Teachers' e-guide

Supporting your Oxford Candidates

Modern Interior

Interviews

At the Interview

How many interviews will there be and how long will they last?

  • The interviews will usually be conducted by two academic tutors. These are people who are experts in an aspect of the degree course for which the candidate is applying.

  • Most candidates will normally have at least two interviews of 20-30 minutes each.

What form will the interviews take?

  • An interview will usually begin with something familiar, such as a question arising from the candidate’s personal statement or written work and become progressively more challenging as it moves in to more unfamiliar territory. Interviews are designed to stretch a candidate and assess their potential, but tutors are not there to catch someone out.

  • A pictorial or textual stimulus, such as a graph, diagram, a passage of text, or item may be used as a springboard for discussion in the interview. These exercises will not be taken from school syllabuses, but are rather designed to see whether candidates are able to respond to new material in a critical and informed way.

Are there any 'standard Oxford questions'?

  • We recommend that candidates think about the obvious questions that are often asked at the beginning of an interview to help them settle down, and think how they might answer them. They should think specifically about why they want to study at Oxford and why have they chosen their particular subject. At this point, tutors may also draw from parts of the candidate’s personal statement. Note that they may not necessarily be asked these questions as a matter of course.

  • Tutors are advised not to ask why students have chosen that particular college; candidates may interview at a college to which they have been allocated as part of an open allocation, or may be called during the interview period to interview at a college to which they did not directly apply.

  • For some sample interview questions across a range of subjects, please click here.

Are extra-curricular activities taken into account?

  • Please remember that tutors make their decisions based on 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 extra-curricular activities, particularly at the start of the interview, as the candidate is settling in. They may ask the student why they have enjoyed a particular activity and what they have learnt from it. They may also be interested in how you the candidate balanced their time between studies and other activities.

  • Tutors may also ask questions regarding a candidate’s supercurricular activities, i.e. extra-curricular activities which contribute to the candidate’s enthusiasm for and engagement in their subject area. Examples include: summer schools, relevant work experience, public lectures, voluntary work and competitions.

What practical advice do you have for candidates in answering questions?

  • Don’t overthink! Candidates should take a moment before responding, but should be urged to practice ‘thinking out loud’.

  • Tutors are not concerned entirely with a candidate reaching ‘the right answer’, but are genuinely interested in how they think and what they do with what they know, rather than simply finding out about their knowledge base.

  • If a candidate uses theoretical terms in the interview, or if they have made reference to them in the personal statement or written work, they should be able to define them.

  • Merely reciting terms, or name-dropping so-called ‘important’ works or ideas is of little use in itself, unless the candidate can justify their point of view or actively engage with a received idea.

  • For example, if an Economics candidate says they have an interest in game theory, they should be able to qualify that and explain what in particular about that aspect of Economics attracts them. Equally, it is not helpful if an English candidate states that Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway is a striking model of a Modernist text, if they are unable to talk about what they think Modernism actually is.

What are tutors looking for in the interview?

  • Evidence of a solid academic base (particularly in the sciences) and demonstration of an interest in and enthusiasm for their subject. Students should be encouraged to revise recent material they have covered at school and to think about the connections between topics and theories. Tutors are not interested in students who atomise knowledge.

  • Demonstration of an ability to think beyond the confines of what they have studied at school.

  • Excellent grades alone are not enough to secure a place at Oxford. Even those students who have an exceptional record in exams may not have the intellectual curiosity and independence of thought necessary to succeed at the University.

  • When assessing candidates, tutors are essentially looking for those students who they believe have the potential to excel in the interactive one-to-one teaching system tutorial system at Oxford.

How are interviews assessed?

  • Those interviewing for the first time at Oxford are required to undertake training before they are permitted to interview candidates, and all interviewers will be familiar with the selection criteria for their subject and the modes of assessment involved.

  • "The first year I was involved in admissions interviewing, I completed a training course which made me feel much more confident about planning and conducting interviews, as did interviewing alongside an experienced tutor." (Dr. Eleanor Parker, Interviewer for Modern Languages)

  • Pre-interview assessment takes place when tutors evaluate the candidate’s UCAS application, results of any tests and the quality of the written work.

  • At interview, candidates are assessed according to the selection criteria for that subject and tutors will be looking for academic rigour, independence of thought and intellectual curiosity as well of evidence of passion for their subject. Subject-specific selection criteria are available through our website.