Tips on Interview From an Oxford Fresher

Created in HIVE by the TSR community

So, you've made an application, completed the test, and the email comes through. You've got an interview! Congratulations! 

Then the reality sets in. Uh oh, you've never done an interview before, let alone an academic one. What will happen? Will it be impossible? You're scared. Never fear, young Padawan. While interview is perhaps the most important step to getting a spot at Oxford or Cambridge, it is not some insurmountable task, and there is no need to get so uptight about it. A lot of these guides are written by old fuddy-duddies who were either at interview a million years ago, or don't have the fresh perspective that someone who did them so recently has.

First Things First

Breathe.  This is a good tip, no matter what stage of this process you are currently at. Do not worry if you you don't have the titular TSR 10 A* at GCSE, or if you fudged a module at AS. It happens to the best of us, and here is some good advice for life:

If you have been asked to an interview, they already believe that you are qualified enough.

If your rubbish AS module was an issue, then they wouldn't have asked you here. If your entrance test went horrifically, they would have chucked you out. No, they haven't invited you here to laugh at you for having the audacity to try at their University. They have invited you to interview to get a better look into how you tick, and how you work. 

So relax!


The college you have applied for (or been assigned in the case of an open application) will send you an email, outlining the timings and process for your interview.

Read all the information sent to you. You will be sent details of when you are to be in Oxford. There will be a time to arrive by and the latest you may have to be there. This does not mean you will definitely be asked to stay to the end. Ruby Granger was asked to leave a day early, in order for her room to be freed, although she could have stayed until 6 the next day if getting home would have been an issue. Oxford tends to interview candidates over a few days, although some are only required to be there one day. If you are asked to stay for more than a single day, meals and accommodation will be provided for you, free of charge.

If you are an international student, and cannot make the interview dates, Skype interviews can be arranged. Also, in the case of adverse weather (as was what happened to yours truly with all the snow last year) there may be the option of a Skype interview., usually emailed out close to your interview dates.

What to bring?

Well, you will obviously want to bring clothes and such. In terms of what clothes, there is no need to go overboard. If you would feel more comfortable in your interview in formal, business attire, go ahead. Many people wear button up shirts and formal trousers and skirts. If you do not like to wear such things, it is not necessary, as your tutors will not be dressed particularly formally. I've heard stories of students coming to interviews in onesies, and getting places. Some people at my interviews had large suitcases full of things, but that isn't useful. I would recommend:

  • A smart shirt (clean, both from dirt and profanity) for every day you are there
  • Apair of dress trousers/a smart skirt (just in case you change your mind on the whole "casual" thing)
  • Some jeans to get changed into outside of interview/to wear to interview (just in case you change your mind on the whole "formal" thing)
  • Some smart shoes
  • Some not-so-smart shoes

Obviously you can and should amend this for your taste. There is no point in bringing too much. Try planning/outlining outfits before you go, to minimise how much you are carrying.

Aside from Clothes, you will probably have a lot of time between interviews, and so it is good to bring a book, some school work or a book of puzzles to keep you busy. However, do not count on getting much school work done. A lot of people do, and then they don't actually get much done. It is also recommended that you bring a copy of your personal statement. I didn't, and I didn't need to. I would guess that this is more to remind you what lies (just kidding) you put on it, in case something gets brought up. Do not count nothing being brought up, because there is always one tutor who actually reads it.

At Interview

When you arrive, head to the porters lodge, situated in the front of every college. They will give you a pack of information, your room key, and tell you where to head to find the other interviewees. Once you find them, a student volunteer will typically bring you to your room.

Often the hub of the operation will be a function room, or the college Junior Common Room (JCR). There will be a selection of student helpers, who can answer any questions, or assuage any fears. Those people are a great resource, and can often tell you great stories. There are likely going to be noticeboards for each subject, detailing times of interview, and your interviewers. This is also where you will meet the other people from your course! The biggest recommendation I can make is to talk to people. Make friends. For the duration of your interviews, don't hole yourself up in your room, working away. Take the time between interviews to socialise and explore Oxford. For many of you this may be the first time meeting people similarly enthused by your subject. On the days with interviews, people will often be discussing problems that will help you as well, and you can have some really good dialogue on problems that you may never have had the opportunity for before.

The Interview

It will be posted somewhere how many interviews you have, and at what colleges. For some courses (e.g. Mathematics and its joint schools) you are guaranteed an interview at two colleges. For some courses, you may not get this. 

For each interview, you must be in this room about 5-15 minutes before your interview is due to begin. If your interview is at another college (as some always are) you may have to be here a little earlier. You will be taken to your interview by student helpers, and asked to wait in a specific spot. This might be on a staircase (they often are), or in someone's office. Stay there, you will be collected by a tutor when it is your turn. You may be collected a little while after your interview was meant to begin. Don't panic. 

Walking into the interview room, you will be faced by a few tutors (2 or more.) They will typically start with some general questions, maybe touching on something form your personal statement, maybe ask you about an area of the subject you particularly like, maybe ask you why you picked your subject (I thought that was too cliche until it happened to me and a few other candidates.) Then they will get down to questions. You will probably be given a piece of paper to work on, and a pen.  

The questions asked will vary wildly by subject, and I am not qualified to talk about any (outside maths) here. However, here are some top tips for making a great impression.

  1. Explain! Practice explaining your reasoning for problems. Talk yourself and others through things out loud. Make sure you understand why you do things, and how to articulate that.
  2. Ask! If you encounter some difficulty, you don't understand something, or just need clarification, ask. They are not testing you on what you know, but how you react to things you don't. They want to see you as inquisitive.
  3. Conviction! Don't continually ask, 'Is this right? Is this ok?' Have some conviction in where you are taking your answer. If you hit a snag, and can't progress, or if the tutor thinks you are going the wrong way, they will say. You can always backtrack later.
  4. Breathe! It is OK to stop and pause for a second. Just because you aren't talking non stop, does not mean that you have messed up. If you need to take a second to consider something, do. 

The interview will typically end with the whole "any questions" malarkey. You can then leave and are free to do what you want. 

Keep an eye on the interview board! Even if you have had all your initial interviews, it is totally possible that you may be asked back for an extra one. This is a good thing. It means that they want to see more of you! Don't despair if you don't get an extra one, you might have been so stellar in the original ones, that they don't need to see you again.


So, that is the advice that I have to pass on to you all. I hope that you take it to heart, and that you treasure it.


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