There are lots of myths about interviews at Oxford, but really they're just conversations about your chosen subject - like a short tutorial.
The interview plays a vital part in the selection procedure, but remember that the interview is just one aspect of your application. Tutors will also consider:
- any admissions tests or written work required for your course
- your examination results and predicted grades
- your personal statement
- the academic reference
Shortlisting: who gets invited to interview?
With so many excellent candidates for each place at Oxford, it just isn’t possible to interview everyone. Tutors review each application before deciding on a shortlist in late November or early December.
You will receive an email or letter indicating whether or not you have been invited for interview. You may not receive this until a week before the interviews are due to take place. If you have been invited, the letter will include practical details of your interview and further information.
Preparing for an interview
We recommend that you:
- think about some basic questions that may be asked at the beginning of an interview and how you might answer them. For example, tutors may ask why you have chosen this particular subject, and why you want to study it at Oxford.
- read widely around your chosen subject, including newspaper articles, websites, journals, magazines and other publications.
- take a critical view of ideas and arguments that you encounter at school or college, or in the media – think about all sides of any debate.
- be prepared to show some background knowledge of the subject, if you are applying for a course not normally studied at school or college, such as Medicine, Law, Biochemistry or Oriental Studies. However, you will not be expected to have a detailed understanding of specific or technical topics. For example, you may be asked what role your subject plays in society.
- re-read your personal statement, and any written work that you have submitted, thinking about how you might expand on what you wrote.
- organise a practice interview for yourself. This could be with a teacher or someone else who is familiar with your subject, but preferably not someone you know very well. This will help you to get some more experience of talking about yourself and your work in an unfamiliar environment.
- remind yourself of the selection criteria for your chosen subject.
Coming to Oxford
Interviews take place in December, after the end of term. Accommodation and meals will be provided free of charge by the college which has invited you. Although most students will have returned home for Christmas, each college makes sure that there are plenty of undergraduates around to help and advise you.
It’s a good idea to bring a book with you or some school or college work to do, as you will only spend a relatively small amount of your time in Oxford actually in interviews. You can also spend time with the other interview candidates as well as current undergraduates.
Please wear whatever clothes you feel comfortable in. Most tutors will not dress formally, and it is not necessary for you to do so. We recommend that you bring copies of any written work you have submitted, and a copy of your personal statement, as tutors may refer to these during your interview.
You will also need to bring your own personal items such as toiletries. It is advisable that you bring a mobile telephone, along with its charger, so that the college can contact you, if they need to.
A good deal of the teaching in an Oxford college 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. This will depend on how carefully you listen to questions, and how sensibly you answer them.
You may be interviewed by two or more tutors at a time, each being an expert in some aspect of the degree course for which you are applying. If you are applying for a joint course, with two or more subjects, you will be interviewed by tutors representing each of the subjects, separately or at the same time.
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 manners, appearance or background, but on your ability to think independently and to engage with new ideas beyond the scope of your school or college syllabus.
In many ways, your interview will be like a mini tutorial. If you don’t know the answer to a question, you may wish to explain that you haven’t covered that topic yet, but do try to work out the 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. The questions may seem difficult, but don’t worry: many of the topics you will cover do not have simple ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers. Interviewers are not trying to make you feel ignorant or catch you out, but to stretch you in order to assess your potential.
If you don’t understand something - just ask. Tutors are not necessarily so concerned with what you know, but how you think.
Example interview - part 1
Starting an interview
The video below shows an example of how interviews may start.
You will see the tutors introduce themselves, and explain the format of the interview.
Example interview - part 2
Starting an interview
The video below shows another example of how interviews may start.
Example interview - part 3
Tutors want you to be yourself in the interview, and to allow you to demonstrate your skills and abilities. They will probably ask you a few simple questions to begin with to help you feel at ease.
For example, the Law tutor in this interview asks the student about interests that she mentioned in her UCAS personal statement.
Example interview - part 4
They will then move on to questions about your subject, and questions that will help them to assess your suitability to study at Oxford. Depending on what is relevant for the course you are applying for, you may be given a piece of text, a poem, a graph, a diagram, or an object, and then asked to answer questions and comment on it. You may be given these before the interview, and will be advised if there is anything in particular on which you need to focus.
In this Law interview, you will see that the student is given a statement to read.
Example interview - part 5
You may be asked factual questions, especially in science subjects. The basis for this discussion will probably include the subjects you are currently studying at school or college; for courses that require written work, this may also be used. However, you may also be offered opportunities to show whether you have read around the subject and to demonstrate your interest beyond your school or college syllabus.
The student in the Law interview discusses her understanding of the statement she has been given to read.
Example interview - part 6
Interviewers are not going to ask you trick questions, but many of the topics you will cover do not have simple ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers. The questions are designed to encourage you to think for yourself and develop an argument. Be yourself and ask for help if you need it.
If you don’t know the answer to a question, you may wish to explain that you haven’t covered that topic yet, but do try to work out the 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. The questions may seem difficult, but don’t worry: this does not necessarily mean that the interview is going badly. The tutor will be seeking to stretch you in order to assess your potential. Remember that tutors are not necessarily so concerned with what you know, but how you think.
In this Biochemistry interview, you will see that the student does get an answer wrong at first. Don't worry if this happens to you! The tutor will guide you. In many areas there may not even be a right answer.
Example interview - part 7
Tutors make their decisions based on your academic abilities and potential alone: extra-curricular activities do not form part of the selection criteria in any subject. However, they may ask a question or two about your extra-curricular activities, particularly at the start of the interview, as you are settling in. They may ask you why you enjoy a particular activity and what you have learnt from it. They may also be interested in how you have balanced your time between studies and other activities.
Here's how one English student demonstrated that she had applied her extra-curricular activities to help her with her studies.
Example interview - part 8
At the end of the interview you may be given the chance to ask your own questions. This is not the place for detailed discussion of the course syllabus or other details, as you should have explored the course information before you applied. However, it is the time to ask about any points about your own academic work, or perhaps about one of the questions you were asked in the interview.