Fellows Quad buildings seen from Fellows Garden - Photo: © John Cairns - www.johncairns.co.uk

Admissions Feedback 2020-21

Most of these reports have been prepared by the College but they incorporate or refer to departmental and faculty reports where these are available. They are intended to inform those planning applications in the future and also to provide to unsuccessful candidates, their referees, schools and families an indication as to the most likely reasons they were not selected in this round. The vast majority of our applicants are very talented, with exemplary academic backgrounds. The most common reason for non-selection is simply that it is an exceptionally competitive process. Some more specific indications of what tutors in particular subjects are seeking, and the processes and competition in each area, can be found under each subject header. It is important to remember both that Oxford makes its selection on academic criteria alone, and that interview performance is only one of the elements which tutors take into account when evaluating an application.

If you have been a referee for an unsuccessful candidate, we encourage you to continue to send your students to us, taking into account the comments here regarding any of the subject areas in which they may be interested. You may also wish to consult the pages on specific subjects. Merton's Schools Liaison and Access Officer will be pleased to provide any advice on supporting applications or you may wish to contact the Oxford college linked to your area under the University's Regional Outreach Scheme.

Merton received 680 applications in this admissions round. 98 candidates have been made an offer by the College for 2021 entry, including six open offers. A number of offers were also made to applicants under the recently launched Opportunity Oxford scheme. Two offers were also made for deferred 2022 entry.

Biochemistry

This year there were 728 applicants across the University for direct entry (an increase of 34 on the previous year) and 10 for deferred entry to study Biochemistry. We had 101 places available for entry next year and made 101 college offers, 11 open offers (where a University place is guaranteed if the conditions are achieved but the College place will be allocated in August) and 2 offers for deferred entry. The Departmental policy is that conditional offers should normally be set at A*AA at A2-level with the A* in a science or maths, or the equivalent. As in previous years the UCAS forms of all applicants were read and graded centrally, by the Biochemistry Department, prior to short-listing (we aim to shortlist approximately 3 applicants per place); all short-listed applicants were interviewed by two colleges (remotely this year); the applicants were ranked according to their UCAS and both interview grades; and the final decisions were made at a meeting of all College tutors. Of the 738 applicants, 339 applicants were short-listed. Of these, 333 received an overall grade of 4.5 or better out of 7 (with 4 being “worth careful consideration” and 5 being “worth a place if one is available”) and 288 received an overall grade above 5, so being made an offer of a place is a very considerable achievement.

Biochemistry admissions round 2020/2021 – some initial statistics

(excludes applicants who withdrew before interview)

  Access1 Gender APR region School
    Male Female Home EU Overseas State Independent Other2
Number of applicants
All 64 273 461 366 65 303 247 132 355
Shortlisted 58 112 227 241 19 79 174 71 94
Offer 17 44 70 89 6 19 58 30 26
Success rates
Shortlisted 91% 41% 49% 66% 29% 26% 70% 54% 26%
Offer 27% 16% 15% 24% 9% 6% 23% 23% 7%
Number 9/8/A* at GCSE3
All 5.6 7.2 7.6 7.7 not applicable4 6.2 7.2 8.8 6.0
Shortlisted 6.1 8.2 8.3 8.3 not applicable 7.6 7.8 9.8 7.4
Offer 8.1 9.1 9.7 9.4 not applicable 9.6 8.9 10.3 9.8
Number A-levels taken
All 3.1 3.5 3.4 3.3 not applicable 3.8 3.3 3.5 3.8
Shortlisted 3.1 3.6 3.4 3.4 not applicable 3.9 3.3 3.6 3.8
Offer 3.1 3.6 3.5 3.5 not applicable 4.1 3.4 3.7 4.0
Number predicted/achieved A* at A-levels in sciences5
All 1.4 2.2 2.3 2.1 not applicable 2.7 2.0 2.5 2.7
Shortlisted 1.6 2.7 2.6 2.4 not applicable 3.4 2.2 3.1 3.2
Offer 2.2 3.0 3.0 2.9 not applicable 3.7 2.8 3.2 3.4
  State school Independent school
  Male Female Male Female
Total applicants 86 161 64 68
Percentage shortlisted 62% 75% 48% 59%
Percentage offer 23% 24% 23% 22%

1 Band A applicants.
2 Apply Online UK and Apply Online Overseas.
3 For applicants taking six or more GCSEs.
4 Too few applicants taking GCSEs or A-levels to give meaningful numbers.
5 For applicants taking three or more A-levels/pre-U.

Biology

In the 2020-21 admissions round the estimated competition for places across Oxford was 6.0:1. Candidates were selected using standard selection criteria. Biology did not use an aptitude test. Across Oxford, the subject aimed to interview approximately three candidates for every place available. A central panel made shortlisting recommendations for most of the interview slots available. The recommended candidates were those with GCSE results at the highest level in relation to the field, plus A-level or equivalent predictions at the offer level for Biology or those who had already achieved the required offer standard. College tutors reviewed the panel’s recommendations and made their own selections of additional candidates from those without GCSEs and those with fewer A*s at GCSE, so that overall three candidates were interviewed for every place available.

Candidates received an online interview at Merton, and a second online interview at another college. Each individual candidate’s Merton interview consisted of an approximately 30-minute discussion with four people: Professor Tim Guilford, Professor Tom Richards, Dr Fiona Savory, and Dr Oliver Padget. Questions ranged from those based on information supplied in the personal statement, to questions requiring interpretation of previously unseen biological data provided in various formats (photographs of biological objects or phenomena, verbal descriptions), and in various subject areas (for example, cell biology, genetics, evolution, physiology, ecology, animal behaviour, probability). Candidates were each asked the same or similar questions and the questions were chosen to allow interpretation of the information provided rather than requiring significant prior knowledge. At the end of the interview the candidate was given the opportunity to ask their own questions.

The key things that we were looking for were an enthusiasm for the subject area, evidence of independent thought and the ability to interpret and view biological data critically.
 

Classical Archaeology and Ancient History

Information about the 2020-21 selection process for Classical Archaeology and Ancient History will be available here shortly

In the 2019-20 admissions round the estimated competition for places across Oxford was 4.2:1. Candidates were selected using standard selection criteria.

The majority of candidates who applied were called for interview. Shortlisting decisions are taken by the tutors in each college but any decision to deselect a candidate is checked by tutors in other colleges; the CAAH tutors in all colleges which admit for the subject have access to the application materials of all candidates and are able to call to interview any candidate not called by the first choice college. 

All candidates summoned for interview received two interviews in their first choice college. At Merton (as at many other colleges) one of these interviews was with a pair of ancient historians and the other was with a pair of archaeologists. For the Ancient History interview, all candidates were given a short passage (in English) from an Ancient Historical source to read for 15 minutes in advance of the interview. This passage then formed the basis for a discussion in the main part of the interview: we were assessing what candidates found interesting about the passage, how critically they were able to read it, and to what extent we could develop ideas about the text which might be of historical interest. For the Archaeology interview, candidates were presented with one or two pieces of archaeological material or images and plans of archaeological remains during the interview, and part of the interview focused upon that material. In neither case was any prior knowledge of the material expected; the interviews were not tests of knowledge, but of candidates’ powers of observation, analysis and enquiry. After the first interviews the CAAH tutors from all colleges which admit for the subject met to compare the entire field, and candidates were ranked on the basis of interview performance, written work and their UCAS application. Higher performing candidates were given a further Faculty-organised interview and many candidates also received at least one additional interview at another college in order to enable tutors to compare candidates fully.

Final selection was based upon a combination of all the elements available: candidates’ academic record and predicted grades, UCAS statement and reference, written work, and interview performance. Throughout the process, tutors were looking for clear evidence of enthusiasm for the course, combined with an inquiring mind, analytical skills, intellectual ambition, commitment and motivation.

Classics and joint schools

Overview

In the 2020-21 admissions round the estimated competition for places across Oxford was 2.21:1 for Classics.

Candidates were selected using standard selection criteria for Classics (and for Modern Languages in the case of Joint School applicants). The majority of candidates who applied were called for interview.

Classics Admission Test results are not published automatically, but candidates may request their test score from Merton.

Interview Process

Each candidate for Classics had two interviews with Merton, each lasting about 25 minutes.

In the interview with tutors in Classical Languages and Literature, questions were asked about the texts which candidates had been reading (whether in the context of their taught syllabus or on their own). We were interested in ascertaining how candidates engaged with and thought about the literary texts, rather than in testing factual recall. For candidates with no previous knowledge of Greek or Latin, we asked about their experience of learning other languages (where appropriate) and what prompted them to embark on learning Greek or Latin at degree level. All candidates were given a short passage (in English) from an ancient poem to read for 15 minutes in advance of the interview. Candidates were given the opportunity to ask questions about the passage; our questions in turn aimed to find out what the candidates found interesting about the passage and how well they developed new ideas in response to new information about it.

The other Merton interview was with tutors in Ancient History and Philosophy, and was designed not to probe knowledge in disciplines of which most candidates have no previous experience, but to try to gauge candidates’ aptitude for these subjects. For Ancient History, all candidates were given a short passage (in English) from an Ancient Historical source to read for 15 minutes in advance of the interview. This passage then formed the basis for a discussion: we were assessing what candidates found interesting about the passage, how critically they were able to read it, and to what extent we could develop ideas about the text which might be of historical interest. For Philosophy, all candidates were presented with a very short exercise designed to test their ability to assess, evaluate and criticise arguments, as well as to think through philosophical problems systematically and rigorously.

Candidates applying for Classics Course II also had a short central interview (15 minutes) at the Classics Faculty with members of the Faculty’s language teaching team, where questions were asked based partly on their Language Aptitude Tests.

Candidates for Classics and Modern Languages had a Classics interview lasting about 25 minutes. This was the Languages and Literature interview outlined above. In addition to their Classics interview, candidates for the joint school were also interviewed in their chosen Modern Language. (For further information please consult the relevant Modern Languages section.)

Additional Comments

All candidates are assessed on a broad range of criteria. As well as the interviews themselves, we consider a candidate’s GCSE results (and subjects covered), the personal statement and reference on the UCAS form, the pre-submitted written work, the results of the test scores, and (where appropriate) the feedback from other colleges where candidates are interviewed. We stress that all of these elements in combination form the basis of our difficult decisions, and that underperformance or an excessively good performance at interview is not on its own a decisive factor in them. 

Some candidates attend additional interviews at other colleges. This is part of a broader process to ensure that all candidates are assessed equitably across the entire field. It is one consequence of that process that some candidates may receive an offer of a place from another college instead of their first-choice college. No decisions are taken until the final admissions meeting after all candidates have left; when additional interviews are set up, this is to make sure that other colleges to whom candidates have been assigned have a chance to consider them in the context of their own admissions process.

Computer Science

Computer Science and Joint Schools Admissions 2020

Application statistics

In 2020 a total of 1596 UCAS applications were received across the three undergraduate Computer Science degrees, for entry in 2021 or deferred entry in 2022. 306 applicants were shortlisted, and 111 were offered places for entry in 2021 or deferred entry in 2022. Table 1 shows the breakdown by course applied for at each stage of the admissions process.

Table 1: Number of applicants, shortlisted applicants, and offers made, by course applied for
  Applications Shortlisted Offers
Computer Science 842 127 38
Computer Science and Philosophy 151 45 13
Mathematics and Computer Science 603 134 60

The number of applications for Computer Science and for Mathematics and Computer Science continues to rise, with a slight decrease in applications for Computer Science and Philosophy. This year saw a particularly strong field for Mathematics and Computer Science, and there was a corresponding change in the proportion of candidates offered places for Mathematics and Computer Science compared with the other two Computer Science degrees. Across the three Computer Science degrees, applications have almost doubled since the 2016/17 admissions cycle, but the number of places has not kept pace with this. As a result, many very able applicants were not offered a place.

Of those 1596 applicants,

  • 1543 (96.7%) successfully registered to sit the Mathematics Admissions Test (MAT) by the registration deadline, which was at 18:00 GMT on 15 October 2020.
  • 25% of applicants submitted an open application.
  • 909 applicants (57%) offered A-levels.

Applications for deferred entry

16 applicants applied for deferred entry in 2022. Of these, 7 were shortlisted and interviewed. A small number of these were offered places.

Gender

  • 381 applicants were female (23.9% of the total). A small number of applicants did not specify their gender.
  • Of the 381 female applicants, 59 were shortlisted and invited to interview, comprising 19.3% of the total shortlisted applicants.
  • 25 shortlisted female applicants were offered places, making up 22.5% of the total offers.

Domicile

  • 47.9% of all applicants were domiciled in the UK; 11.8% were domiciled in the EU not including the UK; 40.3% were domiciled outside the EU.
  • 51% of shortlisted applicants were domiciled in the UK; 9.5% were domiciled in the EU not including the UK; 39.5% were domiciled outside the EU.
  • 51.4% of students who were offered places were domiciled in the UK; 13.5% were domiciled in the EU not including the UK; 35.1% were domiciled outside the EU.

Admissions Processes

Mathematics Admissions Test (MAT)

All applicants are expected to sit the Mathematics Admissions Test prior to shortlisting. This year the test was taken on Wednesday 4 November 2020. Of the 1543 applicants who successfully registered to sit the test, 1514 sat it on the day. Most applicants sat it in their school or in another registered test centre, with a small number sitting the test via remote invigilation where Covid-19 conditions meant the test could not safely be taken in school or at a test centre, and where it was possible to arrange remote invigilation.

The 29 applicants who successfully registered for the test but were unable to sit it due to unexpected circumstances beyond their control were considered on the basis of their UCAS form. 4 were invited to interview, and were invited to sit a short MAT-like multiple choice paper via remote invigilation prior to their interviews.

Table 2 gives the mean score by course applied for at each stage of the admissions process.

Table 2: Mean MAT scores of applicants at each stage of the selection process
  All applicants Shortlisted applicants Offer holders
Computer Science 49.5 77.7 83.4
Computer Science and Philosophy 52.4 73.7 75.4
Mathematics and Computer Science 60.0 82.3 87.5

Figures 1 and 2 show admissions outcome by MAT score for the 1514 applicants who sat the MAT on Wednesday 4 November 2020. Applicants for Computer Science and for Computer Science and Philosophy are asked to attempt MAT questions 1, 2, 5, 6, and 7. Applicants for Mathematics and Computer Science are asked to attempt questions 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6.

Shortlisting

In light of the competition for places, the purpose of shortlisting is to identify those applicants who are most likely to succeed in the rest of the selection process, giving interviewers time to consider each shortlisted applicant carefully. The number of shortlisted applicants was therefore restricted to slightly less than 3 for each quota place.

Shortlisting was performed in accordance with the stated admissions criteria. All applicants are expected to sit the Mathematics Admissions Test prior to shortlisting, including questions designed to assess aptitude for Computer Science. Details of the test and several past papers and specimen papers with solutions can be found online. Tutors are guided by a statistically validated score derived from the MAT and the applicant’s performance at GCSE relative to other students at their pre-16 school; they exercise discretion within thresholds determined for each degree subject by the subject coordinator. They take into account all information from the UCAS form and any relevant contextual information such as educational background or extenuating circumstances. Shortlisting decisions are reviewed by the subject coordinator in order to ensure consistency between colleges.

Among this year’s 306 shortlisted applicants,

  • 172 (56.2%) had taken five or more GCSEs. Among those candidates, the mean number of GCSEs at grades 9/8/A* was 8.
  • 176 (57.5%) offered A-levels:
    • All shortlisted A-level applicants offered A-level Mathematics.
    • 162 (92%) offered A-level Further Mathematics.
    • 117 (66.5%) offered A-level Computer Science or Computing.

After shortlisting takes place, if an individual college has an unusually high number of shortlisted applicants per place, that college may opt to reallocate a proportion of those applicants to a college with fewer shortlisted applicants per place (assuming that there exists such a college which is willing to receive the shortlisted applicants). The aim of this process is to increase fairness for applicants by evening out competition across colleges and ensuring that shortlisted applicants’ chances of an offer are not affected by having applied to a heavily oversubscribed college. In December 2020, 9 shortlisted applicants were reallocated via this procedure, and 3 of those applicants were subsequently offered places by the colleges to which they were reallocated.

Interviews

All shortlisted applicants were invited for interview in mid-December. This year, due to Covid-19, all interviews took place remotely by video call or telephone, often using a shared virtual whiteboard. Each applicant is associated with a first college, either of their choosing, or selected for them in a way that aims to even out the competition for places across the colleges. Each applicant is also associated with a second college chosen randomly with the same aim.

Applicants were interviewed by both their first and second colleges, and a small number were invited to further interviews at a third college. Applicants for joint degrees are typically given separate interviews in the two subjects. In December 2020 most applicants were interviewed twice by their first college and once or more by their second college.

Interviews are academic and subject-focused in nature. The applicant’s performance in each interview is judged according to the admissions criteria, codified on a numeric scale against agreed descriptors, and shared among all tutors involved in admissions, together with the applicants’ UCAS forms and their test results.

Making offers

The colleges use various procedures in a coordinated effort to ensure that the strongest applicants are admitted across the University irrespective of the college considering their application. These include complete transparency of all information gained about each applicant, supported by an online information system, and a final meeting where the strongest unplaced applicants are identified and open offers are agreed. This year, 29.7% of offers made came from a college other than the applicant’s application college, or are open offers (meaning that the applicant is offered a place at Oxford at a college that will be determined in August).

Where an applicant for a joint honours degree has performed strongly in one of their subjects but will not be made an offer for the joint degree, tutors may consider offering them a place for a relevant single honours degree. A small number of applicants for joint honours courses were offered places for single honours courses.

Where an applicant is eligible and would benefit from it, tutors may nominate them for the Opportunity Oxford scheme. A small number of applicants were offered places through Opportunity Oxford.

Following the end of the selection process, colleges write to applicants via UCAS with the results of their application. Standard conditions apply to those taking A-levels, the International Baccalaureate or Scottish Highers; for other applicants, tutors will seek advice from the subject coordinator or the college’s admissions tutor in determining a comparable set of conditions.

MAT results and feedback

MAT scores are not released to applicants until the selection process has concluded and they have received their decision. Scores will be sent to applicants via email by the Department of Computer Science in January, shortly after colleges have communicated application outcomes.

Other than the release of MAT scores, feedback to applicants is a matter for individual colleges. Most do not automatically send feedback apart from the decision itself. Applicants may seek feedback from their first college about any aspect of the admissions process, but should wait until the process is complete and they have received their decision before doing so. Details of the procedure for requesting feedback may be found on the University's website.

English and joint schools

Thank you for applying for a place on BA (Hons) in English Language and Literature at University of Oxford. This year has presented us all with many challenges and difficulties and we appreciate the time and effort you put into making an application under the exceptional circumstances caused by COVID-19 pandemic.  We had a high number of applicants for English Language and Literature, and many of them made very good applications. Every year we have to make many difficult decisions. These figures might help you understand this year’s process. (The figures are preliminary.)

Total number of applicants 935
Not invited to interview (or withdrew) 326
Interviewed 609
Places offered (including 8 Open Offers) 231
Approximate ratio of applicants to offers 4:1

We cannot interview all applicants, so we have to make decisions on whom to shortlist, based on the information on your UCAS form (past and predicted exam results, academic reference and personal statement), your submitted written work, and your result in the ELAT (English Literature Admissions Test). For UK candidates we also use contextual data, such as school performance and postcode data, as outlined on the Oxford Admissions website.

The ELAT is a 90-minute test requiring an essay which responds to passages of literary material on a given theme. Results were released to candidates on 11 January 2020 and you can find more information about this on the ELAT webpage.

Applicants who are most likely to be invited for an interview score well in the ELAT, and have good exam results, written work, and references. Applicants with low scores in some aspects of their application will only have been invited for interview with special consideration of other factors.

The number of applicants to individual colleges varies from year to year, so a number of shortlisted candidates are redistributed from the most oversubscribed colleges to those with a lower ratio of candidates to places. Those applicants who make open applications are similarly allocated to the less oversubscribed colleges. After first college interviews, around 100 candidates had additional interviews at a second college, to give them the best chance of receiving an offer. We also made 8 Open Offers. Candidates who receive an Open Offer will be told which college they will go to after examination results are released in August 2021.

We know how disappointing it is for applicants, their families, and their schools when despite being well-qualified and submitting a strong application, you don’t receive an offer from us. As you can see, the standard is very high, and each year we are conscious that we do not have room for all applicants with exceptional academic records, and who have excellent potential as students of English Literature. We thank you for your patience with our application process, and wish you well for the future.

Economics and Management

Admissions Feedback from the Department of Economics

In the 2020-21 admissions round the estimated competition for places in Economics and Management across Oxford was 19:1.

Economics and Management tutors worked together across Oxford to ensure the strongest candidates were admitted. Colleges were set a target number of interviewees to nominate, based on the number of places they had to offer and ensuring that the total number of interviews across Oxford would equate to three per place.

Candidates were selected for shortlisting using the selection criteria for Economics & Management. All possible information was used for shortlisting and admissions offers. For shortlisting, GCSE scores, A-level predictions (or the equivalent), and TSA scores on Critical Thinking and Problem Solving were weighted most heavily, whilst AS-level scores, personal statements, and TSA essay marks were considered, but weighted more lightly. The target of three candidates for every place available meant that many good candidates were not shortlisted.

After shortlisting, the Admissions Co-ordinator ran a reallocation exercise across all colleges to ensure that candidates were not disadvantaged by applying to a specific college.

All shortlisted Merton candidates had two interviews in the college, one focusing on the Management aspect of the course and the other on the Economics aspect. Candidates were not expected to have studied either subject at A-level, but to have a good general knowledge, and to demonstrate interest in and enthusiasm for studying both business and the economy, to demonstrate logic and critical thinking, and to communicate clearly and effectively.

For the Economics interview, candidates were asked to use logical reasoning and quantitative skills to work through a problem related to topics in game theory and to broader economic principles. For the Management interview, candidates were set a brief pre-interview reading from a broadsheet that assessed interest in Management and the ability to identify and discuss issues from a general management perspective.

Most candidates were reasonably well-prepared for the interviews, and were able to discuss both Management and Economics topics knowledgeably and fluently. Good candidates were able to revise their arguments to take account of new information, to provide examples and counter-arguments, and to defend their conclusions. Weaker candidates did not display in their interviews an ability to analyse businesses and organisations from a managerial perspective, nor a sufficiently keen interest in doing so, or they performed poorly in general quantitative analysis and reasoning.

Following the first College interviews, the Admissions Co-ordinator allocated three candidates per college for second college interviews. A number of candidates above the three were also interviewed in second colleges.

TSA results will be available online from early January.

History and joint schools

Admissions Feedback from the Faculty of History

Subject(s) Applicants per place 2020 (Oxford)
History 3.9
History and English 8.4
History and Modern Languages 3.8
History and Politics 8.3
Ancient and Modern History 3.7

Candidates were selected using standard selection criteria for History and the relevant joint schools.

History aimed to interview 2.5 candidates per place. Shortlisting decisions were based on a score calculated from the History Aptitude Test (HAT) results and, where candidates have done GCSEs, contextualised A* GCSE scores (that is to say a count of the candidate’s top 8 results at GCSE which takes into account the academic attainment of the GCSE cohort at the school attended, to identify pupils who have outperformed their peer group). In the History Joint Schools, the same process was used to select candidates for interview, with additional input from non-history subject tutors, who assessed candidates’ non-history written work where this was submitted.

HAT scores are not made available to candidates automatically but can be provided on request from the Faculty or the College. Candidates who took the test in November 2020 and those intending to take it in the future may wish to look at the marking scheme used, once it has been published.

The number of applicants to particular colleges varies from year to year, so candidates that are judged worthy of an interview are reallocated from the oversubscribed colleges of that year to the undersubscribed colleges. In all colleges, therefore, candidates at interview will have the same chance of being offered a place. Merton was a college with an above-average number of strong candidates in most of the degrees involving History, and so 6 of our History and Joint Schools candidates were reallocated to other colleges (2 History, 4 History and English) while 2 candidates in History and Politics were reallocated from other colleges to Merton.

Students shortlisted at Merton were interviewed on Teams. One part of each interview centred on their broad historical interests, which had often been indicated on their UCAS personal statements, though the interviews were not restricted to the content of these statements. The longer part of the interview involved more detailed discussion of the historical periods and problems that candidates were currently studying, or had recently studied. Such interviews began by discussing candidates’ submitted written work, but sometimes moved onto related historical questions and topics, or other parts of their syllabus. In both interviews, we were looking for evidence of analytical ability, clarity of argument, the ability to support arguments with relevant evidence, intellectual flexibility, and enthusiasm for historical study.

In addition to their History interviews, candidates in the Joint Schools also received an interview in their other chosen subject. (For further information please consult the relevant subject sections.)

Final decisions were made after we had carefully taken into account all the information available to us, not just interview performance. This information included school UCAS references, HAT scores, submitted written work, predicted or achieved final school examination results, and, where available, contextualised GCSE results (see above). This year we also took account of information we had been given about educational disruption caused by COVID-19.

We were very impressed by the overall calibre of our applicants this year. In the end we made ten offers to candidates in the main History school (including one open offer) and five to candidates in the Joint Schools. Candidates highly placed in the cross-college rankings but not certain to be offered a place at their first choice college were allocated by the Faculty to other colleges for further interviews. Three Merton applicants were made an offer by other colleges and one applicant to another college was offered a place at Merton.

Law and Law with Law Studies in Europe

In the 2020-21 admissions round the estimated competition for places across Oxford was 8.1:1 for Law and 7:1 for LSE.

Candidates were selected using standard selection criteria. Law aims to interview around 3 candidates for every place available.

Law tutors worked together across Oxford to ensure the strongest candidates were admitted. Colleges were able to nominate up to two of their first-choice applicants per available place and then a Faculty Selection Committee identified further candidates to be reallocated to colleges.

The assessment of candidates at the pre-interview stage is based on the following:

  1. academic performance to date;
  2. predicted grades;
  3. reference;
  4. the LNAT multiple choice test; and
  5. the LNAT essay.

It is important to note that weakness in one of these areas may be compensated by exceptional strength elsewhere, as well as by extenuating circumstances (medical conditions, recent bereavements, etc.). Contextual data is taken into account in making our assessment.

LNAT results will be emailed to candidates by Pearson Vue in early February 2021.

Given the circumstances, we could not hold an in-person welcome meeting. Instead, we held an online pre-interview meeting to allow the applicants to see who would be interviewing them, to explain the interview process and answer any questions. Interviews started shortly afterwards. Each candidate received two interviews.

Six candidates were offered a college place at Merton this year, and one candidate was made an open offer.

Mathematics and joint schools

Summary of the 2020/21 University of Oxford Admissions Process for the subjects; Mathematics, Mathematics & Statistics, Mathematics & Philosophy, and Mathematics & Computer Science

These data refer to applicants in the “2020/21 cycle” who applied in 2020 for the Oxford course starting in 2021 or in 2022 (deferred entry). All figures in brackets relate to the previous admissions cycle, 2019/20.

Overall Application Statistics

Course Applications Shortlisted Offers
Mathematics 1,848 (1,828) 605 (559) 189 (206)
Mathematics and Statistics 261 (230) 47 (33) 10 (12)
Mathematics and Philosophy 158 (119) 70 (55) 20 (20)
Mathematics and Computer Science 603 (505) 134 (118) 60 (49)
Total 2,870 (2,682) 856 (765) 279 (287)
  • 19.2% of applications made were open applications (17.5%).
  • 28 applicants applied for deferred entry (15). Of these, 10 were interviewed and 3 were offered places.
  • 32.5% of applicants were female (32.8%) and 29.0% of those offered a place are female (27.1%).
  • 1,469 applicants were studying A-levels in the UK (1,427). Of these, 93% were taking Further Mathematics as a full A-level. Of the 105 applicants studying A-levels in the UK who weren’t taking Further Maths as a full A-level, fewer than 3 were shortlisted for interview, and fewer than 3 were offered a place.
  • There were 1,123 non-EU international-fee-paying applicants (994).

Mathematics Admissions Test

All applicants are expected to sit the Mathematics Admissions Test (MAT), or must seek permission in exceptional circumstances from the subject Admissions Coordinator to be exempted from the test. In 2020 the test date was 4 November. In this cycle, 2,808 applicants successfully registered for and sat the MAT (2,628).

Seven applicants who, due to exceptional circumstances, either failed to register for the test or could not sit the test, were invited to take a separate mathematics test after shortlisting. Others who failed to register or who did not sit the test – and did not have exceptional circumstances – were notified that their application was no longer under consideration.

Details relating to the MAT, including several past and specimen papers, can be found at: www.maths.ox.ac.uk/study-here/undergraduate-study/maths-admissions-test

The average score for Oxford applicants answering questions 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 was:

  • 57.9 (44.9) amongst all applicants;
  • 75.2 (63.6) amongst shortlisted applicants;
  • 81.7 (69.3) amongst successful applicants.

The average score for Oxford applicants answering questions 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 was:

  • 60.0 (46.6) amongst all applicants;
  • 82.3 (71.7) amongst shortlisted applicants;
  • 87.5 (76.2) amongst successful applicants.

Shortlisting

In light of the competition for places, the purpose of shortlisting is to provide time during the December interview window to interview all shortlisted applicants.

Shortlisting is performed in accordance with the stated admissions criteria on the basis of all currently available and relevant data: in particular these data include an applicant’s score from the MAT, all aspects of the applicant’s UCAS form and any further relevant contextual data specific to the application.

As guidance, and on the basis of a validated weighted combination of the test score and contextualised GCSE score (where applicable), the Admissions Coordinator advises college tutors as to a calculated upper threshold score and a calculated lower threshold score. All candidates above the upper threshold were recommended to be shortlisted, and candidates below the lower threshold were recommended not to be shortlisted, except in the case of exceptional circumstances. Around two-thirds of the candidates between the two thresholds were shortlisted for interview, resulting in around 3 applicants per place.

Throughout the process all UCAS forms, test scores, contextual information, comments, and interview grades, are easily accessible to all college tutors involved with admissions via a web-based database.

College tutors review the UCAS forms and any other information relevant to individual applications, and in light of all information enter their provisional shortlisting decisions in the web-based admissions database. In light of further information a college may reverse the default shortlisting decision, making known the reasons for their decision to the Admissions Coordinator. Provisional shortlisting decisions will become final by an agreed deadline unless appealed by another college or the Admissions Coordinator. Letters and/or emails are then sent to candidates informing them of the outcome of the shortlisting exercise.

Interview stage

Each applicant has a first-assigned college, which is either the college to which they applied or, in the case of open applications, a college randomly assigned by the University Admissions Office in such a way as to even out the number of applicants per place across colleges. Each shortlisted applicant is also randomly assigned a second college by an algorithm aiming to equalise across colleges the interview load per place ratio.

In cases where a college is particularly over-subscribed (more than four shortlisted applicants per place), a college must reallocate a fraction of their candidates. These candidates are then assigned at random to other colleges. In this admissions cycle, 30 candidates were reallocated to a different first college.

In December 2020 all interviews were carried out remotely. Most applicants were given interviews by at least two different colleges (their first- and second-assigned colleges). Applicants may also have been interviewed by other colleges. Applicants to joint degrees typically have separate interviews in the two disciplines.

Interviews are academic in nature. An applicant’s performance is judged according to the admissions criteria and graded on a scale of 1-9 against agreed descriptors. The score and any comments are added to the shared web-based database.

Decisions

The Admissions Group operates various procedures in a coordinated effort to ensure that the strongest applicants are admitted to the University irrespective of college choice; these include transparency of all test results, interview grades, and UCAS forms amongst all tutors involved with admissions, and a final meeting of tutors at which the strongest unplaced applicants are collectively discussed and open offers are made by the Admissions Group. Around 28% of offers (30%) made in this cycle were either open offers or made by a college other than the first college considering the applicant.

Colleges may make offers conditional on the Opportunity Oxford bridging programme to eligible students who would not otherwise have been admitted. In this cycle, 9 such offers were made for Maths or joint honours courses.

Decisions are deemed to be official at the end of the Group’s final meeting and the shortlisted applications are assigned a final overall grade. These decisions are then conveyed by tutors to their respective college offices for dissemination to shortlisted applicants. The Admissions Group has standard offers for those taking A-levels, the International Baccalaureate or Advanced Highers; college tutors will seek advice from admissions tutors or the Admissions Office in making other offers.

Feedback

All candidates for Maths, Maths & Statistics, Maths & Philosophy who took the MAT, and who have not withdrawn, will have their MAT score emailed to them automatically by the Admissions Coordinator at the end of the admissions process. Similarly, the Computer Science department will send out MAT scores to Maths & Computer Science applicants.

Other feedback will not automatically be sent out, but applicants may seek feedback from their first-assigned colleges about any aspect of the admissions process. Feedback will not usually be sent out until the new year, once the admissions process is complete.

Modern Languages and joint schools
Subject Applicants per place 2020 (Oxford)
Modern Languages 2.2
Modern Languages and Linguistics 2.3
Classics and Modern Languages 2.3
English and Modern Languages 2.7
History and Modern Languages 3.8
Philosophy and Modern Languages 3.3

Candidates were selected using standard selection criteria for Modern Languages and the relevant Joint Schools.

Candidates took a range of pre-admission tests depending on their choice of course. The results were taken into account by tutors when deciding who to call to interview, along with written work scores and the information in the UCAS form including past examination achievement and predicted grades. The majority of applicants were called to interview.

English Literature Admissions Test (ELAT) scores for English and Modern Languages candidates are available online but Modern Languages Admissions Test (MLAT), History Aptitude Test (HAT) and Classics Admissions Test (CAT) scores are not made available to candidates automatically. They can be provided on request from the College.

Candidates who took the HAT in November 2020 and those intending to take it in the future may wish to look at the marking scheme used, with reference to the test paper expected to be published in January 2021.

All candidates were given at least two interviews in which they were tested against the agreed Modern Languages admissions criteria. Candidates’ responses to an unseen literary text were tested in all cases, and part of at least one of the interviews was conducted in the relevant language(s) applied for (where candidates were not ab initio applicants). Interviewers’ questions also frequently dealt with responses to works mentioned by candidates on their UCAS personal statements. At all times the interviewers were looking for candidates’ potential to thrive in a future engagement with both the linguistic and literary elements of the Modern Languages course.

The tutors were hugely impressed by the candidates who applied to study Modern Languages and Modern Languages Joint Schools in this round. Eight candidates were offered places at Merton, subject to satisfying their offer conditions, and a further two candidates for whom Merton was the first-choice college were offered places at other colleges.

Music

In the 2020-21 admissions round the estimated competition for places across Oxford was approximately 21.8:1.

Candidates were selected using standard selection criteria.

The majority of candidates who applied were called for interview. Shortlisting decisions are initially taken by the tutors in each college, but the Music tutors in all colleges which admit for the subject have access to the application materials and are able to call to interview any candidate not called by the first-choice college. Decisions are reviewed by the Faculty Admissions Coordinator in conjunction with the relevant college tutors. Music does not use an aptitude test. However, it does request written work in advance (two essays, one of which should normally be on Music, plus some harmony and counterpoint and/or composition). The written work is double marked centrally within the Faculty and also by the first-choice college tutor. Grades form part of shortlisting discussions and also final decision meetings, alongside a range of other data (including personal statements, references, academic track record and predicted grades where applicable). The Faculty additionally operated a co-ordinated reallocation procedure, in accordance with the University’s Common Framework for Admissions, designed to ensure that the best candidates stood an equitable chance of being offered an academic place at Oxford, irrespective of their college preference. This meant that candidates from a number of oversubscribed colleges were reallocated to other colleges for interview.

Merton-hosted candidates were given two interviews at Merton, lasting approximately 20 minutes each, and candidates were given 30 minutes to prepare material before the start of each interview. The materials consisted of a short piece of writing on music, plus two unseen extracts of music. Candidates were asked to summarise the prose extract, and then discuss some of the critical issues within the text. They were also asked to make some salient observations about the music extracts (though they were not expected to recognise the piece or the composer). Questions tended to focus on matters of texture, form, harmonic structure, articulation, style and affect. There was an opportunity for candidates to ask questions at the end of the interview, although this did not form part of the formal assessment process. Merton interviews were conducted by Dr Sebastian Wedler and Dr Matthew Thomson.

Candidates were also invited to submit a recording of a short recital. These were assessed by Benjamin Nicholas and Dr Matthew Thomson.

Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE)

Access this information in PDF format

Admissions statistics

This year the number of applicants was 2298. The number of applicants per place was 8.9. There were 407 open applications and 57 deferred entry applications. There were 1021 female and 1276 male applicants. There were 1045 home, 356 EU and 897 overseas applicants. 708 applicants were shortlisted and 257 were offered places.

Admissions processes

The selection criteria for PPE are on the course website. The shortlisting criteria are described on the course website as follows:

We only interview those who have a realistic chance of getting in, when judged by past and predicted exam results, school reports, personal statements and the pre-interview test. Applicants who do not take the pre-interview test will not normally be shortlisted for interview.

Colleges are set deselection targets so that across all colleges at least 2.75 applicants per place are shortlisted. When making shortlisting decisions admissions tutors give the following weighting to the various elements of each application.

Information High Medium Low
Pre-Interview Admissions Test Yes    
GCSE (or equivalent) profile Yes    
Predicted (or actual) performance at
A-Level (or equivalent)
Yes    
UCAS teacher’s reference   Yes  
AS-Level module grades     Yes
UCAS personal statement     Yes

See the PDF version of this feedback for graphs on the GCSE scores, cGCSE scores, and A-Level scores of applicants at different stages.

After colleges have deselected their target number of applicants, some shortlisted applicants are reallocated. They are sent to the college where they will have the best theoretical chance of success, based on where they will be ranked highest within the existing cohort of the college. They are ranked according to a reallocation score which is based on TSA section 1 results and contextualised GCSE data where available. After the reallocation has taken place colleges can choose to rescue deselected applicants.

Interview process

Applicants will normally have at least two interviews at their first college, although some colleges may have a single longer interview. Most colleges will have a minimum of two interviewers per interview. Colleges normally wish to involve tutors from all three subjects, but since there are no specific subject requirements and the content of the interviews is not subject-specific, this is not necessarily the case.

The interview is described on the course website as follows:

The interview is aimed primarily at assessing the candidate's potential for future development. Interviewers will be looking for evidence of genuine interests and enthusiasms, and the motivation to work hard at them. The candidates should listen effectively, absorbing facts and ideas presented to them and assessing their relevance. They should be ready to respond to problems and criticisms put to them. They should present arguments and reasoning in a clear and carefully articulated manner. The interview is not primarily a test of existing knowledge, and in particular, is not a test of philosophy, politics or economics, unless these subjects have been followed at school. The candidates are expected to show reasons for their expressed interests in PPE. Candidates' general accomplishments are not relevant except insofar as they bear on one or more of the general admissions criteria.

Colleges assign candidates up to three interview scores. These do not have to be subject-specific. Interviews are marked on a 1-100 scale:

70-100 Excellent A mark above 70 is a strong indicator for admission
65-69 Positive Most candidates admitted will have interview scores above 65.
60-64 Neutral  
50-59 Weak A candidate with interview and test marks consistently below 60 is in a weak position
49 or less Very poor Interview strongly suggests that the candidate is not suitable

After colleges have entered their first interview scores and decisions candidates are ranked according to a post-first interviews score which is based on interview scores, TSA scores, and contextualised GCSE information where available. Colleges then select second interviews using all information available for each candidate.

This year 37 candidates were selected for second interviews. After second interviews have taken place, colleges make their final decisions, based on all information available for each candidate at this stage.

Pre-interview admissions test

TSA results were released on 11 January 2021. They can be accessed via Cambridge Assessment’s Results Online system. The average test performance of applicants at the different stages is set out in the graphs in the PDF version of this feedback.

Physics

In the 2020-21 admissions round Merton received 87 applications for Physics and Physics & Philosophy in total, i.e. ten candidates per place. The ratio of candidates to places in these subjects across Oxford as a whole was 9.0:1 for Physics. 12 candidates who applied to Merton were ultimately offered a place at Oxford, which reflects the high standard of applications to Merton. Further details are given below.

Candidates were selected using standard selection criteria and admissions procedures.

The Physics Department’s Report on the Physics Admissions Exercise 2021 provides details of the shortlisting procedure, including statistics from the Physics Aptitude Test (PAT).

Test scores are not made available to candidates automatically but can be provided by the College on request. 

After initial shortlisting, two candidates who had applied to Merton were reallocated to different colleges for interview, to ensure that each college had approximately the same number of candidates per place, and hence that an applicant's chance of obtaining a place was as far as possible independent of the college handling the application.

All interviews this year were undertaken online. During the interview, candidates and interviewers used a shared electronic whiteboard (Miro) to exchange visual information (e.g. sketches and equations). These systems worked well. In the very few cases in which technical issues did occur, candidates were given additional time or the interview was rescheduled.

Merton’s shortlisted candidates for Physics were given two interviews by Merton on Physics and Mathematics and at least one other interview by tutors at another college; candidates for Physics & Philosophy were given an additional interview by Merton on Philosophy.

Of the 20 first-college candidates interviewed by Merton, six were offered a place at Merton, and three were offered a place at another college.  One candidate reallocated prior to interview was also offered a place at another college. Merton offered places to two candidates who had applied to a different college.

Prospective applicants may be interested in the suggestions on how to prepare for the admissions process available on the Physics Department website.