The Oxford interview is the final hurdle in the Oxford application process and the most important by far. By this point you’ll have submitted your UCAS application with your personal statement, predicted grades, essays and tests.
Most students applying to Oxford will have similarly impressive grades and pieces of work to show off but the interview is where the tutors decide whether they think you’re “Oxford material” or not.
Oxford interviews are incredibly daunting and there are a lot of rumours floating around on the internet with interview horror stories. I don’t have one of those to share with you. In fact, I don’t know anyone who does.
People love to exaggerate and over-embellish any story to do with Oxford University which is incredibly damaging for access. The Oxford Student recently published an article about how detrimental the media’s scrutiny on Oxbridge (Oxford and Cambridge) is, which is well worth a read.
So, today I’m sharing my Oxford interview experience for Modern Languages on the my blog to shed some light on the interview process. There is no such thing as a “typical Oxford interview”, even if you’re applying to the same college for the same subject as someone else.
Every single person I met during my interview period had a different interview experience to share from the focus of the interview to the number of tutors present in the interview.
For context, I applied to study French (sole) at Christ Church. I was invited to an interview at Christ Church around a week and a half before the interview date.
It’s always last minute and I wouldn’t expect more than two weeks notice!
The email outlined what I could expect from the interview and some brief tips on how to prepare. There would be one interview in English and another brief interview in French.
I was given a time and date to arrive at Oxford and also told when I could expect to leave. For me, this was noon on Tuesday to noon on Saturday. Yep, four whole days.
Here’s what happened at my Oxford interview for Modern Languages, including the Oxford interview questions I was asked:
Being in Oxford for interviews
Upon arrival at Christ Church, I checked in, was shown to my room and handed a welcome pack with lots of info. This is all very general stuff about where to eat, who to ask for help etc.
The information I needed about my interview times was all in the JCR (Junior Common Room). There was a large noticeboard in the middle of the room which had the interview timetable for all subjects that were being interviewed at that time. I was told to check this board regularly for any updates or interviews at other colleges.
Although I was told to be in Oxford from Tuesday to Saturday, my interviews were at 4pm on Thursday and 10am on Friday. That gave me a lot of time to myself.
Although I was one of the first to arrive for Modern Languages interviews, I was the last one to be interviewed, which was rather frustrating. I spent a lot of the time waiting by myself in my room, poring over my interview prep notes and hastily reading Sparknotes.
I socialised a little with the other students waiting to be interviewed but I tended to avoid most people until meal time.
I’m quite an awkward person in general and being forced to eat with strangers for four nights in a row whilst stressed out of mind about interviews was not my idea of a good time! The loud-mouthed students would have heavy arguments about politics, all trying to show each other up and prove that they were the most intelligent.
This was incredibly intimidating.
Everybody I spoke to was perfectly pleasant but you are all aware that you are competing for very limited places at a prestigious university and most niceties seemed to be laced with a little animosity or superiority. I felt like with every conversation I had people were trying to size me up, which was really rough.
It’s interesting to note that one day I had a long discussion with two other interviewees about our favourite Disney movies and we three got in, whilst the loud-mouthed politics know-it-alls did not.
I learnt from this that you shouldn’t assume anything about Oxford from the sorts of people you meet at interview. Everybody being interviewed is very nervous and a lot of people put on airs to pretend to be what they think an Oxford student should be.
Lots of people also hide themselves away during the interview process and don’t come out until their interview. As such, the people that you do meet at meal times or in the JCR will inevitably be those that are more confident and extroverted.
My Oxford Interviews for Modern Languages
Oxford Interview in English
Interview day number one eventually rolled around and I made my way to the tutors’s office where I would be interviewed. I was told to arrive half an hour early so that I could be given a sonnet to study for twenty minutes before entering.
I never found out what the name of the sonnet was but it was written in English, which is rare for French interviews at Oxford. Most of my friends at other colleges were given simple poems in French to analyse. Clearly the interview Gods smiled upon me that day.
My name was called.
Although I had been given a rough idea of what would happen in the interviews via email, they did not follow this outline at all. Here are some Oxford interview questions I was asked:
Do I like literature? (It is a huge part of the course!)
What English books have I read recently?
Is Gatsby still relevant in today’s society?
Then lots on Madame Bovary as I had mentioned that text in passing in my personal statement:
What similarities/differences are there between the sonnet and Madame Bovary?
What was Flaubert’s intention?
Can we consider Madame Bovary a role model?
Did I find Flaubert’s work difficult to read?
What are some issue with translation?
Did I study these texts in class or read them for leisure?
Can I apply the books I’ve mentioned in my personal statement to other situations or works of literature?
Those are just some of the things we discussed in my English interview, which only lasted around 20 minutes. The interview was really informal and there were only two tutors in the room, one lounged on either side of me in armchairs.
Oxford Interview in French
The next day I had my interview in French.
This interview was surprisingly short as it only lasted around 7 minutes! I had been told in the interview invitation email to expect to speak about my submitted work in French, so there I was gearing up to speak about Shakespeare and Racine in French.
In the end though my Oxford interview questions for French were GCSE-style:
What I had been doing for the past two days in Oxford?
What are my plans for the future?
Why learn French when most countries speak English?
Why not Spanish or German?
What other language would I like to learn and why?
Why not continue learning Mandarin?
At the end she took out my MLAT, the Modern Languages Aptitude Test, and asked me to correct my mistakes. She didn’t tell me where the mistakes were in the phrases but I had a stab at it and since I got in I guess I couldn’t have been too bad!
So, that’s what happened at my Oxford interview to study French at Christ Church. As I said, every single experience is very different but you will undoubtedly be grilled and challenged at every point.
Some people had longer interviews with a panel of tutors, whilst I was only interviewed by two tutors in an informal setting. Not all candidates were given the chance to see or correct their MLAT even though some specifically asked about it.
It’s different for everyone, but I hope reading my experience might help future applicants somewhat with their preparations.
Lastly, I want to share an awkward story about what happened after my Oxford interviews, which you might find amusing!
After interviews, one girl in the group of friends I had made set up a Facebook event for a reunion in January. She called it the “Oxford Rejection Party”. There were probably around ten people in the group but come January only two in the group received an Oxford offer – myself and the creator of the event.
Now obviously after interviews you all tell each other that you’ll keep in touch no matter what happens. Then Oxford offers are sent out and you forget all about those promises and those that don’t receive offers never contact you again.
This is what happened with my group of interview “friends” and so the creator of the Facebook event decided that the best thing to do would be to cancel the event, lest the others get upset when they receive the reminder notification about it in the future.
She pressed cancel.
Of course when you cancel a Facebook event, it doesn’t disappear never to be seen again, as she had hoped.
No, no, no.
What actually happens is that everybody invited to the event gets notified about the cancellation of the event.
So basically everybody got notified by a person who did get into Oxford that she’d cancelled the Oxford Rejection Party.
Suffice to say, none of the others in the group ever spoke to the event creator or myself ever again. But her and I are great friends and still cringe at this story five years later.
For more information on Oxford University, check out these posts:
How Many Books Did I read for my French Degree at Oxford?
What is it Like Studying Modern Languages at Oxford?
8 Do’s and Don’ts When Choosing an Oxford College
10 Reasons to Apply to Christ Church, Oxford
15 Things You Didn’t Know About Christ Church
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