Interview Preparation Tips & Questions: Oxford Physics

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

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

What is the Oxford Physics interview structure?

The university will assign you a first college – this will most likely be your first choice college (if you specified a college choice in your application). The first college will interview you twice. You will also be assigned to a second college, which will provide you with a third interview. 

Each interview will be marked out of 10. So, your first college will give you two interview marks out of 10. In rare cases, you will have a single longer interview (or three brief interviews) instead of two average length interviews. However, you will still be given two interview marks. Your second college will give you one interview mark. The multiple interviews give you a chance to fully showcase your abilities, even if you are nervous and don’t perform as well as you could in one interview.

After the interview process, your three interview marks will be combined with your PAT score to give a numerical score to you. This score is used to aid the interviewers in their decision making process.

If you have applied for a joint honours course (such as Physics and Philosophy), you will still have three physics interviews, in addition to a couple of interviews in the other subject.

What are the Oxford Physics interview dates?

For 2025 entry, the Oxford Physics interviews will take place in the first and second week of December. Your first college interviews will take place in the first week. The second college interview will then take place in the second week.

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Example Past Questions from Oxford Physics Interview

  • General questions:
    • What drew you to Oxford?
    • Why do you want to study Physics at university? 
    • Have you researched the Physics course at Oxford? Are there any parts of it that particularly interest you?
    • They may ask you a question or two about relevant details in your personal statement – such as asking about a book on Physics that you mentioned.
  • Can you derive the diffraction equation?
  • Cricket: This cricket jumps off this plank. Can you calculate the trajectory of the cricket as a function of the initial speed and angle? Can you differentiate this to find the maximum range of the cricket?
  • Here is the equation for the Leonard Jones potential. Can you sketch it for us? Given an atom, could you tell me where it would rest in the potential?
  • Tides: What can you tell me about the tides and how they vary with the position of the moon?
  • Ball: A ball is initially at rest. It is then pushed upwards by a constant force for a given amount of time. Can you sketch the velocity of the ball as a function of time (from the start to when it hits the ground)?

Further interview questions

  • Hiking: I’ve eaten one cereal bar, and I am going on a hike. How high up the mountain could I go?
  • Cooling the atmosphere: Describe what would happen if the atmosphere was cooled to 20 Kelvin?
  • Folding paper to the moon: Say there is no limit to how many times you can fold a piece of paper. How many times would you need to fold a piece of paper to reach the moon?
  • Glow sticks: Can you explain how glow sticks work?
  • Can you use this order of magnitude estimation to calculate how long a kettle would take to heat up?
  • Questions about sound waves and whether you can represent the pressure mathematically as a function of time and space.
  • Questions asking you to sketch a graph of a function, differentiate it (and perhaps sketch the graph of the differentiation).
  • Questions regarding drawing displacement-time, velocity-time, and acceleration-time graphs.

Jesus College, Oxford has a useful YouTube video where students talk through examples of real Physics interview questions:

Insider Guides: Oxford Physics Interview

What happens on the day of your Oxford Physics interview? 

My interviews were in person – your experience will be a little different because your’s will be online. I arrived on a Monday afternoon to the college, and we were given a talk that evening from one of the Physics professors about the interview process. This may still occur in an online format for you, depending on your college.

I had three interviews: two on Tuesday and one on Wednesday. There was a noticeboard which had the interview times and rooms written on it. For online interviews, you will be sent a timetable ahead of time. When it was time for my interviews I went to the room and was let in on time. The interviews lasted around half an hour.

On Tuesday, my first interview was more maths based, while the second was more physics based. My third interview was a mix of the two.

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

I brought pens and a calculator. In the first two interviews, I did all of my working on a whiteboard so that the interviewers could see it clearly. You might be asked to write on an online whiteboard in your interviews – but if this is the case, the college will let you know ahead of time so that you can familiarise yourself with the software.

There is no dress code. Some people recommend wearing a suit or something smart (I wore a suit for one interview and a shirt and jeans for the other two). However, the most important thing is to wear something you feel comfortable and confident in. People wear all sorts and the colleges say that they don’t let clothing affect judgement.

What is the interview setting and how long is it?

I had three interviews. The first two were held in the rooms I would go on to have my tutorials in, where the tutor normally works. The mood was quite formal. I tried to match the energy of the interviewers, so after they had made a couple of jokes I felt more comfortable and made some myself, but it was mostly serious as we were solving physics problems.

The interviews were 30 minutes each, and I had 3 in total.

What are the Oxford Physics interviewers like? 

The interviewers are experts in their field and they are there to assess you. They also meet with many people during the interview period, so they can initially seem quite cold. However, they are also teachers for a large part of their job. They aren’t there to make you feel uncomfortable or judged and they will be taking into account that you are nervous, so you can relax in front of them. If you are successful in your interview they will later be your tutors and you will be spending time with them every week, so it is good to try and make a good impression and form a personal connection.

Question Types

They asked me lots of follow up questions, as the point of the interview is to see how far you can apply the knowledge you already have, or information you have just learnt, to solve new problems. They try to ask every candidate the same questions, so there is a predetermined list of possible questions. However, which of these questions they ultimately ask depends on what you say and how far you get in solving the problem. It is very unlikely that you will say anything that directs the question in a way they don’t predict, as they are world leading experts in physics and they run the interviews every year.

What are the best tips for planning my trip for my Oxford Physics Interview?

You will have a lot of downtime over the few days that your interviews occur, so try to have something to do to wind down in between interviews. Also try to have everything you need prepared, to avoid unnecessary stress during the process. 

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

Almost all the questions were challenging and academic. They were designed to take me to my limit in order to find out how skilled I am in solving problems and using information I had just learnt. You will be guided through it by the tutors, and the point is to learn something and solve a problem that you wouldn’t have been able to before.

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

I wasn’t asked any questions about my personality, work experience, or extracurriculars. I was asked very few questions on my personal statement, but they weren’t important to the interview. If you put something really unique or surprising in your personal statement, you may be briefly asked more about it.

Top Tips for the Oxford Physics Interview

  1. Try to stay relaxed and be yourself. The examiners are not trying to trick you or make you feel bad, and they will be your tutors if you are successful. 
  2. Don’t worry about what you wear. The colleges have said many times that they don’t judge your clothing. 
  3. Use all the resources that are available online. Many Oxford students upload videos about their experience and give their advice. Many Oxford colleges also produce mock interview videos, and StudyMind has some great resources.
  4. Practice! Ask your school teachers or even family and friends to ‘interview’ you, to let you practise talking about physics and solve problems while explaining your thought process out loud. This will improve your ability to showcase your knowledge and skills verbally. 
  5. Enjoy the experience! You are getting the opportunity to have a conversation with, and be briefly taught by, some of the greatest academics in physics. Even if you don’t get in, this experience is invaluable in your academic development.

Top Tips for the “Why Oxford” interview question

  1. Think about what unique things about Oxford lead you to want to study here. Oxford is famously one of the best universities in the world. Having been there, I can say that the standard of teaching is extremely high, and it is a great place to study. 
  2. You should also research the Physics course, and find particular topics that interest you and make you want to study Physics at Oxford.
  3. The city and the buildings are also beautiful and the university has such an amazing history, so these may be additional things drawing you to study here.

My Favourite Things about Studying Physics at Oxford University

I love that the level is extremely high. It is probably among the most intense courses in the country. This is not for everyone but if it is what you want then Oxford is the place for you. 

As well as this, the people are all so interesting and we all have one thing in common: a thirst for knowledge. 

I don’t want to make it sound too serious. There’s tons of socialising and blowing off steam, tons of sports and societies and fun things to do, and at the end of the day students are going to be students. Oxbridge students are similar to those all over the country, and of course just like students all over the country Oxbridge students are very diverse. You will find a group of people with whom you fit in no matter what type of person you are.

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