Were you given unseen material?
Yes, whereas my first interview gave me the chance to show off what I was comfortable talking about, as guided by my Personal Statement and submitted essay, the second interview aimed to put all interviewees on a level playing field by giving us an unseen primary source.
What were you given?
We were given the choice of three sources - Modern, Early Modern or Medieval History. I had only ever studied Modern and so it was a no-brainer to go for the extract from Harold Macmillan's Winds of Change speech (not that I had the foggiest at the time that this is what it was). During the interview, I was asked to explain what I thought the speech was about, the context in which it had been made and any bias that was discernible. A lot of my answers were guess-work but I tried to back up every point I made to show my reasoning so that even if I was wrong, I was logically so! At interview they are essentially seeing whether or not you work well in tutorial based environment and I was pleased that they gave me the opportunity turn the gaps in my understanding into questions about the source as we went along.
Did the tutors push you outside of your comfort zone?
Yes, though I thought I had avoided any Medieval/ Early Modern traps by this point, during this second interview I was stretched from my comfort zone and asked questions relating to Medieval History (of which I knew absolutely nothing). One of the tutors interviewing me was a Medieval expert and knew that I had never touched on Medieval History in class but wanted to see my thought process in understanding something hitherto alien to me as during the first year of your degree you will be required to study Medieval, Early Modern and Modern . We were talking about the role of the woman in medieval society and I suddenly remembered that we had read Chaucer's the Wife of Bath in a couple of my English classes the year before. Being able to draw parallels here and pin my answers to something I was even vaguely familiar with was a great help. History is such a massive subject and so keeping my mind open to the parallels found in other school subjects or generally in things I had done helped me to steer things to familiar ground.
What top tips would you give potential History applicants?
Know your personal statement and submitted essay inside and out and don't include something if you can't have a discussion with a leading expert on it!
Read outside the subject so that you can talk about something that will help you stand out from the crowd. It is much easier talking about something you are really interested in and the tutors want to see that you have a real interest in the subject to fuel you through three years of fast-paced and varied study.
Don't be thrown by being asked to talk about something you do not know. Every tutorial at Oxford is a steep learning curve and the interview is a chance to demonstrate that you work well in this environment and can engage in the discussion. Asking interesting questions can help to show this.
Try and enjoy the interview! The tutors will be meeting you once or twice a week if you get a place and they want students who love the subject but can also provide interesting and thought-provoking discussion during these hours. The tutorial system isn't for everyone but try to put yourself at ease as much as possible and let your potential shine through.