So you’ve got an interview for Classics at Oxford – congratulations! To help you prepare, we’ve compiled some of the best advice from successful Classics applicants so you can get all the top tips in one place.
The Classics degree at Oxford is divided into two ‘streams’ on application depending on your background in Classics: Course I for applicants with Latin and/or Greek at A-Level, and Course II for students with no ancient language at A-Level. This page therefore includes both general advice and interview content which is likely to help both sets of applicants as well as tips and experiences which are more specific to each course.
There are usually between 2 and 5 interviews (about 20-45 mins long) at each college for Classics; Course II applicants normally have 1 additional interview (20-30 mins long) at the Classics department. The content of the interview will depend on the specialisms of the tutor(s) but can also be influenced by your personal statement, especially if you’ve mentioned specific texts or interests. The areas listed below are intended as a general guide for what might come up but it is unlikely that you will cover them all in great detail. The interviews are intended to be like conversations so the tutors are willing to be led by you and follow the discussion wherever it leads.
N.B. Most texts given at interview will be in English or have an English translation, excluding those intended to be used in the translation part of the interview for Course I applicants.
Literature: this part of the interview is usually based around an unseen text, and you will often be given time to prepare and annotate this passage on the day. Examples include an extract from the Aeneid, a passage from the Odyssey, a poem by Horace or Greek choral hymns. There might even be a discussion of more modern literature such as comparing it with work by ancient authors.
Ancient History: this is normally a text-based section of the interview with preparation beforehand.
Philosophy: this part of an interview will often be based around one or more philosophical problems, usually logical or ethical; it might be modern or ancient philosophy. You are likely to have time to prepare beforehand or during the interview. A number of students mentioned finding this part relatively challenging due to their lack of background in philosophy:
• “This was all new to me, having never done philosophy before, but the interview was designed for complete beginners so that was fine.” – applicant to Worcester College. Full interview here 🔗
• “I knew nothing about philosophy, but they just held my hand and walked me through every question until we eventually got to a conclusion.” – applicant to The Queen’s College. Full interview here 🔗
• “I also taught myself some very simple philosophical terms and ideas – Maslow’s pyramid, objective/subjective morality etc. Since I had never studied philosophy, this way, at least I had something to fall back on and a way of expressing my ideas if I ever got lost in that interview.” – applicant to Jesus College. Full interview here 🔗
Archaeology: this will normally be centred on images or replicas of ancient objects. Coins seem to be popular but plans and pots have also featured.
COURSE I SPECIFIC CONTENT
Translation: there will often be a part of one interview dedicated to translation into English from the language that you have training in. There might also be some grammar and vocabulary questions.
COURSE II SPECIFIC CONTENT
Language aptitude: this will often take place at the Classics department and will focus on your ability to learn a new language from scratch. This is likely to involve discussion of the Admissions Exam you took as well as of English grammar. There might also be questions about your motivation for learning a classical language and how you would approach learning an ancient language, especially if you have experience of studying a modern language.
"I also went through my personal statement and underlined pretty much everything and made sure I had something to say about everything, every book, every bit of experience…the fact that you have thought about your personal statement and the kinds of questions the interviewers might ask about it will really help you." – applicant to Jesus College. Full interview
"Any reading, documentaries, museums, exhibitions and podcasts around your subject will help get your head in the right place." – applicant to Wadham College. Full interview here 🔗
"I had 3 main topics for Classics that I put on my personal statement so I kind of just tried to keep my brain ticking in terms of those…I also made sure that I re-read all of my set texts, including the introduction in the textbooks, and anything I’d put in my [personal statement] such as an essay I submitted to an essay competition." – applicant to St. Hilda’s College. Full interview
"I think the best way to prepare is to practise interviews and discussions, whether with other people applying for the subject, or current students, or parents, or teachers, or anyone. Practise articulating your thoughts and responding to what other people say, and be open and prepared to change your mind about things." – applicant to Worcester College. Full interview here 🔗
"For preparing for these Classics interviews, one of the best things to do is to practise the sorts of activities they ask you to do. Find a short piece of literature or philosophy (no more than half a side of A4), and make yourself sit down with it for a short while (20 minutes maybe) and think through what you can come up with." – applicant to Trinity College. Full interview here 🔗
"Interviews are a really difficult skill, and everyone feels rubbish at them when you first start. Any practice at all of this you can do, even if it's just once, will help a bit." – applicant to Trinity College. Full interview here 🔗
COURSE I SPECIFIC ADVICE
"Some language prep will definitely help…Practise translations and study the grammar within texts." – applicant to Wadham College. Full interview here 🔗
"Doing any practice papers you can find is definitely very helpful, but once you’ve done them make sure you go back over them and write down separately a list of your mistakes and common errors, or complex bits of language you might find tricky, so you can sit down and learn that. – applicant to Trinity College. Full interview here 🔗
[I] learnt a load of vocab from a few different lists – you can find PDFs of a few online or look them up on websites like Quizlet." – applicant to Magdalen College. Full interview here 🔗
"I just did A level translations and prepared as I would for my A level Latin (vocabulary, grammar)." – applicant to Christ Church College. Full interview here 🔗
"If they ask you to translate something and you don’t know what a word means, you could say ‘I don't know but it’s x grammatical form’, ‘it looks like x word’, or ‘in this context it could mean x’ rather than just saying you don't know and giving up." – applicant to St. Hilda’s College. Full interview here 🔗
COURSE II SPECIFIC ADVICE
"I looked at past papers online, revised English grammar, and tried to have an open mind." – applicant to Brasenose College. Full interview here 🔗
"Honestly, the best advice I got from all of them was to enjoy myself. I went into my interviews with the goal of having an interesting conversation (rather than trying to impress someone), and that made the process a lot less nerve-wracking." – applicant to St. Hilda’s College. Full interview here 🔗
"Ask for clarification if you need it, and take your time. Remember that they’re not trying to intimidate you – they want you to be comfortable and open." – applicant to Brasenose College. Full interview here 🔗
"They want to see how you react to new information and adapt your thinking accordingly, how you react to being challenged or pushed on what you’re saying, and also your willingness to throw out a random idea and see if it sticks." – applicant to Wadham College. Full interview here 🔗
"I hadn’t expected the interviews to be so centred around me and what I could already do – anything I was unfamiliar with I was helped with, which was much more reassuring." – applicant to University College. Full interview here 🔗
"Do not over-prepare for your interviews, do not stress [yourself] out with endless interview preparation, you are not applying to Oxford because you know everything already, you are applying to university so that they can teach you what you need to know." – applicant to Jesus College. Full interview here 🔗
"When given something to work with for an interview, view it as an aid rather than something to be tested on – they are giving you something concrete to talk about for at least the first half of your interview." – applicant to Oriel College. Full interview here 🔗
"The best thing I did was get a good night’s sleep and relax a bit before my last interview, which went by far the best out of the three." – applicant to Magdalen College. Full interview here 🔗