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What sort of person do you think gets an offer for Chemistry at Oxford? Here, we have 3 profiles from 3 applicants for Chemistry at Oxford. Have a read of all three – who do you think was successful?

Applicant 1: Ellie, 18

Before her interview: 

  • Ellie is on a gap year, and has already secured A*A*AA in her A-Levels: Maths, Further Maths, Chemistry, Biology. 
  • On her gap year, she is doing an internship in a lab, researching energy alternatives to fossil fuels, and how sustainable they are. 
  • She is also reading around the subject, and regularly answering chemistry problems on isaac-chemistry, so as not to let her A-Level skills dwindle. She also does some maths problems, from the n-rich maths website. 
  • To prepare for the TSA, she does four or five timed papers. She also practices her critical thinking skills by analysing speeches and creating synopses for them whenever she listens to the news. 
  • She doesn’t quite finish the TSA when she sits it, but gets most of it done, and is fairly confident that the answers she did do are correct. 
  • She has some mock interviews with her Mum, who, although not a chemist, proves very useful, as she has to explain everything to her with great clarity and in depth to make it understandable.

In her Interview: 

  • Ellie finds the preliminary questions, she is asked to draw some graphs, fairly straightforward.
  • As the interview progresses the questions get harder, but she takes time to draw diagrams, and this gives her time and the tools to understand the questions better
  • She doesn’t reach a solution for one of the questions, but with the tutor’s guidance, gets very close. She probably would have got there with a bit more time, but the tutor wanted to move onto the next question. 

Applicant 2: Luke, 17

Before his interview: 

  • Luke is in his second year of A-Levels, studying Maths, Chemistry and History. 
  • He is enthusiastic about Chemistry, and has read ahead a lot in the syllabus. 
  • As an A-level History student, he finds the history of chemistry very interesting, and has read a lot around this, and focuses upon this reading in his personal statement. 
  • He does quite a lot of preparation for the TSA, but it always seems to take him longer than the time allocation
  • To prepare for his interviews, he revisits all the books he has read and written about on his personal statement. 

In his Interview: 

  • Luke doesn’t get any questions directly about his personal statement in his interview, so he tries to shoehorn in the names of some of the historical chemists he has learnt about. The tutor seems a little confused by this. 
  • He struggles with the more developed parts of the questions, and is shocked by how the content is nothing like anything he has seen before – he thought he would just be getting advanced A-Level questions. 

Applicant 3: Josie, 18

Before her interview: 

  • Josie is finishing off her A-Levels in Maths, Chemistry, Physics and Biology. 
  • She has also just completed a project on air pollution in rapidly industrialising countries. 
  • She competes in her school’s Chemistry Olympiad, and also enjoys the annual Maths Challenge too. 
  • She does quite a lot of preparation for the TSA, and thinks it goes quite well. 
  • To prepare for her interview she solves some Chemistry problems online.

In her interview: 

  • She performs well on the basic parts of the Chemistry questions, and with some guidance from the tutors, gets some solutions to the more involved and developed parts. 
  • However, she wasn’t expecting any maths questions, so she struggles a lot more with this part, as she hadn’t done any maths preparation. She didn’t know where to begin in differentiating complex expressions.

Who is the best candidate? 

Ellie is the best candidate. Whilst the other two both get caught out in different ways, Ellie uses her gap year to improve her chances, and also prepares well for both the TSA and the interviews

What did Ellie do right ?

  • Ellie’s gap year shows her interest in Chemistry, and gives her experience with lab work, which is always attractive to Chemistry admissions tutors, labs proving such a vital part of the degree. 
  • She is also taking time on her gap year to ensure her Chemistry and Maths stay on top form
  • She prepares well for the TSA, being aware of the time constraints, and practicing in timed conditions. 
  • She also practices communicating in preparation for her interview, and this means she can make the most of the tutor’s guidance and advice when it comes to hers. This shows her to be an engaged and teachable student: just what they are looking for. 

What did Luke do wrong? 

  • Although reading around the subject you are interested in is good, Luke focused too much on increasing his knowledge of the history of Chemistry, and not enough on his actual Chemistry skillset. 
  • If you’re applying to a STEM subject and not a humanity, being well-read should not be your priority, but instead making sure that your skills and understanding are as good as they can be.
  • Also, Luke tries to shoehorn content from his Personal Statement into the interviews, instead of focusing on understanding and exploring different methods of solving the problem he is given

What did Josie do wrong?

  • Josie prepares well, and is a strong candidate. 
  • However, she is ill-prepared for the Maths part of the interview. Maths is such an important part of the Chemistry degree, and it is vital that you are well-prepared for this part of the interview as well.


You don’t need to be a ‘perfect student’ to be a successful applicant for Chemistry; you just need to be dedicated to the subject and to prepare properly. Conveniently, we’ve got tips on preparing for interview, as well as a comprehensive guidebook for the TSA, full of preparation materials.

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