Guide to Prelims

So you’re about to take your Prelims?

Prelims are the first university-wide exams you will take in Oxford and, while the majority of them are in 8th and 9th week Trinity of your first year, for some poor souls they happen earlier, in Hilary term, or later, in Hilary term of your second year. In some subjects prelims are called other things (like mods) but they’re all equivalent to the same thing. Your prelims result does not count towards your degree; you must pass them in order to continue your studies, but the actual mark does not matter. You can achieve a distinction in prelims, which is equivalent to a first in finals, which allows you to wear a swanky scholar’s gown and attend LMH’s scholars’ dinner.

The Practical Stuff – How to Get There

Prelims either take place in Exam Schools or at Ewert House which is in Summertown. Both take about 10-15 minutes to cycle, or half an hour to walk. Some people take taxis to their exams but this can be risky as companies get booked up and can be late. Best either to leave lots of time and book ahead, or get their under your own steam.


To get to Exam Schools: Head down Parks Road to the Bod. Turn left onto the high street. Exam schools is on your right before you get to the Iffley roundabout.


To get to Ewert House: Turn right out of college and head down Norham road. Turn right onto Banbury Road. Straight onto into Summertown and then turn right at Marks and Spencers. Ewert House is straight in front of you.

Alternative Arrangements

If you need to make alternative arrangements for your prelims such as, for example, them clashing with a religious holiday, or you needing to type your exams you need to apply by Friday of 4th week of the term in which you’re going to sit your exams. You’ll need to speak to the senior tutor Fiona Spensley in order to get these sorted.

What to Wear

Subfusc must be worn when entering and leaving all your exams but you can take your gowns/bowties off during if that helps you concentrate. Subfusc (in case you’ve forgotten) 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!)

Subfusc is totally gender neutral so wear what is most comfortable for you, and be aware that you can request special dispensation not to wear subfusc if you feel it will get in the way of your exam performance. Also, while examiners can get stressy with you for wearing the wrong things, they should only approach you about this after your exam and they cannot stop you from taking your exam because you aren’t wearing the right things. Don’t let subfusc worry you, it definitely shouldn’t be the focus of your exam preparation.

It is also tradition for students to wear carnations to exams, white for the first one, pink for middle ones and red for your final exam. This is a fun tradition and is normally provided by your college parents (make sure to remind them if your exam is at an unusual time) but is not part of subfusc so don’t worry if you lose/forget them.

Things to Bring With You

  • Bod card (though if you forget it, nothing bad happens, you just have to go and tell them your name separately)
  • 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 though, if you can’t remember it an examiner will come round and tell you so it’s not a big deal
  • Pens/pencils/calculator (if allowed/required) in a clear pencil case or bag
  • Bottle of water – this must be a clear bottle and it can’t be a screw top ie. it must be a sports bottle with a nonspill cap. They do make you bin your water if you bring the wrong one so this is important to remember!
  • Watch – just in case you can’t see the clock
  • A small packet of sweets is allowed so long as you don’t rustle them – can be useful for a sugar kick if you’ve got to spend three hours writing essays

Other Tips and Tricks

  • Make sure to arrive early for exams so you don’t have a last minute panic
  • Both Exam Schools and Ewert House have strange white marquees constructed outside them that act like holding pens. It feels like a wedding but no one is happy. Just be prepared for it, it can be very hot and busy in there so if you think that will be a difficult environment for you then get in contact with college early so they can organise different provision
  • You can leave exams early if you want to, but be aware you’re not allowed to leave in the first or last half an hour of the exam
  • This may seem silly but make sure you don’t write your name on the front of your exam sheet. It’s a hangover from your school days, but in prelims they only want your candidate number so that way tutors don’t know which student’s papers they are marking

Revision and How to Deal With the Stress

Everyone finds exam periods hard, here are some tips for how to deal with it:

  • Ask your college parents for help/advice. They will have gone through the same thing, at least one of them will have done your subject too, so they’ll be able to offer practical advice or just a friendly face if you want a chat
  • Communicate with your tutors. You may well have a few less structured weeks of teaching in the run up to your exams, but keep in close contact with your tutors, ask them questions and check that you’re on the right track. Tutors will always be happy to organise additional tutorials/mark past papers you have done so make sure to keep them in the loop about how your revision is going. If there’s a topic you are particularly struggling with, chances are someone else on your course feels the same way, and your tutor might organise a class/drop-in session on it to help you out
  • You can access OXAM which has lots of past papers. It can be useful both to flick through exams to familiarise yourself with the layout (so, for example, you’re not thrown in the exam if there’s a whole section which you do not have to answer because it’s for those doing a different course or joint honours) and to do whole past papers to test yourself on what areas you need to focus on most
  • Sort out where you are going to revise. If your room is a tip it will be difficult to concentrate so get organised and do your washing up! It can be useful to try out different study spaces to see where you work best – remember you can book out rooms via the LMH intranet if you want a space to work away from your room or somewhere you and your friends can do group work that isn’t the library. There are plenty of nice places around Oxford if you feel the need to get outside of college too – try the Weston library or cafes like The Buttery or Turl Street Kitchen
  • Make a revision plan and leave time for lots of sleep and some time off. Don’t go crazy and cut out all socialising in Trinity term, you won’t be able to keep up that level of intensity! Try websites like to help you make a realistic revision timetable which you can stick to
  • Don’t forget about all of the welfare provisions LMH has. 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
  • Visit – it has lots of useful advice about how to revise and prepare for exams


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. LMH shop will be stocking sustainable trashing materials this year as well! 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. People also often jump into the river when they get back to LMH to celebrate, but of course, this is all optional! Surviving your first lot of Oxford exams is stressful, but there’s no greater feeling than finishing!


Unfortunately, while everyone else can be confident in the knowledge that their prelims don’t count, this isn’t quite the case for medics. While it’s true that your results from the First BM Part I and II exams (in first and second year respectively) don’t count towards your BA in Medical Sciences, they do determine your rank within the medical school. This means they eventually contribute to your national ranking, which will affect how likely you are to get your desired Foundation Year One post after you graduate as a doctor. So don’t write off your first year exams thinking they don’t count, but also remember that they will only constitute a small proportion of your overall ranking by the time you finish your medical degree, so there’s no need to stress too much!