English Language And Literature @ Corpus Christi, Oxford in 2013

Interview format

2x 30 min interviews, 1 day apart

Interview content

Interview 1: two poems given beforehand, personal statement; Interview 2: personal statement

Best preparation

Past papers, unseen extracts

Advice in hindsight


Final thoughts

Had mock interviews and conversation with Oxford English student; revised texts in personal statement. Get a good night's sleep; think before you sleep; ask for clarification where necessary; chat with other applicants.

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: ELAT

Number of interviews: 2

Skype interview: No

Time between each interview: 1 day

Length of interviews: 30 minutes each

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

I had two interviews for English Language and Literature.

For my first I was taken into a secluded room and given a few minutes to read through, and make notes on, two unseen poems. I was then taken to my (bright and spacious) interview room, where a tutor and DPhil student were waiting. They asked how I was and, when I replied that I was a bit nervous, they were pleased by my honesty and helped calm me down. They asked me what I’d found interesting about both poems, and how they were connected. From there we spent about 15 minutes on a close reading and comparative analysis of the texts. For the latter half of this interview I was asked about my personal statement – specifically about the claims I had made regarding the value of studying literature. I began to enjoy the exercise and received encouraging feedback from the interviewers as we progressed; I knew they were on my side and wanted me to do well.

My second interview was the following day. I was taken to meet two different tutors and we discussed some of the texts I had mentioned in my personal statement. I had mentioned a Beowulf study day I had previously done (and a critical introduction I had since read), which allowed us to discuss different themes and poetic techniques in the poem. We also chatted about the essay I had submitted as part of my application, specifically my appreciation of the author’s intention and perspective, and whether I thought they had achieved their aims. We even got into some of my extra-curricular interests. Embarrassingly enough, I fumbled with the door catch on the way out, but I laughed it off and they seemed to find it humorous.

I think it’s worth emphasising that at no point during the interviews was I expected to know specific pieces of information (other than the claims I had made in my essay and personal statement, and the poems I was given for the first interview). Everything was open-ended, and the tutors were happy for me to ask for clarification when necessary. I even pronounced the name of one the poets incorrectly, and they didn't mind at all.

How did you prepare?

I practised using past papers, and got in plenty of practice annotating unseen extracts of text. My teacher helped mark my efforts and gave me feedback. This helped with my ELAT and also for the essay I was asked to write upon arriving for my interviews.

What advice do you have for future applicants?

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

I was fortunate that my school had several Oxbridge applicants every year, and they organised mock interviews for us (given by teachers and ex-students). These helped me get used to discussing my subject aloud, although they weren’t strictly relevant to my academic interests.

I also spoke to a student who had gone to Oxford to study my subject (English) a couple of years prior. They emphasised the importance of honesty during the interview process, and the need to be yourself. Oxbridge tutors can spot pretence a mile off. They also gave me their personal statement, so that I could see what other people had written – though in the end mine ended up completely different anyway, which proves there is no model answer.

The evenings before my interviews, I revised the texts I had mentioned in my personal statement (nothing too serious – just reading plot synopses again and thinking through key themes I could remember). I also benefitted from reading criticism of one text (which featured heavily during my second interview) on the car journey to Oxford.

The best thing I did, however, was getting a good night’s sleep. You’ll be confronted with new information on the day and asked to process it adeptly. You can’t do that if you’re tired, and no amount of late-night cramming will help. Do whatever you need to in order to relax.

I also recommend thinking before you speak. Your interviewer will appreciate it if you ponder their questions for a few seconds, and you can align your argument before you respond. And if you don’t know something, need a question repeated, or would like to clarify something, ask them! They’ll be happy to help – that’s what the tutorial system is all about!

If I did it all again, I’d try to get out my shell a bit more. Most other applicants are just as nervous as you, and chatting with them helps make everything easier – I met one of my best friends at the interview stage! The friendliness of everyone was the most surprising thing about the whole experience, and it was a world away from depictions of Oxford in the media. And if the Junior Common Room has organised any activities during your stay I’d advise taking a look – they are designed to reduce stress.

Finally, the impression I got was that interviewers are looking for people who are flexible enough to respond to new information (and build connections) creatively. They also want students who are cooperative – people who engage with them and are prepared to have their own view, but aren’t rigid or hostile.