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Top Ten Tips for History Interviews

By Melissa Jakes

(2nd Year Somerville College)

I remember the anticipation for an interview at Oxford all to well, I felt lost and didn’t ever feel ‘prepared’. But, weird as it sounds, I think those feelings are crucial to do well in any interview. When I was ‘preparing’ for my interview (googling questions online), I also took comfort in the fact that all of the preparation I needed had been completed in my past 18 years of education – not because I had been preparing for Oxford my whole life – (far from it) but because the skills and knowledge you learn at GCSE and A-level are all of the ammunition you need to do well.

So, beyond feeling confident in your abilities and finding comfort in the fact that you will never feel prepared, I’ve shortlisted my top ten tips for doing well in a history interview. Just for reference, I interviewed at both Exeter and Somerville.

1) THINK OUT LOUD (in capitals because it’s the most important) often our thoughts don’t make sense if don’t explain the thinking process behind them – so just talk through every thought that comes into your mind.

2) Be prepared to think flexibly – e.g. if you are given a source find multiple meanings by analysing it through different perspectives

3) Be prepared to be challenged – at school, it’s very rare a teacher will challenge you at a seemingly small detail, this is normal here – so don’t panic!

4) Take risks – think creatively. Tutors are more likely to tease out interesting conversations if you give them something to work with.

5) Don’t feel you have to lock yourself in you room preparing – do whatever works for you, if that's going out, exploring the city, then Westgate is great for Christmas shopping! G and Ds is fab for ice cream if its not too cold.

6) Recap on A-level topics – there is no expectation to have read every history book ever written – but using your a-level subjects as case studies to bring up is always useful

7) Don’t ‘prepare you answers’ – although there are plenty of questions on the internet, I wouldn’t use them to ‘rehearse’ the perfect answer but to think about a topic.

8) There is no ‘right’ answer – seems obvious but don’t feel put off if tutors aren’t giving you any signals that you are ‘right’ i.e. nodding/smiling

9) Share YOUR thoughts not an author you’ve read – anyone can read a book – tutors want to know what YOU think about a topic

10) BE YOU – I’ve capitalised this as it’s important – but there really is no typical ‘Oxford Student’. Be proud of your thoughts, your voice and your background. We all shine a little brighter when we are true to ourselves (cliché but it couldn’t be helped)

Best of luck with interviews and I hope this was of some use to you!


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