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As the deadline for your Oxford and Cambridge applications approaches, you may find yourself faced with the task of preparing written work to submit as part of your application. This written work is an essential component of your application, and it's crucial to ensure that it showcases your abilities effectively. In this blog, we'll guide you through the process, including what type of work the universities are looking for and whether you should choose existing classwork or create a bespoke piece.



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Understanding the Importance of Written Work

Written work is a significant part of the application process at both the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge. It serves several purposes, such as:

  • Assessing Academic Aptitude: Your written work demonstrates your ability to engage critically with your chosen subject. Admissions tutors want to see your analytical and writing skills.
  • Supplementing Exam Results: It can provide additional evidence of your academic potential beyond your grades and test scores.
  • Differentiating Applicants: A well-crafted piece of written work can set you apart from other candidates and strengthen your application.


What Kind of Work are They Looking For?

Both Oxford and Cambridge have specific guidelines regarding the type of written work they expect:

Oxford University

The University of Oxford typically requires applicants to submit one or two pieces of written work, usually with a word limit of 2,000 words per piece. This work should demonstrate the kind of skills your course is asking for (analytical thinking, logical argument-building, written communication, etc), but does not need to be on a topic strictly relevant to your course (particularly if you are applying to a course that you don’t currently study, such as AMES or Law). Written work should, where possible, be marked by a teacher at school before it is handed in (with marking shown on the copy handed in to the university), and so should ideally have been written as part of your studies (such as a homework essay or mock exam script). You can find detailed guidelines and course-specific requirements on the Oxford University website.

Cambridge University

The University of Cambridge differs on a course-by-course, and sometimes college-by-college, basis, so make sure that you have checked the university website (as well as any guidelines communicated to you by the college) thoroughly. The principles of the work is relatively similar to Oxford, though - ensure that the skills you’re demonstrating are relevant to the course, even if you’re not able to directly align the content to the course. Work submitted to Cambridge must be marked by a teacher and includes their comments in the version you send to the university. Cambridge also reminds applicants that their written work is likely to be discussed in interviews - so make sure that you’re happy to expand on the themes of the written work or your argumentation process with admissions tutors.


Using Work from Class

In most cases, you will ideally be able to select existing classwork to submit as your written work. However, it's essential to carefully review the guidelines provided by Oxford and Cambridge for your chosen course. While both universities appreciate work that genuinely reflects your abilities, they may have specific expectations for originality, relevance, and quality.

If you decide to use classwork, here are some essential tips:

  • Choose wisely: Ensure that your chosen work is your best and most relevant piece. If you’re applying to an essay-based humanities course, for example, it might be best not to choose an economics or mathematics essay that features lots of statistics and graphs. Go through your classwork and select based on the quality of the work rather than direct relevance; perhaps even consult with teachers as to which they think is your strongest piece(s). 
  • Follow Guidelines: Make sure your selected work aligns with the university's guidelines for content and length. If your work is over the 2,000 word limit, you are permitted to select a section of a longer essay - in these cases though, ensure that the section you’ve selected is accessible to a reader without the rest of the essay.
  • Make sure it’s marked: Both universities ask that students have their work marked by a teacher, with comments visible on the submission. If the pieces you’re most proud of have no visible marking, we recommend asking your teacher if they could mark it ahead of the submission.


Writing a New Piece

In some cases, depending on the courses you take at school or the format your homework tends to take, you may not have suitable work from class to submit. In this situation, the universities permit you to write an original piece to submit. 

If going down this path, you should make sure that you do the following:

  • Choose a Relevant Topic: Select a topic or subject that aligns with your current school subjects (so you can show what you have learned), or perhaps the course you are applying to (although this is not essential). We recommend consulting with a teacher to help devise a title that shows off your skills best.
  • Plan and Research: Develop a clear plan for your written work, conduct thorough research, and organise your ideas.
  • Write and Revise: Create a well-structured essay or project. As you would with any homework piece, go back through and read your work, making necessary edits before submitting it to your teacher.
  • Get it Marked: If you’re still at school, even if you’ve devised a new piece specifically for the university submission, you are still expected to have the piece marked by a teacher. We recommend asking your teacher well in advance of the submission deadline to ensure they will have time to do this. Remember that you should not make any revisions or edits once it has been marked, so give yourself plenty of time to perfect it before handing it in to them. 

In conclusion, preparing your written work for Oxford and Cambridge applications requires attention to detail, alignment with the skills used on the course, and a genuine demonstration of your academic abilities. Whether you choose to use existing classwork or create a bespoke piece, make sure it's a true reflection of your academic potential and meets all the requirements of the university!

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