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Oxbridge Terminology Decoder

Elite IB’s team of ex-Oxbridge university consultants know how confusing it can be to show up in the first week and not understand half of what everyone is saying! Oxford and Cambridge are historical institutions, bound with their own traditions, collegiate nationalism and language – here is a quick guide to some of the more common Oxbridge words.

Term Meaning
Michaelmas; Hilary (Ox)/Lent (Cam); Trinity (Ox)/Easter (Cam) Names of first, second and third terms respectively.
Bop A themed fancy dress party thrown by colleges (e.g. at the beginning and end of term).
Formal A formal dinner hosted in the college’s hall, which tends to be quite a cheap way of having a three-course meal.
Bumps Intercollegiate rowing races that take place in early spring and early summer.
Porters Staff members who oversee security and various other aspects of college life; they are available 24/7, so there will always be someone around if you need them.
Plodge Short for ‘porter’s lodge’, this is where you will find said porters.
Supervision (‘supo)/tutorial (‘tute’) A key aspect of the Oxbridge teaching system: small-group sessions (generally one to three students in size) with an academic specialist in a particular module or paper, exploring a given topic in greater depth and going through work you have produced in advance.
Sent down/rustication This has historically referred to temporary expulsion from Oxford or Cambridge, but is now also used in cases where students take a break from their studies for personal reasons (e.g. welfare, health). Cambridge also uses the term ‘intermission’.
Prelims Short for ‘preliminary examination’, these are exams taken to allow a student to progress to the next stage of their degree. They are common among Oxford courses but comparatively rare in Cambridge, though must be sat (generally at the end of the first year) for subjects such as Classics, English and History. They do not count towards your final degree result.
Scholar Someone who achieves a first in their exams for a given year. Certain colleges (controversially) operate a ‘scholars’ ballot’, allowing scholars first choice of room for the coming academic year.
Punting A must-try activity, particularly in the summer: someone stands on the front (in Oxford) or back (in Cambridge) of a boat and pushes it along with a pole.
JCR/MCR These stand for the Junior and Mature Combination/Common Room respectively, and are used to refer to both the undergraduate/postgraduate student bodies, and also the physical common rooms themselves (which might have, for instance, a TV or pool table).