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

Admissions Feedback 2019-20

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 703 applications in this admissions round, considerably more than in 2018. 103 candidates have been made an offer by the College for 2020-entry, including eleven open offers and three offers made under the Opportunity Oxford scheme. One offer was also made for deferred 2021-entry.

Biochemistry

This year there were 694 applicants across the University for direct entry (a decrease of 45 on the previous year) and 13 for deferred entry to study Biochemistry. We had 98 places available for entry next year and made 98 college offers, 20 open offers (where a University place is guaranteed if the conditions are achieved but the College place will be allocated in August) and 1 offer 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 707 applicants, 335 applicants were short-listed. Of these, 330 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 287 received an overall grade above 5, so being made an offer of a place is a very considerable achievement.

Biology

In the 2019-20 admissions round the estimated competition for places across Oxford was 6.7:1. 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.

All shortlisted 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 Tim Guilford, Professor Tom Richards 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.
 

Chemistry

Admissions Feedback from the Department of Chemistry

In the 2019-20 admissions round the estimated competition for places across Oxford was 4.3:1 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 0 to 9 against agreed descriptors. Candidates graded below 6 were not shortlisted, except for a small number of exceptional cases. 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 30 minute interviews, one of which largely focused on aspects of Organic and Inorganic Chemistry, and the other largely Maths and Physical 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.

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

Classical Archaeology and Ancient History

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 2019-20 admissions round the estimated competition for places across Oxford was 2.3:1 for Classics and 4.3:1 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 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

Summary of the admissions process 2019

The number of applications for each subject, with changes in comparison with the 2018 admissions round, were as follows:

  Applications Shortlisted Places offered
Computer Science 682 -1% 126 -11% 44 -17%
Mathematics & CS 505 +17% 118 +9% 49 +9%
CS & Philosophy 174 +17% 42 -5% 17 +13%
Total 1361 +7% 286 -3% 110 -3%

Computer Science applications were stable this year following an exceptional increase last year, but applications in the two joint schools continued to grow. The relative numbers of places offered in Computer Science and in Mathematics and Computer Science returned to the normal pattern. Applications continue to outstrip the number of places, and as a result many very able candidates were not offered a place.

Shortlisting

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 was therefore restricted to slightly less than three for each quota place.

Shortlisting was performed in accordance with the stated admissions criteria. All applicants are expected to sit the Mathematics Admissions Test (MAT) 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 number of A* grades achieved by those candidates taking GCSEs, and 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. Shortlisting decisions are reviewed by the subject coordinator in order to ensure consistency between colleges.

Interviews

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 interviewed by both their first and second colleges, and may be invited to further interviews at other colleges. Applicants for joint degrees are typically given separate interviews in the two subjects.

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 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 interviews for candidates attending in Oxford.

The colleges use various procedures in a coordinated effort to ensure that the strongest candidates are admitted across the University irrespective of the college considering 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 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.

Feedback

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 2019

English and joint schools

This year the University of Oxford had a 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 899
Not invited to interview (or withdrew) 290
Interviewed in Oxford (or remotely) 609
Places offered (including 26 Open Offers) 258
Approximate ratio of applicants to offers 3.5:1

We cannot interview all applicants, so we have to make decisions on whom to shortlist, based on the UCAS information about past and predicted exam results, the UCAS academic reference and personal statement, the submitted written work, and the result of 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. Candidates may access their test results from Monday 13 January 2020 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 26 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

Admissions Feedback from the Department of Economics

In the 2019-20 admissions round the estimated competition for places in Economics and Management across Oxford was 18.1:1.

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 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 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 selected an average of 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.

Prospective students should look at the Department’s reading suggestions.

History and joint schools

Admissions Feedback from the Faculty of History

Subject(s) Applicants per place 2019 (Oxford)
History 4.7
History and English 8.6
History and Modern Languages 5.8
History and Politics 9.7
Ancient and Modern History 4.6

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

History aimed to interview between 3 and 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 2019 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 2020.

Candidates who scored well in the HAT and had good GCSEs were likely to be invited 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. Merton was a college with an above-average number of strong candidates, and so 21 of our History and Joint Schools candidates were reallocated to other colleges (16 History, 4 History and English, and 1 History and Modern Languages).

Shortlisted students received two interviews in History at Merton (apart from those candidates interviewed remotely 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 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).

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 and eight to candidates in the Joint Schools (including two open offers). 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. Two Merton applicants were made an offer by other colleges.

Law and Law with Law Studies in Europe

In the 2019-20 admissions round the estimated competition for places across Oxford was 8.3:1 for Law and 9.8:1 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 2020.

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.

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 Admissions Process for Mathematics, Mathematics & Computer Science, Mathematics & Statistics and Mathematics & Philosophy at Oxford University in 2019/2020

Overall Application Statistics

In all 2682 (last year 2445) applications were received in 2019 for the above four degrees. Of these, 2628 successfully registered for and sat the MAT (2391 in 2018).

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 2019 the test date was 30 October. 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.

  • 17.5% of applications made were open applications (18.2% in 2018).
  • 15 applicants applied for deferred entry (17 in 2018). Of these, 3 were interviewed, and fewer than 3 were offered places.
  • 32.8% of applicants were female (35.5% in 2018) and 27.1% of offer holders are female (26.3% in 2018).
  • 1427 applicants were studying A-levels in the UK (1356 in 2018). Of these, 95% were taking Further Mathematics as a full A-level. Of the 74 applicants who weren’t taking Further Maths as a full A-level, 10 were short-listed for interview, and fewer than 3 were offered places.
  • In 2019 there were 994 international fee-paying applicants (843 in 2018).

Of the 2682 total applications made, 765 or 29% (828 or 34%) were short-listed. In all 287 (288) offers, including open offers, were made. Broken down by degree subject:

  • Mathematics: 1828 (1653) applications; 559 (617) short-listed; 206 (211) offers.
  • Mathematics and Statistics: 230 (224) applications; 33 (46) short-listed; 12 (12) offers.
  • Mathematics and Philosophy: 119 (138) applications; 55 (57) short-listed; 20 (16) offers.
  • Mathematics and Computer Science: 505 (430) applications; 118 (108) short-listed; 49 (45) offers.

Shortlisting

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 while they are in Oxford.

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

In 2019 the average score on questions 1-5 was:

  • 44.9 (50.8) amongst all applicants;
  • 63.6 (67.1) amongst short-listed applicants;
  • 69.3 (72.9) amongst successful applicants.

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

  • 46.6 (51.6) amongst all applicants;
  • 71.7 (72.2) amongst short-listed applicants;
  • 76.2 (76.5) 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 shortlisted 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 four applicants per place), a college must reallocate a fraction of their candidates. These candidates are then assigned at random to other colleges. In 2019, 32 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 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 30% of offers (27% in 2018) are 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 2019, 11 such offers were made for Mathematics, including joint honours courses. More information on this programme is available at: www.ox.ac.uk/opportunityoxford.

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

All candidates who took the MAT will have their MAT score sent to them automatically by the Admissions Coordinator at the end of the admissions process.

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

Admissions Feedback from the Faculty of Modern Languages

Subject Applicants per place 2019 (Oxford)
Modern Languages 2.4
Modern Languages and Linguistics 2.7
Classics and Modern Languages 4.3
English and Modern Languages 5.1
History and Modern Languages 5.8
Philosophy and Modern Languages 3.2

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 2019 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 2020..

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. Five Modern Languages and Joint Schools candidates were reallocated from Merton to 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.

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

Music

In the 2019-20 admissions round the estimated competition for places across Oxford was approximately 2.6:1.

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 at least 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 an unseen extract 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 extract (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 asked to perform a short (5 minute) recital. These took place during the interview period in the Faculty and 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 2229. The number of applicants per place was 8.2. There were 368 open applications and 46 deferred entry applications. There were 959 female and 1270 male applicants. There were 1005 home, 463 EU and 761 overseas applicants. 738 applicants were shortlisted and 271 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.

To achieve consistency in shortlisting decisions across colleges, all applicants are allocated to bands according to their TSA section 1 score.

Band 1 n >= 73.26 Almost certainly shortlist
Band 2 70.45 <= n < 73.26 Probably shortlist
Band 3 68.37 <= n < 70.45 Marginal: use other information
Band 4 n < 68.37 Probably deselect
OR
Was unable to register for test: use other information

Colleges are then set deselection targets so that across all colleges 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 (by TSA section 1 score) within the existing cohort of the college. 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 (place, open offer, place for alternative year, recommend for second interview, or reject), candidates are ranked according to a formula based on the standardised average of their interview scores and their TSA section 1 and 2 scores. Colleges then select second interviews using all information available for each candidate.

This year 41 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 13 January 2020. 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 2019-20 admissions round Merton received 80 applications for Physics and Physics & Philosophy in total, i.e. ten candidates per place. The approximate competition for places in these subjects across Oxford as a whole was 9.1:1 for Physics, and 12.9:1 for Physics & Philosophy. 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 2019 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, five 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.

Merton's shortlisted candidates for Physics were given two interviews at Merton on Physics and Mathematics and at least one other interview at another college; candidates for Physics & Philosophy were given an additional interview at Merton on Philosophy. A number of overseas candidates were interviewed remotely. Decisions to offer a place were based on the performance in the PAT and in the interviews.

Of the 21 first-college candidates interviewed at Merton, eight 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.

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