Philosophy, Politics And Economics @ St Catherine's, Oxford in 2016

Interview format

2x 30 min interviews, over 1 day

Interview content

Economics interview: personal statement, maths problem, economics problem; Philosophy/Politics interview: logic problems, discussion of a topic in politics

Best preparation

Practice papers online, practice essays

Advice in hindsight


Final thoughts

Prepare for TSA; talk to your teachers; remember that tutors aren't trying to trip you up; re-read books mentioned in personal statement.

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: TSA

Number of interviews: 2

Skype interview: No

Interview spread: 1 late morning; 1 early evening

Length of interviews: 30 minutes each

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

Economics Interview
We talked first about a book from my personal statement (an introductory question I think, to help people get comfortable) with some discussion of the themes in the book and its overall message. Then there was a quick maths problem (note: I completely messed this up on my first attempt! The tutors showed me where I went wrong and walked me through how to do it properly, so don't worry if you can't do a problem straightaway!) where I had to sketch the graph of an equation. The last question was an economics problem, which started basic, but which they kept adding more complex aspects to. It included some diagrams, but mostly was just a discussion with theory elements. I was very nervous the whole time: the tutors were very kind and encouraging, but the fact it was my first interview made it scarier! It was very much a classroom atmosphere, with me on one side of a desk and two tutors on the other.

Philosophy/Politics Interview
The Philosophy professor gave me some logic problems, which we tackled in a very applied way. We mostly solved them by having discussions. Then this gave way to politics: a discussion around a particular topic. This took up most of the rest of the time. I felt much more relaxed in this one: the atmosphere was a lot less formal, with the three of us sitting in chairs all facing each other in an office: a much less formal setting. The atmosphere was very welcoming, and it felt very much like a casual discussion.

How did you prepare?

The practice papers for the TSA are all online, along with mark schemes, and a specimen paper where the answers are explained! For the essays, I wrote them as best I could and asked history teachers to mark them, as they can mark for general quality of writing.

What advice do you have for future applicants?

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

I'd strongly recommend revising as much for the TSA as possible! Practice makes all the difference on this paper, especially on the critical thinking questions. Learning the question format is a big help, as is careful time management. Past papers online are your best bet, and definitely had a huge impact on my application!

I spoke mainly to my teachers for advice: some for advice on essays, others on advice for interview prep in general. My economics teacher ran a fifteen minute practice interview for me which - although wildly different to the real deal - definitely helped my confidence and technique.

Remember that the tutors aren't trying to trip you up: they're trying to test how you think, and see whether they think they could teach you effectively. Dialogue is crucial! If you're stumped, ask, and they'll nudge you in the right direction. They're friendly and really eager to help.

If you mentioned any books on your personal statement, make sure to re-read them before your interviews! The last thing you want is for it to look like you haven't read something if you just can't remember it when they ask you a question.