Tag Archives: Applying to study modern languages

So what happens in an Oxford interview?

Last week we took you through the practicalities of coming to an interview at Oxford. This week we’ll delve into the interview itself, breaking down what you might typically expect from a Modern Languages interview.  What we cover here is an outline of the general format of Modern Languages interviews but you should be aware that practice can vary a little between colleges. It is worth bearing in mind that the interview is not designed to trick you or make you stumble: it aims to stretch you intellectually and give the tutors an insight into the way you think and your motivation for applying for the degree.

The Format

  • You will have at least two interviews, possibly more, each lasting around twenty minutes. This is so that you have ‘two bites of the apple’, as it were. We know that candidates commonly get nervous during interviews and may not always feel they have performed at their best. Having two interviews gives you two chances to demonstrate what you can do and optimises your chance of showing us your best side.
  • Your initial interviews will be in the college that is hosting you or, occasionally, they might be conducted centrally in the Modern Languages department itself.
  • However, you might also find that other colleges want to interview you in a system we call ‘pooling’. This means that all the languages tutors across all the colleges can view your application and can request to see you. You shouldn’t read anything into this. It does not mean that your first college has rejected you. It simply means that colleges are keeping lots of options open to them. Again, it is another chance for you to show us your best.
  • There will be at least two interviewers in the room. They may split the questioning 50/50 or one may take the lead while another takes notes. Don’t let this faze you – it’s just policy. They will start by introducing themselves and explaining the format of the interview. Some might shake your hand. Others might not. Again, don’t overthink this: whether or not you shake a tutor’s hand will not affect your chance of getting in.
  • The interview is likely to be split into two or three parts, depending on whether you are applying for the language from scratch or post-A Level (or equivalent).
  • If you are studying the language at A Level or equivalent, there will be some conversation in the target language. This is likely to be just three or four minutes and is another chance for us to assess your linguistic skills. We’re not looking for perfection or fluency. We are simply expecting an ability to speak in the target language at the standard expected of a candidate who is predicted a grade A at A Level. We will be assessing your language skills alongside your written work submission and your performance in the MLAT, so this is not the be all and end all.
  • If you are applying for a language ab initio (from scratch) don’t worry, we will not ask you to hold a conversation in that language!
  • Regardless of whether you are applying for a language ab initio or post-A Level, you will probably be asked to do an exercise in close reading. You will be given a text about 20-30 minutes before the interview and asked to read and think about it. This may be a poem or an extract of prose. It is unlikely to be longer than a side of A4. Practice does vary a little between colleges as to whether this text will be in the target language: some may give you a text in English; some may give you a text in the target language with an English translation; some may give you a text in the target language and also provide a dictionary or vocab. list, or invite you to ask about any words you don’t understand at the start of the interview. If you are applying for a language from scratch you will  be given a version of the text in English.
  • Use your preparation time to read the text fully, make notes if you like, and draw some initial conclusions from the text. Ask yourself not only ‘what are my first impressions?’ but, more importantly, ‘why and how are those impressions created?’
  • The tutors will ask you about the text for around ten minutes.
  • There will also be some general conversation as part of the interview. During this portion of the interview you might be asked to talk about: academic work you have completed in the last year or two; any relevant wider reading or work experience you might have done; subject-related issues that are very readily visible in the wider world (you will NOT be expected to have an intricate knowledge of current affairs); things you have mentioned in your personal statement.

Top Tips

  • The first thing to remember is that the interview simulates a tutorial. Tutorial-style teaching is really the USP of Oxford and Cambridge: it is a method of teaching that focuses on discussion in very small groups (usually a tutor and two or three students) on a more-or-less weekly basis. The interview is a way for us to see how you would fare in this type of teaching environment.
  • As such, we are interested in seeing your ability to contribute to an academically challenging discussion: this will partly be a matter of forming, expressing and, at times, defending your opinions on a particular topic, but we will also want to see your ability to think analytically, to read perceptively, and to be flexible in your thinking.
  • Try not to be too rigid in your approach. Be open to receiving new information and to changing your opinion based on that information if appropriate.
  • Go back and re-read your personal statement – there is a good chance you will be asked about it. Make sure you can talk about any books or films you have mentioned, or explain your interests further.
  • Decisions are not based on your manners, appearance, or background, but on your ability to think independently and to engage with new ideas beyond what you have learnt in school.
  • The questions will be focused and challenging but this is not a trap and it is not a vocabulary test. If there is anything you are unsure about, whether that’s the questions you are being asked or a particular word you might not understand, it is absolutely fine to ask the tutors to repeat or clarify their question.

So that’s a rundown of Modern Languages interviews at Oxford. It’s a lot to think about and we understand you may justifiably be feeling a little nervous. Of course, not everyone who is interviewed can be offered a place, and we know that this can be disheartening. But remember, you have already done incredibly well to reach interview stage. Whatever the outcome of your application, you should be proud of what you have achieved simply by getting into the room. Above all, try to enjoy the process – it’s not every day you will have the undivided attention of world-leading experts in your subject who are interested in what YOU have to say.

Check out our other interview related posts on this blog by clicking the ‘interviews’ tag. All that remains to be said is good luck!

Oxford Interviews: the Practicalities

A few weeks ago we published an admissions checklist for everyone applying to Oxford in this admissions round. By now you should have submitted your UCAS application, sat the admissions test(s) or ‘MLAT’, and be about to submit your written work, the deadline for which is this Saturday, 10 November.

You’re probably now beginning to turn your attention to the interview. For many candidates, interviews are the scariest part of the process. Today we’ll walk you though the practical elements of the interview period. Stay tuned for a break down of the academic aspects of Modern Languages interviews, which we’ll cover next week.  

The Practical Stuff

  • Interviews for Modern Languages courses take place between Tuesday 4 and Saturday 7 December 2018. Precise dates will depend on which course you have applied for, but take a look at the interview timetable here.
  • Shortlisting for interviews happens in mid- to late- November. The college considering your application will write to you indicating whether or not you have been invited for interview, and the practical details. You may not receive this until a week before the interviews are due to take place. Usually the college contacting you will be the college to which you have applied. If you made an open application, it will be the college to which you have been allocated. Sometimes you might be invited to interview by a different college than that to which you applied: this is because we reallocate some candidates during the process to ensure an even spread of applicants across the colleges and give you the best chance of getting an offer.
  • You will be asked to come to Oxford for several days. Dates will be confirmed in your invitation letter or email. Once you arrive you will find out when your interview(s) will take place.
  • Your accommodation and meals during this period will be provided free of charge by the college which has invited you.
  • During your time in the college, undergraduate helpers will be around to meet you and advise you. They will take you to your interviews so you don’t get lost, and they are always happy to have a friendly chat and facilitate social activities in the times between interviews. You can see a helper’s account of the interview period here.
  • Most colleges will have a hub where candidates are encouraged to spend time when they are not in interviews. This hub is a social environment, often with TV, games, and other activities. Feel free to take this time to meet new people, ask the student helpers any questions, and essentially try to have fun!
  • If you have any additional needs, the college will support you. Mentioning your disability or specific learning difficulty will not affect your application: admissions decisions are made on academic grounds alone.

Join us next week when we’ll discuss the academic aspects of the Modern Languages interview at Oxford.

Admissions Checklist

It’s that time of year when we are looking forward to receiving lots of applications from prospective students so we thought it would be useful to include an Oxford admissions checklist on this week’s blog. Year 13 students: if you are thinking of applying make sure you have prepared for all the points below. Year 12 students: it’s never too soon to start thinking about your applications for next year.

Step 1: UCAS application – remember that the deadline for Oxford is earlier than the usual UCAS deadline. Submit your application by 6pm on 15 October 2018.
You’ve probably been hard at work on your UCAS application for a little while now and will know that it consists of: your actual grades (e.g. GCSE), your predicted grades (A Level or equivalent), your personal statement, and a reference from your teacher. Here are some key things to remember about the personal statement…

  • You’ll submit the same personal statement for all the universities you apply to. Therefore, focus on the course/ subject, not the universities.
  • Show us your academic ability and potential, and your commitment to the subject. It’s not enough just to say that you have a passion for something: you need to show how you have engaged with your subject, above and beyond schoolwork.
  • Only mention your extracurricular activities if they are relevant to the subject for which you are applying. We want to see how your interests beyond school have helped to stretch you academically or motivate you to pursue your subject.
  • Be honest and be yourself – we’re interested in you as an individual. Also remember that this is not the time for false modesty – feel free to sell yourself!
  • Don’t list qualifications like your GCSE grades or anything else that’s covered elsewhere on the application.
  • Be sure to re-read your personal statement before an interview – the tutors may ask you to talk about things you’ve mentioned.

Step 2: Admissions Tests. The deadline to register for a test is also 6pm on 15 October. Your schools or test centre must register you. Ask your school or test centre for your candidate number now so that you know you have been registered.

  • You will sit the test in your school or test centre on Wednesday 31 October.
  • For Modern Languages, you must take a test in each language you apply for which you are studying at A Level or equivalent. For example, if you are applying for French and German and are sitting an A Level in both of these languages, you will take the tests in French and German. If, on the other hand, you are applying for French and Italian ‘ab initio’ (from scratch), and you will only have the A Level in French, you do not need to take the Italian test.
  • For languages for which you are applying post-A Level, the test is a grammar test, so it’s useful to start revising things like tenses, prepositions, subjunctives, adjectival agreement etc. The test is not designed to be a vocabulary test and there are likely to be words you don’t know: do not worry about this. We are not expecting a perfect score – we just want to get a sense of how solid a grammatical foundation you have in your language at the point of application.
  • If you are applying for a language from scratch you will need to take the Language Aptitude Test (LAT). This takes a made-up language and asks you to spot patterns and rules within that language, based on some sample sentences. We are interested in your instinct for language learning and your ability to spot potential grammatical structures based on the internal logic of a language. There are examples of this and other admissions tests online – have a practice in timed conditions so you get used to the exercises.
  • If you are applying for a ‘joint schools’ degree (a language in combination with another subject: English, History, Classics, Middle Eastern Languages, Linguistics, Philosophy) you may need to take additional tests in those subjects. Check here for details.

Step 3: Written Work. The college considering your application will contact you about submitting written work. The deadline for submission is 10 November. You will need to complete a written work cover sheet for each piece of work that you submit.

  • For Modern Languages, you will need to submit one piece in each language you intend to study, and in which you will have A Level standard (or equivalent) before university.
  • AND one piece in English (e.g. an essay on literature, history…)
  • If you are applying for a joint schools degree you will need to check what schoolwork is required for those subjects.
  • The work you send in should be your original school or college work, marked by a teacher, and not re-written or corrected in any way. It may be typed or handwritten – as long as it is legible – and photocopies are acceptable.
  • We would expect the piece in English to be no more than 2,000 words.
  • The piece in the Modern language can be much shorter: we would recommend around 300-500 words.

Step 4: Interviews. These take place in early December and, for many applicants, are the scariest part of the process. We’ll do another blog post in the coming weeks about interviews so stay tuned…

Step 5: Decisions! You will be told if you have an offer on 9 January 2019.

Best of luck to everyone who is applying. Remember, you can always ask us any questions you might have about admissions by emailing schools.liaison@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk

Languages at Oxford: A tutor’s perspective

As the new school term approaches our thoughts turn to the next round of admissions to Oxford. If you’re going into Year 12 it’s a good time to begin exploring your options, and you might start by attending our open day on 14 September. If you’re going into Year 13 you should be starting to put together your application: drafting your personal statement, preparing for the admissions test, thinking about any written work you need to submit. You can see the process laid out on the University website and do remember that the deadline for UCAS entries is 6pm on 15th October.

So what are we looking for in a Modern Languages candidate? Here, Dr Tim Farrant, who is the French tutor at Pembroke College, outlines some of the things he’s looking for when he’s assessing candidates’ applications…

There are lots more videos available which give you an insight into Modern Languages at Oxford, both from the tutors’ and the undergraduates’ perspective. We’ve compiled some of them into a playlist which you can view here.

Interview Questions: What makes a novel or play ‘political’?

Oxford University has released another batch of typical questions from admissions interviews, to give people a better idea of how our admissions process works. Here is the French sample question (and answer!), preceded by an introduction from the university’s Director of Admissions and Outreach. You can find the full set of questions from various subjects here.

‘We emphasise in all our outreach activity that the interview is primarily an academic conversation based on a passage of text, a problem set or a series of technical discussions related to the content of the course students have applied for,’ says Dr Samina Khan, Director of Admissions and Outreach at Oxford. ‘But interviews will be an entirely new experience for most students, and we know many prospective applicants are already worried about being in an unfamiliar place and being questioned by people they have not met – so to help students to become familiar with the type of questions they might get asked we release these real examples. We want to underscore that every question asked by our tutors has a purpose, and that purpose is to assess how students think about their subject and respond to new information or unfamiliar ideas.

‘No matter what kind of educational background or opportunities you have had, the interview should be an opportunity to show off your interest and ability in your chosen subject, since they are not about reciting what you already know. Tutors want to give candidates a chance to show their real ability and potential, which means candidates will be encouraged to use their knowledge and apply their thinking to new problems – with tutors guiding the discussion to ensure students feel comfortable and confident. They are an academic conversation in a subject area between tutors and candidate, similar to the undergraduate tutorials which current Oxford students attend every week.’

No matter what kind of educational background or opportunities you have had, the interview should be an opportunity to show off your interest and ability in your chosen subject.

Dr Khan adds: ‘It’s important to remember that most interviews build on material students will have encountered in their studies or touch on areas candidates mention in their personal statements. Most commonly tutors will provide candidates with material to prompt discussion – for example a piece of text, an image, or a sample experiment whose results they are asked to consider. It is often best to start responding by making very obvious observations and build up discussion from there – solving the problem quickly is less important than showing how you use information and analysis to get there.

‘We know there are still misunderstandings about the Oxford interview, so we put as much information as possible out there to allow students to see the reality of the process. We now have mock interviews online, video diaries made by admissions tutors during the interview process, and lots of example questions to help students to familiarise themselves with what the process is – and isn’t – about.’

Here is a sample question:

Subject: Modern Languages (French)
Interviewer: Helen Swift, St Hilda’s College

Q: What makes a novel or play ‘political’?

Helen: This is the sort of question that could emerge from a student’s personal statement, where, in speaking about their engagement with literature and culture of the language they want to study, they state a keen interest in works (of whatever type they mention, such as a novel, play or film) that are ‘political’. We might start off by discussing the specific work that they cite (something that isn’t included in their A-level syllabus), so they have chance to start off on something concrete and familiar, asking, for instance, ‘in what ways?’, ‘why?’, ‘why might someone not enjoy it for the same reason?’. We’d then look to test the extent of their intellectual curiosity and capacities for critical engagement by broadening the questioning out to be more conceptually orientated and invite them to make comparisons between things that they’ve read/seen (in whatever language).

So, in posing the overall question ‘what makes this political?’ we’d want the candidate to start thinking about what one means in applying the label: what aspects of a work does it evoke? Is it a judgment about content or style? Could it be seen in and of itself a value judgment? How useful is it as a label? What if we said that all art is, in fact, political? What about cases where an author denies that their work is political, but critics assert that it is – is it purely a question of subjective interpretation? And so on. The interviewers would provide prompt questions to help guide the discussion. A strong candidate would show ready willingness and very good ability to engage and develop their ideas in conversation. It would be perfectly fine for someone to change their mind in the course of the discussion or come up with a thought that contradicted something they’d said before – we want people to think flexibly and be willing to consider different perspectives; ideally, they would recognise themselves that they were changing their viewpoint, and such awareness could indicate aptitude for sustained, careful reflection rather than a ‘scattergun’ effect of lots of different points that aren’t developed or considered in a probing way. Undoubtedly, the candidate would need to take a moment to think in the middle of all that – we expect that ‘ermmm’, ‘ah’, ‘oh’, ‘well’, etc. will feature in someone’s responses!

More Interview Questions

posted by Simon Kemp

It’s university admissions time again, and Oxford has been trying to take some of the mystery out of our interview process. As well as releasing the video above, the university has been asking its tutors to reveal the questions they ask interview candidates. The story has been widely reported in newspapers, as well as on the BBC website here.

One of the questions was from an interview for a place on a degree involving French:

What makes a novel or play “political”?

This was a question for a French course. Interviewer Helen Swift, from St Hilda’s College, said:

“This is the sort of question that could emerge from a student’s personal statement, where, in speaking about their engagement with literature and culture of the language they want to study, they state a keen interest in works (such as a novel, play or film) that are “political”.

“We might start off by discussing the specific work that they cite (something that isn’t included in their A-level syllabus), so they have chance to start off on something concrete and familiar, asking, for instance, “in what ways?”, “why?”, “why might someone not enjoy it for the same reason?”.

“We’d then look to test the extent of their intellectual curiosity and capacities for critical engagement by broadening the questioning out to be more conceptually orientated and invite them to make comparisons between things that they’ve read/seen (in whatever language).

“So, in posing the overall question, ‘What makes this political?’ we’d want the candidate to start thinking about what one means in applying the label: what aspects of a work does it evoke? Is it a judgement about content or style? Could it be seen in and of itself a value judgement? How useful is it as a label?

“What if we said that all art is, in fact, political? What about cases where an author denies that their work is political, but critics assert that it is – is it purely a question of subjective interpretation?

“A strong candidate would show ready willingness and very good ability to engage and develop their ideas in conversation. It would be perfectly fine for someone to change their mind in the course of the discussion or come up with a thought that contradicted something they’d said before – we want people to think flexibly and be willing to consider different perspectives…

“Undoubtedly, the candidate would need to take a moment to think in the middle of all that – we expect that “ermmm”, “ah”, “oh”, “well” will feature in someone’s responses!”

There are further details about the Oxford interview on the university website here.

And you can explore lots more on the subject in the blog archives in the ‘Applying to Study Modern Languages’ category.

 

‘…and then the cinema manager called the police and had us all arrested.’

Image

It’s that time of year again when the UCAS forms arrive in my pigeon-hole from Year 13 students applying to study modern languages at Oxford, starting off the admissions process that will include schoolwork, language tests, and finally, interviews in December. One of the most interesting parts of the process is reading the personal statements on the UCAS form, six hundred words or so of the applicant’s own account of why they want to come and study modern languages, what their particular interests are, and why they deserve a place on the course. Coming right at the start of the admissions round, these statements give me my first glimpse of who my future undergraduates will be, and I’m always impressed by the levels of enthusiasm, talent and commitment on display.

I’ve been reading personal statements for a while now, and one thing I’ve noticed on the increase in recent years is a tendency to try to GET MY ATTENTION with a punchy opening. Sometimes it’s an inspiring quotation on the need for the human race to understand one another better, or the gateway into a culture afforded by a new language. Sometimes it’s a personal anecdote, recounting how the importance of speaking a foreign language was brought home by an embarrassing linguistic mix-up in a French cinema between The Big Sleep (‘Le Grand Sommeil’) and le grand slip (‘the big pair of underpants’). Or something along those lines. These kinds of things liven up my evening, but their increasing prevalence, and the increasing space they’re taking up in the statement itself, makes me wonder if they’re turning from personal quirks to compulsory extras. Are prospective students being urged to leaf through dictionaries of quotations for a suitably uplifting opening line? Are they being ordered to delve, Proust-like, into their earliest memories in search of a heart-warming vignette? Or, failing that, to… invent one? (Surely, no!)

Can I now take the opportunity to assure anyone who might find themselves in this position that YOU ALREADY HAVE MY FULL ATTENTION. We take personal statements very seriously and read them very carefully. While you’re very welcome to entertain me while I’m reading it, I promise you I will read it just as carefully if it’s straightforward, businesslike, or just a little bit dull. And so will all of my colleagues. We’re also reading for very specific things. Like all courses in Oxford, modern languages publish our Selection Criteria online, which are a list of the qualities we’re looking for in a potential student. The main criteria for modern languages are these:

  • Motivation and commitment along with capacity for sustained study of language and literature.
  • Communication: willingness and ability to express ideas clearly and effectively both in writing and orally; ability to listen and to give considered responses.
  • Proven competence in the language(s) as established by school work written in the language(s), by the language test and (in some cases) by oral competence at interview. In the case of beginners, clear evidence of aptitude and potential for language study.
  • While there is no requirement that candidates will have read any literature in the language(s), successful candidates will demonstrate an aptitude and commitment to the study of literature by evidence of their readiness to discuss their reading in English or in the relevant language(s) or by their response to a reading-passage at interview. Assessors will look for evidence of intellectual curiosity and critical engagement.

You can find them, plus some more specific details regarding language tests, interviews, etc., on the university website here. Some of these criteria are relevant to the personal statement. For instance, you have the opportunity to show your motivation for the literary and cultural side of the course by telling us about your reading, in French or in English, outside of school, or about foreign-language films you’ve seen. It’s a topic I’ll return to in a later post. For now, though, I’d just like to point out the absence of any criterion declaring that successful candidates must open their personal statements like a movie pitch. We want to know about your interests and achievements in detail, and you can trust us to pay very close attention, even if you don’t reel us in with a hilarious anecdote about that time with Uncle Gerald, the grumpy waiter and the big bucket of snails.

posted by Simon Kemp