Shortlisting and selection criteria (undergraduate)


Students working in the library

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

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

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


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

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

Written work gives us an idea of how you think and write, so it is important that you submit a piece which shows that, and best meets the criteria below. You do not have to meet all these criteria in the piece you select, but please make sure that you read them carefully.  

If you are a pre-qualification applicant, we understand the impact COVID-19 may have had on your schoolwork, and that this may have restricted the range of written work you’ve completed. We would normally expect that you would submit a marked essay produced in the normal course of your school or college work, and that it should not have been rewritten after marking.  We understand that may not be possible this year, so please describe the circumstances under which your work was produced on the form provided. You and your teacher will both fill in this form, so tell us under what conditions you wrote the essay, with what help, and in what timeframe. Tutors will take that information into account.   

If you are a post-qualification, or mature applicant, you can decide (but it is not necessary) to produce a new piece of work, as you may want to give a clearer reflection of your current abilities. Again, we understand that this means it may not be possible to have it marked. Please use the space on the form to describe the circumstances in which the work was produced. 

Normally we’d prefer to read an analytical discussion of a topic or topics in the field of English literature, although an English language topic might be suitable. You can send us an excerpt from your course work or EPQ (if you have drafted any), or any piece of written work you’ve done on any literary texts.  This could include a short timed essay or a brief critical commentary, although we understand that those give you less scope to show what you can do.  Please don’t submit a piece of creative writing. The piece you choose should not exceed 2,000 words, but you’re welcome to submit an excerpt from a longer piece if you think it represents your best work (you may add a note to explain the context of the excerpt).  

There are few fixed parameters here: please send us the work which shows you at your best. 

Tutors will assess written work using the following criteria:    

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

More information on how to submit written work and specific requirements can be found on the University of Oxford website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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