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Physics at Oxford

I want to apply for physics at Oxford Aside from the good grades part, does anyone have any tips for me? Especially around the super curricular aspects, interviews, extra exams (e.g., STEP, PAT) and anything else I might need to consider.
You don't need to do STEP to do physics. Only the PAT is required in terms of extra entrance exams.

I got accepted for Oxford physics this year so I'm just going to tell you what I did.

In terms of PAT, I suggest you take a look at some of the past papers now and look at what the questions are like (the earlier you start the better). The PAT is much harder than A-level, so you will likely not understand some questions and will struggle on many. But do the ones you can do and find out what you need to learn in order to understand the hard questions. You will probably need to teach yourself new concepts that you have never been taught. Over the next few months you should try to go through every past paper and you should see your marks increase the throughout the year. When it gets to around 3 months before the PAT (or maybe even earlier), you need to start practicing the PAT past papers REALLY hard. I went through every past paper at least 3 times total. Every time I finished a past paper, I would spend an hour or so correcting my mistakes. By the time you sit the PAT, you should be at the point where you understand every past paper question that has ever been asked. Take a look at the PAT reports to see what score you need to get in. The average offer holder gets about 73/100. I would aim for over 80 marks for a really good chance of admission.

Interviews are the most important part of your application BY FAR. If you do badly in your interview, you will probably get rejected, and if you do well, you will probably get accepted. It's as simple as that. I recommend not worrying about interviews until you do your PAT, because PAT preparation will indirectly prepare you for interviews anyway. However, after doing the PAT, don't think the hard work is over because the interviews are exactly twice as important to your application than the PAT (this is stated in the PAT reports). So, after the PAT you should be doing interview practice as much as possible.

You don't need to do any super curricular activities, but it might be worth putting them on your personal statement if you do. I recommend doing a physics Olympiad or maths challenge. There are also summer schools you can attend which shows you are interested in the subject. When it comes to super curriculars it not so important as to what you do but what you say about it. E.g. nobody cares if you've read a book on quantum mechanics, but they will be impressed if you can show that you've understood a complex topic from a book. I recommend reading a book on physics that explains hard concepts and writing about it in your personal statement (only if you understand it). I did mine on quantum mechanics because it made me sound smart. P.s you don't need to read a book with difficult maths, just read an interesting book that goes beyond what you're learning at school. Go for quality over quantity when it comes to super curriculars. It's more impressive to extremely well versed on one topic then it is to know a little about everything.

Overall the most important thing by far is interviews, but they are far away so you need to focus on the PAT for now. I wouldn't say you need to start now (I would start by April at the latest), but if you start working on the PAT around this time of year you will probably get into Oxford. For PAT practice, do past papers, teach yourself the syllabus (which is given on the Oxford website), and practice with other resources such as https://i-want-to-study-engineering.org/.
Reply 2
Original post by sigmagrindset49
You don't need to do STEP to do physics. Only the PAT is required in terms of extra entrance exams.

I got accepted for Oxford physics this year so I'm just going to tell you what I did.

In terms of PAT, I suggest you take a look at some of the past papers now and look at what the questions are like (the earlier you start the better). The PAT is much harder than A-level, so you will likely not understand some questions and will struggle on many. But do the ones you can do and find out what you need to learn in order to understand the hard questions. You will probably need to teach yourself new concepts that you have never been taught. Over the next few months you should try to go through every past paper and you should see your marks increase the throughout the year. When it gets to around 3 months before the PAT (or maybe even earlier), you need to start practicing the PAT past papers REALLY hard. I went through every past paper at least 3 times total. Every time I finished a past paper, I would spend an hour or so correcting my mistakes. By the time you sit the PAT, you should be at the point where you understand every past paper question that has ever been asked. Take a look at the PAT reports to see what score you need to get in. The average offer holder gets about 73/100. I would aim for over 80 marks for a really good chance of admission.

Interviews are the most important part of your application BY FAR. If you do badly in your interview, you will probably get rejected, and if you do well, you will probably get accepted. It's as simple as that. I recommend not worrying about interviews until you do your PAT, because PAT preparation will indirectly prepare you for interviews anyway. However, after doing the PAT, don't think the hard work is over because the interviews are exactly twice as important to your application than the PAT (this is stated in the PAT reports). So, after the PAT you should be doing interview practice as much as possible.

You don't need to do any super curricular activities, but it might be worth putting them on your personal statement if you do. I recommend doing a physics Olympiad or maths challenge. There are also summer schools you can attend which shows you are interested in the subject. When it comes to super curriculars it not so important as to what you do but what you say about it. E.g. nobody cares if you've read a book on quantum mechanics, but they will be impressed if you can show that you've understood a complex topic from a book. I recommend reading a book on physics that explains hard concepts and writing about it in your personal statement (only if you understand it). I did mine on quantum mechanics because it made me sound smart. P.s you don't need to read a book with difficult maths, just read an interesting book that goes beyond what you're learning at school. Go for quality over quantity when it comes to super curriculars. It's more impressive to extremely well versed on one topic then it is to know a little about everything.

Overall the most important thing by far is interviews, but they are far away so you need to focus on the PAT for now. I wouldn't say you need to start now (I would start by April at the latest), but if you start working on the PAT around this time of year you will probably get into Oxford. For PAT practice, do past papers, teach yourself the syllabus (which is given on the Oxford website), and practice with other resources such as https://i-want-to-study-engineering.org/.


Thank you so much! By the way, when did your PAT exam take place? My friend says she has to take it at the end of this (academic?) year but I'm not sure. Also, did you have to do the PAT before or after you submitted your personal statement? Also, could you share with me how your personal statement looked? I'm curious to see what you included and stuff. And, lastly, what is it that you like about physics? Any specific field you want to specialise in?
Reply 3
Oh and also, I started a new blog recently related to STEM topics and such. Do you think this would be useful for my application? If not, what do you think I should change?

Edit: One last thing, I promise. What were the interviews like? Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit Oxford's Mansfield College and they told us that they are trying to see how well you fit with the tutorial system. Do you have any more details?
(edited 1 year ago)
Original post by Ethitlan
Oh and also, I started a new blog recently related to STEM topics and such. Do you think this would be useful for my application? If not, what do you think I should change?

Edit: One last thing, I promise. What were the interviews like? Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit Oxford's Mansfield College and they told us that they are trying to see how well you fit with the tutorial system. Do you have any more details?

Mum of a current 2nd year here…..
Delve deeper into aspects of physics which really interest you (beyond A level) and see where it takes you, and explore what you specifically like about the Oxford course. This should help you to demonstrate your passion for your subject when you come to write your PS, but do remember quality over quantity.

As Sigma has said, do as many past PAT papers as you can. Keeping on top of your A level preparations are of course your first priority and will help when it comes to doing past PAT papers. Read the physics departments past admissions reports if you wish, but don’t worry about the stats relating to scores versus getting invited for interview and subsequent offers. The information for applicants on the physics department’s website is far more useful, I think, in understanding how they undertake the application process. Too many people worry about the stats in the admissions reports and try to second guess things, which is a mistake. Just concentrate on covering the published PAT syllabus and doing the past papers, correcting mistakes and learning from them.

As for interview prep, you need to practice verbalising your thought process. So when trying to solve a given problem do talk out loud, even when you don’t know the answer. Think about what you do know which might make sense to start with, and then try to develop your ideas as you go along (even to correct yourself if necessary and why). The tutors will provide you with information and see what you initially think and do with it, then may provide further information to see how or why you might develop or change your answer in light of this. Ultimately they are looking to see if you are suited to the tutorial system they use, and if you will thrive in that environment. It doesn’t suit everyone, and there simply aren’t enough spaces for everyone who applies, so they consider applicants using all the information they gain through the application process.

Dr Matt Williams, Jesus college, has some really inspirational and helpful YouTube videos on the whole Oxford application process, and on interviews. I would highly recommend you taking a look if you haven’t already.

By all means, if you’ve entered and done well in Maths or Physics Olympiad, or other such competitions, you can include brief details in your PS.

Good luck for wherever you subsequently pursue your studies, and initially with your A levels.
Reply 5
Original post by Crafty Mum
Mum of a current 2nd year here…..
Delve deeper into aspects of physics which really interest you (beyond A level) and see where it takes you, and explore what you specifically like about the Oxford course. This should help you to demonstrate your passion for your subject when you come to write your PS, but do remember quality over quantity.

As Sigma has said, do as many past PAT papers as you can. Keeping on top of your A level preparations are of course your first priority and will help when it comes to doing past PAT papers. Read the physics departments past admissions reports if you wish, but don’t worry about the stats relating to scores versus getting invited for interview and subsequent offers. The information for applicants on the physics department’s website is far more useful, I think, in understanding how they undertake the application process. Too many people worry about the stats in the admissions reports and try to second guess things, which is a mistake. Just concentrate on covering the published PAT syllabus and doing the past papers, correcting mistakes and learning from them.

As for interview prep, you need to practice verbalising your thought process. So when trying to solve a given problem do talk out loud, even when you don’t know the answer. Think about what you do know which might make sense to start with, and then try to develop your ideas as you go along (even to correct yourself if necessary and why). The tutors will provide you with information and see what you initially think and do with it, then may provide further information to see how or why you might develop or change your answer in light of this. Ultimately they are looking to see if you are suited to the tutorial system they use, and if you will thrive in that environment. It doesn’t suit everyone, and there simply aren’t enough spaces for everyone who applies, so they consider applicants using all the information they gain through the application process.

Dr Matt Williams, Jesus college, has some really inspirational and helpful YouTube videos on the whole Oxford application process, and on interviews. I would highly recommend you taking a look if you haven’t already.

By all means, if you’ve entered and done well in Maths or Physics Olympiad, or other such competitions, you can include brief details in your PS.

Good luck for wherever you subsequently pursue your studies, and initially with your A levels.


Thank you so much! This is really helpful. I will absolutely take a look at Dr Williams' videos on Youtube. The interview prep is also really useful. Again, thank you so much!
Original post by Ethitlan
Thank you so much! By the way, when did your PAT exam take place? My friend says she has to take it at the end of this (academic?) year but I'm not sure. Also, did you have to do the PAT before or after you submitted your personal statement? Also, could you share with me how your personal statement looked? I'm curious to see what you included and stuff. And, lastly, what is it that you like about physics? Any specific field you want to
specialise in?


The UCAS deadline (i.e. personal statement deadline) was October 15th for Oxford. The PAT was sat on November 2nd. I think these dates are unlikely to change by much for this year and it is guaranteed that the PAT will done after you apply. Interviews happen in December.

As for specialising in a field, I am really not sure yet. So I will figure out which one I like during my first two years at Oxford. I will send you my personal statement through direct message.

Good luck!
Please have a read of the information provided on the university’s website about applying, and the Physics department’s specific website. There’s lots of information on there, and it’s best to read what they provide so that you are well informed. It’s clear that too many people simply don’t bother to read the information provided. Do your research well, so you’ll be well prepared.

There will likely be an ‘Official Oxford undergraduate applicants 2024’ thread set up on TSR by someone at some point, where you can ask anything about the application process which you don’t already know about, and about life at Oxford. Past applicants are very supportive of each other, plus current and past Oxford students, and parents. You might like to have a look at the 2023 thread (which was for those applying for entry in 2023). I have also seen threads set up specifically for those preparing for the PAT too, so you should be able to source lots of help and support as needed.

https://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/applying-to-oxford
https://www.physics.ox.ac.uk/study/undergraduates/how-apply/admissions-procedures-physics-courses
https://www.physics.ox.ac.uk/study/undergraduates/how-apply
Reply 8
Original post by sigmagrindset49
The UCAS deadline (i.e. personal statement deadline) was October 15th for Oxford. The PAT was sat on November 2nd. I think these dates are unlikely to change by much for this year and it is guaranteed that the PAT will done after you apply. Interviews happen in December.

As for specialising in a field, I am really not sure yet. So I will figure out which one I like during my first two years at Oxford. I will send you my personal statement through direct message.

Good luck!


Ooooh right I see. Thank you so much!
Reply 9
Original post by Crafty Mum
Please have a read of the information provided on the university’s website about applying, and the Physics department’s specific website. There’s lots of information on there, and it’s best to read what they provide so that you are well informed. It’s clear that too many people simply don’t bother to read the information provided. Do your research well, so you’ll be well prepared.

There will likely be an ‘Official Oxford undergraduate applicants 2024’ thread set up on TSR by someone at some point, where you can ask anything about the application process which you don’t already know about, and about life at Oxford. Past applicants are very supportive of each other, plus current and past Oxford students, and parents. You might like to have a look at the 2023 thread (which was for those applying for entry in 2023). I have also seen threads set up specifically for those preparing for the PAT too, so you should be able to source lots of help and support as needed.

https://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/applying-to-oxford
https://www.physics.ox.ac.uk/study/undergraduates/how-apply/admissions-procedures-physics-courses
https://www.physics.ox.ac.uk/study/undergraduates/how-apply


Alright, thank you so much! This is incredibly helpful advice!
My son has an offer to read Physics starting in October. He says the one thing that made the biggest difference to his application was doing “Compos” in year 12 and 13. This is a newish scheme (he was the first cohort) run by Oxford for state school kids that provides weekly tutorial-type sessions and problem sheets at university level standard. He reckons it transformed his chances.
Details here: https://www.physics.ox.ac.uk/engage/schools/secondary-schools/projects-and-mentoring/comprehensive-oxford-mathematics-and

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