Applying to Physics at Oxford University

Oxford University is home to one of the largest physics departments in the UK, with an outstanding and very diverse research programme in six sub-departments:Astrophysics; Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics; Atomic and Laser Physics; Condensed Matter Physics (including Biophysics); Particle Physics; and Theoretical Physics.

Physics at Oxford is challenging and mathematical with a strong emphasis on fundamental concepts such as optics and relativity. The fourth-year MPhys option courses bring you to the threshold of current research, and can lead to subject specialism. You can also complete the course in three years graduating with a BA. The Physics department is equipped with state-of-the-art lecture facilities and teaching laboratories. Tutorials give students direct and regular access to physicists actively involved in research and provide an opportunity to explore scientific ideas with experts in the field.

Academic Requirements
- A-levels: A*AA to include Mathematics and Physics. The A* must be in Mathematics, Physics, or Further Mathematics
- Advanced Highers: AA/AAB
- IB: 39 (including core points) with 766 at HL (the 7 should be in either Physics or Mathematics)

How did you decide between Oxford and Cambridge?

Oxford seemed the natural choice for studying pure sciences. I didn't like the Natural Sciences tripos system at Cambridge as it would mean I'd have to study some biology, and I dropped biology at GCSE level with good reason ;) (Profile 464)

I only wanted to do straight physics. (Profile 885)

Oxford does a physics course not just natural sciences. Cambridge is quite close to home so I wanted to get away a bit more. (Profile 449)

I had a work placement in the design office at the Physics Department in Oxford and I really loved the town and the atmosphere. I was influenced by a few of my teachers who had been in the past and I was told that Cambridge was quite a small town, too small for me and my personality probably! I went back to Oxford for the open days and still really liked the place, it was then that I knew I'd fit in. (Profile 447)

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

The Forms: I didn't write anything extra on my Oxford application form as I'd already had enough worrying over my personal statement on my UCAS form. I guess the only advice would be only write down things that you are prepared to talk about as that is all the interviewers have to ask you!

The interview(s): Be prepared to be challenged. Interviewers won't learn anything from you if the questions are too easy or far too hard. Don't sit in the interview and say nothing, explain what you are thinking about a certain problem, how you would go about solving it etc. If you give the interviewer something back about the way you can analyse problems it is more useful than you sitting there and saying nothing! (Profile 449)

The Forms: Keep your additional information short and succinct - and ignore the comments about it being optional. I was unsure whether to fill it in as I was afraid of repeating my personal statement, but eventually I wrote three sentences and I think it did help greatly.

The interview(s): Make sure there is a topic you are prepared to talk in depth about, but that's no guarantee they will ask questions about it. A good general breath of knowledge is needed, with something you are especially confident about and can attempt to steer the interview towards. (Profile 464)

Memorise a-level material in the slim hope that it'll come up. Prepare answers for anything you mentioned in your ps. (Profile 885)

The Forms: Mention if you've been to Oxford or have visited the college before, that’s about it.

The interview(s): Make sure you know your notes off by heart, physics and maths. Do the sample maths papers and think of any obvious questions you can get asked. Be confident and trust your instinct in the interview. (Profile 447)

The interview(s): revise basic physics; questions are designed to apply basic knowledge to new situations (Profile 450)

Did you have to take any exams as part of your Oxford Physics interview(s)?

There was a 1-hour maths exam the Monday morning. Seeing as I was doing Further Maths and the sample paper online was fairly straightforward, I didn't make much effort to prepare as I couldn't see what I could prepare - which was a mistake. (Profile 464)

I had a 1 hour Maths exam on the day of my interview. (Profile 447)

1 hour maths exam, prepared by looking at a sample paper and revising the topic areas on the paper I had not covered as part of my course. (Profile 452)

I had to take a 1 hour maths paper. I didn't know you could get sample papers before interview so I didn't know what was coming (the fact it was done without calculators was somewhat of a shock to the system) (Profile 449)

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

I had to do problems on the board. The first interview involved me working out differential equations, 2nd order ones and it lead to SHM of a mass on the end of a spring. The second interview was more curve sketching and general maths. I didnt get asked a specific physics question in either interview, it was all maths! (Profile 447)

Things like: Solar energy landing on an umbrella is enough to power a washing machine. What is the mass loss of the sun per second? What is the minimum length full length mirror, in terms of a person's height? Why can't a person light a match in a satellite in orbit? Don't worry if you can't do these - the interviewer had to step in and help me quite often! (Profile 452)

Mainly on mechanics, eg. effect of rain on a rail carriage on frictionless track (slows down). one question on calculating resistance of a cube of resistant wires (5/6 R i think) (Profile 450)

Sketching graphs, differentiation of nasty (!) functions, geostationary orbits, estimation questions eg. number of atoms in a grain of sand vs. number of grains of sand on a beach (Profile 449)

What advice do you have for potential applicants based on your experiences?

Be yourself. I was very nervous, and kept making silly mistakes in the questions they asked me. Remember, it's an artificial situation and the interviewers can really detect your potential as an Oxford student even in you make mistakes - you're human! (Profile 464)

Don't try and prepare too much, you probably won't be able to guess what will be asked. Be confident, try and explain what you're thinking even if you don't know exactly where you are going. The worst thing you can do is to sit around in silence. Try and come across as interested in your subject and don't let anything fluster you. They're really not that bad! Remember, they're not looking so much for what you know, just how you think. You are probably not going to be able to change this. (Profile 452)