History And English @ Jesus, Oxford in 2017

Interview format

4x 20 min interviews, over 4 days

Interview content

Interview 1 (Jesus College): personal statement and written work (history), sonnet given beforehand; Interview 2 (Jesus): personal statement, written work, reading; Interview 3 (St Peter's): historical topic of interest; Interview 3 (St Peter's): English poem given beforehand

Best preparation

If you can, do a structured project (e.g. A-level coursework) around an area of history that interests you

Advice in hindsight


Final thoughts

Show enthusiasm, adaptability, and the ability to think things through.

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: HAT

Number of interviews: 4

Skype interview: No

Interview spread: 2 on first day, 2 more three days later at different college

Length of interviews: 20 minutes each

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

In my two interviews at Jesus College there was a subject tutor from each department in both interviews. I spent roughly half of each interview talking to the History tutor, and then the remaining half talking to the English tutor. In each case not much of an attempt was made to engage in interdisciplinary discussion. I thought it seemed somewhat strange that a tutor from each subject was present at both interviews, and both ended up being fairly disjointed. I was asked to pre-prepare responses on a sonnet for one of the English tutors; the other English tutor opened by asking me which Shakespeare plays I had read. The first play that I listed was my A Level text, which unfortunately I had only just started reading, and pretty much failed to discuss in any meaningful way. At the time, it felt very much like I was being deliberately set up to fail. In hindsight, I now see it more as simply an unfortunate situation created by my fairly hasty response and this particular tutor's style of discussion, which I have since encountered in other academic scenarios. I remain somewhat indignant that I, as a medievalist, was simply expected to have a Shakespeare play in my back pocket that I would be able to formally discuss in this way, and for no particularly good reason. Other than that, the discussion was largely centred around my personal statement and submitted written work, particularly from the History tutors.

My later interviews at St Peter's College were quite different. I had one interview with each set of subject tutors, which I felt worked better because I was allowed to spend the whole 20 minutes in conversation with both of the tutors present, rather than having to discuss History for 10 minutes, then switch tutors and talk about English. The History interview started with the tutor asking me to pick any topic that I was interested in, which we then discussed for the whole 20 minutes. This interview was much more casual, and felt more like a two way discussion than an interview. The English interview was similiarly informal, although it did follow a specific structure: I was given a poem to prepare beforehand, and the tutors asked questions that they had come up with beforehand. I didn't discuss my personal statement or submitted written work in either interview, although I cannot be sure if this is because I did not apply to St Peter's and the tutors had not had time to consider them, or if they were simply not interested in discussing them.

How did you prepare?

To prepare for the test, I used past & practice papers, as well as walkthrough videos published by the university.

I mostly prepared by closely reading my own personal statement. I wish I had also gone back and re-read the written work that I had submitted, because I almost entirely forgot that I had sent any off and was caught slightly off guard when it came up.

The best thing that I did was choose a subject that really interested me for my A Level history coursework, which forced me to carry out in depth and structured academic work on something that I was passionate about. I was lucky that I was given completely free choice by my school, and not every school allows this. I think I would have struggled to engage so well in conversation if I had been only reading in my free time, rather than for a specific structured project. However, I recognised that this only worked out so well for me because of the very relaxed approaches of certain interviewers.

What advice do you have for future applicants?

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

I feel like most of the preparation that I tried to do other than reading my personal statement was fairly redundant - trying to learn new things in order to impress the tutors would have got me nowhere, and I was by far at my best in the interviews when I was talking about topics that I already had a long-standing interest in, which for the most part I was given scope to do.

Although every tutor has an interest in encouraging applicants to play to their strengths, it seems very hard to predict how individual tutors will approach discussion. From the interviews that I had, I recognise that in most cases the tutors were trying to ask me questions that they thought I had the potential to answer well. They are human beings, and they did not always get this right! Each tutor naturally has a slightly different way of structuring interviews, just as each student will respond well to different sorts of questions. Therefore, it seems to me that no one preparation technique will work for every context. Overall, though, my interview experience supported what I had heard on open days - that the tutors are simply looking for individuals with enthusiasm, adaptability, and the ability to think things through.