History @ Worcester, Oxford in 2016

Interview format

3x 15 min interview (+ 15 min reading time for source interviews) & 1x 1 hr interview (+ 1 hr reading time), over 3 days

Interview content

1x personal statement interview, 2x source interview (source given beforehand)

Best preparation

Did timed practice papers; asked various teachers to mark them; wrote practice answers about unseen sources

Advice in hindsight


Final thoughts

Be yourself and be enthusiastic.

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: 1 in evening of arrival; 1 at Worcester the next day; 1 at Worcester and 1 at St Edmund Hall the following day

Length of Worcester interviews: 15 minutes each, with 15 minutes reading time for source interviews; Length of St Edmund Hall interview: 1 hour, with 1 hour reading time

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

Basically I just had a lot of fun because it was a top opportunity to talk to some really cool academics who I really admired and didn't expect to get the chance to speak to again.

In my personal statement interview we discussed myth and history because that was kind of my personal statement theme. We also discussed material versus written sources and had a little banter about iPhones probably being a good source for future historians. That made the tutors laugh quite a lot, which was nice.

In my 2 (3 if you count St Edmund's, but I don't tend to) source interviews I had to read a short article (a few pages long) beforehand, and then we just talked about it. In one interview I was a little scared because I'd had to ask what methodology meant (to be fair I still don't really know), and the tutors kept checking their phones. I was almost boring myself so that was understandable. I just hadn't got excited enough about the source, and this was my worst interview. I wasn't really being myself, and the tutors are interested to meet people they might like to teach, so they want to see you as you'll be in a tutorial situation. The other source interview was better, as I kind of talked them through all the interesting thoughts I'd had whilst reading the source, and drew links to other random things I knew about which kind of seemed like they would broaden the discussion.

Before that interview, however, I'd knocked on the door twice because the last interview ran over, and I wasn't sure if they were waiting for me to knock or not, and I didn't want to interrupt. This was not the end of the world although it felt like it at the time. The tutors are more concerned with having an intellectual chat with an interesting person than whether you knock on a door at a particular time or not. There are no weird tests like that!

How did you prepare?

I took a bunch of timed practice papers, and got various teachers to mark them so that I'd have a whole range of insights. It's such a subjective paper that this was a really helpful process.

I also just had a lot of fun with writing practice answers. I usually did it timed, and had asked my history teacher to find me some interesting primary sources I didn't know anything about so that I could just read it blind (as it is in the HAT) and make interpretations and inferences in a quick, creative, off the bat kind of way. The practising process should make you more and more excited about history as a subject, almost so excited that you're actually looking forward to HAT day.

What advice do you have for future applicants?

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

I had several practice interviews from various teachers at my school. I was lucky in that these teachers understood that Oxford interviews are not like normal interviews. They're much more free-form, and discussion-like, because the tutors are just trying to get a feel for you. They want to know if you'd sink or swim here, and whatever the outcome, Oxford tutors are pretty smart, so they'll have done the best thing for you. If you don't get in, it means you'll probably be better suited to flourishing elsewhere.

This said, I don't think I'd be able to go back, do it again, and still get in. Of course, I'm still the same person, but I'm probably less passionate about history now than I was at 18. I feel like tutors can sense this, and although I'm still keen to learn and better myself, and understand that life is a constant cycle of trying and failing and succeeding and learning from experiences (all qualities Oxford is looking for), a true love of your subject is essential.

You also can't alter yourself too much or try to fit an 'Oxford' mould. Yes, you should love your subject and be keen to learn, but tutors want to meet you - not some version of you you've created because they're traditionally suited to Oxford. Tutors see so much of that at interview, when what they really want is to meet interesting, different, diverse people, who are keen.

Just be yourself, don't bore them, show that you care with even tiny cues like an excited tone, and you'll at worst have fun and at best get into Oxford.