Oxford Computer Science: Tips & Questions for Interview

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In this article, we will guide you on how to best prepare for your Oxford Computer Science interview, with guides on past Oxford Computer Science questions, interview tips, mock examples and real experiences from students who have sat the Oxford Computer Science panel interview.

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

The Oxford website has a useful page with a sample interview transcript which contains many Oxford Computer Science Interview Questions, which may be useful for your Computer Science interview preparation. 

Computer Science interview preparation
Computer Science interview preparation

What is the Oxford Computer Science interview structure?

Each candidate will typically have three interviews. Two of these will be in the college you have chosen (or, in the event you were pooled or made an open application, whichever college is hosting you), the other in a second college, to ensure that all colleges get an even number of applicants to review. Sometimes, you may have another additional interview at a third college. The interviews allow you to showcase your skills over a few opportunities. so if you are nervous in an interview, this will hopefully not impede your chances.
Suppose you are applying for a joint degree (such as Mathematics & Computer Science, or Computer Science and Philosophy). In that case, you will either have separate interviews in each subject, or a joint interview with tutors from both subject areas.
Sometimes, colleges ask you to complete a pre-interview assessment. This is simply for the interviewer to use and discuss with you in the interview.

What are the Oxford Computer Science interview dates?

The Oxford Computer Science interview dates will occur in the first two weeks of December. After this, someone will inform you about any follow-up interviews, which will occur in the second week of December.

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Example Past Questions from Oxford Computer Science Interview

General questions:

  • Why do you wish to study Computer Science at Oxford?
  • What was it about computer science that sparked your interest? 
  • What do you know about the course for computer science at Oxford? Someone asked me questions on the syllabus and what I expected to be on it. 
  • Someone asked me questions on my personal statement linking to computer science. A current student states that in the interview they were asked 2 different problems relating to topics in their personal statement. These problems continued with lots of follow-up questions, and the tutors asked difficult questions until they could no longer answer. 

Computer Science Interview Scenario Questions:

  • Tidying boxes: 10 boxes large enough to contain exactly 10 building blocks, and 100 blocks in 10 different colours. So, how can you pack the blocks into the boxes so that each box contains a maximum of two different colours. (There may not be equal numbers of each colour).
  • Lily pads: There are 11 lily pads, numbered 0 to 11. A frog is sitting on pad 0, and wants to end up on pad 10. Each jump the frog takes moves him forward by one or two places. There are many ways and movement orders to get to pad 10. How many different ways can the frog take?
  • Dying by chocolate: You and your nemesis are locked in a room. There is a table with a bar of chocolate on it. Green paint marks one square of chocolate as a square containing poison. You must take turns breaking off at least one square of chocolate (breaking it off in a line) and eat whatever you break off. If the green square is left, you must eat it and die. You can decide who goes first/second. What’s your strategy?
  • Monkey beans: Inside a box, there are 23 black beans and 34 white beans. A monkey takes two beans out. If these beans are the same colour, the white bean is returned to the box. Otherwise, someone puts a new black bean into the urn. This repeats until there is one bean left. What colour is the last bean?
  • Missing number: You have a list of just fewer than 1,000,000 numbers. These are different and are between 0 and 999,999. What is your strategy to find a number between 0 and 999,999 that isn’t in the initial list?
  • Scribble: a game involving word problems. Further information is on the Oxford official website.
computer science interview questions
Prepare to pursue your dream course with Computer Science interview questions

Other Computer Science Questions:

  • Questions on knowledge of logarithms and exponentials, including graph sketching. Also, in the past, they have asked a series of follow up questions to Computer Science Aptitudes Test the way the candidate could handle new concepts and difficult scenarios.
  • Questions on recursions (mathematical or visual based puzzles) and iterations. Within the questions, they asked me to apply concepts in more difficult scenarios. 
  • Discussion on binary searches and their efficiency 
  • Proofs by induction, and algebraic references linked to summation formulae 
  • Question about automation of human roles by technology
  • Question on security and how to ensure security between two individuals

The Oxford YouTube channel has a useful walkthrough of interviews:

Insider Guides: Oxford Computer Science Interview

What happens on the day of your Oxford Computer Science interview? 

They share a timetable with your initial interview schedule at the beginning of your Oxford Computer Science interview process. This will contain at least three interviews. Additionally, these interviews will be two at your main college and one somewhere else. After the process, someone may inform you of an additional interview.
My interviews were in person, but yours will be online. If you are an online interviewee, the admissions tutors send you links to a Microsoft Teams meeting for each of your interviews.

For each of my interviews, two tutors who were interviewing me together introduced themselves. At one college, I had a pre-interview exercise to complete. I had around half an hour to do this, and the tutors used it as a jumping off point for discussion within the interview.

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What do you have to bring to your Oxford Computer Science interview?

I didn’t bring anything except for a pen. Also, calculators are not allowed. In terms of dress, I wore what I usually wear every day. This included nothing too unprofessional, but still informal and comfortable.

What is the interview setting and how long is it?

All my interviews were in a small room in the college, with two tutors. Within the interview, It was me on one side of the table, and the two tutors/interviewers sitting on the other side. The interviews all ran from around 30 minutes to an hour.


All of the questions were problem-solving style maths questions. For one college I had a pre-interview test that I had to work through, and then discuss in the interview. For the other they simply gave me new questions on the spot to work through in front of them.

What are the Oxford Computer Science interviewers like? 

My interviewers were all quite friendly. They all seemed to want to help me reach the answers to the questions they were giving me. It felt like a tutorial, rather than simply a straightforward interview.

What questions did they ask you?

They asked many follow up questions. I had a question and I would talk through it as I tried to work it out. If I got stuck, they would give me hints or ask me follow up questions to try and get me to work out the answer myself. Occasionally, they would have to help me to reach the answer to a part of the question, before continuing to the next part.
Every question they asked had multiple parts that you could work through. But the interviewer’s questions were quite flexible. Rather than simply moving from one part of the question to another, the follow up questions followed on from what I had said, and how I was working through the question. Although there were a few questions I didn’t finish, we just moved on to a different question rather than sticking to those.
The official Oxford website cites that the Oxford Computer Science interview will be like a tutorial, with the candidate often being asked questions to think about beforehand.

What are the best tips for planning my trip for my Oxford Computer Science interview?

You should wear whatever makes you feel comfortable – if this means a great suit, but if it means jeans and a t-shirt that’s ok too! It should also make you feel productive – staying in your pyjama bottoms for your online interview will probably not put you in the right mindset to excel.


Ensure you have your revision notes on hand for those few days, a pen, and maybe a book or something else to help you relax. Also, make sure to get plenty of sleep the night before your interviews!

Are there any academic or challenging Computer Science questions at the Oxford interview?

All of the Oxford Computer Science interview questions were academic and quite challenging. Firstly, they were very similar to the later MAT questions, specifically for computer science applicants. Moreover, they were mathematics-based problem-solving questions, which required knowledge from the first year of maths A-levels.

Are there any personality, work experience or extracurricular based Computer Science questions at the Oxford interview? 

I didn’t get asked questions concerning my interests, extracurriculars, or personal statement. So, apart from cursory questions about how I was doing that day, all were maths questions.
The Oxford website cites that whilst interviewers may ask you about extra-curricular activities, admissions tutors will only use these to judge your performance if they help to showcase selection criteria for the specific course you are applying for.

Top Tips for the Oxford Computer Science Interview

  1. Practice talking through your thought process of MAT style questions – not just figuring out the answer in silence. Furthermore, they want to know HOW you are reaching the answer! Not just that you can get the right answer.
  2. Connected to the above, but practice talking to people about maths and computer science. Importantly, you need to get comfortable explaining yourself in these subject areas.
  3. Try to think of it as a tutorial/very small class (with just you and multiple teachers!). This will help you relax and perform better.
  4. Remember that it is ok if you forget how to do something or don’t know how to solve a certain part of the question. Therefore, it is better to tell them so that they can help you move on to the next part, showing that you can learn on the spot and pick up new information. 
  5. Finally, just practice maths a lot! To this end, do more MAT style past papers as this will be the style of question you encounter.
  6. Don’t stress about questions on non-technical books. The Oxford website cites that the interview will not focus on non-technical books or news topics. 

Top Tips for the “Why Oxford” interview question

  1. Research Oxford and think about why you really want to go there – this cannot be simply because it is one of the world’s top universities. Rather, you should find something unique or rare about Oxford that makes you want to study there.
  2. You must also think about your specific subject. For example, in Computer Science, you should research the various courses on offer, making sure to have a few in mind which you would love to come to Oxford to study.

My Favourite Things about Studying Computer Science at Oxford University

The highlight of my time here was the tutorial system. It is amazing to have these great academics give you one-to-one help in their specialty throughout your degree. It is a great opportunity to learn and grow. As well as this, you get to meet so many other students who are just as brilliant and interested in the subject as you!
As well as this, I really enjoyed the range of choice we had in our third year for our finals. Moreover, there was so much freedom to delve deeper into particular areas of Computer Science.

Tips for Preparing for the Oxford Computer Science Interview

  • Read books on computer science. It can be useful to do some wider reading on computer science, including books and key advanced research and news topics. 
  • Revise your basic knowledge of computer science. Moreover, it can be useful to brush up on your core computer science knowledge before the interview. 
  • Do Mock interviews for computer science interview preparation. Practice makes perfect, and thus it is definitely useful to practice mock computer science interviews with a tutor or family member. 
  • Make sure you are familiar with any areas of computer science mentioned in your personal statement. They may try to ask questions relating to areas they already know you have learnt about before.

FAQs

→What is Oxford Computer Science?

Oxford Computer Science is a department within the University of Oxford that focuses on teaching and research in the field of computer science. Moreover, it is one of the leading computer science departments in the world and is known for its world-class faculty and research.

→How can I prepare for an Oxford Computer Science interview?

To prepare for an Oxford Computer Science interview, it is important to have a strong understanding of the fundamental concepts of computer science, as well as an in-depth knowledge of your specific area of interest. Secondly, you should also be familiar with the research that the department conducts and be prepared to discuss your own research interests.

→What is the interview process for Oxford Computer Science?

The interview process for Oxford Computer Science typically involves two rounds of interviews. The first round is usually conducted remotely and consists of a technical interview and a general interview. After this, the second round is conducted in person and is more focused on your specific research interests and experience.

→What kinds of questions can I expect in an Oxford Computer Science interview?

The questions asked in an Oxford Computer Science interview will vary depending on your area of interest and the faculty member conducting the interview. However, tutors may ask questions about fundamental concepts in computer science, as well as questions about your specific research interests and experience.

→What are some common mistakes that candidates make in Oxford Computer Science interviews?

Common mistakes that candidates make in Oxford Computer Science interviews include not preparing to discuss their research interests in depth. Also, many do not having a strong understanding of fundamental computer science concepts, and not being able to think critically and creatively.

→What resources are available to help me prepare for an Oxford Computer Science interview?

There are many resources available to help you prepare for an Oxford Computer Science interview, including online forums, books, and practice interview questions. Also, you may want to consider reaching out to current students or faculty members within the department for advice and guidance.

→How important is the Oxford Computer Science interview in the admissions process?

The Oxford Computer Science interview is an important part of the admissions process and is used to assess a candidate’s knowledge, skills, and potential. However, it is just one component of the overall application, and tutors will also consider other factors such as academic achievement, research experience, and letters of recommendation.

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