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Oxford Interviews: What are they really like?

Headshot of Steph Stankard, a young woman with long brown hair, wearing a necklace and a blueish-grey cardigan

Stephanie Stankard

  • First-year undergraduate, Chemistry

Hello! I’m Steph and I’m a first year chemist at Lincoln. I came here from a state school in North Derbyshire, so the interview process was extremely unfamiliar and daunting to me, which is completely normal! I have recently been elected as the JCR Access and Outreach Officer so I am really keen to help as many people get into Oxford no matter their background! Hopefully I can share some advice from my own experiences that will make the whole thing seem less scary, and reassure you that interviews aren’t as impossible and intimidating as you might think.

So, what should you expect from interviews?

I did my interviews in 2020, which meant they were entirely online due to the pandemic, as they will be this year too.

First of all, it is important to remember that the questions are not there to catch you out – I remember researching what kind of things might come up before my interviews (bad idea) and I was terrified by the ridiculously random questions that appeared on my screen; one that particularly stuck with me was: ‘would you rather be a seedless or a non-seedless grapefruit?’ In reality, the questions are designed to push your thinking skills beyond the A-level curriculum (or equivalent), but the tutors will guide you through it, and it’s more about applying familiar concepts to non-familiar situations. I actually found it was really rewarding having learnt something new by the end of the interview, and I felt sense of accomplishment that I managed to get through a question that initially seemed impossible!

In short, expect academically challenging questions that push you out of your comfort zone, but remember that the tutors are there to guide you and help you to figure out how to approach them.

How should you prepare for interviews?

How to prepare depends massively on the subject, but in general, I would suggest making sure you are confident with any material you have learnt at school that is part of the degree you are applying for (e.g. for chemistry, make sure you are confident with the chemistry and maths content you have learnt so far). The tutors normally ask if you’re familiar with certain concepts before starting the question so make sure to be honest, as they will fill in any gaps you might have and will give you all the knowledge you need to do the question. It isn’t a memory test! The main thing I would suggest is to keep reading around your subject – you’re applying because you are passionate about it and want to continue studying it: anything you read or research outside of school will be helpful and something might even come up that you’ve looked into before!

Interview top tips:

  • Think out loud – when trying to figure out a question, tell the tutors your thought process so they can help you if you go wrong or tell you if you are on the right track. This was definitely the best piece of advice I received when I was preparing for my own interviews!
  • Don’t be scared to ask questions – if you don’t understand something or want some help, just ask! Try to be as specific and clear as possible about what you need help with.
  • If you have an online interview, make sure all the technology is set up and working beforehand to reduce the amount of stress just before the interview. (Although if anything does go wrong, the college will be able to reschedule it, so don’t worry!)
  • Take a deep breath and don’t hesitate to ask for a second to collect your thoughts and reset if you feel yourself start to panic – the interviewers won’t mind.
  • Before the interview, try to remain as calm as possible and do something you enjoy – 10 minutes before there will be current students acting as interview helpers (like myself!) who will be there to answer any questions and put you at ease before the tutors join the call, so don’t stress!
  • It probably feels impossible to even consider this right now, but please enjoy it! Interviews are a chance to have an academic conversation about something you’re passionate about, which is a rare opportunity. So make the most of it, try to get stuck in, and good luck!

Where next?

  • Interviews: check out our tutor Q&A!Read more
  • Chat to our students and ask them your questionsRead more
  • Learn more about applications and interviewsRead more