The Oxford interview process must be one of the subjects that has produced the most writing in education, and most of it is misleading and scaremongering. You will never be asked about anything you are not likely to know about in a university interview. I realise that by penning a few words on the process, I am probably contributing to that wealth of unhelpful literature but I hope to debunk a couple of myths and give some genuinely useful tips based on my recent experience of being an interview candidate then later an interview helper.
Tip 1: Please do not worry too much. You will perform best in your interviews if you are able to have a reasonable and friendly discussion with the tutor interviewing you. The best way to ruin your chances is to be so scared you are unable to contribute to that discussion. The tutors and everyone in Oxford will want to give you your best chance so relax as much as possible before your interview and once you get into the room take a breath and think about any answer you give. Do not just blurt something out because you are scared.
Tip 2: Make sure you can talk about everything on your personal statement. The only sure-fire way to look silly in an interview for any arts subject or humanity is not to be able to back up everything you have written in your submitted work/personal statement. In my personal statement, there was one throwaway sentence which I got asked about. I knew almost nothing about the subject and it wrecked a good interview. As a result, I got pooled and sent to another college. Keep the number of books/subjects on your personal statement to a minimum but make sure you can say something about all of them.
Tip 3: Prepare for the standard questions. A lot of interviews will start with variations on the same few questions:
Why do you want to study at Oxford/this college?
Why do you want to study your subject?
What is your favourite book/historical period etc etc?
These questions come up very often so it would be ridiculous not to have some answers in your head for them. That said, don’t rote learn answers too much. That will come across as stilted and tutors want to see that you can respond to questions in an interesting way. Just have a few ideas for each of the above questions.
Tip 4: Lastly, be yourself. In interviews, tutors predominantly want to know if they want to teach you for the next 3-4 years. This is not just about being clever; by getting invited to interview, you are good enough to be there. In the interview roll with the punches and accept some criticism of your arguments. If a tutor criticises you, they are not saying you are stupid. Instead, they are trying to see how well you will cope with the reasonable debate that characterises tutorials in small groups.
I hope this advice helps to some extent. The main things to remember are do not worry but be well prepared. The most important thing during interviews is to try and enjoy the process. There will be lots of people of your age around so you get the chance to meet new people and enjoy Oxford. The odds are stacked against you so you lose nothing if you enjoy the process regardless of the result!
The Oxford Interview For History and Modern Languages