parents or students doing your course in the year above will normally provide these for you – and while they are fun to wear – they are not a part of subfusc.

What to bring

  • Bod card (though if you forget it, you can still write the exam)

  • You should know your candidate number which you are required to write on all your exam papers. You can find this by logging onto Student Self Service. Again, if you forget, you can still write the exam

  • Pens/pencils/calculator (if allowed/required) in a clear pencil case or bag

  • Clear bottle of water – this must be a clear bottle with a non-spill lid. If you bring a screw top water bottle, you will not be allowed to bring it into the exam room

  • Watch – just in case you can’t see the clock (but don’t bring a smart watch!)

  • A small packet of sweets is allowed so long as you don’t rustle them

The Exam itself

  • You can leave exams early but you will not be permitted to leave during the first or last half-hour

  • You are allowed to leave to use the toilets (with a supervisor) and come back into the exam room, but you are only allowed to do this once throughout the exam

  • Make sure to only write your candidate number on the front of your exam, and not your name. This is because the examiners want the marking process to be entirely anonymous.


  • Ask your college parents for help and advice, as well as people doing your course in the year above you. Your college parents will be around to support you, while the second/third years may have advice (or notes, if you’re lucky) that are specific to your subject. Even just talking through the exam with someone who has done it can be very helpful!

  • Look at past papers, which can be found on OXAM. This is important for two reasons. First, it will give you an idea of the format of the exam (i.e. how many questions you must answer, and which types of questions you must answer.) Second, stressful as it is, actually doing practice tests is helpful because it gets you used to doing questions under time pressure, but also because it gives you an idea of what you don’t know, and thus, what you should focus your revision on.

  • Communicate with your tutors; if you are struggling with a particular area, your tutors will be able to answer your questions. Often, they will also organize at least one revision class to prepare you for the exam as well.

  • Pick somewhere to revise. It can be helpful to try out different study spaces to see where you work best or move around every once in a while for a change in scenery. You can book out rooms via the Jesus College intranet if you want a space to work away from your room or somewhere that you and your friends can do group work. There are also plenty of nice places around Oxford if you feel the need to get outside of college too – try the RadCam, your faculty library, Weston library or cafes like The Buttery or Turl Street Kitchen.

  • Plan. This will look different for everybody – some people like to carefully allot each day into exactly what they want to accomplish, while others will just make a general outline of what they want to look before the exam. No matter which category you fall into, doing even some planning goes a long way; you’d be surprised how fast the exams sneak up on you!

  • Get help if you need it – Jesus has lots of welfare provisions. The JCR welfare officers will be more than happy to look after you during exams, the nurse and doctors will help you deal with issues including insomnia and anxiety and the chaplain or your personal tutor will help too. If you want to talk to someone totally impartial and out of college, Oxford Nightline runs from 8am-8pm. You can either call them on 01865 270270 or use the instant messenger service on their website

  • Don’t forget to rest and stay healthy! Getting enough sleep is important not only the night before the exam, but in the weeks leading up to it as well. As my tutor put it, “do what you need to do to be a normal human.” If for you that’s going for runs, then run! If you need to chill out and watch some TV every day, then do that! Remember that important as exams are, you can definitely still have a life outside of them.

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Trashing is a tradition that occurs when you have finished your last exam. Officially, you are not allowed to throw anything at your friends, but in reality, people often throw flour, glitter, prosecco and other things. Be aware that you may get into trouble if you do this, and it’s also good to think of the environmental impact of throwing lots of glitter or wasting food. Consider shaving foam over whipped cream - foods tend to develop a distinctly unpleasant stench when you dump your subfusc into a bag and forget about till next year…
If you’re leaving your last exam and you don’t want to get trashed then you might want to wait until most people have left, and it’s also a good idea to take off anything valuable just in case. Tradition has it that you come back to Jesus to get trashed with water thrown by your friends in 2nd quad but of course, this is all optional! Surviving your first lot of Oxford exams is stressful, but there’s no greater feeling than finishing!