English Language And Literature @ Wadham, Oxford in 2017

Interview format

2x 15 min interviews, over 1 day

Interview content

Interview 1: poem given beforehand; Interview 2: personal statement

Best preparation

Practice papers, annotating poems and even pop songs

Advice in hindsight


Final thoughts

Read as much as possible; be honest about what you like; don't worry about being challenged at interview.

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

Interview spread: 1 in morning, 1 in afternoon

Length of interviews: 15 minutes each

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

For my first interview I was given a poem 5 minutes before it and asked to analyse it. I wrote notes and decided on a few things to say, and then made my way in. Both tutors were very kind, and smiled encouragingly the entire way through. They were quite relaxing even though I felt terrified! It was difficult because they didn’t ask me any leading questions about the poem, just vague questions about what I thought about it, which meant I had no idea whether I was completely wrong when interpreting it (I don’t think it matters whether I was right or wrong, but just that I gave my opinion about what I thought the theme was and provided evidence to back it up). I came out thinking I did ok, but was slightly disappointed in myself as I felt like I could have done better.

I found my second interview much more challenging. I was asked questions about my personal statement, and the tutors picked apart points I’d made and countered any arguments I’d made within the statement. It was scary to disagree with tutors who obviously knew so much more on the subject than me, but I did my best to hold my own without getting too flustered, which is, I think, what they were looking for. They also asked me some other general questions about literature. I came out thinking I’d done terribly and that there was no way they’d let me in after such a disastrous interview, and I cried on the plane ride home. Clearly I’d done something right though! It just goes to show that for humanities you genuinely can’t tell how you did until you get your rejection/acceptance letter, so don't stress out too much if you think things went really wrong.

I was asked to arrive the day before and to wait before I left once interviews were over in case I was asked to do one at another college, but I wasn’t (this could either be a good or bad sign, so don’t read too much into it, whatever happens to you!).

How did you prepare?

I did a few practice papers, but for the most part I just printed out poems (and sometimes even pop songs) I liked and tried to annotate and analyse them. I found it useful to be able to identify poetic techniques, overarching themes, etc.

I would advise not overdoing it as the aim of the test is to find out your natural ability, and overthinking it would have only confused me more!

What advice do you have for future applicants?

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

This one’s probably obvious, but read as much as you can! Read from every genre, read from every time period, figure out what you like and don’t like. Interviewers like opinions. And don’t confine yourself to novels! Read poetry and plays and graphic novels and comic books!

Be honest about what you like. I was terrified when asked who my favourite poet was that I’d be judged for it not being intellectual enough or it being too much of a teenage cliché. Don’t tell interviewers what you think they want to hear - I guarantee they’ve heard it a million times already. They’ll prefer you talking passionately about something different that you genuinely enjoy.

Don’t get too flustered at interviewers challenging you. They want to see how you respond, it doesn’t mean they think your opinions are invalid or stupid. Do your best to hold your own and defend your views.