Chestnut Lawn - Photo: © John Cairns -

Admissions Feedback 2017-18

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 on each page. It is important to remember both that Oxford makes its selection on academic criteria and that the 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 able 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.

In December 2017, 24 candidates were interviewed remotely using Skype, and one via an alternative videoconference software.

Merton received 566 applications in this admissions round, slightly fewer than in 2016. 101 candidates have been made an offer by the College for 2018 entry, including seven open offers. Two offers were also made for deferred 2019 entry.


This year there were 681 applicants across the University for direct entry (decrease of 39 following our large 31% increase last year) and 10 for deferred entry to study Biochemistry. We had 97 places available for entry next year and made 97 college offers, 16 open offers (where a University place is guaranteed if the conditions are achieved but the college place will be allocated in August) and no 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 who could come to Oxford were interviewed at two colleges; 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 691 applicants, 400 applicants were short-listed. Of these, 368 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 291 received an overall grade above 5, so being made an offer of a place is a very considerable achievement (even more so than in previous years).


In the 2017-18 admissions round the estimated competition for places across Oxford was 5.1:1. Candidates were selected using standard selection criteria. Biological Sciences 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 Biological Science 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.

All candidates were invited to attend an initial introductory meeting in which the format of the interviewing process was explained. Candidates received an interview at Merton, and a second interview at another college. Each individual candidate’s Merton interview consisted of an approximately 25 minute discussion with three people: Professor Matt Higgins, Dr Craig MacLean and Dr Annette Fayet. 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 (biological objects, graphs, figures), and in various subject areas (for example, genetics, evolution, physiology, ecology, and animal behaviour). Candidates were each asked the same three questions and the questions were chosen to allow interpretation of presented information 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.


In the 2017-18 admissions round the estimated competition for places across Oxford was 3.2:1 for Chemistry. Candidates were selected using standard selection criteria.

The majority of candidates who applied were called for interview. Shortlisting decisions were taken by the tutors in each college, in accordance with the stated admissions criteria on the basis of all available and relevant data: in particular these data include all aspects of the applicant's UCAS form and any further relevant contextual data specific to the application. Each application was graded on a scale of 1 to 5 against agreed descriptors. Candidates graded below 3 were not shortlisted. All recommendations not to shortlist were submitted to the Chemistry Admissions Coordinator for scrutiny, making known the reasons for the decision.

Chemistry has a central mechanism in place to reallocate applicants to a college other than their first choice, if necessary, to even out the chances of admission between colleges. This year, two candidates were reallocated to Merton from other colleges.

In the Chemistry interviews at Merton, candidates had two 20 minute interviews which focused on some aspects of Physical, Inorganic and Organic Chemistry. In all interviews candidates were posed a selection of unseen problems and questions to consider and explain. At least one of the questions may have tested mathematical ability. Much of the material covered in the questions was new to all candidates to some extent, but generally was related to core material in the A-level syllabus. Those candidates who performed best were able to think through a suitable approach to the problems, sometimes with some prompting, and apply their existing knowledge and understanding to come to a reasonable conclusion (not necessarily the 'correct' solution to the problem). They were also able to give clear explanations illustrating their ability to grasp qualitative interpretations of physical and chemical phenomena at a molecular level.

Following communication of performance to other colleges, a number of candidates were invited for an interview at a second college and then final decisions were made at a meeting attended by tutors from all colleges.

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

Five candidates were offered a college place at Merton this year, two candidates were made open offers, and one was offered a place at another college.


The Chemistry prospectus provides prospective applicants with an insight into the course and the opportunities it offers.

Classical Archaeology and Ancient History

In the 2017-18 admissions round the estimated competition for places across Oxford was 4:1. Candidates were selected using standard selection criteria.

The majority of candidates who applied were called for interview (89.7%). 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, candidates were asked shortly before the interview to study a short text from antiquity (translated into English), and part of the interview focused upon that text. For the Archaeology interview, candidates were presented with one or two pieces of archaeological material 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 second 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


In the 2017-18 admissions round the estimated competition for places across Oxford was 2.6:1 for Classics and 3.2:1 for Classics and Modern Languages.

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 at Merton lasting about 25 minutes each.

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.

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 the interview criteria and formats for these subjects, please consult the relevant subject pages.)

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

Summary of the admissions process 2017

The number of applications for each subject, with changes in comparison with the 2016 admissions round, were as follows:

  Applications Shortlisted Places offered
Computer Science 591 +39% 108 +0% 41 +14%
Mathematics & CS 369 +21% 114 -7% 52 +24%
CS & Philosophy 120 +48% 38 +12% 13 -7%
Total 1080 +33% 260 -2% 106 +15%

Applications have increased by more than 250% in the last five years, but the number of places has increased by only 55%. As a result, many very able candidates were not offered a place.


In the 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 candidate carefully. The number of shortlisted candidates is therefore restricted to slightly less than three for each place.

Shortlisting is performed in accordance with the stated admissions criteria. All applicants are expected to sit the Mathematics Admissions Test (MAT) prior to shortlist- ing, 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 number of A* grades achieved by those candidates taking GCSEs, and exercise discretion within thresholds determined for each degree subject by the subject coordi- nator. They take into account all information from the UCAS form and any relevant contextual information such as educational background. Shortlisting decisions are re- viewed by the subject coordinator in order to ensure consistency between colleges.


All shortlisted candidates are invited to Oxford for interview in mid-December, on dates advertised by the University in advance. Each candidate 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 candidate is also associated with a second college chosen randomly with the same aim.

During their time in Oxford, candidates are normally given two interviews at their first college, with applicants for joint degrees typically given separate interviews in the two subjects. Candidates are also given at least one interview in their second col- lege, and may be invited to further interviews at other colleges.

Interviews are academic and subject focussed 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 candidates’ UCAS forms and their test results.

For applicants from outside Europe who are unable to attend Oxford for interview, one or more interviews by teleconferencing are arranged, often in the week before the in- terviews for candidates attending in Oxford.

The colleges use various procedures in a coordinated effort to ensure that the strong- est candidates are admitted across the University irrespective of the college consider- ing their application. These include complete transparency of all information gained about each candidate, supported by an online information system, and a final meeting where the strongest unplaced candidates are identified and open offers are agreed. Typically around 30% of offers made come from a college other than the candidate’s first college, or are open offers (meaning that the candidate is offered a place at Oxford at a college that will be determined in August).

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

The attached graphs show admissions outcomes in comparison with MAT scores; the average mark differs according the the questions set on the paper for each subject.


Feedback to candidates is a matter for individual colleges. Most do not automatically send feedback apart from the decision itself. Candidates 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.

Dr Michael Spivey
Subject coordinator for Computer Science
December 2017

English and joint schools

This year the University of Oxford had a very high number of applicants for English Language and Literature. Many of the candidates who applied made very good applications and, as every year, we had to make many difficult decisions. These figures might help to give context to the process this year. (The figures are preliminary.)

Total number of applicants 981
Not invited to interview (or withdrew) 392
Interviewed in Oxford (or by telephone/Skype) 589
Places offered (including Open Offers) 265
Approximate ratio of applicants to offers 3.7

We cannot interview all applicants, so we have to make a decision based on the UCAS information about past and predicted exam results, UCAS academic reference and personal statement, the submitted written work, and the result of the ELAT (English Literature Admissions Test). For UK candidates we 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. Candidates may access their test results after 15 January 2018 from the ELAT webpage.

Candidates who scored well in the ELAT, and had good exam results, written work, and references, were likely to be asked for interview. Candidates who had 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 reallocated 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 200 additional interviews were arranged in a second and sometimes a third college, to give candidates the best chance of being placed. We also made 25 Open Offers (offers to candidates who will be informed of the college where they will hold a place after examination results are released for the whole cohort).

We know it is disappointing for applicants and their schools when well qualified candidates do not receive an offer. The standard is very high, and we are conscious each year that we do not have room for all of the candidates with exceptional academic records, and who have excellent potential as students of English Literature. We thank you for your patience with our application process.

Economics and Management

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. Merton was a college with an above-average number of strong candidates, and four of our candidates were reallocated to other colleges.

All Merton candidates had two interviews, 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 given a brief pre-interview reading, which related to topics in game theory or to broader economic principles, and were asked to work through the problem logically and quantitatively during the interview. For the Management interview, candidates were set a brief pre-interview reading from a broadsheet which assessed interest in Management and the ability to identify and discuss issues from a managerial 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 selected an average of three candidates per college for second college interviews.

TSA results will be available online from 16 January.

Prospective students should look at the Department's interview preparation suggestions

History and joint schools
Subject(s) Applicants per place 2017 (Oxford)
History 3.8
History and English 6.6
History and Modern Languages 4.3
History and Politics 8.5
Ancient and Modern History 3.7

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

History aimed to interview between 3-3.5 candidates per place which meant that 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).

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 2017 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 2018.

Candidates who scored well in the HAT and had good GCSEs were likely to be asked for interview. 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.

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. One History candidate was reallocated from other colleges to Merton, as were three History and Politics candidates.

Shortlisted students received two interviews in History at Merton (apart from one candidate interviewed via Skype who had a single, longer interview). The first 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 second interview involved more detailed discussion of the historical periods and problems that candidates were currently studying, or had recently studied. These second 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 the interview criteria and formats for these subjects, please consult the relevant subject pages.)

Our final decisions to offer places to some candidates were made after we had taken into careful 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).

We were very impressed by the overall calibre of our applicants this year. In the end we made nine offers to candidates in the main History school, and eight to candidates in the Joint Schools. Candidates highly placed in the cross-College rankings but not certain to be offered a place at Merton were allocated by the Faculty to other Colleges for further interviews. One Merton applicant was made an offer by another College.

Law and Law with Law Studies in Europe

In the 2017-18 admissions round the estimated competition for places across Oxford was 6.6:1 for Law and 10.5:1 for LSE.

Candidates were selected using standard selection criteria. Law aims to interview 2.7 candidates for every place available; in 2017, 37% of Law applicants and 34% of LSE candidates were interviewed.

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, which is read by someone at the college of first choice and not marked centrally.

It is important to note that weakness in one of these areas can be compensated by exceptional strength elsewhere, as well as by special 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 2018.

When candidates arrived at Merton, we held a 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. At the end of this, we gave a third interview to some applicants to resolve any outstanding concerns or queries we had about those candidates.

Seven 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 Admissions Process for Mathematics, Mathematics & Computer Science, Mathematics & Statistics and Mathematics & Philosophy
Oxford University, 2017/2018

Overall Application Statistics

In all 2281 (last year 1973) applications were received in 2017 for the above four degrees. Of these, 2226 successfully registered for and sat the MAT (1937 in 2016).

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 2017 the test date was the 2nd November. Any applicant who failed to register for the test (including those who registered late) or who did not sit the test – and did not have exceptional circumstances – was notified that their application was no longer under consideration.

  • 20.7% of applications made were open applications (19% in 2016).
  • 20 applicants applied for deferred entry (17 in 2016). Of these, 4 were interviewed, and none were offered places.
  • 33.8% of applicants were female (36.4% in 2016) and 32.7% of offer holders are female (34.1% in 2016).
  • 1392 applicants were studying A-levels in the UK (1270 in 2016). Of these, 96% were taking Further Mathematics as a full A-level. Of the 60 applicants who weren’t taking Further Maths as a full A-level, 3 were short-listed for interview, and none were offered places.
  • In 2017 there were 721 international fee-paying applicants (538 in 2016).

Of the 2281 total applications made, 778 or 34% (791 or 40%) were short-listed. In all 290 (281) offers, including open offers, were made. Broken down by degree subject:

  • Mathematics: 1566 (1368) applications; 544 (559) short-listed; 201 (208) offers.
  • Mathematics and Statistics: 202 (190) applications; 60 (59) short-listed; 15 (14) offers.
  • Mathematics and Philosophy: 144 (109) applications; 60 (50) short-listed; 21 (17) offers.
  • Mathematics and Computer Science: 369 (306) applications; 114 (123) short-listed; 52 (42) offers.


In light of the competition for places, the purpose of short-listing is to provide time, during the December interview window in Oxford, to guarantee all short-listed applicants receive interviews from at least two different colleges.

Details relating to the MAT, including several past and specimen papers, can be found at:

In 2017 the average score on questions 1-5 was:

  • 51.3 (50.3) amongst all applicants;
  • 68.7 (66.7) amongst short-listed applicants;
  • 73.7 (73.1) amongst successful applicants.

The average score on questions 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 was:

  • 53.7 (51) amongst all applicants;
  • 73.3 (66.5) amongst short-listed applicants;
  • 75.9 (73.5) amongst successful applicants.

Short-listing 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 proportion of A* at GCSE (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 short-listed, and candidates below the lower threshold were recommended not to be short-listed, except in the case of exceptional circumstances. Around two thirds of the candidates between the two thresholds were short-listed for interview, resulting in around 3 applicants per place.

Throughout the process all UCAS forms, all test scores, all 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 short-listing decisions in the web-based admissions database. In light of further information a college may reverse the default short-listing decision, making known the reasons for their decision to the Admissions Coordinator. Provisional short-listing 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 short-listing exercise.

Interview stage

All short-listed candidates are invited to Oxford for interview in mid-December. The interview dates by subject is readily available on an Admissions Office webpage well in advance.

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 Admissions Office in such a way as to even out the competition for places across colleges. Each applicant is also randomly assigned a second college by an algorithm so as to equalise across colleges the interview load per place ratio.

In cases where a college is particularly over-subscribed (more than five applicants per place), a college can choose to reallocate a fraction of their candidates. These candidates are then assigned at random to other colleges. In 2017, no candidates were reallocated to a different first choice college.

During their time in Oxford, applicants are guaranteed interviews by at least two different colleges (their first- and second-assigned colleges) and may also be 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 will be judged according to the admissions criteria. The interviews will be graded on a scale of 1-9 against agreed descriptors and a report of the interview will be made on a standardised form.

One or more interviews by Skype, phone or video-conference facilities, are typically arranged for any short-listed applicant who is unable to attend interviews in Oxford. These interviews commonly take place in the week before the interviews in Oxford.

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 31% of offers (26% in 2016) are either open offers or made by a college other than the first college considering the applicant.

Decisions are deemed to be official at the end of the Group’s final meeting and the short-listed applications are assigned a final overall grade. These decisions are then conveyed by tutors to their respective college offices for dissemination to short-listed 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, other than decisions, 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.


Admissions exercise December 2017 - How we reached our decision


  • We received 1667 applications.
  • Of these applicants 1581 successfully registered for and sat the BMAT. Data below refers to these applicants with complete applications.
  • 65% of applicants were studying A-levels.
  • 67% of applicants had 6 or more GCSEs.
  • Approximately 66% of applicants applied from a school in the UK.
  • 22% of applicants resided outside the EU and 15% resided in the EU outside the UK.
  • Shortlisting was based on BMAT performance and GCSE performance (where available).
  • 425 applicants (27%) were invited to interview.
  • 63% of applicants were female. 55% of those shortlisted and 59% of those made offers were female.
  • 161 offers were made for 2018 entry.
  • 2 offers were made for 2019 entry.

GCSE performance

  • The average number of GCSEs offered was 10.6 and average number of A* was 8.4 ± 2.8
  • The mean proportion of A* for all applicants (number of A* at GCSE divided by total number of GCSEs, pA*) was 0.78 ± 0.24
  • For short-listed applicants, the mean number of A* was 10.4 ± 1.3 and pA* was 0.93 ± 0.09
  • For successful applicants, the mean number of A* was 10.5 ± 1.3 and pA* was 0.94 ± 0.08

BMAT performance

  • The average raw score for applicants on Section 1 was 4.7, on Section 2 was 4.7 and Section 3 was 3.2A
  • An overall BMAT score (out of 100) was calculated using the weighting 40% Section 1, 40% Section 2 and 20% Section 3 (see
  • The mean overall BMAT score for all applicants was 52.2 ± 10.0
  • For short-listed applicants, the mean overall BMAT score was 61.8 ± 6.8
  • For successful applicants, the mean overall BMAT score was 62.9 ± 7.6


Initial short-listing was based on a combined BMAT and GCSE score (the latter if available).

All non-shortlisted applicants were then reviewed to identify if their GCSE and/or BMAT performance is likely to have underestimated their potential. As a result of this process around 40 additional applicants were added to the shortlist.


All shortlisted candidates were interviewed at two colleges (the college of preference, or allocation, and another, randomly assigned).

Colleges were not aware at the time of interview whether or not the candidate had applied to them.

Colleges ranked candidates based on interview performance. Colleges then compared rankings of candidates and received BMAT scores before making final decisions.

More detailed analysis on the admissions process can be found at


Applications were considered against the following criteria:

Personal characteristics: suitability for medicine

  • Empathy: ability and willingness to imagine the feelings of others and understand the reasons for the views of others
  • Motivation: a reasonably well-informed and strong desire to practise medicine
  • Communication: ability to make knowledge and ideas clear using language appropriate to the audience
  • Honesty and integrity
  • Ethical awareness
  • Ability to work with others
  • Capacity for sustained and intense work
  • Alignment of individual values and behaviours with the values of the NHS Constitution

Academic potential

  • Problem-solving: critical thinking, analytical approach
  • Intellectual curiosity: keenness to understand the reason for observations; depth; tendency to look for meaning; enthusiasm and curiosity in science
  • Communication skills: willingness and ability to express clearly and effectively; ability to listen; compatibility with tutorial format

Prepared for the Oxford Colleges by the Pre-Clinical Medical School

Modern Languages and joint schools
Subject Applicants per place 2017 (Oxford)
Modern Languages 2.5
Modern Languages and Linguistics 3.0
Classics and Modern Languages 3.2
English and Modern Languages 7.4
History and Modern Languages 3.5
Philosophy and Modern Languages 3.8

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 2017 and those intending to take it in the future may wish to look at the marking scheme used, with reference to the test paper.

The number of applicants to particular colleges varies from year to year, so candidates who are judged worthy of an interview are reallocated from the oversubscribed colleges of that year to the undersubscribed colleges. Three Modern Languages and Joint Schools candidates were reallocated to Merton from other colleges this year.

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 a part of 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.

Tutors were hugely impressed by the candidates who applied to study Modern Languages and Modern Languages Joint Schools in this round. Ten candidates were admitted in total, subject to satisfying their offer conditions, and a further three candidates for whom Merton was the first choice college were offered places in other colleges, confirming our impression of the strength of the field of applicants this year.


In the 2017-18 admissions round the estimated competition for places across Oxford was approximately 3:1.

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: this process was agreed centrally and was not a reflection of the quality of the candidates concerned.

Interviews at Merton lasted approximately 25 minutes, and candidates were given 20 minutes to prepare material before the start of the interview. The materials consisted of a short piece of writing on music (approximately one page in length), plus three 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 then asked to make some salient observations about the music extracts (though they were not expected to recognise the pieces 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.

Candidates were also asked to perform a short (5 minute) recital. These took place during the interview period in the Faculty (with one exception when an organ was required), and were assessed by Benjamin Nicholas, the Director of Music at Merton, and Dr Matthew Thomson.

Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE)

Oxford had a very high number of applicants for PPE this year. The following statistics, which are preliminary, might help to give shape to the admissions process. More detailed statistics will be published at in February.

Total applicants 2218
Not invited to interview 1474
Interviewed 728
Withdrew 16
Expected offers (includes deferred, open, and normal offers) 272
Approx. ratio of applicants to places 8.2

Decisions about whether to interview candidates are based on:

  • past and predicted exam results;
  • school reports;
  • personal statements; and
  • the pre-interview test (the TSA).

Where possible, we take into account school performance when assessing exam results.

Candidates who sat the TSA will be issued a statement of results by Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing on Monday 15 January 2018. For further information please visit oxford/scoring-and-results/.

Candidates who did well in the TSA (66 or above this year) and on other aspects of their application were likely to be asked for interview. Candidates who scored between 65.9 and 63 may have been invited for interview. Candidates scoring below 63 will only have been invited for interview with special consideration of other factors.

Applications to colleges for PPE vary every year and colleges have varying numbers of places to offer. Where a college has a large number of shortlisted candidates relative to its places the Admissions Coordinator reallocates some of those candidates to colleges with lower shortlisted candidate to place ratios. Candidates selected for reallocation are those for whom information available at the shortlisting stage suggests the chance of acceptance can be improved by reallocation.

As Merton was an oversubscribed college this year, two Merton applicants were reallocated to be interviewed by other colleges.

Candidates invited for interview are assessed on a range of criteria, using all of the information described above as well as performance at interview in all three PPE subjects. The interviews take into account whether the candidate has had any prior formal study of Philosophy, Politics or Economics, so that those candidates that have not taken a course in these subjects are not at any disadvantage. For all three subjects interviews try and judge a candidate's aptitude for, rather than knowledge of, a particular subject.

Prospective applicants may be interested in this suggested reading.


In the 2017-18 admissions round Merton received 85 applications for Physics and Physics & Philosophy in total, i.e. 10.6 candidates per place. The approximate competition for places in these subjects across Oxford as a whole was 7.3:1. In all 19 candidates applying to Merton were offered a place at Oxford, a success rate of 22% compared to the university-wide average in these subjects of approximately 14%. The standard of applications to Merton was therefore high. Further details are given below.

Candidates were selected using standard selection criteria and admissions procedures.

Physics aims to interview approximately 2.5 candidates per place which means that fewer than half of applicants are shortlisted for interview. The primary shortlisting criterion is performance on the Physics Aptitude Test (PAT), judged by the total mark. The PAT has been run for several years, and is known to be a good predictor of future performance
at Oxford; in particular performance in the PAT is known to be a better predictor of performance on the degree course than are GCSE results. The PAT is based on
a defined syllabus and the contents are checked by school teachers to ensure that they are set at an appropriate level.

In the 2017-18 admissions round all candidates scoring 59 and above on the PAT were shortlisted. A small number of other candidates were added to the shortlist, either because their test scores did not reflect their true ability (such as candidates with medical certificates) or because their application materials showed other quite exceptional evidence of excellence.

Test scores are not made available to candidates automatically but can be provided by the College on request. Individual applicants should interpret their scores with reference to the Physics Department's Report on the Physics Admissions Exercise 2017

After initial shortlisting, 18 candidates who had applied to Merton were reallocated to a different college 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. Seven of our reallocated candidates were offered a place at another college in Oxford.

The final shortlisted candidates for Physics were given two interviews in Merton on Physics and Mathematics and at least one other interview at another college; candidates for Physics & Philosophy were given an additional interview in Merton on Philosophy. A number of overseas candidates were interviewed via Skype. Decisions to offer a place were based on the performance in the PAT and in the interviews. Of the 21 Merton first-choice candidates interviewed, nine were offered a place at Merton, and three were offered a place at another college.


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