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Oxford Interview: FAQs

So you’ve received an invitation to come to Oxford for interview and after the initial excitement subsides, like many candidates before you, you begin to ask yourself a series of questions: What should I do next? How should I prepare? What should I wear on the day of the interview? Will I be asked trick questions? This article aims to answer some of the most common of these, guiding you through the ins and outs of the Oxford interview process.

How can I prepare for my interview?

Before you come for interview you should familiarise yourself with the interview process for your subject at your first-choice college. You should do this by re-reading the information that you received with your invitation to interview, as well as consulting the university and college websites, and the relevant subject prospectus.

You need to establish in advance, for example, if you will be required to take a test at interview and whether any special equipment is required for this. It’s also good to have a clear idea about the structure and content of the course you are applying for, how it might differ from other universities and why the Oxford course appeals to you.

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.

Do I need to do background reading and demonstrate a wider knowledge of the subject?

While it’s more important for the interviewers to establish not what you already know, but how you think, it is still a major advantage to show evidence of thoughtful wider subject-reading outside of the school curriculum. If you have mentioned this on your personal statement, then expect to be asked about it. Do not list books you haven’t read, or can scarcely recall, since an inability to discuss these sensibly will only impact negatively on your chances of success.

What shall I wear to my interview?

You should try to make a good impression by being smart and presentably dressed, but it’s not necessary to wear a suit and tie. It’s most important that you feel at ease in what you’re wearing, so that you can try to relax and show yourself at your best intellectually.

What can I expect during my interview?

The interviewers will normally begin by asking you some general questions, which are aimed to put you at ease, before moving on to discuss more subject-related issues. Sometimes you will be asked to tackle a specific problem, or discuss a text related to your subject. You will normally be given advance notice of this, and time before the interview to prepare. Do not worry if this appears difficult or unfamiliar, since the aim of the interview is to see how you respond to new intellectual challenges beyond the scope of your school experience.

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 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 discussion.

Is it necessary to ask a question at the end of the interview?

Again, there are no hard and fast rules. However, basic questions about the structure or content of the course should be avoided, since it’s expected that you will have informed yourself about this prior to interview. If you want to ask a question about your academic work, or return to an issue arising from the interview, then feel free to do so. You will, of course, not be viewed negatively for not doing so!

What will happen afterwards?

You may or may not be invited to interview with another college, so make sure you check the noticeboards in your college regularly until you are informed that you can leave. Being given another interview does not mean that your first choice college does not want you, or, on the contrary, be taken as a definite sign that you have impressed in your first interview. This is routine practice in many colleges and subjects, aimed at enabling both applicants and colleges to find places for the best students in a given intake and evening out yearly discrepancies in applications to different colleges.

Every interview should be approached seriously and be regarded as a chance to show what you have to offer. All applicants can expect to hear from the college where they interviewed by mid-January. If you are not successful, bear in mind that the competition for places is fierce and that many excellent candidates each year are disappointed. Good Luck!

This article was provided by a modern languages tutor at the University of Oxford.