Arts (and/versus) Science: Tutorials

Most people at U of T (and in life) will generally label themselves as either an “arts/humanities person” or a “math/science person”. Being able to pursue (or even have an interest in) both in equal measure certainly creates a lot of rewards, but it also comes with some unique challenges.

As someone who’s currently doing one arts major + one science major, I have learned that I definitely have to wire my brain differently for courses depending on whether they’re an arts course or a science course. Things like studying, taking notes, knowing what to expect from instructor-student relations are different enough in these two areas that sometimes I get caught off guard when I’m not being mindful of when I need to switch my brain from one mode to another.

Arts & Science banner outside of Sidney Smith Hall

Pick your team? (from:

Take for example, tutorials.

The expectations and structure of a tutorial will of course vary between courses and instructors even within a department. But actually knowing in advance what I can expect and what I need to be responsible for in different kinds of tutorials, helps me actually take advantage of them.

Tutorials in the sciences

There’s a lot of “chalk and talk” problem solving that goes on during science tutorials. And unless you have to write a quiz or hand in assignments during this time, not a lot students show up.

What works for me: What I’ve found to be extremely helpful is to actually show up to tutorials having done the problems we’re going over that day (if the instructor posts them ahead of time) or to do whatever practice problems are relevant to that section (if the instructor doesn’t assign any suggested problems). This might be obvious for you, but I’ve always thought of the lectures as essential and the tutorials as more supplementary. Arguably, it’s actually been more important for me to come to tutorials prepared than it is to come to lectures prepared (not that you shouldn’t come prepared to lectures, of course!). Nowadays, there are a lot of resources on the internet that you can go to if you need to find a better explanation of a concept that you didn’t understand just from listening to your instructor or reading the textbook. But being able to work through a problem with a TA/instructor/your classmates in person, and being able to receive instant feedback, is invaluable.

Empty classroom

Typical science tutorial or an empty classroom? I’m kidding, of course.(In the Bancroft building).

Tutorials in the arts
Most arts tutorials are very different just from the fact that a lot of them require mandatory attendance as part of a “participation” grade. Instead of going over example problems like in the science tutorials, here you try to work through the material in a discussion format (usually).

What works for me: Discussion-centered tutorials are a bit of a wildcard for me. I’ve found that the experience often relies heavily on the TA and the other students in the class. They can be fantastic, terrible, or somewhere in between.  Instead of zoning out (which has previously been my go-to in these situations), I try to take notes on why something that’s being said may be irrelevant to my understanding in this class. Being able to categorize information in this way is a very important skill to practice anyway and recognizing why something isn’t relevant actually cements the concepts of what is relevant better in my mind.

So while there are certainly things I can’t change about the nature of tutorials in any ArtSci class, in the end, I think being able to pinpoint what actually works for me personally can actually help me use tutorial time to my advantage.