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

Interview format

3x 30 min interviews, over 2 days

Interview content

All interviews: poem given earlier, books in personal statement; Interview 1: Shakespeare play studied at A-level

Best preparation

Familiarised myself with test format; looked at and annotated sample texts.

Advice in hindsight


Final thoughts

Have practice interviews (if you can); reread texts mentioned in personal statement; be yourself!

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

Both interviews on some day

Length of interviews: about 30 minutes each

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

Before every interview, I was given a poem and time to prepare some ideas about it, which then formed a significant part of each interview. Most of the questions here were pretty open-ended, which meant that I could steer towards the points that I particularly wanted to make okay, though in my first interview, I wasn't confident with the poem and am perfectly willing to admit that I did not do well in that section. So don't worry if you make a few mistakes!

I was very nervous in the first interview, and came out of it thinking that I was never going to get in. The last two were easier, as I felt like I knew what to expect a bit more, and felt a little like I didn't have much to lose after the first one. So I just went for it, even when I was worried that my answer was a bit juvenile, which I would recommend (going for it, not the juvenile answers). Just say what you're thinking, because they want to know how you're approaching the texts.

I wasn't asked anything relating to extra-curriculars or anything, and instead the tutors tended to pick one of the books I'd mentioned on my personal statement and start a discussion, sometimes comparing them. I was also asked in two of my interviews what I had read lately, and then asked questions about those texts, and I was very glad that I had kept up with some classical texts before my interviews.

In structure, all three of my interviews were pretty much the same. One of the tutors asked about the poem I had prepared, while the other asked more about the books in my personal statement and thematically about those texts. My first interview was focused on the Shakespeare play I was studying at A Level, while the others were broader, typically bringing up a few separate texts.

How did you prepare?

I familiarised myself with the test format, so that I would be ready to approach it without feeling like I was running out of time.

I also looked through sample texts to get a feel for the type of text that I would be provided with and did some annotation to prepare for starting on the fresh pieces in the exam.

What advice do you have for future applicants?

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

One thing that is often recommended to students is to get practice interviews, which I do think is a good idea. My practice interview was nothing like the real ones, as it largely consisted of my interviewer grilling me on the precise wording that I had used to answer a question (and, indeed, asking me whether I really thought that I was cut out for Oxbridge at all!) but one thing that the interview definitely did do was make me just a bit more confident when it came to the real ones. It's a very unique experience, so a practice interview is never going to be perfect, but it's worthwhile just to get used to the concept.

Definitely read up on texts you've put in your personal statement! You will be asked about them, and you don't get to pick which ones, so be ready with any one of them. I hadn't managed to reread all of them before the interviews, and that did catch me out sometimes as I was trying to remember quotes, but it's not the end of the world. Make sure you know those texts! And potentially have a couple of other ones on hand that you've read recently to talk about as well, in case you're asked about your reading habits.

I know that this is going to sound cheesy, but my main piece of advice for the interviews is to be yourself. In my first interview, I was very nervous and desperately trying to produce what I thought that the tutors wanted, and could tell that it wasn't going very well. Going into the other two, I tried to just say what I was thinking more, and even when they didn't agree with me, the tutors seemed far more engaged in the interview, and I even began to enjoy them.

The tutors are looking for people that they think they can teach and grow. Because such a big part of the teaching is tutorials, which are not entirely dissimilar to the interviews, if you can thrive in the interview, you can thrive at Oxford. It isn't always easy to tell how an interview is going, but just keep being you and try to enjoy doing your subject! You've applied (hopefully) because you really enjoy and are good at your subject. This is your opportunity to show that off.