expereinces of the oxbridge interview process

Experience 1


Well, firstly I had to sit a 1 hour written test, where i was given a passage which was an essay by Francis Bacon called ‘suspicions’. The question was something like ‘write about anything that particularly interests you in this passage – your only restriction is that you must give a close analysis of the text’, so I spent about 20mins reading and planning and the rest of the time writing, but didnt finish everything I wanted to say, so maybe I should have spent less time on the first bit.
Then I had my first interview which was a ‘general’ one, although it wasn’t general at all, it was all about english and why I wanted to do it at university and it lasted about 20 mins. The man who was interviewing me was so friendly and really encouraging so it turned out to be more of a chat than a grilling. He asked me Why English? What is the difference between a reader and a critic and which do you consider yourself to be? Have you read any criticism and did it change your interpretation of a text? Then we talked for a while on the essays i had sent in – Chaucer and Shakespeare, and I tried to link it to my wider reading as much as possible, but he didn’t really seem interested in that, he was more bothered about my essays and why I had argued a certain standpoint and if there were alternative points of view to consider. So he would pick out a certain comment I had made, ask me to expand on it, then challenge it and I had to respond. This bit was fine! He said he had enjoyed reading my essays and that they were bold and refreshing so that gave me a bit of confidence and I came out quite pleased. But, I think that was deliberate because it lulled me into a false sense of security and made me think the next interviewer would be just as lovely…he wasn’t! The second interview lasted about 35/40 mins and it was much much scarier in comparison to the previous one. I had been given a poem (The Watershed – Auden, which i am now so annoyed about because if I had known I could have linked it to loads of things!!) 15 mins before and had to read it and analyse it. This part didn’t go so well…I gave my opinion of the poem and he challenged everything I said. I suppose he was only trying to make me adapt my ideas, but at the time it threw me and I struggled to think of evidence that supported his point of view. I think this bit of the whole process was the worst because I felt he undermined what I was saying and asked me questions in a really accusatory tone, which after the first interview I wasn’t prepared for at all! Then, about 15 minutes into the interview, I pulled myself together and went for it, and sort of argued back..and said i thought both points of view were equally valid bla bla bla. After that, he asked me some questions about what I was currently studying in Spanish, and I managed to mention a play I had looked at and some spanish poetry which was okay. He then asked me about sonnets, which were in my personal statement, so I talked about how I found the representation of war through the sonnet form very interesting, but I also made some stupid comment in passing about how the rigidity of form arguably limits the possibilities of interpretation, whereas free verse lends itself to freer interpretations which he picked up on immediately and disagreed with and based the rest of the interview on it which was a bit of a nightmare! So the second one was definitely harder and more intense and I came out feeling drained and a bit flat because none of my months of wider reading had come in useful!


Expereince 2


Cambridge Interview, Magdalene College, English.


The Literary Appreciation ‘Quiz’!


            The Magdalene test was four questions to do in an hour, and for each one they gave you about half a page to write so it wasn’t four massive essays or anything! The first (it was so strange) was this poem with a phrase missed and the question was ‘what would you put in the gap and why?’ You had to fill in the gap and write a mini essay about why, I just made it rhyme and went on about the rhyme scheme. This was the poem, and the underlined bit is the bit they missed out!

Robert Bridges.

I love all beauteous things,

 I seek and adore them;

God hath no better praise,

And man in his hasty days

      Is honoured for them.


I too will something make

      And joy in the making;

Altho’ to-morrow it seem

Like the empty words of a dream

      Remembered on waking.


            The second question was a poem and the question was ‘write about anything that interests you about the rhythm or the word choices’.


Walt Whitman.

A noiseless patient spider,
I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to
connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

Then, i couldn’t believe my eyes, there was a page of DEFINITIONS!! I was like what is this! It said, imagine your writing a dictionary and define these words!! The words were: sentence, gothic, metaphor, conjunction, blank verse, fancy, and style.

And the last question was a prose piece, it was the end to a novel, and the question was ‘is this an effective ending?’  I have no idea where the piece was from!!


The Interviews!!!!


In the first interview they went through the paper and asked me about each question. I linked each bit to as much as a could and name-dropped as many people as possible. When they asked me about the ‘blank verse’ definition to catch me out they went ‘so what’s an iamb then?’, (because I’d said blank verse was iambic pentameter with five iambs in a line) and instead of speaking I just went ‘di dum’ really loud, I don’t know what happened it was so funny they burst out laughing but said it was right so! But yeah we had a little laugh so I think that was good.

Then we talked about the two essays. Because I’d spent so much time on wider reading i’d kind of abandoned ‘The Tempest’ and so my one main piece of advice would be to know everything about the essays you’ve sent!! I think the hardest part of the whole day was trying to put up an argument that The Tempest might be about the freedom of women, they really disagreed and I don’t think it is at all but I stood by my essay!

Then we went on to things I’d out on my Personal Statement and they asked me a bit about my lyrics which was good, and drama. I’d just say whatever you put on your Personal Statement make sure you can argue for or are passionate about!!!!

Then in the last one, the man had gone home ill, so it was just me and this expert in Chaucer who was really intense, but so nice. She was the kind of interviewer where whatever you said she picked you up on so you had to be careful. She started by asking me about how my psychology as has helped my English Lit and I came out with some absolute rubbish about Freud, and then she asked about history and everything I said she’d go ‘give me an example’. Really made me think on my feet because I didn’t have examples so I had to make them up fast!

Then she said ‘if you were let loose in a library where would you go?’ and I just went on about the Romantics for a bit! And then, she said ‘what makes a good poem?’, hardest question in the world!!! A stupidly mentioned E.E.Cummings but completely forget whether he was a man or a woman so quickly moved away from him!


They didn’t ask why English or why Cambridge; they general interview was completely all about English!!


General Advice for People Next Year!!!!

– Make sure you could define every word that’s on either the essays you send or your Personal Statement because they asked me to describe what I meant by certain words!
– Smile a lot because they smile back and it makes it all nice instead of scary!
– When i was sat outside the door I thought it was going to have a heart attack but once I got in there, it goes, and you just go for it!
– Avoid talking to too many people who are doing English interviews about English because it’ll just scare you. I was talking to loads of scientists and medics but when I met an English person we’d start talking about books and this guy for example, started going on about how he’d read Homer and put Paradise Lost on his Personal Statement and it just scared me!
– Read a lot in preparation! I went a bit over the top and read the York Notes for everything and made notes on everything but I do think it was all worth it!

– Look smart but also colourfull! Everyone was dressed really darkly!!

– Correct yourself if you say something rubbish; I’d say something and then think of something better and say ‘well maybe’…They say on the website they like people to be able to adjust their ideas so hopefully that’s what they thought I was doing!!!!

– Don’t panic!! They really want you to be good; they’re not looking to catch you out!

– They said at the end of both interviews ‘do you have any questions for us?’ I was thinking about this before I went in because I didn’t really have a question, but I didn’t want to end really boring by just saying no! So I said, ‘I’ve been talking to the current Magdalene students about the college and the course and all my questions have been answered’. They got very enthusiastic about me talking to current students!

  1. B Ober-Gine
    June 7, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    The title of this page is mis-spelt.

  2. Taiwo Adeyemi
    November 27, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    I enjoyed reading this text(interview),maybe because I’m a literature student.

  3. Taiwo Adeyemi
    November 27, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    I enjoyed reading this text(experiences),maybe because I’m a literature student.

  4. Ruby
    March 22, 2011 at 6:46 am

    *Please* correct your terrible spelling (and what may be either typographical errors or a misunderstanding of the English language – “your” for example).

  5. Yasemin
    May 26, 2011 at 10:27 am

    So what’s the result? 🙂

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