English Language And Literature @ Worcester, Oxford in 2019

Interview format

3 x 45 min interviews over 2 days

Interview content

You don’t have to be perfect, and it’s okay to not know things and make mistakes

Best preparation

Reading a bit more into your interests, YouTube videos

Final thoughts

It's a chance for tutors to see how you think, your thought process, and how you respond to unfamiliar academic material

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: 3
Time between interviews: My first two were around two hours apart. My third interview was at another college ( St Catherine’s), and this was conducted the following day.
Length of interviews: 45 minutes
Online interview: No

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

I had two interviews at Worcester College in the same day, then the following day I was pooled to St Catherine’s, where I had one interview in the afternoon. I was very nervous for my first interview, so I tried to relax by listening to music, having a little dance in my room (hopefully the windows were closed) and talked to some friends. Having a bit of time to relax before the interview helped a lot and put me more at ease before going in. I went to a room in the college where I was given ten minutes to read an extract from what looked like a novel or short story of some sort. Then I went to my interview. We spent the first half of the interview discussing the (around 20 ish mins). This started off relatively okay, but I think I let my nerves get the better of me and my answers gradually became less insightful as time went on. The interviews I had were a little aloof and intimidating, so it was hard to tell what they were thinking. As I had done maths and physics as a levels alongside English, they asked me why I had chosen to pursue English instead. I talked about how maths and physics provided an empirical understanding of human experience, and how I saw this as relatively limited in comparison to literature, which explored components of human experience and reality which could not be understood through an empirical lens. One of the tutors asked me how this linked to the presentation of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice (this was on my personal statement). I was a little stumped and asked if he could repeat the question, but we were interrupted by the other interviewer, who then proceeded to ask me questions about The Merchant of Venice for the rest of the interview. I think at this point I let nerves get the better of me, and my answers became really clumsy. When the interview was over I was on the verge of tears, because I felt like I knew what I wanted to say but couldn’t get the words out. I had an interview in the next two hours and was feeling a little deflated. After this I went into my room and called my friends, who reassured me and made me feel a lot better. Between this time and the best interview, I rolled up in bed and watched a film. Because I had already prepared quite a lot for my first interview, I felt I didn’t have much more I could do, and sort of knew I needed some time to relax and unwind. My second interview went a lot better; I got a poem to read and analyse for 10 mins before going in this time. The poem was pretty challenging but I managed to come up with some arguments. While the interview was still challenging, the tutors this time round were really friendly and open, and I actually had a lot of fun talking to them They pushed my analysis of the poem we had quite a lot, and encouraged me to consider parts I hadn’t noticed We then moved onto the second half of the interview, which included more broader questions surrounding literature We ended up discussing really interesting topics like dangers literature has, representations of mental disorders (these evolved from the conversation, so don’t worry; they won’t ask anything out of left field!) The interview ended on a strange question about how to define complexity, and whether complexity should be valued over simplicity. Again I was a little stumped, but I asked for a few seconds to think and managed to come up with something. I left this interview feeling a lot better, and actually really enjoyed the experience. The next day I got an email saying I had a third interview at St Catherine’s. This time I had 30 mins to analyse the poem I was given. It was quite a tricky poem and I struggled at first to understand it (which was probably why the reading time was much longer). This time there were three tutors, two of whom conducted the interview, while the third sat and took notes. They were a little intimidating, but a lot more responsive than the tutors in my first interview. This time I was prepared emotionally and made sure that I remained calm even if I felt a little intimidated. We spent the first half analysing the poem in detail - this was definitely very challenging, as the tutor would continually push my arguments further and asked questions that forced me to think. However, I really enjoyed this as I felt that my initial ideas of the poem were evolving with the tutor’s guidance. The second half was a mix of personal statement questions and broader questions. I got asked questions about The Merchants of Venice (again), but I felt more confident and would take more time to think before answering. We then discussed the Italian sonnets I mentioned in my statement - I actually misunderstood and got something completely wrong, but we moved on quickly and they seemed okay with it. The tutors then gave me a little freedom to decide what we talked about; they asked if I’d read any modernist literature (I admitted that I hadn’t), so they asked me if I had read anything similar. From here we talked about The Handmaid’s Tale. The interview ended with what literature I liked to read, and for some reason my mind went completely blank and I couldn’t answer. They told me it was okay and then I went back to Worcester college. I felt a little mixed about this one, and wasn’t sure how to feel. However, I hope my experience shows that you don’t have to be perfect, and it’s okay to not know things and make mistakes! They’re not expecting perfection.

How did you prepare for your interviews?

It’s also good to remember that they don’t expect you to be perfect; you won’t know how to respond to some questions straight away, and that’s okay! A lot of times in my interviews, I admitted that I hadn’t read certain things, or did total 180s in my analysis. As long as you think out loud and talk the tutors through your thought process, and think before speaking, you’ll be okay! Actually asking for a few seconds to think is totally fine too. Familiarising myself with the ideas, books and discussion points I mentioned in my personal statement was incredibly useful; in some of my interviews, parts of the discussion were guided by what I had put down. Consider if the things you’ve said disputable way, are there any other arguments contradicting what you’ve said, are there any notably unconventional or interesting literary features to the texts you’ve read? I tried to conduct extra reading around the things I mentioned. For example, I mentioned Italian love sonnets and their influences on Shakespeare; out of interest I searched up different translations of the sonnets and saw how they compared. Or for The Handmaid’s Tale, I read some articles about the novel’s relevance to recent discussions surrounding feminism and the Trump administration on the BBC; anything you find interesting! Speaking out loud about the things I had mentioned. A useful trick is to put a question mark next to every sentence in your statement and try responding out loud as if a tutor were asking you about it. Finding past English interview oxford questions and trying to answer them out loud also helps. Think before you give an answer, and try considering the question from multiple perspectives if the questions allows it. It’ll give you a lot more confidence over time and make sure you get more used to talking about your subject. Preparing for basic questions they could ask , I.e why oxford? Why English? Why this course in particular, can be useful (I didn’t get asked these, but I had in case). I Researching the course and finding out what you think is unique or beneficial about it is useful too! Be careful not to try memorising answers though for the whole interview though! Having a fundamental knowledge about literature as an academic field may also prove useful; researching the functions of literature, why literature is important, what literature has the potential to achieve, how it compares to other fields like history or philosophy, how it compares to other storytelling mediums like film or music (and if there’s any overlap), how we can distinguish poetry from novels from drama (and again, if there’s overlap), what literary theory is and if it’s useful... For this I’d recommend reading the Oxford World’s Classics edition of Aristotle’s Poetics , which contains Shelley’s “A Defence if Poetry” essay, Aristotle’s analysis of literature and tragedy, and criticisms of literature by Plato. I’d also highly recommend James Wood’s “How Fiction Works”. Annotating and keeping a note of your thoughts and parts you find interesting will be helpful for later use. Reading a bit more into your interests will also be helpful; in interviews it’s often useful to tie what you’re saying to examples in things you’ve read. This can entail reading literature you find interesting, articles, listening to podcasts, watching documentaries etc... Also finding people on YouTube talking about their interviews was really helpful for me; it helped demystify certain parts of the process and I gained a lot of useful advice!

If you took a test, how did you prepare?

The ELAT, while challenging, is a straightforward baseline used by tutors to assess how you respond to unfamiliar works of literature. The tutors don’t want to trip you up, but wish to give you an opportunity to demonstrate your creativity, imagination, and literary skills without the restrictions of an A-Level syllabus. The freedom can seem frightening, but it can be incredibly exciting, maybe even a little fun. , the ELAT is not a memory test. You are not rewarded for contextual information or your knowledge of wider literary movements, or even obscure literary terminology. The ELAT is a test of skills in literary analysis, a skill you’ve been practising and refining for years of your academic life. It’s also important to keep in mind that the ELAT is only one segment of your Oxbridge application; it is possible that, despite a below average ELAT score, the merits of other parts of your application (i.e personal statement, written work etc...) will be enough for you to get invited for an interview. So don’t panic! The ELAT is not necessarily the be all and end all of your Oxbridge journey. 1. Get a hold of the marking criteria: ​This is available on the Oxford website (h​ ttps://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/applying-to-oxford/tests/elat)​ Read through it, annotate it, whatever you need to do to familiarise yourself with the marks needed to enter each band, and what qualities essays belonging to those bands have. 2. Exemplar Answers: ​These are also on the Oxford website. Use these to see, according to an Oxbridge examiner, what qualities the work being discussed possesses to warrant the band it’s been put in. It is worth looking both at top band answers and lower band answers to see what tutors like and dislike. 3. The Analysis of Results Section: ​These are also on the Oxford website. These contain reports detailing how many students taking the test got a particular score. It will also include an approximation of how likely a student is to get an interview based on the mark they get in that particular year. The mark needed to have a likely chance of getting an interview changes every year depending on what the scores are, but usually, students categorised as very likely to get an interview score around 48 - 60 marks out of 60. 4. Familiarise yourself with literary techniques, ​i.e language, form, style and structure, devices like meter, rhyme, imagery... Remember that the tutors are not expecting you to know any obscure or complicated literary terms, and definitely do not want you to spend your essay identifying elaborate and fancy techniques for the sake of it. This is just to remind you of what you can look out for when analysing your passages. 5. Complete a few past papers to get used to writing a complete essay in 90 minutes. This is a trial and error period; try out various timings, try analysing passages in ways that challenge you, get it marked by a teacher, see what works and what doesn’t. Remember the ELAT is a creative exercise - use your past papers to experiment and try things out! 6. Read a Variety of Texts: (​I have to admit that Ididn’t do this, but Iwish Ihad). Read a wide variety of texts you find interesting; philosophical essays, novels, plays, song lyrics, religious texts, political mantras etc... sit with a pen and analyse a few passages. This will make you more comfortable with responding to unfamiliar material and will encourage you to be flexible in the sort of material you can write about. You don’t have to go overboard with this - do as many as you can manage. 7. Critical Reading: (​I didn’t do this either, but again, really wish I had). Read articles and works written by literary critics; you can read these to inform your style, how to conduct analysis, how to structure a logical argument etc... Equally, you can discover what doesn’t work, and what kind of structures and writing styles hinder RECOMMEND EXAMPLE: How Fiction Works - James Wood I cannot recommend this enough. Wood essentially attempts to examine the magic behind fiction; how elements of fiction writing like narration, character and realism practically (in his eyes) operate. A truly enlightening read, it’ll teach you how intricate, ambiguous and beautiful novelistic creation really is. Wood’s observant approach to analysing passages of famous texts is incredibly beautiful; never forcefully academic or pretentious, always poetic, creative and full of meaning. You’ll find yourself in awe at how easily he analyses words to break down human nature and behaviour through seemingly meaningless details, from the ink smudges on a grief-striken man’s pristine diary to the creases on a shirt. Wood’s language and his ideas are a bit head-scratchy and heavy at times, complex (I had to reread bits several times), but with patience and some reflective reading, this book will give you some incredibly imaginative and nuanced examples of analysis you can learn from. Advice for Writing the Essay 1. You don’t have to be Shakespeare. Like I did ,you may like you have to write a deeply profound, brilliantly edgy essay, but this isn’t the case. Some people fall into the trap of memorising sophisticated sounding essay ideas to force on their responses, when this will only hinder their flexibility. Most likely, you’ll have to write something you are not prepared for, and that’s totally okay; you’ll be more likely to be open-minded and write from inspiration rather than from memory. It’d be better to write an essay that responds creatively to the theme, uses close reading skills and pursues a logical and clear argument, instead of one filled with jargon and excessively complex language and 2. Don’t be afraid to be creative and imaginative; ​the ELAT is designed to allow candidates to express themselves and discuss texts and their meanings creatively and perceptively.The tutors enjoy getting to know your voice as a student of literature (as long as the ideas you have are supported by evidence and are structured logically and clearly). However, this doesn’t mean you need to put pressure on yourself to write something beautifully poetic and sophisticated; I only mean to say, if you have a bold perception of a passage, or want to express an idea in a more creative fashion, don’t be afraid to do so. You’re an English student; your words have a great amount of power. 3. The theme you’re given is always very broad i.e clothing, food, parting, time etc... this gives you a lot of scope in regards to the ideas you can discuss (given they’re relevant to the passages you’ve picked). The theme might be something mundane like clothing, but you may find the texts provoke intriguing discussions about personal image, fashion etc... Let your imagination run wild (but let it run with close reading and appropriate evidence too).

What advice would you give to future applicants?

It’s important to remember that the interviews are not an examination or a memory test; they’re a chance for tutors to see how you think, your thought process, and how you respond to unfamiliar academic material. In this way, it’s more of a discussion than a conventional interview. This seemed really scary to me, but they can actually turn out to be really fun and fascinating conversations with two experts who love your subject as much as you do! They’re also not expecting someone who knows everything and answers all their questions perfectly - they’re looking for candidates who are inquisitive, enthusiastic and who aren’t afraid to admit they don’t know, and take guidance from them to work through unfamiliar problems. It’s also very important to remember that you were specifically chosen to be interviewed because they saw potential in you - they saw your intelligence, enthusiasm and your capabilities and want to meet you. You deserve this interview! Don’t be disheartened if you haven’t had tonnes of mock interviews or sessions - this isn’t necessary to be a successful candidate. Believe in yourself! I would also say, if you get an intimidating or aloof set of tutors, don’t be put off or discouraged. They’re probably doing this intentionally to see how you cope under pressure. Think before you speak and take some time to breathe. The interview process is a little long and exhausting, so take some time to meet some people - I was quite shy and nervous, but people are really lovely, and are really grateful to anyone who starts a conversation! Don’t force yourself to go to organised events if you really don’t want to - relaxing in your room or going out into the city is fine too, but if you have an instinct to get involved in college events, do give them a go! Staying in contact with family and friends, and meeting any friends across the university who are also being interviewed will also give you a good chance to unwind.