Biology @ St John's, Oxford in 2017

Interview format

2x 20 min interviews, 1 day apart

Interview content

Interview 1: personal statement, progressively harder biology questions, experiment question; Interview 2: discussion of object

Best preparation


Advice in hindsight


Final thoughts

Talk to people about subject; listen to podcasts; don't worry about reading about everything in subject - just read about some areas you really love; don't worry about having perfect answers in the interview, and feel free to ask questions.

Remember this advice isn't official. There is no guarantee it will reflect your experience because university applications can change between years. Check the official Cambridge and Oxford websites for more accurate information on this year's application format and the required tests.

Also, someone else's experience may not reflect your own. Most interviews are more like conversations than tests and like, any conversation, they are quite interactive.

Interview Format

Number of interviews: 2

Skype interview: No

Time between each interview: 1 day

Length of interviews: about 20 minutes each

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

In my first interview I was firstly asked to back up a comparison and claim that I had made between an old and new biological concept. Then one of the tutors started asking a series of questions on a topic about plants, these started as fairly simple or open questions but were slowly built upon each other to form a larger problem. The progressive nature of these questions helped as it meant I wasn't just thrown in at the deep end. Finally, the other tutor showed me an illustration of an experiment on animal behaviour and explained a couple of scenarios, I was then asked to discuss what might happen if certain elements of the experiment were changed. This didn't really require any pre-existing knowledge of biology but was all about logical experimental thinking.

My second interview was very similar in structure, except that I was also give an object and asked to discuss certain aspects of it.

At first the interviews are quite nerve-racking but you soon settle into them and I came out feeling reasonably happy, not because I had known the answers to things but because it was just quite exciting to have a slightly challenging chat about the subject I love.

How did you prepare?


What advice do you have for future applicants?

Looking back, what advice would you give to your past self?

Some of the best preparation I did was not necessarily practice interviews but instead casual scenarios where I would do some reading of exciting new biological breakthroughs and articles, etc., and then I would sit down and chat about it with my biology teacher. This improved my ability to explain concepts and articulate thoughts that I had and also got me used to people asking questions following on from something you said; much better than pre-preparing things.

I would also recommend listening to podcasts as a way to be exposed to new things without the heavy reading.

If I were to go through the process again I would put less pressure on myself to read anything and everything biology related. It would have been better for me to have just focussed on a small number of areas that I really loved and cover them as realistically there is not going to be the time or the opportunity to talk about multiple books/articles in detail.

Also, I would say not to stress too much about having perfect answers the first time, just take your time and talk through the questions as things come to you. The most important thing I was told in the run up to interviews is that the tutors are looking for the potential to thrive in the Oxford environment, not the finished product. They are looking at how you deal with problems and the evidence and thought process behind your answers (even if those answers aren't entirely correct!). Moreover, don't be afraid to ask questions if you need something confirming or clearing up, so that you can answer more clearly.