Application

 Oxford

 Balliol

 English Language and Literature

 2009

 offer made

Applicant

 International Baccalaureate

 pre-qualification

 home

 United Kingdom

 Independent – selective

 yes (8 A*,1 A)

International Baccalaureate

( predicted 7; gained NA)

( predicted 7; gained NA)

( predicted 7; gained NA)

( predicted 3; gained NA)

( predicted 7; gained NA)

( predicted 6; gained NA)

( predicted 7; gained NA)

Details about the offer

 conditional

7 in English

Total 40 points with a 7 in English

yes

N/A

 grades pending/unknown

Decisions about the application

Prestige, always wanted to go.

I preferred the town and the course. I also preferred the Oxford emphasis on the arts.

I’ve always loved reading and felt that Oxford offered the broadest course. English seemed like a natural choice as it was my strongest subject and I wanted to spend my university career reading novels, poetry and plays as well as academic books.

Balliol has a reputation for being an academically strong college and seemed to have a friendly, competitive ethos which appealed to me.

Preparation

yes

We received fairly extensive preparation for the ELAT and for interviews. We were guided through writing our applications and had two mock interviews as well as extra lessons on more advanced elements of literary analysis. I asked a family friend to give me a mock interview as well.

Definitely seek out people to give you mock interviews – teachers, guidance counsellors and family friends – if you’ve had practice at verbalising your opinions about literature, the interview will feel far more natural and enjoyable.
Keep a journal of what you are reading from about six months in advance of the interview – include articles, excerpts and poems as well of summaries of books. You may be asked about literature which you haven’t read in about a year so ensuring that you have as much as possible in your journal helps you prepare directly before the interview and will also help condense your ideas.

Interview

yes

ELAT – it is a relatively straightforward exam. Doing the IB I was used to writing commentaries on unseen poems. I found the best way to prepare for this was in groups – each select two vaguely related pieces (either prose or poems) and swap them. Take ten minutes to look over them then each present what you would have written in the exam. It is less time consuming than practicing essays and you gain the benefit of hearing others’ opinions.

yes

One essay – I submitted one essay on Othello and Lear. Discuss with your teachers what you plan to submit as I found that I struggled to locate a recent essay which was appropriate and had to submit one from my lower 6th year.

no

I thought the first one was trickier than expected but that the second one went very well.

The first was about my personal statement. We discussed Hopkins, Eliot, Keats, Wordsworth and Shakespeare.
The second was focused on a blind text – we had a choice of two poems: one twentieth century and one sixteenth century sonnet.

I was asked general questions about why I like Hopkins and the questions grew more specific: what made me think Hopkins’ style was similar to that of Keats? Compare the ways in which Eliot and Hopkins talk about Spring. Did I think that it was possible for a poem to sound masculine or feminine based on the use of phonics in the poem?
We moved on to the Romantics – questions were very specific – what was it about the first line of ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge’ which made it so resonant?
Finally we discussed Shakespeare; I was asked about my favourite Shakespeare play and why I liked that one best. I was then asked why it (Romeo and Juliet) was similar to Othello, what I thought of Othello’s last speech and why I thought the final scene was set in a bedroom.

In the second interview I was asked to discuss the poem line-by-line and was asked questions about the significance of the rhythm of certain words and asked to explain some of the metaphors which the poet used.

For the first I wore a grey dress, black tights, black flat shoes and charcoal patterned jacket. To the second I wore a simple patterned dress and black flats again.
I wanted to look smart but not as if I was going for a job interview – Oxford has lots of cobbled streets so I wouldn’t advise ladies to wear heels. It’s pretty cold around interview time so bring coats, scarves etc.

Impressions

I think the colleges are mainly friendly, homely places. They each have slightly different atmospheres and you just have to choose which one suits you best.

My room was comfortable with a desk, chair and bed – a bit bigger than my room at school and with a sink. There was a shower and loo up the corridor.

Breakfast was available – other meals might have been as well but I only went to breakfast.

I think the Balliol interviewers (one main tutor along with two lecturers) did everything they could to make the interview process as painless as possible. They were friendly and engaging and were kind enough to be encouraging throughout the interviews. I asked to be reminded of particular passages I couldn’t recall immediately and, though I was embarrassed, they were understanding and did not dwell on my mistakes.

Helpful and informative.

Final stage

No one can ever really tell – though I don’t think my second interview could have been much better, my first wasn’t strong and so I was unsure. I was very keen to get in and so terribly anxious for the result but I do think that they are impossible to predict: one boy was certain he had been accepted and was refused, another girl seemed to be in a bit of a state but was accepted.

The letter arrived at my house the day before Christmas eve – celebration ensued followed by the reality of needing to meet my offer.

Looking back

Yes

If you have mentioned something in your personal statement, know it backwards as you may be asked on an aspect of it which you have not previously thought about.

Choose which college you like best – don’t pick according to Norrington tables/ application numbers – you’ll be more motivated to work hard if you love the place.

Bring things to do – Oxford say bring work but you’ll probably be too stressed to work so bring books/music/DVDs to give yourself something to do whilst you are waiting around. There’s a LOT of waiting.

Don’t feel bad about not socialising with other candidates. You need to focus and hearing about how supposedly brilliant or awful other interviews were can be terribly off-putting.

Find out what your tutors specialise in – don’t feel obliged to read what they like (they
will know lots more about it than you and so won’t be impressed by however much you do know) but just be aware that if they are experts on a topic which you have mentioned in your section 10, they may well wish to talk about it.