We have a lot of questions year on year from English applicants that go something like this: ‘I haven’t read any Dickens! Oh my goodness what will I do if they ask me about Bleak House? I’ll never get in!’ We’ve also heard a lot of, ‘Well I haven’t read any Homer or Virgil, so if they ask me about epic I haven’t got a chance. So fingers crossed!’ No, no, no.
Your English interview, for both Cambridge and Oxford – and this goes for Modern Languages as well – is not about what you’ve read. It’s about how you read. To give you a sense, we have three English graduates here at OA headquarters. One never read Wuthering Heights, one never read Middlemarch, and the third (despite Oxford requiring you read the full works of Shakespeare), never got through the Tempest, Cymbeline, Pericles or Timon of Athens! We’ve gathered hundreds of real Oxbridge interview questions for English in our annual surveys since we started up, and it’s clear that the thing that is important to your interviewers is how you use what you’ve read to answer their questions. You’ll need enough material to demonstrate a genuine passion for reading literature, and also in order to have the content to draw upon to back up your answers, but if you’re missing a ‘key text’ you won’t be in trouble. Our English tutor James shows how he would approach some real Oxbridge interview questions using only the knowledge he had before he applied.