How To Analyse A Written Source In An Oxford Interview

Worried about analysing a written source under the pressure of an Oxford Interview? Our tips will help you prepare and tackle these questions to enhance your Oxford Interview performance.

Last Updated: 24th October 2018

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A technique often used for Oxford Interview questions is giving the student a prompt, often a written source such as an extract from an article, book or journal.

Although you can never anticipate what the source might be, which is, of course, the aim of the interviewer, you can prepare a good technique for how to approach these prompts which will really help to smooth over the process of answering Oxford Interview questions. Here are our tips:

1. Preparation time: Write down everything!

If you are asked to analyse a source as part of your Oxford Interview, you will be told to collect it in advance and you will be given time to read it over.

The way to make the most of this preparation time is to write down as much as possible! This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to write all over it straight away, but it does mean bringing a highlighter would be great, in order to pick out keywords and any quotes you might later want to refer to. 

You can annotate any arguments you think are good or bad, and you can also write down relevant names of books or articles you’ve read so that when you are under the pressure of Oxford Interview questions, you can look down quickly and see what your thoughts were.

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2. Practise the process with Oxford Interview example questions

It’s really useful to go through the exercise of analysing a written source at least once or twice with some Oxford Interview example questions before the actual Interview. That way, you will be able to manage any time constraints and nerves before the day. As well as get more of an understanding of what they might ask at your Oxford Interview. However, if you have a technique sorted, you will be much better at handling whatever the Interview throws you.

One way to practice answering the typical questions is to pick an article from the news, or an extract from a book or journal. Opinion pieces, even from the media such as The Guardian, the FT or The Independent to name a few would work fine. Then to go through the following Oxford Interview example questions:

Each time you read a new source, it is helpful to go through some sort of process to make sure you digest what you’ve read. As an Oxbridge Interview recommended reading strategy, we suggest that you set up a table or book review, which you fill out for each reading. This way, you can keep track and be prepared to use them to answer Oxbridge Interview questions. Here is a suggested format:

Book Title & Author:

Date Read:

Author’s Main Argument & Key Ideas:

Look out for any points of view which the author supports or challenges. Make note of any new concepts that the author proposes and any key debates with which the author engages.

Useful Facts Learnt:

Note down any interesting/useful bits of information you picked up.


The fifth step can be quite a good prompt for you to ask the tutor at the end of your Oxford Interview. This way, you show that you have engaged with the session, you are curious, and that you have read the source carefully.

3. Reference your Findings

When you are performing an analysis of any text, the difference between a good answer to the Oxford Interview questions and a bad answer is backing up your argument with relevant sources which you have read. For inspiration, you can refer to our comprehensive Oxbridge reading list guide.

If you think the opinion you have been given is wrong, why? Which piece of reading would you rely on to support your argument? If there is an interesting point in the article you have been given, and you have read about the topic elsewhere, say so! 

Bringing in your own reading material and being able to substantiate your opinion is very important. Don’t be afraid of saying, “I read…. which supports my argument because ….”. The more you can say that, the better!

Overall, you should try and enjoy this part of answering Oxford Interview questions as much as possible. Often the sources chosen are very interesting and designed to provoke debate. If you can give your thoughts coherently and backed up with sensible reasoning, you will be well on your way to a good Oxford Interview experience.

Never get caught out by analysing written sources questions. We’ll teach you the steps to nail these questions and impress Oxford Interviewers.

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