English Oxford undergraduate interview questions

Two BYT English tutors give their experiences at the Oxford interview for their English undergraduate course:


Cambridge English Literature Downing College, Dr. Cathy Philips, Dr. Marcus Tomlison, Dr.Will Poole.

We had a 45 minute unseen prac crit at the beginning of the interview day followed by one interview with Dr. Philips and one with Dr. Tomlinson and Dr. Poole.

At the interview with Dr. Philips we were given a excerpt from a poem and one prose at the beginning and then asked to comment on each. The interview was largely centred around this and then she asked some more personal questions to do with my personal statement and extra curricular activities.

The interview with Dr. Tomlinson and Poole was more informal but more intellectually rigorous; I was invited to talk about books I loved and why but the interview was very wide-ranging and they weren’t afraid to question my views.” “Doing some timed prac crit before my interview would have helped, as would some practice interview sessions as they would have helped with build my confidence in speaking under pressure.

Advice for future candidates:

Brushing up on my vocabulary and reading around the texts I mentioned in my personal statement would also have been helpful.”


Oxford- Undergraduate English Merton College

Interviewed by – Professor Richard McCabe (head of English), Dr Jennifer Nuttall (tutor in Medieval literature and literary theory, now at St. Edmund’s Hall), Dr Catherine Paxton (Senior Tutor)

2 interviews: one practical criticism of an unseen poem, and one questions on authors/texts mentioned in personal statement.

For first interview, with 2 interviewers, I was given the Milton sonnet “”When I consider how my light is spent”” (although without name/title) and asked to comment on it – asked questions on form, diction, historical period, themes. Later I was asked questions on why I wanted to study English, and how my A-Level subjects interrelated.

In my second interview I was asked about things I had mentioned in my personal statement – Modernist writing and contemporary poetry. Ranged from ‘talk about your favourite contemporary poet’ to ‘how can poetry be written after the Holocaust’ and ‘what are the different approaches to dirt and disgust in Joyce and Eliot’, ‘what are the different uses of allusion in Joyce and Eliot’.” “1) Make sure you are conversent with literary critical terms and are used to doing practical criticism.

Advice for future candidates:

  1. Look up the tutors at the colleges where you are interviewing online and read about their interests.

  2. From the experience of others who interviewed in my year, do not dwell on authors you have covered in your A-Levels rather than in your own reading (Jane Austen a particular problem here), and avoid certain clangers such as Sylvia Plath, Oscar Wilde, Poe and Russian novelists, unless your reading of them has gone significantly beyond the usual teenage interest.

  3. Do not spend too much time talking about things not on the Oxbridge course (I’m thinking of a friend who had to reapply after talking exclusively about American novelists).

  4. Do bring up (briefly) relevant extra-curricular activities and anything that’s happened since you wrote your personal statement – e.g. creative writing, drama, editing of a creative writing magazine.

  5. Relax – the interviewers are extremely friendly. You should imagine it will be something like a very intense version of the best conversation you’ve had about literature with your favourite English teacher/friend.”