Six tips for an Oxbridge English interview:
Firstly, many congratulations on getting an interview for Oxford or Cambridge. As you’ll certainly know, these universities are incredibly competitive, so you must have done something right!
Now, how can you make the most of this opportunity and get that all-important offer?
Here are six tips to help you ace the interview.
1. Go back over your application so far
Your Oxbridge college sees a total of four things from you throughout your application process.
The first two get you through the doors; the second two show off your written and verbal skills once you’re there.
All four of them should be working together to create the best possible image of you. So don’t forget about the first three once you get your interview!
Anything you’ve written is fair game for interview, so you’ve actually already set the terms it will operate on.
(This is where you breathe a sigh of relief that you didn’t lie on your personal statement…)
Now go back over what they’ve already seen and revise anything you’ve not studied for a while.
Think too about how your ideas might have developed. Are there things you said in your essays or personal
statement that you no longer agree with? Have your arguments changed now you’ve read a bit more?
2. Read around your A-levels
There aren’t any short cuts here – your interviewer will be looking for excellent academic credentials, combined with a real passion for your subject.
Studied Chaucer for A-level? Look at some medieval poetry or lyrics (there are lots of good anthologies around). Doing Hamlet? Read King Lear.
With Shakespeare, you might also think about reading some of the more unusual plays – maybe Timon of Athens, or Pericles.
But make sure you choose an author you’re already enjoying and would like to talk about.
Think about the similarities and differences between the texts you’ve read. How does your knowledge of the one affect your reading of the other?
What changes can you see in the author’s technique across the two?
This is all great stuff for interview.
3. Don’t forget about your other subjects
Yes, it’s an English interview, but an Oxbridge course is all about reading and thinking widely, and their interviews are a mini-version of what you can expect on the BA.
Don’t be surprised if your interviewer asks you about some of your other subjects.
In fact, you should be prepared to talk about how your selection of A-levels work together.
History and languages have obvious connections with English, but how has your study of Maths, or Science, or Music affected how you read?
4. Be bold
One of the things your interviewer will be wondering is ‘Would I want to teach this person?’ So show them you’d be an enjoyable and challenging student to teach.
You may well find ideas that went down really well in A-level classes are challenged, questioned or even straightforwardly dismissed. How do you respond?
Do you just accept it meekly, or do you argue back, duck and dive and prove that you can think on your feet?
Similarly, if the interviewer puts a proposition to you – ‘Don’t you think…?’ don’t just accept what they say. Argue with them. Propose another point of view.
English is all about interrogating accepted opinions. So grab the argument by the scruff of the neck, and show them you can do it!
5. Practise. And then practise some more.
When you’re preparing, try to get as many people to ‘interview’ you as possible. Friends, family, teachers, even a Tavistock Tutor – someone who can give you one-on-one, tailored advice
However well prepared you are in your head, it’s very difficult to ace an interview if you’ve not already practised speaking and arguing out loud.
Compared to all the work you’ve done to get here, this is a small thing to fall down on. So practise as much as you can.
6. Enjoy it
It might sound perverse, but an Oxbridge interview should really be enjoyable.
This is a subject you love, at a great university, and you’re talking to people who love it as much as you do. Relax, and try to have fun.