Oxford Physics Interviews

Oxford University is one of only a handful of UK universities that routinely interviews Physics applicants at undergraduate and postgraduate 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 Physics interview so it’s important to know how best to prepare. This guide explains what an interview will look like for undergraduate and postgraduate applicants and includes example questions you could be asked so that you can maximise your chances of receiving an offer.

Undergraduate Oxford Physics interviews

Due to the competitiveness of the course, Oxford interviews all undergraduate Physics applicants as part of the admissions process. Physics interviews can be conducted differently at Oxford depending on the college/s you are being interviewed by. Most commonly, you will take part in two separate interviews at a first college and then a third interview at your second college. However, in some cases you may have one long interview or three short interviews at any given college.

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/s you applied for (or the college/s you have been allocated, if you submitted an open application).

Unlike interviews for many other subjects, Oxford Physics interviews are purely academic in nature and are designed to assess your knowledge of Physics and Mathematics. As a result, your knowledge of the entrance test syllabus material (the PAT) will be assumed. You may also be asked about topics you’ve mentioned in your application and other topics from your A level (or equivalent) Physics and/or Maths courses.

Note that if you are applying for joint honours in Physics and Philosophy, you will also need to attend an additional Philosophy interview as well as your Physics interview/s.

Are Oxford Physics 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 Physics interview (from Jesus College) is a great way to familiarise yourself with the interview format you may face.

How are Oxford Physics interviews marked?

Your Oxford Physics interview will be marked by your interviewers. In your two interviews with your first college, each interview will be marked out of 10. In your interview with your second college, you will also be given an interview score out of 10.

At the end of the interview process, each candidate is then given a total numerical score. This is calculated by combining your PAT score and your interview scores. This total score is used to rank all applicants and carries significant weight in Oxford’s decision process. However, the score does not account for all information in your application and your exam results, references, and personal statement will still be taken into account when it comes to making final offers.

How to prepare for an undergraduate Physics interview at Oxford

You don’t need to wait to be invited for a Physics 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 Physics interviews:

1. Revise Physics and Maths content

Typically, Oxford Physics interviews include very few (if any) personal questions. Instead, Physics interviews are intended to be strictly academic and will focus mostly on mathematical and physics-based questions.

The questions you will be asked will assume that you have knowledge of all topics you have covered so far in your A levels (or equivalent) and in the PAT (Physics Admissions Test) – the entrance test for Physics at Oxford. Therefore, you should make sure that you have revised all of this content before your exam. You could be asked questions on anything and, while it’s ok to admit that you don’t know something or are unable to get to an answer, you should at least be able to show your understanding of the topic and your thought process for as many questions as possible.

Some examples of interview questions from past students include:

  • Sketch the graph of x^sin(x).
  • Calculate what fraction of the Earth’s surface was visible to a satellite at a given height.
  • Draw a graph of a given equation by looking at limits.
  • There is a piece of metal with fixed area A and it is used to make a can with height h and radius r. What are the dimensions of the can with maximum volume?
  • What is 10.66 in standard form?
  • What is 10^-9/10^-13?
  • What force is needed to hold an iron block of mass 500kg suspended from a 10m rope 10cm to the right?

2. Complete past PAT tests

One helpful strategy that can help to solidify your Maths and Physics knowledge and prepare you for the style of questions you may face in your interview is to complete past PAT (Physics Admissions Test) papers. You may have already done this previously in preparation for sitting the PAT – if so, you’ll already be familiar with the style of questions. However, going over them again, revisiting questions you may have gotten wrong, and reading your working out aloud are great ways of cementing that knowledge.

If you’re looking for other helpful resources for question practice, explore the following websites:

3. Reread your personal statement

Although Physics interviews at Oxford are not typically concerned with your wider interests and much of the information included in your personal statement, they may still use specific topics mentioned in your application to guide the questions. For instance, if you mention that you are specifically interested in Astrophysics, your interviewer might ask you questions relating to particular theories or problems in the field of Astrophysics.

It is therefore a good idea to re-familiarise yourself with your personal statement to anticipate any potential topics that could come up in your interview. You can then focus a portion of your preparation and revision on these areas to ensure that you can answer subject-specific questions and discuss the topic in more depth.

4. 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 specific Physics and Maths topics, especially those mentioned in your application and those on the PAT syllabus.

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 talking through your thought process/workings out to interviewers.

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 Physics 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 Physics at Oxford, including what they look for in candidates during interviews, and can provide mock interviews and other preparation strategies.

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.

Postgraduate Oxford Physics interviews

Oxford holds interviews for some of its postgraduate Physics courses, but not all. Interviews are not typically held for Master’s courses, such as MSc Mathematical and Theoretical Physics and MSt Philosophy of Physics. In contrast, interviews are usually held for doctoral programmes, including DPhil Astrophysics and DPhil Theoretical Physics.

If you are shortlisted for a PhD level Physics programme at Oxford, you will receive either one or two interviews with two members of staff, either in-person or virtually (via video link or phone).

The interview/s will typically include a mixture of questions covering both your research interests and personal experience as well as your subject knowledge. You may be asked to speak about past projects you have worked on (such as a Master’s research project), as well as other relevant coursework. You will also be asked questions that go into more depth about what you are applying to research.

Interviewers will be trying to gauge that you are genuinely interested in your chosen subject area, as well as academically qualified to research the topic at Oxford. They’ll ultimately want to see that you are committed to the 3-4 year commitment of a PhD programme.

How to prepare for a postgraduate Oxford Physics interview

You don’t need to wait to be invited for an interview for PhD level Physics with Oxford to start preparing. From our experience, students who begin preparing for their interview in advance benefit from more confidence, better subject knowledge, and a clearer understanding of how they can best succeed when it comes to attending their interview.

There are a number of things you can do to help prepare for a postgraduate interview for Physics at Oxford:

1. Learn the most commonly asked questions

While it’s impossible to predict exactly what you will be asked in your postgraduate interview, learning the most commonly asked questions as part of your preparation can be of great help and give you an advantage over other applicants who do not know what to expect. Typically, postgraduate interview questions can be categorised into seven types:

  • ‘Describe yourself’ questions – Interviewers often lead with questions which require you to ‘describe yourself’ in some way. These types of questions are a good indicator of your overall strengths and interests, but also of your self awareness and ability to self-reflect and improve.
  • Academic experience questions – Some of the questions you might be asked in your interview could be based on the information you’ve provided in your personal statement and/or CV relating to your academic experience and achievements. Unsurprisingly, your interviewer will want to feel reassured that your academic ability is of a high enough standard to succeed at postgraduate level, so it’s important to answer these questions honestly and give examples where necessary.
  • University-specific questions – In your postgraduate interview, your university will want to find out more about why you chose them in particular – but it’s more than simply flattery they’re seeking. Your interviewer will want to see that you have done your research on your chosen university and course, and that you are motivated and driven to succeed.
  • Strengths, weaknesses and skills questions – When applying for a postgraduate degree, interviewers will want to go beyond your academic achievements and look at what transferable (and, if relevant, technical) skills you have that would make you well-suited to your chosen course. These types of questions are commonly known as ‘core competency’ questions and will usually infer the need for an example to support them so as to evidence the development or application of these skills.
  • Subject or industry-specific questions – Unlike in an undergraduate interview – where prior knowledge is not typically the focus of their assessment of you – postgraduate applicants are assumed to have existing, in-depth knowledge and experience in their subject area. Therefore, you will likely be asked more challenging or thought-provoking questions on your chosen degree subject and may be expected to engage in a detailed discussion or informal chat on a particular topic or issue.
  • Goal-related questions – Universities are looking for postgraduate students who have clear goals or, ideally, a career plan they are working towards. The clearer your goals, the more ambitious, driven and committed you will seem to your chosen university.
  • Interests/personality questions – As part of your postgraduate interview might include being asked some questions that relate to your personality, hobbies and interests. The goal of the interviewer here may simply be to get to know you better as a person. However, it could also be an opportunity for them to assess whether your interest in the subject area extends beyond a purely academic or professional setting and is a genuine commitment of yours.

2. Prepare 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 this will help you to support, not just state, your claims.

Ensure you have examples that prove your academic ability, such as particularly high attainment in Physics and Maths modules and courses, course-related societies you’ve been a part of, or extra learning you have completed, 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.

3. Read extensively around your subject

If you’re applying to study at postgraduate level, you probably already have a pretty good understanding of your subject area. However, the aim of a postgraduate interview is to explore the depth and nuance of this understanding, as well as where your passions lie.

Having a solid understanding of the wider discipline, including any recent scientific news, landmark research in your chosen (or related) field/s, and important academics will allow you to have these higher-level discussions with your interviewers. Researching academics in Oxford’s Physics department can give you a particular advantage, as you may end up talking to them directly as part of your interview.

4. 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 a range of questions (such as those above), giving examples of where you have demonstrated important skills, and showing that you are well-equipped for studying at postgraduate level, which is one of the most important traits interviewers will be looking for.

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 body language, making eye contact with your interviewer, and structuring your answers in a clear and concise way.

Mock interviews are an area of preparation where professional admissions tutors can prove invaluable. The Profs’ interview training tutors have in-depth knowledge of all interview types used for postgraduate interviews at Oxford and can provide mock interviews, simulating the conditions you will face in the real thing, to help you develop the necessary skills and strategies for success. Reach out to our postgraduate admissions team to find out more.

For more tips and examples of questions you are likely to encounter in a postgraduate interview, read our guide on some of the most common postgraduate interview questions. For more tips on preparing for a postgraduate interview, read our helpful preparation guide.

FAQs

Why does Oxford interview for Physics?

Oxford interviews Physics applicants in order to gauge their academic knowledge of Physics and Maths. Rather than asking about any wider interests you may have mentioned on your application form, interviewers will typically be strictly interested in your aptitude for Physics and Maths and will assume you have knowledge of the entire syllabus that you are currently studying (e.g. AQA A level Further Mathematics or IB Physics). Your knowledge of both subjects is so important that some colleges hold separate interviews testing Maths and Physics.

How many Oxford Physics applicants get interviews?

32% of all undergraduate Physics 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.