History @ The Queen's, Oxford in 2015

Interview format

4x 20-40 min interviews

Interview content

Interview 1: 2 sources; Interview 2: written work; Interview 3: source given beforehand; Interview 4: book introduction given beforehand

Best preparation

Use your prior general knowledge for the HAT; don't base your response on a small amount of extra reading

Advice in hindsight


Final thoughts

There's nothing wrong with saying you don't know or you're not sure!

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: HAT

Number of interviews: 4

Skype interview: No

Interview spread: 2 one day apart; another 2 the same day

Length of interviews: 20-40 minutes each

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

Interview 1 (Ancient history): I was asked to read two pieces of evidence, which we then discussed in the interview, including what I thought about them, how they were inter-related and what we could learn from them historically. I was then asked if I had any questions to ask them abut the sources, which I wasn't prepared for. I thought this interview went quite badly and was super panicked, but the tutors told me (during my degree) that actually it had been fine!

Interview 2 (Modern history): This interview didn't go very well. We were discussing my written work, but I didn't have any work that met the requirements for written work examples AND was about modern history, so I submitted two ancient history pieces. Don't! Email the college and ask to change the requirements, they'll absolutely say yes. We were hampered by not having much to talk about/only being able to go off of what I remembered. The admissions process is a lot more flexible than you think -- if you're applying for a joint degree they need to see that you're capable of both parts of it!

Interview 3 (Ancient history): This was at another college, and by this time I was really relaxed because I was sure I hadn't gotten in! That said, the tutors were so, so friendly and I actually thought it went quite well. I was asked to read a written source, and once again we discussed the problems with it, what I thought it told us, what its significance was, etc., and we talked a bit about my EPQ essay, which they said was really interesting. I was praised particularly for noticing that my initial idea wasn't viable/correct and coming at it from a different angle.

Interview 4 (Modern history): I was given an hour to read the introduction to a book, and then I was asked questions about what I had read. Some of them were factual (but you were allowed to refer back to the text) but others were about how I interpreted certain things, what I thought was most interesting or important, and more generally, what point the author was trying to make. Once again, the interviewers were very friendly and I actually thought that the interview had been kind of fun!

How did you prepare?

I looked at a couple of the past papers on the website, but it said you couldn't really prepare for the actual test -- so I didn't!

I also didn't really like the topic I was studying at that time for history, so I read two books (one on ancient history, one on modern) and used those in my answers instead of drawing on previous knowledge -- do NOT do this. I absolutely did not know enough about the topic and barely got away with it.

Read popular history articles, find historians' blogs, watch documentaries, read Eidolon, etc., etc. No one is expecting you to be reading academic articles or to behave like an undergraduate already -- they're more interested in potential, and they've been doing this a while so they're great at spotting it!

What advice do you have for future applicants?

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

1. You'll hear this a lot but it's so important -- stay off of The Student Room! People there who think their interviews went well often actually did terribly and vice versa. You'll just scare yourself and that's not helpful at all.

2. The interviewers aren't trying to trip you up. They're not going through this laborious and time intensive process to find people to reject -- they're looking for people who they want to teach and who they think they can do well! They WANT you to succeed! That's what they're after.

3. There's nothing wrong with saying that you don't know or you're not sure. Everyone comes from different schools and has studied different things, so they're not expecting a particular body of knowledge from you -- they're interested in how you think, what your opinions are and what that tells them about you. There aren't any wrong answers, just honestly tell them what you think or say that you're unsure/ask more questions! Even if you don't feel like you've shown off your best, tutors are great at identifying people who think in an interesting and unique way.

5. Be nice to other interviewees. Seriously. No one will like you at interviews if you're rude and if you get in, people will remember! It also makes everyone else feel better to know they're not in it alone.