What we look for


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.)

Oxford ELAT 2024

Please note that candidates applying in October 2024 to study English will not need to sit the Oxford ELAT. Read a statement on the admissions test here: https://english.web.ox.ac.uk/about-oxford-english-literature-admissions-test-elat

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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.

As part of your application, you must send us a sample of your written work. If you are at school or college, this essay should be:

  • An analytical essay in the field of English Literature.
  • Written in the normal course of your school or college work.
  • Marked by a teacher – and not rewritten after marking.
  • Not more than 2,000 words.

When you send us your work, please be sure to include this cover sheet. On the cover sheet you should describe the circumstances under which your work was produced. You and your teacher must both fill in this form. Tutors will take into account the information you give on your cover sheet when assessing your work.

You’re welcome to submit an excerpt from a longer piece if you think it represents your best work. If so, please add a note on the cover sheet to explain the context of the excerpt.

If you are a post-qualification or mature applicant, you can decide (although it is not necessary) to produce a new piece of work, as you may want to give a clearer reflection of your current abilities. We understand that this means it may not be possible to have this piece of work marked, so please use the cover sheet to detail the circumstances in which the work was produced.

What kind of work should I send?
You are welcome to send us any English Literature work that meets the requirements listed above. This could be a timed essay, a critical commentary, or an excerpt of your course work or EPQ. Work can be handwritten or typed – either is fine.

Your written work gives us an idea of how you think and write, so it is important that you submit a piece that you believe demonstrates the best of your ability.

Examples of the kind of work we would like to see include:

  • An exploration of the language, style, form, characters, narrative, or themes of one or more texts.
  • A comparison of two or three texts that share a similar theme or form.
  • A critical commentary on one or two shorter texts (e.g. a poem, a scene from a play, an excerpt from a novel).

Whatever essay you choose to send, keep in mind that what we’re most interested in seeing is your engagement with the literary qualities of texts.

Please be sure to include the question/prompt to which you are responding when you submit your essay (there is a space for this on the cover sheet). If you are sending us a critical commentary, please also include a copy/scan of the text(s) you are analysing.

Please do not send us:

  • English Language work
  • Work in a subject other than English Literature
  • A piece of creative writing

How will my written work be assessed?
Your work will be assessed by tutors according to the following criteria:

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

Please keep the above criteria in mind when choosing which essay to send us.

When and how should I submit my written work?
The deadline for submitting written work is 10 November.

The college to which you apply – or which you are assigned, should you make an open application – will request written work from you and provide details of how to send it to them. Please do not send written work to any English Faculty addresses (@ell.ox.ac.uk).

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

I am a Joint Schools applicant. Do I need to send additional written work?
Joint Schools applicants can find additional information on written work and selection criteria on the Joint School pages.

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).