English @ Emmanuel, Cambridge in 2016

Interview format

ELAT; 2x interviews

Interview content

Interview 1: Pre-interview reading and discussion; Interview 2: Personal statement and general questions

Best preparation

Practice answering interview style questions.

Advice in hindsight


Final thoughts

Take your time thinking.

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: English Literature Admissions Test

Number of interviews: 2

Skype interview: No

Time between interviews: About 2 hours

Length of first interview: 20 minutes; Length of second interview: 20 minutes

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

My first interview involved an unseen poem which I had to collect and read half an hour before. I went in and was asked to talk about it: what I thought, what I felt was interesting or stood out. It was like so “tell us about this poem” and I had to just say what I thought. Then from what I said they asked further questions. The second interview was more general. They picked one or two things out of my personal statement to ask questions on. Then they also asked some other unrelated questions. In both interviews there were two interviewers. I found them all very friendly and encouraging. The rooms were like sitting rooms with big armchairs. It didn’t feel overly formal.

How did you prepare?

There are only a few ELAT papers available on the Cambridge website so I did two of those and asked my English teacher if she would mark them. She had had no experience of marking the ELAT but it was still helpful. The main thing is to familiarise yourself with the format and have a practice so it isn’t so daunting on the day. My school organised one practice interview with an English teacher. I then organised one myself with a friend's dad who was head of a sixth form and had gone to Cambridge himself, although for physics. These were useful for practising being put on the spot, expanding your thinking and being able to defend your ideas. I would recommend getting someone to ask you some interview style questions just to get that practice. It does help if you aren’t overly familiar with them as this is a more realistic experience. Maybe ask a teacher who hasn’t taught you at school. Other than those I just made sure I had things to say about everything I had mentioned in my personal statement and spent some time just thinking about the books I liked and why I liked them, things I had read recently and things that had really made me think. You must be able to talk about topics outside of what you have studied in school. It is fine to mention the odd thing you have done on your course but you want to demonstrate how you have gone beyond this.

What advice do you have for future applicants?

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

In terms of the interview don’t feel panicked to provide an answer; give yourself time to think. The interviewers want to understand how you think so it isn’t just about having the answer but how you get there. If you can vocalise your thought process that is really good. The interview, at least for English, but I think it is the same across most subjects, is very like a supervison, so it is as much about you testing out if that is a way you want to learn and be taught as the interviewers working out if you are someone they could teach in that system. I actually really enjoyed both my interviews despite the nerves! Don’t think of them as terrifying experiences but as a chance to have a chat with a world leading academic about a subject you love!