By Poppy Atkinson-Gibson
I had my interviews for History at St Benet’s Hall, despite initially applying to Brasenose. The whole experience was very intellectually challenging and the people I met were lovely- even the interviewers! But I was still aware that you’re in competition with them.
For my first interview I was asked to re-evaluate an essay I’d previously submitted with a new theme. My essay was about the Cold War and what was the greatest turning point and my theme was 'Elite'. I had 30 mins. I was gobsmacked. I didn't really know what they wanted me to look for but I began to scribble away furiously.
The interviewers were very friendly but it did nothing to abate my nerves. One started off by asking me what I was reading currently, and we briefly discussed why I had chosen my book and what I did and didn't like about it. They also asked me rather abruptly how I accessed books which seemed a bit odd.
As it turned out I had gone on completely the wrong track with the theme of ‘Elite’. I began to talk about the idea of elite ideologies which seemed to surprise the interviewers who asked me to qualify and explain what I meant by that - I wasn't sure, I was sort of making it up as I went along. What they had thought I might pick up was that I had analysed the turning points of the Cold War from the very elite perspective of Presidents and world leaders. I felt like an idiot. It had been staring at me in the face! They didn't seem to mind however, and we discussed what I had come up with. I made sure to always say what I was thinking out loud and when I felt I had made a mistake I corrected myself and showed growth of thought. When they played the Devil's advocate, I stood my ground with my opinion generally but did alter it slightly when they presented me with a new idea or a view I hadn't considered. They were very quick and noted immediately when I contradicted myself and asked me why. They were quite probing, and they really challenged me.
For the second interview I was taken to the library again and asked to evaluate a very long source. The first thing the interviewers said when I met them was "we won't shake your hand, just come and sit down" which sounds like a small thing but really threw me. I was then asked to lay the source out in front of me and they began to ask me questions such as what information I could extract about the author. All my answers to their questions seemed to be wrong! At the end they asked me about what I was doing now, since I had already finished my A Levels.
I found the second interview quite difficult but one applicant seemed very sure of himself. A fourth year obviously saw my worried expression and lent over to me and said not to worry, he seemed too cocky and the interviewers would see that too, the fact that knew what the source was meant nothing. And I really found that conversation comforting because he’d been in my position, gone through the same process so he knew and he’d got a place.