What on earth is 0th week at Oxford?

The Oxford vocabulary is chock-full of words and phrases rarely used in the rest of the English language. We take a look at the notion of "0th week" and its importance to Oxford life.


Charlie Bowden

7/26/20236 min read

Image: The old library of the Oxford Union. The famous debate club requires its governing members to do additional work outside of term time, including during 0th week. Source: Wikimedia Commons

What is 0th week?

Oxford makes use of a lot of terminology that can be difficult to navigate, especially for those unfamiliar with it. But one of the more easily understandable elements that sets Oxford apart is its numbering of the weeks of term. This is more than a formality for university documents and contracts; it is embedded into the academic and social lives of all Oxford students. It is common for students and staff to use this numbered system as opposed to regular calendar dates, so instead of someone saying ‘Thursday the 3rd’, they’ll say ‘Thursday of fifth week’. Likewise, the week before the first week of term is called “0th week” - pronounced “noughth week” - since it is effectively week 0. It can be tricky to get used to but everyone around you using this system will soon make you think of time at Oxford in the same way.

How long is an Oxford term?

Oxford has eight-week terms, but students are often still living in Oxford for at least a few days before and after ‘full term’ officially starts and ends. In some cases, this may be due to academic requirements such as a late-term tutorial or compulsory exams, or they may just want to stay in the city for a little bit longer. The weeks immediately before and after Oxford’s full terms are known as noughth week (week 0) and ninth week, respectively. Noughth week especially is an important time in a student’s term calendar, particularly if you’re just starting at Oxford.

Image: People partying during freshers' week.

What’s special about 0th week?

Noughth week is most significant to a student when they first arrive to Oxford as a fresher in Michaelmas of your first year. Most colleges require freshers to be in college by Tuesday of noughth week at the latest so they can fully participate in the college and university induction programs. These programs run throughout 0th week, and help introduce new students to the university.

What happens during 0th week?

On a college level, the events of noughth week (or fresher’s week) are organised both by college administrators and student leaders from the Junior Common Room (JCR). These include a subject dinner with your tutors and fellow students, a meeting with your college parents (second-year mentors who you can go to for advice), and a formal college induction ceremony with the head of the college. Many colleges hold additional events like workshops on key topics such as welfare and student safety. The JCR will also typically run several social events such as bar parties and games nights throughout the week.

Image: Friends meet to hang out and discuss in the college JCR room. The JCR is also an organisation.

What is the Junior Common Room (JCR)?

The Junior Common Room, or JCR for short, is both a physical space in a college and a student organisation. Every college has a Junior Common Room, and a JCR organisation too. Traditionally, the common room was one of the places where undergrads hung out whilst they were in the college, providing a place to socialise and meet other people. But the JCR grew from a place for informal discussion and debate into a formal organisation, in which undergraduates of the college will meet to discuss how the college should be run. As such, it has more power than other student organisations, and can influence the policies of the college itself.

What is freshers’ week?

Freshers’ week is the first week of term for new students. It takes place during 0th week at Oxford - the week before term officially starts for most students.

Fresher’s week is certainly the most important use for 0th week, both for students arriving in Oxford and students involved in the various induction activities going on around the city. Since Oxford’s fresher’s week takes place later than that of most other universities, it’s important that a lot of information is provided to new students as quickly as possible so they can get settled and begin studying. The mix of both college and university events and staff and student organisers creates layers of engagement that students can, to an extent, choose their level of participation in. The most important things are compulsory but for the most part, fresher’s week is what you make of it, and it’ll be over in a flash if you’re not careful.

Image: A typical 0th week schedule for new students. Some events are compulsory and others are optional. The week serves as an introduction to college life. Source: St John's College MCR, Oxford.

Who organises freshers’ week?

Most of the fresher’s week activities are left to the colleges, so there are only a few university-wide events. Some subjects may hold introductory lectures during freshers’ week, especially if their term begins with a packed schedule.

What happens during freshers’ week?

It is common for students to be set homework during freshers’ week at Oxford, though for the most part, it is a time for students to take part in non-academic activities. The most significant uni-wide event is the Fresher’s Fair, which is typically held over two days in University Parks. This is where all the university-wide societies at Oxford advertise themselves to freshers to incentivise them to join up. It’s always a good idea to attend this to get an idea of what’s on offer, even if you don’t really know what societies you would want to get involved in. At the very least, you can usually walk away with a lot of freebies: pens, tote bags, bookmarks, and even pizza.

Why does 0th week exist?

Noughth week allows you get acclimatised to Oxford’s unique ways of doing things before full term begins. Within the wider context of the Oxford term, noughth week is a grace period of sorts before the serious academic work sets in. Still, it can be a very overwhelming experience with so many events going on in places you haven’t been to before. It’s valuable to have time to be introduced to the student life at Oxford before the academic work sets in.

Image: Students line up to take a matriculation photo during 0th week at Keble College, Oxford.

What happens during 0th week for other students?

Noughth week becomes a lot less eventful after your fresher’s week but there’s still important things taking place for older students that are often compulsory.

The most significant of these is College Collections, which are mock exams based on whatever paper(s) you studied during the previous term. Students will always have collections in noughth week unless they took public exams at the end of the previous term.

Are Oxford collections important?

Collections don’t affect your progression throughout university and are more a check of your understanding than a serious assessment. However, they do make sure that you get straight back into the academic rigours of Oxford life as soon as you return. Most colleges hold their collections on the Friday and Saturday of noughth week, and as such all students are expected to be back in Oxford by Thursday of noughth week so they are back in time to take them. They are usually marked by whoever taught you for that paper in the previous term and are returned to you halfway through term in fourth week. Many colleges offer incentives for achieving high marks in collections, such as book vouchers to Blackwell’s, Oxford’s famous bookshop.

Although collections can be stressful and students are expected to revise for them during their vacation, they don’t formally affect your academic standing at the university. Instead, they are meant to get you used to Oxford exams in preparation for the real thing. Collections also incentivise you to build up your knowledge and critical thinking skills after the lethargy of a long holiday.

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