Oxford interviews: how to make sure you're ready

Oxford interviews are taking place over the next couple of weeks. We asked TSR members who've previously gained places at Oxford what is was like for them. 

Here, they share their experience of the interview process and tell us what they wish they'd known.

There's a lot of commonality between being interviewed for either Oxford or Cambridge - so you should find this advice also applies to Cambridge interviews. For a more specific look at Cambridge, you can also read the experience of a TSR member interviewed for Cambridge.

Getting prepared

"I prepared by ensuring I was up to date with my A-level work and trying to brush up on concepts mentioned in my personal statement," says TSR member nexttime. 

"I think the most useful preparation I did was not deliberate at all: just having nerdy friends who liked to ask 'what if' in chemistry and physics probably helped me have a logical thought process, taking what I did know and applying it to what I didn't. That's exactly the mindset needed to take an Oxford interview. I'd stand by that not only for science, but for all subjects.

"My school was unable to offer any kind of mock interview or anything like that. If you are fortunate enough to have that offered, or can organise it yourself, I would make full use. Just having the experience of chatting to someone in authority about your subject is useful, as that's all the Oxford interview is in reality. 

"There are some excellent podcasts on the Oxford website showing a mock interview that seems very much in line with my experience - I'd recommend watching them all."

More on TSR: 
Ask questions about the University of Oxford
Talk about Oxford colleges 
Oxford applicants 2015 discussion

Expect the unexpected

"As soon as I started speaking too confidently on something, the tutors would lead me into another topic area, throw in some unfamiliar sources, and see if I was willing to pick up new ideas, says history student Niki_girl. 

"Part of interviews is about mental agility - being able to adapt quickly to new ideas - it's supposed to be slightly unpredictable, not a memory test. 

personal statement

"For example, in my personal statement I mentioned something about the link between history and art - I was then asked why I didn't apply for history of art. It wasn't a trick, my tutors just wanted to know what I thought about how the two subjects interacted. The things I expected to come up, such as detailed comments on books I'd written into my personal statement, weren't even commented on!" 

"In one of my interviews I had four interviewers, although only two spoke," says DCDude. "They didn't tell me why there were so many, but other people said it might be training people to do interviews. It was a little intimidating at first." 

Be prepared to think differently

"In my interview, most of the questions were in the category that I was expecting them to be in, but almost every one of them made me really think about the concepts involved in a way that I hadn't before," says dutchmaths. 

"There were a couple of very off-piste questions where the knowledge required wasn't that advanced but you had to really think about the problem and what was relevant," says natninja. 

"One question I had was 'Tell me about ' (I shan't disclose the object as my tutor recycles the question...)"


"Take the time to think, don't just bang out an answer at speed," says DCDude. 

"The questions are mostly straightforward and the tutors will always try and help you with hints rather than trip you up," says amol_chalis447. "Keep that in mind, stay calm, and be as logical as possible!"

Don't fear the tutors

"I couldn't have predicted what I would have been asked at interview," says Niki_girl. 

"My tutors seemed to avoid obvious questions concerning what I'd read, and instead asked things that I definitely hadn't even considered - and it was fine! They prompted me, tried to help me, and listened to my suggestions."

Make the most of it

"Don't just sit in your room for the duration of your interviews," says Niki_girl. 

"Sure, revise your personal statement/written work/anything else for 15 minutes before you leave for the interview room, but the rest of the time could be spent in the JCR speaking to other candidates (who may well turn out to be future classmates, at Oxford or elsewhere!). 

"Playing games and just generally chatting helped to take my mind off my own nervousness, and I met loads of really nice people. The interview experience isn't just about the interviews themselves, it's about talking to like-minded people, wandering around the college you're staying in and exploring Oxford as a city."

Don't be cocky

"They want someone they can teach, they are looking for potential rather than what you know so really think out loud when answering questions," says natninja. "That way they can get a much better idea of how you think."

Oxford interviews

And finally...

"Be yourself. Keep calm!" says The_Lonely_Goatherd. "Wear whatever feels comfortable. Don't compare yourself to others. And, perhaps most importantly, don't let anyone you meet at the interviews drag you down. The nasty snobbish people you sometimes meet at the interviews rarely get in." 

"One thing I'd like all applicants to know is that if they want someone to talk to, they should contact Oxford Nightline," says clh_hilary. 

"You can call about anxiety, worries, happiness, random sharing or information and it's open between 8pm and 8am every day during the interview period. The number is 01865270270, and you can call and ask Nightline to call back if you don't want to pay for it."

Do you have questions about getting into Oxford? Would you like to share some of your own experiences? Add them to the comments below. 

More on TSR: 
Ask questions about the University of Oxford
Talk about Oxford colleges 
Oxford applicants 2015 discussion

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