Oxford’s interview style is different to most other medical schools. This is a guide to what the Oxford medicine interview will involve, what kind of questions you will get and how to best prepare for it.
Preparing for the interview can seem overwhelming, not least because of Oxford’s different interview style to other medical schools, and because of the myths surrounding the process. In this blog post, we’ll break down the interview day– what to expect, the questions you’ll be asked and how best to prepare.
How is the Oxford medicine interview process structured?
Where will it take place?
Oxford will allocate you to two colleges for your medicine interview. If you have applied to a particular college, it will be included in these two. If you have submitted an open application; the two colleges will be chosen at random.
A fair process
The logic behind this process is that potential medical students are given the maximum chance to be seen. This process also evens out any imbalances in competition at the different colleges. At each college you will have approximately two interviews. This is a great opportunity because you will have many different opportunities to make a good impression. It’s impossible to judge how they have gone so never feel disheartened, even if they seem difficult!
Neither of the colleges knows which one you’d applied for, so this process is blinded for the interviewers.
How long will my interview take?
You’ll spend a couple of days in Oxford during this process, including staying overnight at one of the colleges and spending your free time in the common room (JCR) with friendly undergrad interview helpers.
What to expect from an Oxford interview
You’ll be taken into a room belonging to each of the tutors for interview. It is most likely that there will be two interviewers present and they will be either biomedical scientists or clinicians. Most colleges tend to have one interview that is more focused on biomedical science, and one interview that is more focused on clinical questions i.e. similar to the style you might get at another medical school interview.
How are Oxford interview questions are different?
In general though, the interview is far more scientific than other medical school interviews. This means that the interviewers will pose different biomedical and/or experimental situations to you and will ask you to talk through them and explain the situations. The idea is to mimic a ‘tutorial’ setting, encouraging you to offer suggestions and hypotheses based on your knowledge.
They will often start with a graph or question from your biology A-level, and ask you to explain something you would have learned at school to warm you up. The idea from then is to stretch you beyond this and pose further questions that test your ability to think. The key point here is that the interviewers are looking for how you think more than what you know.
Showing evidence of extra reading is great, but don’t feel like you’re expected to have the answers to everything. Instead, showing that you’re engaged and excited by the content of the conversation and keen to think about how you can use your A-level knowledge to answer more difficult questions is what they are looking for.
Don’t be worried if you feel like you’re being challenged or that the interviewers are questioning your ideas – the purpose of the interview is to create a dialogue where you might indeed be pushed to reconsider your thoughts, but that just means you’re doing well and they are trying to stretch you.
Let’s have a look at an example set of interview questions.
1. Describe this graph and explain what it might mean for the oxygen-carrying capacity of red blood cells.
This is a question based on A-level biology knowledge. Remember to talk through everything that is going on in your head. So let’s start off with the basics and just describe the graph….
This is a graph of a ‘human red blood cell oxygen dissociation curve’. It shows that as partial pressure of oxygen increases, the % oxygen saturation of the red blood cell increases. Importantly, at low partial pressures of oxygen, the gradient of the graph is shallow, whereas as partial pressures of oxygen increase the % saturation of the red blood cell is higher.
This is important because it represents that oxygen carrying capacity of red blood cells is cooperative, due to changes in haemoglobin structure that allow increased oxygen uptake in locations with high partial pressure. This allows red blood cells to take up oxygen more efficiently at the lungs where partial pressure of oxygen is high, and to release oxygen at other tissues where partial pressures of oxygen are low.
Why might a change in shape of the red blood cells in sickle cell disease lead to ‘sickle cell crises’ where there is loss of blood supply to organs?
As before, let’s just describe the diagram below. On the left we can see a normal red blood cell which has a biconcave shape. On the right we can see a sickle red blood cell, which has a distorted shape. You might hypothesise that the altered shape means the red blood cells have reduced oxygen carrying capacity causing reduced oxygen saturation of the blood leading to these crises. Your interviewer here might propose that this is true but doesn’t fully explain why there is reduced perfusion to organs in sickle cell disease. This is a time where you might need to stretch your thinking. You could guess from the distorted shape of the sickle cells that they are more likely to clump together. This could form aggregates of red blood cells. These could block blood vessels, which could reduce perfusion to organs.
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For further information on interview questions, see http://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/applying-to-oxford/guide/interviews.
How should I prepare?
As above, the key to doing well in your interviews is to talk through every step in your thinking. Get used to this – it might be helpful to arrange mock interviews with teachers at school. UniAdmissions also offers a package to maximise your ability to practise these kind of situations with tutors with an medicine interview package.
Brush up on your A-level Biology knowledge before the interview so you are best prepared to explain biological concepts. Make sure, as for any other interview, that you know your personal statement well including having a good understanding of any scientific and clinical concepts you have mentioned.
Finally, do read around the area of biomedical science outside of your A-levels, because demonstrating any extra knowledge will always be a good way to show your interest in this area – but ultimately most questions will have foundations in concepts you would have come across in school.
The Oxford medicine interview can seem intimidating but ultimately it is just a conversation, and a chance for you to display enthusiasm for this subject. Be engaged and keen to stretch your A-level knowledge, and don’t be afraid offer suggestions and hypotheses. It’s not about getting things right, just an opportunity to show you are keen to think laterally about situations in biomedical science.
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