Keystone Tutor Tom read History at Christ Church College, Oxford, graduating in 2015. In the interview below Tom covers his inside experience of the application process, the best ways to prepare, and some insights into his work as a tutor helping students gain entry to some of the UK’s top academic institutions.
Is there an Admissions Test for History at Oxford University?
There is an admissions test for all applicants applying to read History and its joint schools. The History Aptitude Test (HAT) is an hour long skills-based assessment, constructed around a primary source. Candidates are asked a single question which prompts them to offer interpretations of the extract, without using any outside knowledge. The HAT tests the candidate’s ability to read a source critically but sensitively and to organise ideas coherently, precisely and imaginatively into a written answer.
You can read more about the History Admssions Test in this Keystone article.
How to Write an Effective Personal Statement for History at Oxford
The main purpose of a personal statement is to demonstrate enthusiasm and suitability for the subject you are applying for. The best way to show this is to write about what you have most enjoyed studying in school, in History, and in your other subjects. It is also sensible to write about the books you have most enjoyed reading, both as part of your course, and in your own time. Rather than simply list these books, you should offer critical interpretations of them. Some questions that you might think about are - What was the author’s argument? Did you agree with it? If not, why not? And what did it prompt you to read subsequently?
What Format does the History Interview at Oxford take?
A number of candidates are invited, after the HAT test, to go to Oxford for interviews. The interview is an opportunity for your potential tutors to evaluate, through an assessment of your intellectual skills, your academic potential for study in the tutorial or small classes system. Most candidates will normally have two interviews, and more if they are invited to interview at another college as well. (This can happen if one college is oversubscribed). The format of the interview varies from college to college and tutor to tutor and depending on whether the applicant has applied to read History or History with a joint school. Interviews may focus on the candidate’s personal statement, the topics they have studied in school, the written work they have submitted, an extract from a monograph or primary source or wider themes and debates about History as a discipline.
What Kinds of Questions will be asked at the Oxford Interview?
An interviewer may ask you about a book you have read and what interested you most about it. The best way to approach this line of questioning is to summarise the argument of the book and the themes you found most interesting. Be prepared to make an interpretation of your own and to defend it: interviewers are looking for an ability to form arguments, in writing and in tutorials.
Which Oxford College is Best for History?
No one college is better than another for History. Some colleges do not offer all History and joint schools courses however, so it is important to check before choosing which college you apply to.
What is it like studying History at Oxford? – Interview with Keystone Tutor Tom
Prior to joining Keystone, Tom read History & Politics at Christ Church, Oxford (2012-2015).
How long have you worked for Keystone?
I have worked with Keystone since graduating in 2015.
What do you like most about working with Keystone?
I enjoy working with students one on one in tutorials, building up relationships with clients over a long period of time and working on building up students’ confidence. I also particularly enjoy working on pro-bono projects.
How did you find the application process for Oxford?
I found applying to Oxford challenging but stimulating. Once I understood the demands of the HAT I was able to enjoy reading the extracts and the freedom to be more original in my thinking and writing than A-Level allowed. I found the interviews difficult but fair and a close replica of the tutorial system in which I would later study.
What preparation did you do in advance?
I made sure that I was comfortable talking about the wider reading that I had described on my personal statement and I looked at one or two HAT papers, ahead of the assessment.
What was the Oxford interview like?
I had two interviews - one with four History tutors, another with two Politics tutors. Both were informal and conversation-led. In my History interview we discussed a topic I had read about in my own time - the personal rule of Charles I. In the Politics interview we discussed some broader, more philosophical questions surrounding the relationship between the state and the individual. We also looked at a chart displaying data from an election and I was asked some questions about what it showed.
What was it like studying History at Oxford? What did you enjoy most?
I enjoyed reading History & Politics at Oxford and I enjoyed the ability to specialise in particular interests after Prelims (including through the extended essay and thesis) and also the tutorial system, which gave me unrivalled opportunities to read essays and discuss the topics I was studying with leading experts.
What are your top tips for someone thinking about applying to read History at Oxford?
My main tip is to be yourself - write about what genuinely interests you on the personal statement and don’t try to play games, as the system will normally catch you out. The application process is as much an opportunity for you to work out if you are suited to study at Oxford, as it is for Oxford to work out if you are suited to them.
Tutors for HAT Preparation
Please do get in touch with Keystone Tutors if you are looking for a tutor to support your History application for Oxford University. We offer University interview training, advisory support and we have a range of specialist tutors who can assist students approaching the HAT.