What to Expect

Oxford interviews can be a scary prospect, but with the right mindset and preparation you can set yourself up to perform really well, and maybe even enjoy the experience!

On this page you will find top tips from Pembroke’s tutors and staff on excelling at your interviews.

It's natural to want to prepare before your interview, but the most important thing really is to to be yourself.

The tutors will be trying to find out what you think, and how you think, and these things are easier to discover if you're able to relax a bit and talk about yourself.


Top Tips

Before Your Interview

'Prepare something to say about anything you mention in your personal statement. If you refer to a book make sure you have actually read it, for instance!'
Kirstie Morris, Academic Support Officer

'Speak with recent applicants about their experiences if you know some. And if you don’t, check out our admissions forum to speak to current Pembroke students. Pembroke’s first college candidates will receive an invitation to join via email'
Dr Rob Salguero-Gómez, Biology

'Make sure you will have everything you might need during your interviews to hand. Some subjects will require candidates to have access to a tablet- check the technical requirements for your subject here. You should also have a paper and pen in case you need to work through any questions, and a copy of your personal statement and written work (if you submitted any)'
Kirsty Simpson, Admissions and Access Officer.

'Don't memorize your answers to questions that you might perceive as “likely” to be asked. We are pretty good at differentiating regurgitation from truthful, engaging answers'
Dr Rob Salguero-Gómez, Biology

'Don't worry about cramming lots of material which goes beyond your high school syllabus: we will not be testing the depth of your knowledge, but rather how you think through problems related to your subject'
Dr James Read, Philosophy

Don’t fall for Imposter Syndrome. Remember that you have been selected for interview because you have made a great application and are a strong candidate for your course.
Kirsty Simpson, Admissions and Access Officer.

During Your Interview

'Think out loud to let the interviewers know what your thoughts are while working on the answer.’
Professor Alfons Weber, Physics

'Take the time in the interview to explain how you're thinking through a problem, and where and why you've got stuck. Being honest about where you've got stuck is a good thing: that way, your interviewer can help you out so that you can make further progress’
Dr James Read, Philosophy

Don't feel that you can’t ask us to repeat or rephrase our questions. We are always happy to clarify. Far from making you look like you did not understand a key point, it shows that you are engaged in the conversation.
Dr Rob Salguero-Gómez, Biology

‘Don't panic. If you are given something to read, read it carefully, even if the interviewers are waiting, and give yourself time to think.’
Professor Henrietta Harrison, Chinese

Don't worry if you don’t know the answer to an interview question. The interview is not intended to test your knowledge as much as to evaluate how you think and your aptitude for the subject, and how you deal with new information and help from the tutors.’ Professor Alfons Weber, Physics

Don't worry about the things you can’t control: if the wifi stops working, it won’t affect in any way the outcome of your interview. We will call you back or reschedule your interview.’
Dr Rob Salguero-Gómez, Biology

Don't think that because the interview was hard, you did badly. They are meant to challenge you, so you are not expected to answer everything perfectly or right away.’
Kirstie Morris, Academic Support Officer

Enjoy the conversation with us. It is not every day that you’ve got full-time researchers and academics fully devoted to engaging intellectually in your interests and future.’
Dr Rob Salguero-Gómez, Biology


Students Perspective

Hattie, 2nd year English Literature and Language student

Hello! My name’s Hattie, and I’m a second year English Literature and language student from New Zealand.

If there’s one thing NZ is known for (other than lord of the rings of course) it’s that it’s VERY far away from literally anywhere else, and because our exams take place at the end of November, there was no chance of me getting over in time for interviews.

I was rather apprehensive about remote interviews and I worried that it might affect my chance of getting a place, but in reality it’s no more difficult than the normal process and the tutors are especially supportive. The main challenge, at least for me, was how different it is to normal interviews; the normal vocal and social cues which you pick up on in conversation are very easy to miss on Skype (curse you blurry images!). This is where I’d recommend doing some ‘mock interviews’ – I had several practice sessions where my parents would whatsapp from a different room and ask me questions about things I’d read, parts of my personal statement and even to defend the merits of tomato soup! The questions they asked didn’t really matter as it helped me practice communicating my thoughts effectively across a 2D screen. Personally, I found that sitting up straight, making eye contact (don’t look directly at the camera), and using my hands as I spoke really helped me feel involved and animated in discussion.

Practice is also important because it allows others the chance to pick up on things you might not notice yourself. Mics are temperamental beings and often words can end up being mumbled or too quiet, so work on speaking clearly and confidently – even if you don’t feel it! We also all know that tech issues invariably happen at the worst possible moment but please feel reassured that Pembroke will deal with anything that comes up – and it certainly won’t count against you! As I mentioned before, being online can really flatten the social interaction and so the interviewers won’t necessarily know what’s going on at your end. I found it especially useful to verbalise what was going on – if there was a loud noise outside, if the internet seemed to be lagging more than normal or even if I needed time to think – all these are perfectly normal and will help you all stay on the same page.

The way you present yourself is also key. I know you’ll be more at home, but don’t fall into the trap of wearing pjs. It doesn’t help your focus! Wear something that will stand out from the wall behind you, keep your desk free of anything you might fidget with (I know the struggle….) and (maybe most important of all) DON’T sit on a swivel chair. It’s easy to subconsciously move and is very distracting for the people you’re talking to!

Although the interviews are remote this year, they’re still the same process as normal, and I’d definitely recommend making use of the realms of advice floating around online. Remember, they’re supposed to mimic the tutorials you’ll have as an Oxford student and you’ve been picked because the tutors think you’re interesting – be yourself!