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interviews at oxford
interviews at oxford

Interviews at Oxford
This booklet aims to explain Oxford interviews and
the part they play in the selection procedure for
undergraduate courses. Please remember that the
interview is just one aspect of your application, as
tutors will also consider your:
n examination results,
n predicted grades,
n personal statement,
n academic reference, and
n admissions tests or written work, if they are
required for your subject.
This booklet also gives advice on how you can
prepare for your interview, so that you will be
able to do your best.
If you have any further general questions
about your interview, please contact the Applicants with disabilities
Undergraduate Admissions Office. You can find Students with disabilities should inform their
contact details on the back cover of this booklet. college of any particular requirements well in
If you have been invited to an interview, and advance of their interview, so that any appropriate
have any questions, please contact the college arrangements can be made. Please also refer to
that has invited you. You can find their contact for further
details on any letter that they have sent to you, information on sources of support that will be
or at available to you.
interviews at oxford | 1

Applying to Oxford
For details of how to apply to Oxford, please see The deadline

Greg Smolonski
for applications is 15 October. Please note that
several subjects require you to sit a written test
as part of your application and/or to submit
written work. To make sure that you can prepare International students
in good time and register for any tests that may
For details of interview arrangements for
be required, please do check the details for your
international students, please check
subject at

Many excellent candidates apply each year, are shortlisted. In other subjects, particularly
and most of them have a good personal those that are most heavily oversubscribed, a
statement and a glowing reference and are smaller proportion of candidates will be shortlisted
predicted top grades. With so many applications – in some cases, less than 50%. Sadly, this does
for each place at Oxford, it isn’t possible to mean that some candidates will be disappointed,
interview everyone. Tutors review each UCAS as their applications will not be considered beyond
application, along with any written test or written the shortlisting stage. However, shortlisting means
work required for the subject, and then decide that those candidates who have been identified
on a shortlist of candidates who will be invited as having the strongest ability and potential may
to interview. have more than one interview, increasingly at
For some courses, over 90% of candidates more than one college.

Elli Thomas
I had been on two open days before I came for the
interviews, and my school had organised some mock
interviews as well. In my first Oxford interview I was asked
about things I mentioned in my personal statement, so I was
very glad I had read everything I’d said I had! It also helped
that I was comfortable talking about the books and events
that I had mentioned.
In my other interview, the tutor was looking at my
written work, and commented, “So, you wrote this essay
on Fascist Italy, and you mention the Church…” Then the
rest of the interview was spent following a tangent: I was
encouraged to make intelligent guesses, and to think of
examples from areas that I did know about to illustrate
what I was saying.
Of my two interviews the first one was really nice and
I thought the second was absolutely terrible. I came out
thinking there’s absolutely no way I’d got in!
2 | interviews at oxford

Before your interview

Have I been shortlisted?
Towards the end of November or in early December
you will receive an email or a letter indicating whether
or not you have been invited for interview. If you have
been invited, the letter will include practical details of
your interview and further information.
Please note that you will probably be interviewed
at the college to which you applied, or the college
to which you were allocated, if you made an open
application. However, in some cases your application
may be referred to another college. This can happen if
a college is significantly oversubscribed for your subject
that year, and will be made clear in the letter inviting
you to interview.
In some subjects all candidates will automatically be
interviewed at a second college. For other subjects, you
may be offered the opportunity to have an interview
at a second or even a third college. This does not

Nasir Hamid
necessarily mean that you will not be offered a place at
the first college.

Dina Jubrail
A couple of hours before my interview I was given part of a House
of Lords judgement on a homicide trial to read and analyse. The
interview was focused on the text in hand, which then provided a
springboard for wider discussion.
The questions were initially fairly subjective. I was asked to give
my own definition of manslaughter (based on what I’d just read
in the judgement) and examples of different situations in which
the offence may be committed. We then moved on to the policy
behind the charge in question: the justification of holding liable for
manslaughter someone who had prepared a syringe of drugs for
the victim, but had not administered it. I was encouraged to use
analogies from everyday life to explain my reasoning, and I really
felt the tutors were keen not only to assess how I thought but also
to ensure I enjoyed the experience.
The interview was very well structured, which enabled me to
organise my thoughts and evaluate to the best of my ability. The
teaching style at Oxford is about exploring and testing ideas and
theories: the best advice I can give is to think every thought out
loud, which will show your analytical process, and allow you to
benefit from a debate with leading academics.
interviews at oxford | 3

Peter Hicks
For my first interview I had to analyse an article on Easter
Island, and give my opinions on some of the main arguments
within it. I then got asked about the two pieces of work I had
submitted before the interview, and finished with discussing an
aerial photograph of a volcano.
In my second interview, I was grilled about my AS-level
coursework, which led into a wider discussion about economics
– I had to think on my feet; using my own knowledge as
opposed to things I had learned in school.
Although I found the interviews daunting, I really enjoyed
them; they definitely helped me to improve my confidence
and my ability to express myself. I would say it’s best to relax,
and don’t pretend to be somebody you’re not: after all the
interviews are designed to let tutors learn about who you are!
Just be as enthusiastic as possible, and never be afraid to take
your time to think over the answer to a question.

How can I prepare?

We recommend that you: society and how you came to be interested in it.
n think about the obvious questions that are For these subjects, the topics for discussion are
often asked at the beginning of an interview to likely to allow you to demonstrate the skills
help you settle down, and think how you might needed by an undergraduate: the ability to use
answer them. Think specifically about why you information to construct your own opinions,
want to study at Oxford and why have you the willingness and ability to analyse and, in
chosen this particular subject. the sciences and mathematics, facility in
n read widely around your chosen subject, problem-solving.
including newspaper articles, websites, journals, n re-read any written work that you have submitted,
magazines and other publications that relate to and think about how you might expand on what
your subject. you wrote.
n take a critical view of ideas and arguments that n re-read your personal statement.
you encounter at school or college, or in the n organise a practice interview for yourself. This
media – think about all sides of any debate. could be with a teacher or someone else who
n be prepared to show some background is familiar with your subject, but preferably not
knowledge of the subject, if you are applying someone you know very well. This will help you
for a course not normally studied at school or to get some more experience of talking
college, such as Medicine, Law, Biochemistry about yourself and your work in an unfamiliar
or Oriental Studies. However, you will not be environment.
expected to have a detailed understanding of n remind yourself of the selection criteria for your
specific or technical topics. For example, you chosen subject. These criteria can be found at
may be asked what role your subject plays in
4 | interviews at oxford

Andreas Kallinos Finding your way

Biochemistry (Molecular
and Cellular) For details of how
I had two interviews; the first was at the to get
college that had originally invited me for to Oxford and
interview and the second was at a different how to find

James Whitaker
college, both taking place on the same day. your college,
I was asked why I had chosen Biochemistry please see our
and not Medicine, because in my personal website:
statement I said I wanted to work on the
medicinal aspect of biochemistry, but all Interviews in Oxford take place in December,
other questions were subject-orientated: I after the end of term, when many of our current
was asked to identify a few compounds and students will have returned home for Christmas.
functional groups from a handout and we However, each college makes sure that there
discussed their chemistry and purpose in are plenty of undergraduates around to provide
metabolic processes. information and to help candidates find their way
I felt very comfortable during the around. These undergraduates will have recently
interviews; they were more of a discussion experienced the interview process themselves,
than question-and-answer. The interviewers and are very well placed to help and advise you.
were friendly and I felt they wanted me to
be comfortable while talking. There aren’t
necessarily any right or wrong answers: you
What to wear and
are essentially answering questions based what to bring
on what you currently know. Some help and
hints are given if you get something wrong Please wear whatever clothes you feel
and you are always asked to explain your comfortable in – and remember that it can be
thinking behind your answer. very cold in December, so bring something warm.
Most tutors will not dress formally, and it is not
necessary for you to do so.
We recommend that you bring copies of any
written work you have submitted, and a copy of
your personal statement, as tutors may refer to
these during your interview.­­­
It’s a good idea to bring a book with you
or some school or college work to do, as you will
only spend a relatively small amount of your time
in Oxford actually in interviews or taking tests.
There will also be plenty of opportunity
to spend time with other interview candidates
as well as current undergraduates.
You will need to bring your own personal
items such as toiletries, but your accommodation
and meals will be provided free-of-charge by
the college. It is advisable that you bring a mobile
telephone, along with its charger, so that the college
can contact you, if they need to.
interviews at oxford | 5

Jack Haynes
Earth Sciences (Geology)
For Earth Sciences, all the interviews are held in the
department instead of the college. I had one interview
with the college I applied to and another interview with
a second assigned college. I really enjoyed meeting the
student helpers and the other candidates – the student
helpers really made me feel welcome and I knew they’d
be happy to help if I had any problems.
My interviews were remarkably similar to the tutorials
I’m having now, and just as enjoyable. The tutors used a
piece of evidence to start a discussion between us and
asked me to comment on various things. At one stage
they began to question what I thought on one point, and
I explained it thoroughly so they could see how I came to
that conclusion. The tutors are far more interested in how
you think rather than in what you know, so they can see
if the tutorial system is going to benefit you.

At your interview
Who will interview you anything particular on which you need to focus.
You may be asked factual questions, especially
Interviews in Oxford will be conducted by experts
in science subjects. The basis for this discussion
in an aspect of the degree­­course for which you are
will probably include the subjects you are currently
applying. You may be interviewed by two or more
studying at school or college; for courses that
tutors at a time. If you are applying for a joint course,
require written work, this may also be used.
with two or more subjects, you should expect to
However, you may also be offered opportunities
be interviewed by tutors representing each of the
to show whether you have read around the subject
and to demonstrate your interest beyond your
school or college syllabus.
What to expect in the interview, In many ways, your interview will be like a
or interviews mini tutorial. If you don’t know the answer to a
Tutors want you to be yourself in the interview, and question, you may wish to explain that you haven’t
to allow you to demonstrate your skills and abilities. covered that topic yet, but do try to work out the
They will probably ask you a few simple questions to answer if you can. Allow the tutors to guide you,
begin with to help you feel at ease. if necessary, and ask if you don’t understand a
They will then move on to questions about your question. Many questions are designed to test
subject, and questions that will help them to assess your ability to apply logic and reason to an idea
your suitability to study at Oxford. It is quite likely, you may never have encountered before. The
especially in arts subjects, that you will be asked to questions may seem difficult, but don’t worry:
answer questions about a short piece of text. You this does not necessarily mean that the interview is
will be given the chance to read the passage carefully going badly. The tutor will be seeking to stretch you
before the interview, and will be advised if there is in order to assess your potential.
6 | interviews at oxford

Jennie Davies Purpose of the interview

I spent four days in Oxford and had four The interview is designed
interviews in total. For Maths, everyone to assess your academic
has two at the college they chose (or abilities and, most importantly,
were allocated), and one at an assigned your academic potential. It
second college. My second college then provides tutors with a valuable
invited me back for another interview, and opportunity to assess your
subsequently made me an offer. potential beyond your written
The problems I was given got record. The interview allows them to evaluate your
progressively harder, but the tutors steered understanding of and aptitude for your subject, and
me through them. The content of the to give you the opportunity to explain why you are
questions was from A-level, but I found committed to studying it. Tutors make their decisions
myself applying my knowledge in different based on your academic abilities and potential,
ways. I was also able to find out first-hand not your manners or etiquette, appearance or
how tutorials work, because working background.
through problems and justifying your ideas
is exactly what you do on the course.
What tutors are looking for?
I also met a really nice group of people A good deal of the teaching in an Oxford college
in my fellow applicants – and we went takes place in small classes or tutorials, and your
into Oxford together to explore, which interviewers – who may be your future tutors – are
was a great chance to get a feel for what assessing your ability to study, think and learn. This
it would be like living in the city! I very depends both on how carefully you listen to questions
much enjoyed my interview experience, and how sensibly you answer them. Clarity, and
and when I received my offer I knew that concise and relevant arguments are all-important.
Oxford was for me. Tutors are looking for your self-motivation and
enthusiasm for your subject. They are looking for
evidence that you are thinking independently, that
you are willing to engage with new ideas, beyond the
scope of your school or college syllabus, and
that you are committed to your subject.

Are there right or wrong answers?

Interviewers are not going to ask you trick questions,
but many of the topics you will cover do not have
simple ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers. The questions
are designed to encourage you to think for yourself
and develop an argument. Be yourself and ask for
help if you need it.
Interviewers are not trying to make you feel
ignorant or catch you out. They are looking for
evidence of how well you can explain what you do
know, and whether you can think your way through
a new problem or argue your position. If you don’t
understand something, do just ask.
interviews at oxford | 7

Matthew Herman
My two interviews were each with two history tutors and I
was given passages to look at beforehand, on areas of history
which I’d never studied before. The questions were challenging,
exploring my understanding of the sources and asking me to
criticise them and then expand my answers further.
The tutors also talked about my personal statement and
the essay I had to submit as part of my application. I’d written
about literature in my personal statement and I was asked
general questions about how this could be viewed as historical
sources. I was also asked about an aspect of my essay that I
had never really thought about before.
All the tutors appreciated that I would be nervous and did
all they could to try and ease my nerves at the beginning of
the interview. Try to enjoy your time in Oxford: you will feel
more relaxed in the discussion, which will help you to think
more clearly.

Are extra-curricular activities taken

into account?
Please remember that tutors make their decisions
based on your academic abilities and potential:
extra-curricular activities do not form part
of the selection criteria in any subject. However,
they may ask a question or two about extra-
curricular activities which you have mentioned in
your personal statement, particularly at the start
of the interview, as you are settling in. They may
ask you why you enjoy a particular activity and
what you have learnt from it. They may also be
interested in how you have balanced your time
between studies and other activities.

Your questions
At the end of the interview you may be given the
chance to ask your own questions. This is not the
place for in-depth discussion of the course syllabus
or other details, as you should have explored the
course information before you applied. However,
Greg Smolonski

it is the time to ask about any points about your

own academic work, or perhaps about one of the
questions you were asked in the interview.
8 | interviews at oxford

Hannah Phillips
I had two interviews – one based on inorganic chemistry,
physical chemistry and maths, and the other on organic
chemistry. They were both at the same college and all of the
interviewers were from the Chemistry department.
I did not expect the first interview to comprise of mainly
maths, but now I realise that maths is a large part of the
course in the first year. It was only in my second interview
that I was asked non subject specific questions; one was
about my personal statement, so make sure to take a copy
with you! During my second interview I also worked through
a sheet of questions, with help from the interviewer.
The interviews were very similar to my tutorials now,
so they give you an idea of how you will be taught. I was
more relaxed in my second interview which is probably why
I enjoyed it much more, leaving with a smile on my face! By
then I was glad of the experience whatever the outcome.

The result
Colleges will inform and are guaranteed a place if you meet the
candidates of their conditions. However, the college you will go
decision by the middle to has not yet been specified, and will not be
of January. The letter decided until after your final examination results
you will receive will have been published.
explain one of three n Your application has, unfortunately, not been
things: successful.

n You have been made an offer of a place to study For many applicants who have, until now, been
your subject at a particular college. If you have the most academically successful in their school or
already completed your examinations, this offer college, it can be very dispiriting not to get an offer.
will probably be unconditional. If you have not In recent years, over 75% of those who applied did
yet finished your final examinations, the offer not get an offer.
will be conditional upon your achieving certain However, almost all applicants who do not get
grades, usually AAA at A-level, or equivalent an offer from Oxford will go on to study at other
qualifications. The offer may specify that you excellent universities if they have made their UCAS
need to achieve certain grades in particular choices wisely. Many students then opt to apply
subjects and may include a requirement for to Oxford for further study after completing their
evidence of proficiency in the English language, first degree elsewhere. We often see candidates
if English is not your first language. who were unsuccessful in their undergraduate
n You have been made an ‘open offer’, which applications making successful applications for
means that you have an offer from Oxford graduate study here.
James Whitaker

Finding out more

Admissions Information Centre with students and staff from around the
University about how best to prepare for the
We have an Admissions Information Centre,
Oxford interview, as well as about courses,
the , on Little Clarendon Street,
colleges, student finance, and what to include
usually open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday,
in your application. Download and listen to
which is a good first port of call for potential
whole episodes, or select taster clips from
applicants and their parents and carers. At the
each episode.
you can pick up copies of the
prospectus, individual subject brochures and all
other leaflets relating to undergraduate study at iTunes U
Oxford. There are also staff on hand to provide Our podcasts are also available on the
advice and to answer any questions. If you are University’s site on iTunes U, along with lectures,
not able to visit us in person, you can call or email interviews and short films about life at Oxford.
or write to us instead. Contact details can be They can be listened to online or downloaded
found on the back cover of this booklet. to a mobile device.

Podcasts Sample interviews

Find out for yourself what Oxford University You can find example questions from interviews,
is all about by listening to our podcasts. Be a including video clips of academic discussions with
fly on the wall when Mike Nicholson, Oxford’s our tutors, on our website.
Director of Undergraduate Admissions, chats
Contact details
Undergraduate Admissions Office
University Offices
Wellington Square
Oxford OX1 2JD
Tel: 01865 288000
Fax: 01865 280125

Produced by the University of Oxford Public Affairs Directorate


Photographs: Rob Judges (except where indicated)