Teachers' e-guide

Supporting your Oxford Candidates

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Before the Interview

How can I best support my candidate in preparing for interview?

Should we provide mock interviews and how helpful do you think this process is?

Certainly giving candidates the opportunity to discuss their motivation for the course and their academic interest in the subject for which they are intending to apply will be of great benefit to them.

Often students are experienced in expressing themselves coherently and with enthusiasm on paper (as will be demonstrated in their personal statement, but some students may have greater difficulty in vocalising their opinions and academic passions in an academic interview context.

A mock interview will help the candidate to gain more experience of talking about themselves and their academic interests in an unfamiliar environment.

You might consider organising one practice interview for your student with a subject specialist and another one with someone the student does not know. You could also contact other schools in your area and arrange to do mock interviews for each other’s students.

However, drilling students and asking them to memorise large amounts of pre-rehearsed material or answers will be of little use to them in the interview context, as the Oxford tutors leading the interviews are able to spot this kind of approach very quickly.

Students will be required to demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of the proposed subject area if they have studied the subject at school or college. A solid knowledge of the field will be required, particularly in science subjects, so students should aim to revise topics they have covered at school or college in the past year, such as any relevant A level material for example.

During the interview, tutors will be keen to direct students onto areas with which they are perhaps more unfamiliar in order to ascertain how they think. They want to know whether or not the critical responses students have are in fact their own, and whether they have an understanding of the issues involved which extends beyond a surface knowledge of the subject area.

Is there any specific reading my students should do before interview?

  • Students should be advised to read their personal statement and any submitted written work before coming to interview as preliminary interview questions may be based on this material.

  • Candidates are encouraged to read around their subject and on topics outside their school or college study, as well as developing and extending their knowledge on topics which may have interested them within their A-level (or equivalent) course.

  • The majority of undergraduate courses have suggested reading lists for prospective students. Please note that these lists are not exhaustive and are designed as possible starting points for further enquiry.

  • Candidates should develop their own passion and commitment for their subject and should undertake further reading which fosters that interest and will be an indicator of their motivation for the proposed course of study at interview.

  • If you know your student has enjoyed a particular aspect of their subject course with you at school, then we would also encourage you to suggest further reading for them.

What does 'reading around the subject' mean?

  • Candidates are advised to read widely around their chosen subject, including newspaper articles, websites, journals, magazines and other publications that relate to their subject.

  • Reading widely on its own is not enough; students should be encouraged to take a critical view of ideas and arguments that they encounter at school or college, or in the media and think about all sides of any debate.

  • In a literature subject, if a student has enjoyed a particular book as part of the course, they may wish to read other books by the same author, or works written in the same time period which deal with similar issues. Drawing comparisons between books they have read for their course and those they have read for pleasure is also a useful exercise.

  • An applicant for Biology, for example, might want to follow new developments in their field by reading New Scientist or National Geographic.

What else can my students do?

  • Students could visit Oxplore to access further super-curricular resources from Oxford. The ‘Big Questions’ included there reflect the kind of thinking students might undertake at Oxford. Exploring and discussing them from the student’s chosen subject perspective could offer new perspectives.

  • In addition to reading, students might also wish to watch relevant TV documentaries or films related to their proposed area of study.

  • Another way for your students to demonstrate their passion for the subject area could involve visiting museum exhibitions or attending public lectures.

  • They may also wish to explore examples of their subject area in the wider world, such as taking an interest in the scientific or economic theories that underlie news stories.

How can students show their passion for a subject they haven't studied before?

  • If a student is intending to begin a new subject from scratch at Oxford, they may wish to undertake some preparatory reading to explore their interest in that area and to ascertain whether it might be the right course for them.

  • If they decide to apply for a subject they have not studied before, candidates should have carefully thought about the reasons for choosing this new subject, however in-depth knowledge of the field is not a requirement.

  • When tutors are assessing candidates who intend to study a subject they have not formally studied at school, they are predominantly looking at the candidate’s skills and aptitudes rather than any specific knowledge.

  • For example, a student applying to study Italian without having studied it at school or college might want to read some short stories by Buzzati or Calvino in translation, watch an Italian film with subtitles or read some Italian poetry in a bilingual edition.

Practical support

  • Encourage your students to look at the interviews timetable which is available here in the autumn. If they are applying to Oxford, they should keep their subject timeslot free of other commitments. Please note that once an interview has been scheduled, it is not normally possible to change the date or time.

  • Colleges aim to inform applicants by post or email whether or not they have been invited to interview in late November or early December.

  • Students holding a passport from the EEA (European Economic Area) will be expected to travel to Oxford for interview and accommodation and food is provided free of charge in the college. For details of how to get to Oxford and how to find the colleges please click here.

  • Students holding a passport from a country outside the EEA will be given the option to come to Oxford for interview. We understand that students from other parts of the world may not be able to travel to interview at short notice, or may experience difficulties in obtaining a visitor visa (if required). Further information about interview arrangements for international applicants can be found here.

  • All shortlisted applicants for Medicine and Fine Art will be invited to come to Oxford for an interview in December. If they are shortlisted, they must attend this interview in Oxford if they would like their application to be considered.

  • In most cases, students will be in Oxford for between two and four days and being at interview may involve a student being away from school for up to four days, including travel time.

  • Students with disabilities should inform their college of any particular requirements well in advance of their interview, so that any appropriate arrangements can be made.

  • Interviews take place in December, after the end of term, when many Oxford students will have returned home for Christmas. However, each college makes sure that there are plenty of undergraduates around to provide information and to help candidates find their way around. These undergraduates will have recently experienced the interview process themselves, and are very well placed to help and advise your students.

  • Students should wear whatever clothes they feel comfortable in. Most tutors will not dress formally, and it is not necessary for the candidate to do so. It is cold in Oxford in December, so students are advised to bring warm clothing and suitable footwear.

  • We recommend that they bring copies of any written work submitted, and a copy of their personal statement, as tutors may refer to these during the interview.

  • Candidates are advised to look at and be confident about the content of these parts of the application. It becomes obvious very quickly to an interviewer if a candidate has not read something they have mentioned in their personal statement or is unfamiliar with the texts or concepts arising from submitted written work.

  • As there can be a great deal of waiting around during the interview period, it is a good idea to encourage candidates to bring some reading with them, perhaps even some school work, as they will only spend a relatively small amount of their time in Oxford actually in interviews or taking tests. There will also be plenty of opportunity to spend time with other interview candidates as well as current undergraduates.

  • It is advisable that they bring a mobile, along with its charger, so that the college can contact them, if they need to.