Expect the Unexpected


Whaaat? A book list? No one had said anything about a book list?

I stared at the sheet, instantly going into panic mode. We were told to write down all of the books we had read over the last 12 months and to star those we wished to talk about at interview.

The sheet was split into sections:

  • Novels read at school

  • Novels read at home

  • Poetry read at school

  • Poetry read at home

  • Plays read at school

  • Plays read at home

  • Other

I was totally unsure how to go about this. I had read so many books in the last year but definitely didn’t want to talk about all of them. I knew some, like Virginia Woolf and Browning, in depth but others I had just skimmed the surface. I needed to get the balance between showing I was well-read and putting down books I barely had any knowledge of.

I didn’t have long to fill it in but luckily I had brought all my notes with me, so could refer back to them, rather than struggling to remember texts I had read a year ago. The form was clearly a check that students had read outside of the school syllabus and I was relieved I had read so widely. I starred all of my favourites and desperately hoped the tutors would only ask me about those…

Top Tips

  • Not all colleges ask English students to do this – Magdalen seemed rather exceptional from what I later heard.

  • Bring your notes with you to interview – there is nothing worse than having a few minutes to think of all of the texts you have read in the last year when you are already highly stressed. I already had a book list written out, so could transfer them over.

  • Read outside of the syllabus – this was the first test really. If you had nothing under ‘novels read at home’ you could hardly claim to be passionate about English. Reading outside of the curriculum is essential for all subjects.

  • Be a bit tactical – put down enough books to show that you are well-read but don’t write down ones which you have no real knowledge of.

  • Be prepared to be put on the spot – I had no idea I was going to be asked to write a book list. It took me by complete surprise but that is the point of Oxford Interviews, to see how you cope under pressure.

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