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.
Test taken: Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA)
Number of interviews: 5
Time between interviews: Anywhere from 30 minutes to about 18 hours
Length of interviews: About 15 minutes reading for the reading ones and then about half an hour actual interview
Online interview: No
For all the interviews except the first, I had two people interviewing, each taking half of the interview. Most of them were really obviously nice people who did their best to put me at ease. None of my interviews touched on my personal statement. My first psychology one was easier having done psychology A-level because the rat experiment is similar to Bowlby and the second philosophy one was easier because I had read feminist opinion pieces, but generally no prior knowledge was required. Most of the interviews took place in normal college rooms, such as up a small spiral staircase in an office. Some of them I had to go to a specific place to get reading and some reading was waiting for me. I had two (1 psychology and 1 philosophy) at my chosen college and three (2 psychology and 1 philosophy) at a second allocated college. Psychology 1: Reading: One article on an experiment to see whether babies can tell that if A<B and B<C that A<C. One article on an experiment to see whether rats can learn to run faster if they have food at the end of the track. Both articles had thinking points to make notes on. Interview: all my reading interviews began with an instruction to describe what I understood from the reading. Then I had to talk about what results I expected from the experiments and whether there could be any other factors causing the results other than the independent variable. Then I had to talk about whether I could improve the experiments. I found this one the hardest. I kept saying ‘I don’t know’ (and then guessing if possible) but this was my only psychology interview at the college that picked me. When I came out, I was sure that I had failed it. This interview was the only one where I was only interviewed by one person, although there was another woman in there making notes. Philosophy 1: There was a situation on the board that we talked through — basically saying that if we can eat less intelligent animals, super-intelligent aliens should be able to eat us. I had to talk about whether I agreed and defend my position. I then had to talk about what would happen to me if my brain was split into two hemispheres and transplanted into two bodies. I kept making it too psychology-y and criticising the concept, which the interviewer told me off for. Psychology 2: reading: an article about the way that the moon looks bigger when it’s at the horizon than when it is in the sky and an explanation for why that is. Interview: I talked through what I understood from the article (I think I asked for clarification on one point) and then I had to do some exercises ranking different pictures by how large the moon would look at each point etc. I then had to do an exercise to do with double-sided cards where I had to say which cards had to be turned over in order to know whether certain rules were true (e.g. an even number is always on a card with a consonant and some cards had a number facing up and some a letter). I then had to say why people might not get it right. This was done by a psychology doctor and a professor, and the doctor was also a welfare officer for the college. Philosophy 2: reading: an article about time and whether it really exists in quite dense language. A transcript from a ‘60s court case which ruled that a black woman couldn’t sue for discrimination for being black AND female but just black or female because discrimination can’t just be added together. I had to choose one to talk about and I chose the discrimination one. Interview: we just talked about the article and my thoughts, whether I agreed or not. This was where my feminist reading came in handy! This interview definitely went the best and I came out feeling really happy. It took place in the Provost (the head of college) lodging, so I was in a beautiful Georgian house with Christmas cards up etc. I sat outside the door, where there was a chair with reading on it, and then went in when called. The interview was done by a lecturer and a PhD student. Psychology 3: I had different visual tasks (e.g. black shapes in one picture and a mixture of black and red shapes in the other and I had to say which one it would be easier to spot a certain shape in). I came out of this one feeling negative because I made several mistakes which I shouldn’t have made, but didn’t feel that I was even very insightful.
I did practise interviews at my school, which were only helpful for two reasons: they helped me think out loud, and they made me feel more confident. The actual substance of my school interviews were nothing like the real interviews. I read a book on the syllabus for psychology (Phantoms in the Brain). I also read the news a lot looking for relevant psychology topics, and I read the BPS Psychology weekly email (definitely recommend signing up for that) for different recent psychological studies. I read some free psychology journal articles in case that came up (it didn’t). I didn’t really prepare for the philosophy ones because I didn’t know how but that was ok. The most important ‘preparation’ (I didn’t know it was actually prep) I did for philosophy was having debates with my friends and family and reading feminist theories online! My mum kept ambushing me at inopportune moments with questions from her book of past Oxford interview questions, which didn’t bear any resemblance to the questions I was actually asked.
I did almost every practise paper in timed conditions then marked it and every question I got wrong I retried to see whether I could work out why it was wrong. I didn’t do many essays because I wasn’t sure what they were looking for. I bought a practise book but they aren’t very helpful so would not recommend. I did my tests in silence and when I wasn’t tired because tiredness decreased my abilities a lot.
Don’t worry about it too much because you can never know how you do in the tests or the interviews. Just enjoy what you can and forget about bits that don’t go to plan. Make friends with people at interview, but don’t talk too much about academic stuff because it’s easy to feel intimidated. In interviews, say everything you’re thinking out loud (well everything even slightly relevant anyway) even if it’s just something like ‘well, I read in a magazine that some people can see extra colours so maybe some people would find this task easier because of that’. You’re not expected to have any particular knowledge generally and so use any bits of knowledge you have, no matter where you got it from (although a reddit thread probably isn’t the best source so just vaguely reliable sources). Don’t do any work or anything if you can avoid it whilst interviews go on because they’re exhausting. Spend downtime socialising or relaxing. If you have the chance, explore Oxford because it will hopefully be your home for at least three years. Don’t apply to Oxford unless you want it. It’s a lot of work to apply and then a lot of work if you get in so don’t apply for prestige, to please parents/teachers/friends, or because it looks like Hogwarts. Apply because you feel a connection to it, love your subject, are willing to work very hard, and can deal with high-pressure environments.