By Samantha Bogie
It’s been just over a year since I received my email inviting me to interview for Spanish and beginners’ German. At first I was ecstatic, but then it sunk in that I was actually going to have to do an Oxford interview, something which I’d heard so many horror stories about. I started preparing for the Spanish side first, making concise notes about any texts I’d mentioned in my personal statement, along with annotating the written work I’d submitted and expanding on any points I’d made there. Overall, I had some idea of what my Spanish interview would consist of, however when it came to my beginners’ German interviews, I was going in completely blind.
The one question I could guess was inevitably coming was: “so, why do you want to study German?”, and sure enough it did, however everything which happened after that was a complete surprise. For beginners’ German I had to do two interviews, one in my college and one at the faculty, with my first one being my ‘core’ faculty interview. I arrived around 10-15 minutes before my interview started and was given quite an ominous envelope containing my pre reading and was told to sit through in the other room. This whole pre reading period was completely unsupervised and there was one other candidate reading the text, so the whole thing was quite relaxed. I opened the envelope to see a passage, completely in German. Initially I panicked, but after reading the text the whole passage was pretty much made up of cognates, and any words which weren’t could be worked out from the context.
When I went into my actual interview, the interviewer first read the German text aloud so I could get a feel for the pronunciation, and then had me read certain sentences out in German as well. She then had me translate a few key bits of the text, and then the questions which followed were mainly related to grammar, explaining why the grammar was the way it was (i.e. was it for emphasis? For clarity? Etc.) and identifying the construction of different tenses throughout the text. This interview was quite relaxed overall, I did come out thinking I’d gotten most of the questions wrong but because it was such a relaxed environment I didn’t feel too stressed or upset.
My second interview (my college interview) definitely went a lot worse than the first, it was a lot more formal than the one I’d had earlier that day, which immediately made me nervous. I had about 30 minutes to prepare an unseen (English) poem, with the discussion about this poem making up the main bulk of the interview. I was then asked about any German texts I’d read, which sparked some more conversation, bringing the interview to a close. In this interview, almost everything I said was questioned or challenged by the interviewer and she frequently told me she didn’t understand my point, meaning I was forced to explain and back up all of my statements. I distinctly remember coming out of that interview and seeing that it was pouring with rain outside, feeling utterly defeated.
Between the end of interviews and the decision date in January, I’d convinced myself that, if I were to receive an offer, it would just be for Spanish seeing as my second German interview went so badly, however I was lucky enough to receive an offer to read both languages. I’ve since learnt that my German interviews were both very strong, so if you feel like you’re being pushed and challenged on everything that you say, it doesn’t mean that you’re wrong! The important thing with interviews is to not read too much into everything (which I realise is an incredibly easy thing to say in retrospect), just because you feel an interview went badly doesn’t mean it did, you don’t know how any of them really went until you receive the decision on your application in January!