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A guide to Oxford interviews

Written by Eleanor Sanger, posted on Monday, December 4, 2017

Interviews at Oxford can feel very daunting, and it can be easy to think that this is your only chance to impress the tutors and win your place at the University. But this isn’t the case – interviews are just one part of the whole Oxford application process, and they’re used along with the rest of your application (including your personal statement, predicted grades, and any written work or test results) to decide whether or not to give you a place.

There can be lots of preconceptions surrounding interviews, so we thought we’d do a bit of mythbusting and help you to gain a better idea of what the interviews are for, and what you can expect from them.

(Written in consultation with Professor Jennifer Yee, Christ Church's Tutor for Admissions)


“I heard I’d got an interview after/before other people doing my subject – what does this mean?”

When you hear about whether or not you’ve got an interview doesn’t mean anything in terms of what the tutors thought of your application. Due to various factors such as whether your subject has a test or written work, the availability of tutors to consider applications, and the number of applications for a subject, there will be some variation in the timing of when different subjects give out invitations for interview. This will also vary between colleges, as the shortlisting process is carried out by staff at the college you applied to rather than by the central University, so some colleges will give out invitations for a particular subject at different times to other colleges. So don’t read anything into this!

“What should I wear?”

There’s no dress code for interviews – your tutors will probably not be wearing suits, so don’t feel like you have to dress particularly smartly. It’s more important that you feel comfortable – if you’d rather wear something similar to what you’d wear for school to put you in a ‘working’ frame of mind feel free, but if you’d feel more relaxed in your usual clothes then that’s fine too. Your tutors are interested in how you think, not what you look like.

“What should I do whilst I’m in Oxford?”

You’ll probably be down in Oxford for at least a few days having your interviews, giving you an amazing opportunity to experience living in college! You’ll be living in a student room, having meals in the Hall, and probably spending a lot of time in the JCR. This is where you’ll find out when your interviews are and whether you’ve been called for more, so it’s worth checking in here every now and then to see if you’re needed. You may also want to spend a bit of time here getting to know some of the other interviewees – there’ll be various social events going on during the weeks when interviews are held, so there are lots of opportunities for socialising as well as having to do the actual interviews themselves.

However, you’ll obviously also want to spend some time thinking about your work and preparing for interviews. At Christ Church the Library will be open for you to study in, or you can work in your room. You might want to spend some time before your interviews reading over your personal statement and any other notes so you can get yourself in the right frame of mind for the interview, but don’t feel like you have to spend the whole time working.

 “How should I prepare?”

It’s a good idea to bring a copy of your personal statement with you and go back over it before your interviews – this is what the tutors will probably use when thinking up their first questions, so you’ll need to know what you said on it. Read over any notes you’ve made on what you’ve covered at school, as this may be the basis for some of the questions you’re given. If you can find anyone to give you a mock interview, even if this is a chat with a teacher about a book you’ve read or a concept you’ve just learned, make the most of it! And read more widely around your subject so you can show some background knowledge and awareness of any current issues or theories around that subject.

 “How many interviews will I have?”

The number of interviews you’ll have will depend on your subject, and how many components there are to it, but you’ll probably have at least 2. If you’ve applied for a joint school, you’re likely to have at least one in each subject.

“What will happen in the interview?”

An Oxford interview is set up to be similar to a tutorial, where you’ll discuss your work with a tutor and they’ll encourage you to think more widely around that week’s topic. In this case, there will be a few tutors in the room with you, and they’ll probably take turns asking you questions, or will each ask you a series of questions on a particular topic. Tutors will begin by working out what you already know so that they can base their preliminary questions on this, but will then encourage you to think about other areas to see how you cope with new concepts. The interviews aren’t designed to catch you out or even to see how much you already know – they’re designed to make you think.

Depending on your subject, there may also be some kind of task as part of your interview. If you’re a literature student, you’ll be given a passage or poem before your interview and will have some time to analyse it and make notes, and discussion of this will form part of the interview itself. As a scientist or mathematician, you’ll be faced with mathematical problems and will have to talk through your responses to them. They’re not expecting you to do either of these things perfectly, and they’ll interject with comments to nudge you in the right direction if you seem to be floundering, but maybe try a few practices beforehand so you have a bit of experience.

Some tips from the University website: “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. Sometimes tutors may suggest an alternative way of looking at a problem. They are looking for evidence that you are willing to engage with new ideas, and that you can be flexible in your thinking.”

“What are tutors looking for in the interview?”

On the Oxford University website, it states that “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”.

Tutors are looking to see if you can adapt your way of thinking if challenged, if you can consider all of the different sides of an argument, and if you can think through a problem when faced with it. They’re not testing you on how well you know the last book you read, or whether you know the answer to a particular mathematical problem. With mathematical and science subjects they’re looking to see how you work your way through a problem, and how you adjust your thinking or methods if you go wrong. But whatever subject you’ve applied for, they’re looking for people who are enthusiastic about their subject, display intellectual curiosity, and have an imaginative and rigorous approach to problems.

“What does it mean if I’m asked for more interviews, or am not asked for more interviews?”

Whether you’re asked back for more interviews, or are asked to go for interviews at another college, has no bearing on whether or not you’ll be given a place, or whether or not you’ll be given a place at your original college. Don’t read too much into either being asked or not being asked to have more - there are a number of reasons why you might end up being interviewed at more than one college.


There’s a lot more information about interviews on the main Oxford website, so have a read to make sure you’ve made the most of all the advice the University has to offer about interviews and what to expect. There are separate pages with an introduction to interviews, giving you some tips on how to prepare, guiding you through the interview itself, and providing some sample questions - use the tabs at the top of this page to navigate through these areas. If you have any other questions, feel free to get in touch and we’ll try to help. And good luck!