English Language And Literature @ St Anne's, Oxford in 2018

Interview format

2 x 30 min interviews, over 2 days (1 per day)

Interview content

Interview 1: analysed an unseen contemporary poem and discussed personal statement; Interview 2: analysed an unseen extract of non-fiction prose and discussed personal statement; both interviews included time at the beginning to annotate the unseen text

Best preparation

Found and analysed unseen texts from a range of time periods; brushed up on terminology; reflected on what I was reading at the time of the interview and what I thought about it

Test preparation

Completed practice papers; focused on close analysis of texts and writing timed essays

Final thoughts

Try to relax and be yourself - think creatively and talk about your specialisms. Respond to challenges presented by the interviewer(s) and don't be afraid to change your mind. Also, don't worry if you don't know the correct terminology. Try to read something interesting around the interview period that you can talk about.

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: English Literature Admissions Test (ELAT)
Number of interviews: 2
Time between interviews: A day (split over two days, one a day)
Length of interviews: Around half an hour. (Can’t quite remember)
Online interview: No

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

Both interviews had the same structure. You have 5 minutes outside the interview room to annotate an unseen text which is waiting for you. You then enter the room with two tutors: for half the interview one will talk to you about the unseen text, for the rest the other will ask you more general questions (there may be some overlap and the other interviewer may butt in when they’re not leading it).

In the first interview, I got a Sylvia Plath poem. They asked me what I thought about it and I analysed it without stopping to breathe for a while. She did not ask any questions. We then went on to the more general discussion. He glanced at my personal statement, saw the word drama and started asking about the place of plays in literature studies. They asked me about the book I was currently reading.

My second interview had a extract of non-fiction prose. I went in and discussed it which ended up lasting most of the interview, with both interviewers asking me questions about it. The discussion ended up spanning beyond just the text into more general themes and thoughts. At one point I forgot a term so I just asked them. Then they also asked me what book I was reading and why!

How did you prepare for your interviews?

Preparing for an English interview is tough because the subject is so subjective and nebulous so, if you feel like you haven’t prepared enough, that’s really normal. I mostly prepared by finding and annotating a couple of unseen texts from a range of time periods. These could be poems or sections of prose (fiction and non-fiction). I also asked some of my English teachers to let me sort of present or talk about these unseen texts in order to see if my response was ‘correct’. Don’t try and learn responses because it's highly unlikely you will get the same unseen piece before the interview and they are testing your spontaneous sensitivity and creativity. On a practical level, it’s good to brush up on some of your technical terminology and refresh your memory of different poetic forms and meters so you can analyse and identify them. Make sure you are reading something interesting around the same time as the interview. Have in your head the reason you are reading it and what you think about it.

If you took a test, how did you prepare?

I used practice papers and asked an English teacher to mark then. Focusing on close analysis and writing timed essays during your English lessons (which you are probably already doing if you love English anyway) will also help strengthen your skills.

What advice would you give to future applicants?

My advice sounds silly but it would be to relax and try to be yourself. English is so subjective and creative, I think you get the best results not from spouting out someone else’s ideas but talking about your own. Don’t be afraid to keep talking animatedly about the text because that shows you love words and they want that. If they challenge you, take a breath, think and then respond. It’s ok to backtrack and admit ‘I hadn’t thought about it that way and/but…’. Also don’t freak out if you make a small technical mistake, just apologise or ask for the correct term. Make sure you are reading an interesting book! It doesn’t have to be Chaucer or Shakespeare to sound impressive, it just needs to be good quality and inspire you with ideas about it. I was worried before about not having the same favourite time periods as my interviewers, I know now that it really doesn’t matter. You are far better off talking about your specialisms than attempting to fit into theirs.