I believe you’re reading this because you’ve been invited for a University of Oxford interview. Well, congratulation.
Oxford University is one of the most prestigious educational institutions in the world, and the competition for places is strong at all colleges within the University. None of them is easy to get in to. If any college is particularly over-subscribed, applications may be reallocated and considered by another college. All colleges have signed up to a Common Framework on Admissions which means the same application process for your course at every college. Many excellent candidates each year are disappointed – don’t go all sulky – but since all you want is the success, you have to approach the interview with all diligent and be to show what you have to offer.
Why does Oxford interview
A good deal of the teaching at Oxford takes place in small classes or tutorials, and your interviewers – who may be your future tutors – are assessing your ability to study, think and learn in this way. The interview is designed to assess your academic abilities and, most importantly, your academic potential. Tutors are looking for your self-motivation and enthusiasm for your subject. Decisions are not based on your appearance or background, but on your ability to think independently and to engage with new ideas beyond the scope of your school experience or college syllabus.
If you have been called to interview that already means your application has impressed someone and that the interviewers think you have potential– they wouldn’t be interviewing you if you didn’t have a chance. Interviews give tutors the chance to see whether you the intellectual capacity to learn and be stretched by the teaching system of Oxford University. Interviews reveal your abilities which are not captured by grades or test scores. Interviewers can see candidates think, not merely parrot information.
During the Oxford University admission interview, don’t go robotic, the interviewers are not interested in what you already know, but how you think – Your thought process.
How can I best prepare for an interview
It’s natural to want to prepare before your interview, but the most important thing is to be yourself. The tutors will be trying to find out what you think, and how you think, and these things are easier to discover if you’re able to relax a bit and listen carefully to the questions. Practise speaking about your subject and your thoughts about what you’ve seen or read – these don’t have to be formal ‘mock interviews’, instead they could be chats with teachers, friends, or members of your family. It is helpful to think of the interview as a conversation about your subject. Here are some more specific things that you can do to prepare:
Remind yourself of the selection criteria for your chosen subject at ox.ac.uk/criteria.
Re-read your personal statement and any written work submitted, and make sure that you are happy to discuss them.
Read widely about your chosen subject, including newspaper articles, websites, journals, magazines and other relevant publications.
Take a critical view of ideas and arguments that you encounter in your reading, at school or college, or in the media: think about all sides of the debate.
Find examples of your subject in the wider world, such as taking an interest in the scientific or economic theories that underlie news stories.
Revise material you have studied at school recently
It’s really important to try to stay calm before your interview. Try to be prepared and find a way to relax your nerves. When you’re nervous, you’re less likely to think clearly and logically. This is important because the tutors will want to understand the thought process behind you arriving at an answer, right or wrong.
The best way to prepare for your interview is to practise. Attend mock interviews – it will help you understand, to some extent, the pressure and atmosphere of an Oxford interview, which is quite different from other universities. Even if you don’t end up getting in, it is a great experience to go through.
Read around the subject and spend time trying to understand why things happen, rather than just learning that they do. Quality, not quantity is most important – if you don’t understand something – re-read it and spend time thinking about it. Talk it through with your family or friends
Say what you think. Verbally work through whatever problem the interviewer has given you so that they can follow your thought process. They’re looking for potential and they won’t be able to see that if you stay quiet the whole time. You can ask for more time if you need it. Obviously, don’t ask for the sake of it or sit in silence for 10 minutes. But a minute or so to collect your thoughts and explain your thinking process is fine and shows that you’re considering the questions carefully.
During the interviews, tutors will throw unexpected irrelevant questions or ideas at you. This means that you can’t fully prepare for every scenario. They are looking for your individual passion and not a brain stuffed with textbook quotes. Just make sure that you express an opinion on everything and that you’ve read one or two articles about your favourite topic.
You can’t prepare for everything and the very nature of an Oxford interview is to give you a novel problem and see how you cope with it. The interviewers are trying to see if you can work logically through problems as a way of gauging whether you’ll benefit from the tutorial system. It’s also important to remember that the tutors are trying to help you through the process and not lead you into traps.
Interviewers, despite the commonly circulated myths, will never ask you a trick question, and very often are not looking for one ‘correct’ answer. Do not worry if you need time to think, or you change your mind during the course of the discussion. This is all part and parcel of the Oxford tutorial system, and tutors are actively looking for students who thrive on intellectual debate and exhibit the ability to think their way through a difficult problem or issue during the discussion.
If you’ve been asked to submit written work with your application, you should read through the pieces you have submitted and prepare yourself to answer questions on them. Don’t worry, however, if the interviewers don’t mention your work during the interview. Some interviewers prefer to focus on materials set for discussion shortly before the interview, such as a passage of literature or a mathematical problem. Again this is subject-specific. You must also make sure you’re familiar with your personal statement since this will almost certainly form the basis of some of the questions that you’re asked in the interview.
What if I don’t know the answer
If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t worry! You may wish to explain that you haven’t covered that topic yet, but always have a go and think through an answer if you can. Many questions are designed to test your ability to apply logic and reason to an idea you may never have encountered before
When will I hear about the interview
All interviews take place in early to midDecember, so make sure you are going to be available during this time. Please be aware that you may only be given a week’s notice that you have been shortlisted, and that interviews cannot be rearranged.
You will receive a letter or an email indicating whether or not you have been invited for an interview towards the end of November or in early December. Normally this will be from the college to which you applied or to which you were allocated if you made an open application. Occasionally if a college is significantly oversubscribed for a subject, you may be invited by a different college
What to bring
Your invitation letter will let you know what to bring. It is useful to have: – Copies of your personal statement and any written work that you have submitted (tutors may refer to these during your interview) – A book or some current school work (only a relatively small amount of time is spent in interviews)
What to wear
Wear whatever clothes you feel comfortable in. Most tutors will not dress formally, and you really don’t have to either. You won’t be judged on what you wear.
What happens next
You will receive a letter or an email by the middle of January letting you know the outcome of your application. If you are successful, this will tell you whether:
You have been made an offer of a place, conditional upon achieving certain exam results. The offer may specify that you need to achieve certain grades in particular subjects. (It may also include a requirement for evidence of proficiency in the English language, if English is not your first language or if you have not been educated in the medium of English language during your two most recent years of study.)
You have an unconditional offer based on your existing academic records.
You have been made an ‘open offer’. This means that you are guaranteed a place at Oxford if you meet the conditions of the offer. However, the college you will go to has not yet been specified, and will not be decided until some point after your final exam results have been published.