English Language And Literature @ Mansfield, Oxford in 2017

Interview format

2x 25-30 min interviews at Mansfield one day; 1x 40-45 min interview at another college the next day

Interview content

Interview 1: unseen poem, text on personal statement; Interview 2: personal statement and submitted essay; Interview 3 (different college): personal statement and poem given 25 mins earlier

Best preparation

Looked at sample essays; wrote practice essays, mainly untimed

Advice in hindsight


Final thoughts

Read widely, particularly poetry, and listen to podcasts; but don't spread yourself too thinly.

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: 3

Skype interview: No

Time between each interview: 2 days

Length of 1st interview: 25-30 minutes; Length of 2nd interview: 25-30 minutes; Length of 3rd interview: 40-45 minutes

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

Interview 1: 2 interviewers. We discussed an unseen poem I had 5 minutes to prepare for (they wanted initial thoughts). The questions were often open ended. At the end, we briefly talked about one text on my personal statement.

Interview 2: Again 2 interviewers. These were based on things I had written, so the personal statement and submitted essay. The interviewers had prepared questions on certain texts I had mentioned, such as in quoting a particularly important line which we then discussed. The questions about my essay were similar, and led to a very interesting discussion about the texts mentioned. Throughout the interview there were also general questions about aspects of literature, such as character and form.

Interview 3: This interview was held at a different college, with 3 interviewers. I had 25 minutes to prepare my thoughts on a poem. The first half of the interview was on my personal statement, with each academic asking me about a different text. The questions were quite specific, at one point even asking about certain scenes and then discussing a particular word. After this, the conversation moved onto the unseen poem. The questions were very specific as we moved line by line to understand generally what the poem was about. I liked how there was a direction in mind, and how logically we progressed through it.

How did you prepare?

I looked very carefully at the sample essays, especially the highest scoring one, to understand what the examiners of the ELAT were looking for. I then wrote around 8 practice essays. Most weren't timed, so that I could spend a long time developing my close reading skills.

What advice do you have for future applicants?

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

I think, for a subject like English, you can certainly prepare for interviews. Perhaps it is difficult to practise the skills they are looking for, but you can certainly read widely to give evidence for your interest and ensure you go into your interviews with a good understanding of your chosen texts. I'd suggest looking at the 'In Our Time' archives and any online podcasts. (Oxford has its own lecture series, they're really useful.) Though you don't need to mention any particular texts, it would be nice to explore some work from a wide array of periods. Poetry is a great and accessible way to do this.

Most importantly, however, remember not to spread yourself too thin. I'd say you should mention a maximum of 10 texts on your personal statement. Stick to things you care about, and don't feel like you need to include big weighty texts. Ultimately, your interview is about your interest in the subject.