Oxford Classics: Tips & Questions for Interview

5 min read

In this article we will guide you on how to best prepare for your Oxford Classics interview. There are guides on past Oxford Classics questions, interview tips and mock examples. It also includes real experiences from students who have sat the Oxford Classics interview.

This article is from a collection of accounts from Oxbridge applicants.

What is the Oxford Classics interview structure?

Classics can be studied in its own right, or alongside English, Modern Languages or Oriental Studies as part of a joint honours course. The interviews also often contain aspects of other linked disciplines such as Philosophy, Archaeology, Literature and Ancient History.

What are the Oxford Classics interview dates?

You’ll have at least one interview for Oxford Classics, in December. If you’re given a second interview, this will take place shortly after.

Use this link to view the whole timetable of Oxford interviews in 2024. Oxford Interview Timetable

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Example Past Questions from Oxford Classics Interview

  • Given a text in Latin (with English translation) to discuss historical or poetic excerpts
  • Discussion of the context of an extract and its significance
  • Questions on classical civilisation and literature.
  • Why do you think Ancient History is important?
  • How civilised was the Roman world?
  • Apart from any A-Level texts, what have you read in the original or in translation?
  • Given photo of a pot with an inscription, discussion of possible owners and contexts
  • If there was an omnipotent god would he be able to create a stone that he couldn’t lift?
  • What would happen if the Classics department burnt down?
  • Why do you think Ancient History is important?
  • How civilised was the Roman world?

Further Classics Interview Questions

  • When would you start a book about the history of England?
  • What is the difference between a debate and a philosophical conversation?
  • The stage, a platform for opinions or just entertainment – what are your thoughts? 
  • Is Aeneas a modern hero?
  • Are history and myth compatible?
  • Where do you draw the line between Plato and Socrates and why?
  • Is it fair that Ted Hughes won a literary prize for a translation of an Ovid poem?
  • Is the ending of The Iliad useful?
  • What do you think the differences are between modern and ancient democracy and why?
  • Did the Romans or the Greeks leave a more notable impression on the culture of today? How? 
  • Why do you think Dido kills herself in Aeneid 4? Couldn’t she just have gone back to her old life?
  • How would you stage a tragedy differently to a comedy?

Above is an example of a Classics interview from Oxford’s YouTube channel. It is a great video to see how an interview may be structured.

Insider Guides: Oxford Classics Interview

What happens on the day of your Oxford Classics interview?

If you’re being interviewed online, you’ll need to find the link for the Teams meeting in your emails – it’ll be sent to you in advance. Firstly, you’ll join the meeting and might be greeted by some current students at the University, who will answer questions and calm your nerves. Some colleges skip this part and you’ll go straight into the interview with two tutors.

What do you have to bring to your Oxford Classics interview?

The tutors may provide you with some pre-reading before the interview begins. Therefore, you should definitely take the time to make sure you’ve prepared it as well as possible. You should also have it all ready to go before the interview starts. It might help you to have a pen and paper handy in case you need to make any notes, and keep a glass of water by your side if you need it. 

What is the interview setting and how long is it?

The interview may happen on Microsoft Teams, and you’ll have your microphone and camera on. Most interviews will last between 20-40 minutes, and they should tell you how long they expect it to last for beforehand. Cambridge University will also let you know if your interview is in person or online when you receive the invite.

What are the Oxford Classics interviewers like? 

Most of them are kind and reassuring, and will try to put you at ease. Some may give you more of a reaction than others, so don’t be discouraged if some of your interviewers are less warm or seem unimpressed. They may also be doing this deliberately, so don’t let it knock your confidence!

Are there any academic or challenging Classics questions at the Oxford Interview?

Interviewers will often give you extracts from well-known classic texts, such as the Odyssey or the Aeneid. You won’t be expected to have read it before, but you should be familiar with the style of writing and how to discuss the context in which it was written.

You may be asked about aspects of Philosophy, and they could present you with ideas about morality to discuss with them. Again, you won’t be expected to have any prior knowledge of Philosophy as a discipline. However, they want to see how you can think through the core ideas, even if you don’t know any specific terminology.

The interviewers could ask you to link your knowledge to other disciplines too, such as Linguistics. Some candidates have been given a poorly written newspaper article and asked to analyse for linguistic ambiguities.

Sometimes candidates are asked about History, or to link aspects of history with the context of classic texts, and to comment on the interactions between real events at that period of time and fiction.

Are there any personality, work experience or extracurricular based questions at the Oxford Classics Interview? 

You may well be asked questions about literature you’ve mentioned in your personal statement, and asked to discuss the context in which it was written or the way it can be interpreted to a modern audience. You could also be asked to tell the interviewers about any books related to Classics that you’ve read recently that you haven’t mentioned in your personal statement, so make sure to continue reading around the subject even once your personal statement is completed! This section of the interview may also involve a relaxed discussion of some of the specific interests you’ve mentioned, and you have the chance to talk about what you enjoy and look forward to studying.

Top Tips for the Oxford Classics Interview

Read classic texts that you love.

It’ll help you to be familiar with the style that many Classics books are written in, and you may get lucky if a text you’ve read comes up in the interview! Obviously, they won’t expect you to have read everything and it won’t hinder your chances if you don’t recognise a given text, but it could help you feel more confident and comfortable when discussing it.

Know your personal statement back to front.

Classics tutors love to ask about what you’ve written, and it’ll be a couple of months since you wrote it, so you may have forgotten what you talked about. It’ll boost your confidence in discussing it if you read it over beforehand, and maybe try and make up some questions that they could ask from it. Also, if you can, reread some of the books you mentioned, to ensure they’re fresh in your mind!

Explore the time period key texts were written in.

To understand a piece of literature, it’s essential you can understand the context in which it was written and the audience it was written for, as the way the text was interpreted is arguably more significant than the content of the text itself. Find out what was going on during the periods of some key texts, what society was like, how different groups of people were treated, and any other interesting information that will show you can apply your understanding of the time to anything new they give you.

Practise answering past interview questions aloud.

It’s one thing to know information about classics, but it’s entirely another skill to be able to talk about it! Sometimes it takes practise to be able to explain your thoughts aloud, and to come up with interesting ideas on the spot. Give the list of potential questions above to a friend or family member and ask them to pretend to be an interviewer. This is so you can get an idea of how you might approach these questions in the interview setting.

Don’t feel pressured to read every book there is.

Only a fraction of what you’ve read will be brought up at interview, and they’re much more concerned with how you can respond to new texts than how much you’ve read before. They’ll ask a range of questions, too. So even if you’re not very confident talking about one area, you’ll have other chances to talk about something you’re more familiar with!

Still need more support with preparing for your Oxford Classics Interview preparation? Check out Oxbridge Oxford Classics for more information on our one-to-one tutoring service. Secure your place at the University of Oxford!

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