Shortlisting and selection criteria (undergraduate)


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The admissions procedures for English Language and Literature are designed to select those students best fitted, by current ability and future potential, to benefit from the intensive, tutorial-based learning methods of the Oxford degree.

The following gives detailed information about the assessment criteria which are used in the shortlisting and selection of candidates.

In the case of candidates for the Joint Schools with English, these procedures and criteria are applied in assessment for the English side of the course. (Joint Schools have further selection criteria in addition.)


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The UCAS form will be assessed by tutors on the basis of previous examination results, qualifications predicted, the school or other institutional reference, and the candidate's personal statement. Candidates are encouraged to give a detailed account of their academic interests and of the reading they may have undertaken independent of school or college work; the personal statement is an opportunity to demonstrate enthusiasm for and commitment to the study of literature, and to nominate particular literary interests which may be discussed at interview.

Candidates should note that once the subject requirements for English have been met, any other subjects at A-level are acceptable for Admissions purposes, with the exception of General Studies.

The written work is marked by English tutors. In the case of pre-qualification applicants, this should ideally be a marked essay produced in the normal course of school or college work, and should not have been rewritten after marking. For those applying post-qualification, or as mature students, it may well be preferable (but is not necessary) to produce a new piece of work - you may want to give a clearer reflection of your current abilities - and in these circumstances we understand that it may not be possible to have it marked. In any case, there is space on the form for you to describe the circumstances in which the work was produced.

Preferably it should be an analytical discussion of a topic or topics in the field of English literature; an English language topic is permissible, but candidates should carefully consider the criteria below, and submit the work which they believe can best demonstrate these qualities. There are no fixed parameters here: send us the work which shows you at your best. Ideally it would not be a short timed essay (because you give yourself less scope to show what you can do), or a brief critical commentary on short passages of text (for the same reason). Do not submit a piece of creative writing. The essay should not exceed 2,000 words, but candidates are welcome to submit an excerpt from a longer piece if they believe it to represent their best work (you may add a note to explain the context of the excerpt). Tutors will take into account the circumstances under which the work was written (for example, the time allowed for the exercise, the level of the exercise, and the resources made available to candidates) and will assess it using the following criteria:    

  • Attention to the literary aspects of texts
  • Sensitivity to the creative use of language
  • Evidence of careful and critical reading
  • An analytical approach
  • Coherence of argument and articulacy of expression
  • Precision, in the handling of concepts and in the evidence presented to support points
  • Relevance to the question
  • Independence of thought

More information on how to submit written work and specific requirements can be found here.

Joint Schools applicants can find additional information on written work and selection criteria here. History and English applicants are required to submit two pieces of written work.

The ELAT is a 90-minute test, in which candidates write an essay comparing either two or three unseen passages of literature. It is designed to assess how far candidates have developed their ability in the key skill of close reading and, with this, the ability to shape and articulate an informed response to unfamiliar literary material. The test is not marked by the University of Oxford, but by an external examining body, the Admissions Testing Service, who also administer arrangements for the test. All candidates (except those for the History and English Joint School) are required to take the test, and this includes all international applicants. The ELAT is only one of the elements used to decide whether to invite candidates for interview.

Please note that while many applicants will sit the test at their school, it is the responsibility of the applicant to ensure that they have been registered for the test by the appropriate deadline.

Further information about the test, including specimen papers, is available on the Admissions Testing Service website here.

Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed by at least two English tutors, and will usually have two interviews. In order to make sure that candidates' chances of gaining a place are not affected by their initial choice of college, many candidates will be interviewed at more than one college. Some candidates will also be reallocated before interview from colleges that have a very high ratio of applicants to places, in order to ensure fairness across the University. Interviews are tailored to individual candidates, and may engage with submitted written work and with wider reading interests. They are likely to include an exercise in which candidates are invited to discuss a piece of previously unseen literature. Assessment of performance at interview will be made according to the following criteria:

  •       Evidence of independent reading
  •       Capacity to exchange and build on ideas
  •       Clarity of thought and expression
  •       Analytical ability
  •       Flexibility of thought
  •       Evidence of independent thinking about literature
  •       Readiness and commitment to read widely with discrimination

Candidates with a first language other than English will also need a good level of competence in English. As a guide we would normally be looking for a minimum of around 7.5 in the IELTS in listening, reading, speaking and writing, or a minimum of 650 in the TOEFL (275 in the computer-based TOEFL test).