Oxford History Interviews

Oxford University is one of only a handful of UK universities that routinely interviews History applicants at undergraduate level. If you are invited for an interview with Oxford, it’s important that you know what to expect and how to prepare, as your performance will affect whether or not you are made an offer.

There are many questions you could be asked in an Oxford History interview so it’s important to know how best to prepare. This guide explains what an interview will look like for undergraduate applicants and includes example questions you could be asked so that you can maximise your chances of receiving an offer.

Undergraduate History interviews at Oxford

Due to the competitiveness of the course, Oxford interviews all undergraduate History applicants as part of the admissions process. You will typically be interviewed by two tutors in Oxford interviews, but occasionally there are more than two interviewers. These interviewers will be academic tutors at the university and work in the college you applied for (or the college you have been allocated, if you submitted an open application).

In some cases, your application may be referred to another college that you did not apply for or were not initially allocated. You may therefore be required to attend multiple interviews at different colleges, so bear this in mind when preparing.

History interviews at Oxford are designed to be intellectually challenging as your interviewers will not only want to find out whether you are genuinely interested in the subject, but what your intellectual potential is. Some questions they will ask will be based on a mixture of information they have gathered from your application (your UCAS form and the additional essays you are required to submit). They will also ask questions designed to assess your ability to think historically, your flexibility, your conceptual skills, and the precision of your thinking.

Note that if you are applying to study a joint honours (e.g. History and Economics, History and Politics, etc.) then you may be required to attend two interviews, one for History and one with your second subject. Always check with your university in advance so you know what to prepare for.

Are Oxford History interviews online?

Oxford interviews used to take place in-person, however, all interviews in 2021 took place online, and Oxford has confirmed that all interviews in 2022 will also be online. Although you won’t meet your interviewers in person, it is still vital that you make a strong first impression and perform well in your interview. You should therefore ensure that you take your online interviews somewhere you feel comfortable and that is quiet and has a good internet connection. This can be in a school or a home environment.

Oxford’s demonstration History interview from 2021 is a great way to familiarise yourself with the interview format you may face.

How to prepare for a History interview at Oxford

You don’t need to wait to be invited for a History interview with Oxford to start preparing. In fact, we find that students who start preparing from the time they submit their UCAS application feel more confident and often perform better in their interviews.

There are a number of things you can do to help prepare for Oxford History interviews:

1. Get to know your UCAS form and personal statement

Your interview will typically involve being asked questions relating to your UCAS form and personal statement, as well as subject-related questions. Often, even the subject-specific questions you’ll be asked may be guided by the information included in your personal statement. For example, if you mention the Renaissance in your statement, you might be asked, ‘What do you find interesting about the Renaissance?’.

To prepare for these questions, make sure you re-read and familiarise yourself with your personal statement in advance of your interview to remind yourself of the examples and topics you discussed. You should also revise any specific topics or readings you mentioned in your personal statement to ensure that you can talk about them in depth if you are asked about them (which is highly likely – see the sections below for more details).

You may also be asked questions about where you are up to in your specific A level (or equivalent) course, including topics you’ve particularly enjoyed studying. Some examples of follow-up questions might then include personal reflection questions like, ‘What do you see as your top 10 achievements on this course?’ or topic-specific questions, such as ‘So what do you know about modern Russia?’, etc.

2. Look back over your application essay

When applying for History at Oxford, you will be asked to submit an additional essay to support your application. This essay should be on a historical topic (although not source-based), written as part of your normal school or college work, and be a maximum of 2,000 words long.

Oxford’s History department states that your submitted essay is likely to form a starting point for discussion in at least one of your interviews. With this in mind, you should ensure that you look back over this essay carefully and that you are able to discuss all of the topics discussed and points made in the essay in greater detail.

For example, if your essay title was ‘How significant was China’s intervention in deciding the course and outcome of the Korean War?’, it is likely that you will be asked about the historical evidence you used to form your argument on that particular question, and discuss the wider topic of the Korean War in more detail too. You may also be asked to define terms you refer to in the essay and compare the material you submitted with some other historical example you have studied (e.g. in this example, you may be asked to compare the Korean War with the Vietnam War).

3. Prepare your own examples

In any university-level interview, it’s not enough to declare your strengths and interests – you need to demonstrate them. Preparing plenty of examples of times when you have demonstrated these strengths and interests will help you to support, not just state, your claims.

Ensure you have examples that prove your academic ability, such as a History society/club you’ve been a part of or essay competitions you’ve entered, as well as examples that demonstrate your soft skills, such as managing your time well, taking on a leadership role, or solving a problem in an innovative way.

Note that, if you do mention an essay competition or any other additional written work or independent study in your application, you are likely to be asked questions about it in your interview. For instance, past students have noted being asked, ‘Tell us more about what you wrote in your submission for the essay competition and what you concluded’. Make sure you have examples of this nature ready ahead of your interview.

4. Become an expert in your subject

As mentioned, Oxford History interviews typically consist of a mixture of questions relating to both your personal statement (interests, experience, and qualifications) and your subject knowledge. It is impossible to predict exactly what subject-specific questions you will be asked, so it’s important that you become as much of an expert in your subject as possible.

Make sure that you have revised everything you have covered in your A levels (or equivalent) so far and feel confident answering questions on these topics. However, don’t limit yourself to topics or questions you have already (or will) cover in school. For example, if you study political history mostly at school, reading about the social history, economic context or political ideas that influenced significant events throughout the decades in your own time can inform your understanding of these periods in history and allow you to participate in more nuanced and in-depth discussions with your interviewers.

Ultimately, Oxford likes to see well-read students who have a passion for exploring History and are able (and keen) to study topics independently. You may even be asked questions specifically on your wider reading, such as, ‘What have you been reading in your spare time?’. You could also be asked follow-up questions on your answers, such as, ‘What did you think of the author’s approach to the topic?’ and ‘Did you agree with what was said and why?’. Interviewers generally ask very open-ended questions because they want to hear your opinion and see how you defend it, so come prepared with some recent readings and revise some notes on them.

5. Practise using mock interviews

Mock interviews are one the best ways you can prepare for an interview. They allow you to put into practice the rest of your preparation – for example, you can practise answering questions on your personal statement, giving examples of where you have demonstrated certain skills, and answering subject-specific questions.

They also allow you to develop your interview skills and develop techniques that help you perform as well as possible. For example, you can practise maintaining calm and confident under pressure, listening carefully to questions and taking time to think rather than rushing into an answer, and structuring your answers in a clear and concise way.

Some schools offer mock interviews to students applying to universities like Oxford. However, many do not have the resources to offer this kind of support or have relevant expertise on Oxford History admissions specifically. That is where a professional admissions tutor can be invaluable to your preparation. The Profs’ tutors have in-depth knowledge of the admissions process for History at Oxford, including what they look for in candidates during interviews, and can provide mock interviews and other preparation strategies.

6. Practise your analytical reading skills

One of the other tasks you may face in a History interview at Oxford is to read a short passage of historical writing just before your interview, which you will then be asked to discuss with your interviewers. This is designed to assess your analytical reading skills and your ability to draw conclusions from historical texts – both important skills to possess if you are to succeed on a History degree course.

We suggest you practise reading and interpreting a range of historical texts (particularly those of styles and on topics you are unfamiliar with) as part of your preparation. This will ensure that you are confident in your ability to talk about a text in detail if you are presented with this task as part of your interview.

At The Profs, we have many Oxford graduates and ex-lecturers in our tutor network who can offer expert insights into what the Oxford History department will be looking for in their applicants and how to best prepare for interviews. More than half (55%) of the students we work with get accepted into Oxbridge – more than three times the average acceptance rate. Reach out to our Oxbridge admissions team to find out more.

If you’re thinking of applying to Oxford for your undergraduate degree, you can also read our guide on how to get into Oxford for further tips and information on its admissions process and acceptance rates.

Does Oxford interview for postgraduate History?

Oxford does not typically conduct interviews for its Master’s in History (MSt History) or DPhil History courses. Instead, your application will be assessed on other elements including:

  • Your previous academic results (i.e. A levels or equivalent, and degree qualification);
  • Research proposal (if required);
  • Written work (including your CV);
  • References;
  • Background knowledge and skills;
  • And any other relevant information provided in your application.

For more tips and examples of questions you are likely to encounter in postgraduate interviews for other courses, read our guide on some of the most common postgraduate interview questions.

FAQs

How many Oxford History applicants get interviews?

71% of all undergraduate History applicants were offered interviews on average (between 2019 – 2021). In 2021, 861 people applied for History at Oxford and 647 of these were shortlisted (invited for interview), meaning 75% of applicants got to the interview stage.

Are there examples of Oxford History interview questions?

There is no way of predicting exactly what questions you will be asked in an Oxford History interview. However, the questions you will face will be designed to assess similar skills, such as your ability to think logically, solve problems, and tackle unfamiliar scenarios.

The list below poses some example interview questions. These are unlikely to be the exact questions you’ll get in your interview, but you can use them as practice to develop your logical and creative thinking ahead of your interview.

  • What are the differences between literature and history?
  • What is the role of a historian?
  • Is history written by the victors?
  • Why is intellectual history important?
  • How do historians gather evidence?
  • What makes a good source?
  • How do individuals make up history?
  • Should empathy be a consideration when analysing past events?
  • Name some historical independence movements that have shaped the world.

Note that there usually isn’t a right or wrong answer in Oxford History questions, and questions are typically not designed to test your actual historical knowledge. The aim is to encourage you to apply your existing knowledge to new problems, as this will be a skill you will need to succeed at university-level study.