Oxford History undergraduate interview

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Two BYT history tutors give their Oxford History undergraduate interview experiences and the questions asked of them:

Oxford History, Oriel College – interviewed by Dr Cattow, Leif Dixon

Before the interview I sat the History Aptitude Test and handed in a piece of writing for the interviewers to look at. I was not given anything immediately before the interview (such as sources to look at).

I had two interviews. In the first, the questions were based on what I had written in my personal statement. The subjects were broadened out considerably though. For example, the interviewer referred to the fact that I had studied the Civil Rights movement of the 1950/60s and then went on to ask my views on current American politics and the role of Condoleeza Rice.

The second interview I had was based much more on the piece of written work I had handed in in advance. The questions were about my topic of study for that academic year, the Russian Revolution. I was asked about what I had read on the topic and discussion developed from there. I was also asked about other periods I had studied at school such as the Crusades. The interviewers seemed keen to find out what I was interested in specifically within history.

Oxford History at Brasenose College interviewed by Martin Ingram and Rowena Archer

“My first interview was a general one with Dr Martin Ingram. He asked me broadly about history, its relevance to society and application in the world of academia. He also interrogated me on my somewhat iffy personal statement, which was a useful opportunity to show that I could think on my feet. This is clearly the most crucial thing for prospective candidates to master, and one that can be easily developed by teaching.

My second interview was with Dr Rowena Archer, a formidable tutor who still terrifies me to this day. She grilled me on the reign of King John, which I had cited as my A-level topic. More preparation would have been helpful for me, again something easily achieved through good teaching. Somehow I managed to get offered a place, but more interview practice would have been helpful. There is a huge amount that can be gained through tuition for interviews. The most important is the manner in which you conduct yourself. Tuition could help iron out nervous habits that really diminish the impression that is put out. The simple practice of being put on the spot, rather than rote-learning answers is necessary. 

Advice for future candidates:

Particularly for history, being taught how to think differently about various subjects and offer a fresh perspective is important. Often the way people prepare for these interviews by over revising is detrimental to how they come across.

Making arguments, rather than stating bland facts, is important. It really is not about what you may have read, but how you have read it.

The second BYT tutor giving their experience of the History interview can be found here.