Admissions criteria for Classics and Joint Schools

Applications for Classical subjects are usually very strong, and most candidates are invited to interview. All applications are carefully and sympathetically considered, but the grounds on which a decision may be made not to invite a candidate to interview include:

  • poor results in GCSE and/or equivalent examinations,
  • poor results predicted for A Level and/or other impending examinations,
  • poor results at A Level and/or equivalent examinations (if an application is made after A-Level or equivalent examinations),
  • a negative school report,
  • submitted written work that shows a lack of intellectual coherence or power of analysis, or serious inaccuracy, or a poor command of expression in English,
  • an absence of any indication of interest in the subject in the candidate's application,
  • poor results in written tests (other than the Language Aptitude Test) sat in the course of the candidate's application,
  • failure to submit the required written work, or to sit the required written tests.

It should also be noted that the standard offer made to candidates is AAA at A Level: if a candidate is predicted, or has been awarded, grades lower than AAA, that will under normal circumstances constitute grounds for not inviting a candidate to interview in itself. Post-qualification candidates who have not achieved AAA (or equivalent in the IB or other qualifications) within two years will not normally be invited to interview unless there are strong mitigating circumstances. The college of preference (or allocated college in the case of open applicants) will consult other colleges and will only take the decision not to interview an applicant if all colleges agree.

In some cases a college other than the college of preference (or allocated college) may decide to invite the candidate to interview.


Assessors shall take note of the declared circumstances under which the written work was done, and assess it accordingly. A very different standard of content and presentation should be expected from a piece of highly prepared course work than from a piece written for homework with a short dead-line, or written under exam conditions. Taking these differences into account, assessors will be looking for signs of good basic knowledge, powers of analysis, powers of expression, ability to construct a coherent train of thought, and to shape an argument. The quality of English expression and of presentation may also be part of the assessment, according to the circumstances under which the work was done.


a) Translation Tests of passages of Latin and/or Greek

These tests are being used as indicators of linguistic potential in Latin and/or Greek, rather than simply as assessments of the level already achieved. This means that the ability to grapple with constructions, and to recognize the idiomatic characteristics of the languages are more important than knowledge of uncommon vocabulary.

Knowledge of relatively common vocabulary and idiom are also being tested (vocabulary and idiom that is judged to be relatively rare or difficult will be glossed on the question paper).

Errors and short-comings may be assessed very differently, depending on how far the candidate has made a commendable effort to grapple with the problems of the translation.

The tests are centrally marked, but individual tutors also have the opportunity to check them for themselves.

b) The Language Aptitude Test

This test has been specially devised to assess a candidate's aptitude for learning Greek and/or Latin. Candidates are not expected to know any language other than English, nor are they expected to be familiar with any grammatical terminology. The questions are designed to test the candidate's ability to observe regular patterns of variation in sets of words and sentences (some from real languages, others from an invented language, all with English translations) and to work out how these are correlated with differences of meaning; there are also questions that invite the candidate to recognise nuances of meaning in English sentences and to identify patterns within familiar English usage. Candidates are supplied with a copy of the previous year's test so that they can see what sort of questions are asked and can have some practice in advance.

The interview is aimed primarily at assessing the candidate's potential for independent thinking, ability to follow an argument, skill in communication, and adaptability for tutorial teaching. It is not a test of knowledge in isolation from context; nor is it a test of verbal facility or social charm.

Interviewers will be looking for evidence of ability to respond in a thoughtful way to unpredictable questions and ideas. They will also be looking for evidence that the candidate's interest goes beyond a mere formal submission to their academic training, and that they are able to deploy their knowledge in ways that show initiative.

To conclude, those responsible for Classics admissions will be looking at all the available information - from past and predicted examination results, school reports, personal reports, written tests and interviews - with a view to assessing the individual candidate's potential to benefit from the academic courses provided by Oxford in Classics, and to assessing the candidate's potential to be a good tutorial student, and to attain good results in examinations. The weight given to the different criteria will vary according to the individual background and circumstances of each candidate.