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History Interview

By Isobel Merriman

Oxford interviews have a reputation for bamboozling questions and big oak desks and it can be hard not to be a little nervous before your interview, but the trick is to enjoy it! When I arrived in Oxford last December, tugging my carry-on suitcase behind me and clutching a binder of notes, I was certainly nervous, but you have to remind yourself what an incredibly exciting opportunity it is. The people interviewing you won’t just know the books on the topic inside out – they may also have written them!

History interviews, though they differ from college to college, generally take the form of a sort of mini-tutorial, designed to give your interviewers an idea of what it would be like to teach you. They are intentionally challenging, forcing you to interrogate your assumptions about a topic and consider a question as widely as possible. This can often make it seem like they are trying to catch you out and it can be tricky to know when to defend your arguments and when to agree with any criticism, but it’s exactly the same process when you’re here! Tutors always want to get the best from you, so if they are asking you difficult questions its only because they think you’re capable of coming up with an interesting answer. Be ready to admit to your mistakes too – if you’ve sent in an essay watch out for any sweeping conclusions, such as calling an event ‘inevitable’ – be ready to defend or revise those claims! I’ recommend reading around your personal statement topics too, as your interviewers are looking for people who are good at independently learning and want to find out more. History students at oxford don’t have many contact hours per week (compulsory hours with tutors or at lectures), so you have to be good at managing your own time and wanting to go to the library!

Most importantly though, try to enjoy the experience. Tutors know so much about the subject you love and want to study and the conversations you have with them in your interviews can be so interesting. I can still remember being asked in my interview “to what extent should ‘emotion’ be factored into our understanding of history?” and it’s a question I still often consider when I come to writing my essays, as it’s a really interesting angle to consider in history.

Remember to look after yourself while you’re here too. Take the time to explore the college you’ve applied to, the beautiful town you’re staying in and make some new friends! Everyone applying for Oxford is ridiculously smart and passionate about their subject, so you can have some amazing conversations over dinner.

If you’ve got an interview here, you should already be so proud of yourself, so celebrate, work hard and good luck!


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