Applying for Chemistry at Oxford University

Teaching and research are closely linked on the course: Oxford has one of the leading chemistry departments in the world with state-of-the-art teaching and research laboratories and world-class research in a broad range of areas including: synthesis and catalysis; medicinal and biological chemistry; sustainable energy; advanced materials; innovative measurement; and theoretical and computational chemistry. Students starting in 2020 will be taught an exciting new practical course in our recently-built lab. The department has an outstanding track record in commercialising the innovative work of research staff, which has raised millions of pounds for the University.

The MChem is a four-year course and is not modular, in the sense that the subject is taught and examined as a whole, enabling us to explore the links within the subject. The core material is taken by all students, with opportunities to specialise later in the course. The fourth year (Part II) is devoted exclusively to research – a distinctive feature of Chemistry at Oxford since 1916.

Academic Requirements:
- A-levels: A*A*A (including Chemistry and Mathematics) with both A*s in science subjects and/or Mathematics. A-level students applying to study Chemistry at Oxford would be expected to achieve A*A*A. The A*s must both be in the following science subjects: Chemistry, Mathematics (with either Statistics, Mecanics, or Decision Mathematics modules)
- Advanced Highers: AA/AAB (including Chemistry and Mathematics)
- IB: 40 (including core points) with 7 in HL Chemistry and EITHER 6/7 in HL Mathematics, OR 7 in SL Mathematics (Analysis & Approaches) plus a second science with 7 in HL

Do you have any advice for future applicants in terms of preparation?

Thoroughly revise all your current A-Level content. Don't think you are going to have an interview that asks you about your hobbies and why you chose the university, because from my experience that just ain't gonna happen. It will be technical, and you guessed it, will be all chemistry. As you will be hoping to study chemistry for 4 years there, they don't want someone who doesn't know their stuff, they will ask you testing questions. The basics are essential, know all your bond angles and stuff like that. It is likely you will be asked organic mechanisms and you may have to draw them. Also know about bonding. Chemistry is not all you need to know, you need to be able to think logically, as you saw in the door question I was asked. Be prepared for everything, I know that is not possible but it is a true statement! (Profile 72)

I learned the parts of the syllabus we had not yet covered in class (in my case Further Organic). It is difficult to prepare for as the questions are designed to be unfamiliar. It came in useful learning the top half of the periodic table; I was asked to give the electronic structure of Boron and Nitrogen. (Profile 732)

Know AS chemistry really well, and the A2 stuff you've done so far. I wouldn't bother learning stuff off the syllabus - they are testing how you deal with new info and concepts, and how you apply what you know in other areas, not how much you've learnt. It's not like an exam where you have to be able to just recite some things parrot fashion - they really are looking for understanding. (Profile 909)

What questions were you asked during your interview(s)?

I actually had two interviews, one at my first choice college, Balliol and one at Christ Church. I stayed at Balliol College for 4 days and as you can imagine alot of the time is spent doing nothing (unless you use your time productively!) Both my interviews were of a technical nature and purely about chemistry. I can't remember being asked anything about my personal life at all.

My first interview was at Balliol and I was interviewed by 3 people, once from each branch or chemistry (organic, inorganic and physical). They were very friendly and tried to make me feel as comfortable as possible, even though I was nervous as hell. It was impossible not to look at one of the interviewers, as they sat in an arc around me. The room was nice and cosy, this made me feel better. My second interview was at Christ Church. Yet again, 3 interviewers, one from each major branch. Again, 3 very friendly blokes who made me feel comfortable. The room was nice, like a living room in fact.

Both my interviews were of a technical chemistry nature. At my first interview I was first interviewed by the organic chemistry tutor. He asked me about alcohols, aldehydes and ketones and the way in which they can be distinguished between each other both chemically and physically. I think I also had to write some oxidation of alcohols equations down on a piece of paper too. i can't remember if I had to do a mechanism or not but I think I did. The first thing the inorganic tutor did was hold up two molecules in front of me (models obviously). At first sight and to a none chemist they would appear the same but infact they were optical isomers (one being the mirror image of the other - a chiral centre). He asked about the effects this has in nature and pharmaceuticals. That is all I can remember from the inorganic chap. I was only asked one thing by the physical chemistry tutor and in my opinion I made a serious cock up and I didn't get the grasp of what was being said. I found out afterwards that the same thing had been discussed on some TV lectures (I wish I had seen it!) Anyway I was posed this scenario: There are 3 doors in a line and behind one of the doors is a sports car which you can win. Initially you go and stand behind the middle door and choose it. At this point someone opens the left hand door and you see that there is no car behind it. To maximise your chance of winning the car do you stay behind the middle door and choose it or do you move to the door to the right and choose that??? I had absolutely no idea what he was getting at, I knew it was something to do with probability but I knew there would be a catch. Anyway after I finally got the scenario worked out in my head I said the door to the right. He asked me why and so I jokingly said that if is was behind the middle door then you would have seen the bonnet stick out in the left door when it was opened. This gained some quiet chuckles from the other two interviewers. Anyway moving to the right is the correct answer, I don't quite understand why still. The reason is something to do with initially the chance of it being behind any door is 1/3. When you choose the middle door the chance of it being behind there is 1/3 and so the chance of it being behind either of the other two doors is 2/3. However the door on the left is opened and there is no car behind it. So the probability of it being behind the door on the right remains 2/3. I still don't get it, LOL. My second interview was also totally technial, I can't remember it as vividly as my interview at Balliol though. If I can remember rightly it was mostly inorganic. Alot of stuff asked about the shapes of molecules. Everything seemed to flow quite well in the interview too, we moved from one thing to the next slowly. I can remember we talked about BF3 quite a bit and co-ordinate bonds came in to the conversation alot as well. (Profile 72)

Topics: Shapes of Molecules, Electronegativity, Maths - Calculus & Graphs, Moles Calculations, Mechanistic reasoning, Physical Chemistry

I was asked about the shapes of molecules. Firstly NH3, then BH3, then NH3BH3, then N3B3H6. I was asked to draw the mechanism of bromination of cyclohexene, and about geometrical and optical isomers of that molecule. I was asked to determine the number of water molecules in a given cup of 180ml, stating my assumptions (temperature & pressure, dissociation, ions, relative mass of O=16, H=1 etc.). I was asked to differentiate progressively harder equations. I was given an equation and told to draw it, with it ending up being the equation for an energy curve relating to internuclear separation. I was then asked to differentiate and suggest what the curve would look like for different diatomic elements. (Profile 732)

One question was "does it take longer for an egg to boil up a mountain" in my interview at Trinity they asked about IR and UV waves and the greenhouse effect.  They asked how many molecules in a glass of water qu, the answer is 6.022^23 because 18 cm of water means n= m/mr. Had to draw phosphoric acid in inorganic

Questions about cis-trans and optical isomers. Question about a mass on a spring and if you took a picture where was it most likely to be in relation to x (a line that he drew) and it was the opposite of what you'd expect because it travels faster in the middle. (Profile 861)

I had 3 interviews, 20 minutes each, each with 2 people (either 2 tutors, or 1 tutor and 1 postgraduate student). 1 organic, 1 inorganic, 1 physical. We were all called in to a room together beforehand to meet the interviewers, and were told what was going to happen to settle our nerves. They said all the interviews would be purely about chemistry, as they didn't have time to ask about personal statements/ other interests etc. Having said that, in my first interview (organic) he asked a quick question about work experience and my gap year plans, which was really good in settling nerves.

What did you wear to your interview(s), and why?

Chinos, loafers and a shirt (no tie). I took a casual jacket and scarf to my interviews as it was very cold, but took them off before starting. (Profile 732)

A suit and heels and a silk blouse. I feel more confident wearing a suit but other people were wearing a variety of clothes including jeans... most medics were in suits however. (Profile 861)

I wore smart black jeans, flat shoes, striped blouse and big cable knit jumper. I didn't want to do the whole suit thing, but didn't want to do the totally casual thing. To be honest, people were at both ends of this spectrum, and I really don't think it matters at all. (Profile 909)