Examination Fellowships: General Information
What is the Examination Fellowship?
Every autumn, All Souls College seeks to elect Examination Fellows, also known as Prize Fellows. The College normally elects two from a field of fifty or more candidates. The Fellowships last seven years and cannot be renewed.
Examination Fellows are full members of the College's governing body, with a vote, a stipend or scholarship allowance if eligible for scholarship status, free board and single accommodation in College, and various other benefits. The College normally pays the University fees of Examination Fellows who are studying for degrees at Oxford. The level of the stipend or scholarship allowance and other benefits are described in the further particulars for each competition.
What do Examination Fellows do?
Most Examination Fellows follow an academic career. You get seven years of research in ideal conditions, in regular contact with leading scholars in your field, and free from many of the pressures, financial and otherwise, which can afflict graduate students. In seven years you might, for example, be able to complete a doctorate, turn it into a book, and then get started on another project. The College also encourages Fellows to get involved in University teaching. So, if you aim for an academic career, the College helps you get experience of tutorial teaching, and if you give lectures your salary is increased.
Some Examination Fellows pursue careers outside academia in law, finance, journalism, the arts, the Civil Service and so on. If you chose not to do full-time academic work, you would receive a smaller stipend or salary (after the first two years) but keep your status as a Fellow, with a room in College and most of the benefits. If you were working outside academia you would have to maintain active academic interests, albeit in a very part-time fashion. During the first two years of the Fellowship, you would need to pursue a 'course of study or training' approved by the College: you could fulfil this requirement by undertaking a structured programme of independent study or by enrolling on an academic course (a vocational course would not itself be sufficient). In the remaining five years of the Fellowship, you would be expected to make some definite contribution to academic activity or links between academia and public life (interpreted broadly to include the arts as well as, for example, law and public policy). You could fulfil this obligation in many ways: possibilities include undertaking a research project part-time, organising seminars or promoting the dissemination of academic work to a wider audience. You are not expected to have a specific project planned at the time of election, but you would need to submit a proposal for College approval – and support – within eighteen months of entering Fellowship. Your 'course of study or training' in the first two years could be directed at the formulation of a workable proposal and the acquisition of any new skills (e.g. languages or statistical methods) that you would need to implement it.
Fellows are expected to take an active part in College life. Again, this can take various forms. In particular, in the first year of Fellowship we hope that you would dine in College at least twenty-eight times each term ('term' being defined to include part of the vacation before and after full term). This helps foster fruitful interactions: you get to know other Fellows and they get to know you. Fellows pursuing non-academic careers can comply with this convention by, for example, working in London or elsewhere during the week and coming to Oxford at term-time weekends.
Who can apply?
The College welcomes applications from men and women of diverse backgrounds. Academic merit in the examination is the sole criterion for assessing candidates.
You are eligible to apply if:
(i) you have matriculated at the University of Oxford or will have registered for a higher degree at the University, and
(ii) you have completed all the examinations necessary for a first BA or equivalent degree in any subject whether at the University of Oxford or elsewhere; and,
(iii) normally, you have successfully completed your first degree not more than ten terms before the relevant election. (Please note: from 2020, the term limit will change to seven terms.)
If you are over the term limits for exceptional reasons (e.g. prolonged illness), you should write to the Warden saying why you think he should allow you to be a candidate.
What is the deadline for applications?
The precise deadline varies from year to year, but it falls around the beginning of September.
You must complete the online application form by the advertised deadline.
How are candidates assessed?
The College sets a written examination, consisting of four papers of three hours each. Two of these are in your chosen specialist subject – Classical Studies, Law, History, English Literature, Economics, Politics, or Philosophy. You can ask to see more than one specialist paper in any examination session, but can only answer from one paper in that session. The vast majority of applicants do their two specialist papers in the same subject, though that is not obligatory. The other two papers are 'general', and contain questions on a wide range of subjects. In previous years, candidates sat a fifth paper, in which they were required to write an essay in response to a single word; this is no longer the case.
The English Literature I specialist paper may be answered on any literature in English. Section A of the English Literature II paper will be a compulsory practical criticism question. The essay questions in Section B of this paper will allow but not require candidates to answer on literatures other than English.
As of 2019, the structure of the Classical Studies papers will change. On each of Classical Studies papers I and II, candidates will be required to answer one question from Section A, requiring demonstration of technical mastery of either language or archaeological material; and two from Section B, covering language, literature, history, archaeology, philosophy. There will be no separate translation paper.
PDFs of past examination papers are available on the College website: please see below. Printed versions may also be viewed during working hours in All Souls.
Scripts are anonymous: we give you a number to conceal your identity. Any Fellow may read the scripts, but a group of examiners (usually two per subject) takes the lead in the marking and draws up a short-list, usually of about five or six candidates. Other Fellows can add to the short-list if they think the examiners have overlooked a strong candidate. Short-listed candidates are invited to attend a viva voce examination (see below for more details). The election is made by the Fellowship as a whole.
When are the examination and the election?
Each year, the dates of the written examination, the viva and the election are given in the Further particulars, which are posted on the College website.
The examination is usually held over two days the week immediately before 0th week of the autumn term. This is in late September or early October.
The Warden and the Chair of the Examiners hold a meeting for all candidates who wish to attend on the afternoon before the written examination, to explain the examination and to answer any questions.
The viva is on the morning of the last Saturday of October. The election is made on the first Saturday of November. If you were to be elected, you would normally be a Fellow from the next day, and could move into College very soon after. You could, however, apply to defer the start of the Fellowship by up to one year.
What is the College looking for in candidates?
Most candidates have performed outstandingly well in their academic careers thus far, and the examination, including the viva, is designed to allow the College to distinguish among very talented people. We are impressed by thoughtfulness and scholarship beyond the level of Finals, but do not expect candidates to be perfectly right about everything: flexibility and responsiveness to argument count for a lot, both in the written papers and in the viva. The specialist papers contain a broad range of questions within each subject. On those papers, as in a Finals paper, you should write for specialists in your field. The College is seeking candidates who can display exceptional abilities in argument and analysis. Breadth of knowledge, independence of judgment and thought, clarity and carefulness of exposition and awareness of unresolved difficulties are all especially welcome. In the general papers we look for signs of broad interests and awareness of the relevance of your particular areas of knowledge to wider issues. In the first general paper, you have the opportunity to answer questions on a range of topics including the arts, science, politics, literature, current affairs, and issues in education and sport. These questions are not linked directly to the specialist subjects. In the second general paper, the questions are broadly related to each of the subjects on which there are specialist papers. You can focus on the questions concerning your specialist subject, or answer questions relating to other subjects, or a mixture of the two. In both general papers, you should write for an educated, but non-specialist, readership.
Strong performance on the specialist papers is a prerequisite for election. Providing a candidate's specialist papers are of such a standard, specialist and non-specialist papers have equal weight.
There is no single formula for gaining the Fellowship: the important thing is to write scripts that show you at your best. Bear in mind that you may need to allow yourself more latitude and ambition than usual. In the Fellowship Examination, some risks may yield significant rewards.
What happens in the viva?
If you are short-listed, you will be invited to a viva on the morning of the last Saturday of October. The viva lasts for about 25 minutes. You will only be asked about your written work from the examination. It is a good idea to make brief summaries of your answers soon after the examination so that if you are called to a viva you can remind yourself of what you wrote. About fifty Fellows attend the vivas. The examiners who marked your scripts will ask most of the questions, and although all Fellows may question you, usually only a few intervene. Vivas are meant to be friendly, and to allow candidates to show themselves at their best.
Where can I find more information?
If you have any questions about the Examination Fellowship that are not answered here, please take a look at our FAQs page. For other questions, or if you would like to talk to a current Examination Fellow, please contact the Fellows' Secretary.