Classics And English @ The Queen's, Oxford in 2018

Interview format

2x 45-60 min interviews, over 2 days

Interview content

Interview 1: Latin poem (with translation) given beforehand, personal statement, CAT; Interview 2: philosophy questions given beforehand, personal statement; Interview 3: English - poem, personal statement

Best preparation

Practice papers, Latin translation sessions, vocab learning. Don't worry about doing everything.

Final thoughts

Reading academic articles can be useful practice; research the interview process a bit; don't go crazy with breadth of further reading; mock interviews are useful, if you can get them.

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

Test taken: CAT

Number of interviews: 3

Skype interview: No

Interview spread: 1 on first day, 2 on next day

Length of interviews: 45 minutes to 1 hour each

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

My first interview was a literature interview for Classics. I found the tutors in my first interview the most intimidating of all but they were clearly still only looking to see me succeed - the tutors will be extremely happy if you can show yourself to be capable of learning - it doesn't matter what sort of background you come from, and your ideas don't need to be fully-formed! They really really do want to see you succeed, and it's much better to show potential, flexibility and the confidence to handle the challenges they'll throw at you over the next few years than to focus on being polished. I was first given 20 minutes to look over a Latin poem with a translation in a room which felt eerily like an exam hall. I found it much harder to calm my nerves in there than once I was in the interview situation, but I think the most important thing is to try to stay present and be ready to change tack because half the time as soon as you start talking you'll be told you were barking up the wrong tree (which is fine!) and have to ignore most of your preparation anyway. After discussing this unseen poem, I had some very straightforward questions based on my personal statement, and was quizzed on a few elements of the CAT that I assume I messed up in the exam!!

I also had an ancient history and philosophy interview (despite this not being a part of my course) where the prepared work was thinking through some philosophical questions. This was followed by more questioning on my personal statement.

Finally, I had an English interview with two LOVELY and down-to-earth tutors, which focused again on a discussion of a poem and then some very gentle discussion of my personal statement that didn't feel nearly as gruelling as my Classics interview. But I have heard very different experiences too!

Despite how nervous I was, they honestly ended up feeling much too short! I think they were all about 45 minutes - an hour, which isn't very long at all because there's quite a lot going on in each interview - usually discussion of an unseen text, followed by discussion of the personal statement - potentially separate lines of enquiry by the 2 interviewers - and I got a couple of grammar questions in one classics interview too!

How did you prepare?

I only did practice papers for the ELAT (there are PLENTY available online), working up to doing them completely under timed conditions, and it's important to get an English teacher you trust to mark them! If your English department doesn't know much about this, I know several people from state schools who liased with nearby independent schools for test preparation, so that's definitely worth a shot!

For the CAT, my head of classics ran translation sessions with the 3 classics Oxbridge applicants using the Latin Unseen Translation book by Roy Hyde (for verse in particular, I don't think A-level stuff is quite stretching enough). Learning vocab will be very important too. Then I started doing practice papers in the few weeks before the exam, but there aren't loads. Be careful not to burn out, and don't panic about doing EVERYTHING - as long as you're on top of it, that's enough, you can't do everything and you don't need to ace the test as long as they can see you're good enough to handle the course!

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

Getting used to spending your free time reading scholarly articles and thinking about your response to them is some very helpful (if slightly sad) practice.

I think it's very worthwhile doing some research specifically into the interview process, and if you come from the type of school which rarely sends pupils to Oxbridge and doesn't have any teachers who went there, I would take everything you're told with a pinch of salt because I've heard some quite shocking misinformation coming from people who should be trustworthy... including literally dozens of people that I know of alone who were discouraged from applying at all by their school, who not only were serious candidates but got in! If you want to go and you think you have a chance, just go for it! They will not be expecting the same level of preparedness from you as from some old Etonians, etc, and despite the skewed statistics, state school pupils are still the majority.

I was also told that there's no need to go crazy with the breadth of your further reading. Depth is more important, and they'll only ask you about what you've told them to on your personal statement. Having said that, if you're not willing to spend any of your free time reading about your passions, you won't enjoy the next 3/4 years at Oxford anyway! So you should be doing enough just by virtue of your passion and your desire to get in. The psychological strain of the application process is quite intense, so it's much more important to focus on keeping yourself on the ball, because at interview it will be much more important to respond on the ball than to know endless quantities of information.

In that light, the best preparation I did was mock interviews - but again, be suspicious of teachers who have no real experience of the process. You should be asked largely to handle unseen material, and asked to form an argument about subjects you've touched upon in your personal statement, and to be able to respond to criticism: not recall, not sycophancy, and not sticking to your tack once you've been proven wrong.