English University Interviews at Oxford

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Interview Overview

Students report having anywhere from two to four interviews, depending on whether they’ve piqued the interest of multiple colleges. Oxford states that you are ‘quite likely to have more than one’ interview, and two seems to be the norm. You might have one round of interviews and then be asked to take on an additional interview from a different college afterwards, so be prepared for this – this could take place via skype, for example. You will be interviewed by academic tutors who represent the college – those who are likely to tutor you in future. You’ll typically be interviewed by two tutors.

Admissions Statistics

Oxford, overall, receives more than 22,000 applications for its 3300 places, and it shortlists 10,000 candidates for interview. That means that you have slightly less than a ½ chance of getting an interview. For English, the most recent information shows 901 applications, which led to 258 offers being made – a 28.6% success rate. This is roughly similar to Cambridge’s success rate for English literature.

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Interview Key Dates

All interviews at Oxford take place from early through to mid-December.

Interview Format and Purpose

The interview is designed to replicate a tutorial, the manner in which much of the teaching at Oxford takes place. The interview will assess your academic potential, your ability to self-motivate, and your enthusiasm for English Literature. Tutors want to see that you can think independently, and that you can engage with new ideas. You’ll be expected to go above and beyond the typical school syllabus. From previous students, you should expect the interviews to often begin with an unseen poem or passage. You’ll be given two to choose from, and provided with around 20 minutes to make notes and prepare yourself. After that, you’ll be taken to the interview room where you’ll begin by fielding general questions on the passage, before getting more specific and then venturing into other areas.

Per the Oxford site, you should expect that an interview will begin with ‘a few simple questions’ to allow you to settle in and deal with your nerves. This could be a question on your personal statement, or perhaps asking you why you’ve applied for English. After that, you’ll be posed more specific questions. You should expect that tutors will probe your knowledge of the subject in depth, and this will cover:
– your personal statement and any texts mentioned within it
– the syllabus at school
– the Canon, and any texts that you’ve mentioned from the Canon
– lighter reading, and books that you particularly enjoy that perhaps aren’t typical literature

You may also be asked to submit work for the tutors to look at. If this is the case, then you should expect to defend this work. Ensure that you can do so, and that you have new criticism, new ideas, and new ways of approaching your arguments ready to go.

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Additional Assessments

Just as you would at Cambridge, if you’re applying to Oxford then you’ll need to sit the ELAT – the English Literature Admissions Test. The ELAT is a 90 minute exam, in which you are presented with six passages. These passages are short pieces of text, and will all be on one theme. However, they can range in type from poems to prose to extracts from manuals to letters – in other words, expect a true variety. You will need to choose two of these, and then use them to write an essay on the theme. For example, the theme could be ‘journalism in war’ and the passages could include a newspaper article, an extract from a novel, a writing guide, etc.

Additionally, as mentioned above, you may be expected to hand in a writing sample which will then be discussed at interview.

Previous Questions

Is poetry meant to be difficult to understand?

Is the Bible a fictional work?

Is poetry a particularly good medium for expressing doubt over words?

Can an immoral story exist?

What have you read recently?

Did you do an EPQ? If so, what did you do it on?

How would you define literature?

How does a haiku differ from a sonnet?

Why do you want to study English? Is it a worthwhile degree?

What is your favourite book?

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