Philosophy, Politics And Economics @ St Hilda's, Oxford in 2017

Interview format

1x 20 min interview & 1x 30 min interview, 1 day apart

Interview content

Politics: discussion, planning an essay; Philosophy and Economics: definition, maths problem

Best preparation

Look at syllabus; do past papers, timed; watch Wi-Phi videos on critical thinking; don't worry too much about essay

Advice in hindsight


Final thoughts

Apply; find a way to show your interest and enthusiasm; draft personal statement early if possible; try to enjoy your interview. Practise critical thinking, but don't overthink the process.

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: TSA

Number of interviews: 2

Skype interview: No

Time between each interview: 1 day

Length of Politics interview: 20 minutes; Length of Philosophy & Economics interview: 30 minutes

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

My first interview was for Politics. We discussed the possible causes of a certain phenomenon in recent years, and then I was asked about how I would plan a politics essay out. I was given water, as well as a pen and paper if I wanted to collect my thoughts. The interviewers were friendly, and, interestingly, didn't particularly challenge what I said - they interrupted only to clarify. Although I had discussed the topic we discussed on my personal statement, it seemed like the interviewers were asking everyone the same questions, and they didn't mention my UCAS application at all.

My second interview was a combined Philosophy and Economics one. The Philosophy half involved looking at some pictures and trying to identify what they had in common. On the back of the sheet of paper where these pictures were was a definition of a certain word - not, as far as I know, a technical, philosophical term. I was asked what I thought of the definition and how it might be improved. In contrast to the Politics interview, I was challenged on everything that I said. But it was a sort of probing, smiling, friendly challenge, rather than a nasty one! At one point, I remember having a very different intuition to my interviewer (he said, 'But surely then ... fits the definition?' and I said, 'Well, yes I think ... actually does fit the definition!') and that seemed fine.

The Economics interview involved a problem sheet. It consisted of Maths questions that needed only basic (AS-level) Maths but were in a novel context (and not a stereotypically economics-related one - they needed no knowledge of economics). I found the questions quite tricky because of the pressure of being in an interview, but I was helped through them. They really want to see how you think, and they don't usually mind if you make a mistake or take some time to think what to do next. At the end, I was asked a question linking these Maths questions to economics, since they knew I was taking A-level Economics. I think that people who weren't taking A-level Economics (or equivalent) weren't asked this question.

At the end of each interview, I had the opportunity to ask the interviewers any questions I might have had. Although I remember thinking I had disappointed myself in the Economics part, I really enjoyed the experience overall.

How did you prepare?

The TSA isn't a test to 'revise' for like an A-level. The point of this test is to assess how you think through slightly novel problems, at speed, and the actual amount of content you need to know is low. There is a TSA specification online, which is worth looking through, particularly if you haven't done any maths for a while:

I did all the practice papers, timed, which is honestly enough. A tip I heard after I'd taken the test was to do the practice papers with a bit less time than you'll actually have - the 'altitude training' approach; I didn't use that technique personally, but it sounds like very good advice, since timing is tough in the TSA.

There's no need to buy a guide book. If you want more questions for practice, have a look at the BMAT Section 1, which is very similar in structure.

For the critical thinking section, these videos may be useful (and they're fun to watch):

The essay is usually much less important than the multi-choice, so try not to worry about it. I think they just want to see that you can write coherently under time pressure.

What advice do you have for future applicants?

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

Oxford (and Cambridge) are looking for a few things: aptitude in your course, interest and enthusiasm, and teachability. They test those things by looking at your academic record, personal statement (although not a lot, often), teacher reference, admissions test(s), and interviews. This makes for a complicated process, and it's easy to get lost in the details. But the point is that if you are interested in PPE and are on track to do well academically, and if you think the Oxford teaching style (small groups - lots of attention, and nowhere to hide) might suit you well: APPLY! You can do it! And even if you don't get in, the process will make your other uni applications so much easier.

Try to come up with ways to show your interest and enthusiasm. Essay competitions are a great way to do this, and were probably one of the best things I did for my application. These give you a chance to read about a specific area and write up your thoughts. They're scaffolded and small enough that they don't require as much research as, for example, an Extended Project, but free enough that they can show your enthusiasm and honestly be a really fun experience! Some competitions open up early in the academic year - and my favourite competition closed in February of Year 12 - so keep Googling for opportunities if you're interested!

Essay competitions aren't essential, though. They're just one way of 'reading around your subject' and showing enthusiasm. The single most important thing is this: *Find something to do with PPE that really interests you, and learn a lot about that thing*. That can be done by reading books (obviously), but also through listening to podcasts, attending / watching talks, or a whole lot of other things.

It's worth getting the personal statement drafted by the end of the summer, if you can, so that you're not spending too long on it in the autumn term. If it's September / October and you've just decided to apply: don't worry; it can be done! It's just easier if you have a bit more time.

The TSA is much more important than the personal statement. The interview is an opportunity to have a conversation - a 'mock tutorial' for your potential future tutors to see how enthusiastic you are and if you're well-suited for the course and teaching method. The point isn't to trip you up or test you on trivia! Try to enjoy it, if you can :)

Thinking is very important! Try to do lots of it. This online course on critical thinking is a useful starting point, as well as being potentially useful for the 'Critical Thinking' section of the TSA: If you can do activities like debating or Model United Nations, that's great. If not, that's also fine - maybe try reading opinion pieces and then thinking about the structure of their arguments and how you would make the opposite argument; basic stuff like that is useful.

But also, try not to overthink. It's easy to overthink the process and preparation. Preparation helps, but you can do very well with very little preparation, so just do your best. And don't worry if you find (as I did) that you hadn't done anywhere near as much as you wanted by the time applications rolled round. You still have a fighting chance!

Good luck!