Before you come up, you need to do four things.


Read the prescribed texts for the Preliminary Examination. These are listed below, under Paper III and Paper IV (Papers I and II describe the language work you will be doing). You will help yourself enormously if you have gone through them carefully at least once before your arrival.

The texts in Paper III offer an introduction to narrative prose (novels, short stories) from different periods and countries in the Spanish-speaking world. This paper is examined by essay.

The works studied for Paper IV, which provide examples of poetry and drama from different historical periods, are set for closer textual analysis than those studied for Paper IV, and you will have to write commentaries on passages from them in the examination.

Paper III: Candidates will be required to write three essays in the examination.

  • Miguel de Cervantes. ‘Rinconete y Cortadillo’, from vol. 1 of Novelas ejemplares (ed. H.Sieber, 2 vols. Cátedra, 1989 ISBN: 9788437602219)
  • Nellie Campobello. Cartucho: Relatos de la lucha en el Norte de México (Madrid: Cátedra,2019 ISBN-10: 8437634326)
  • Alejo Carpentier. El reino de este mundo (Barcelona: Austral, 2015 ISBN-10: 8432224952)
  • Ana María Matute. Primera memoria (Destino, 2010 ISBN: 9788423343591)

Paper IV: Candidates will also be required to write three commentaries in the exam, each on a different text.

  • El romancero viejo (ed. M. Díaz Roig, Cátedra, Madrid, 1979/1997 ISBN: 9788437600802) – see Appendix (below) for full list of poems to study.
  • Pedro Calderón de la Barca. El médico du su honra (ed. D. W. Cruickshank, Clásicos Castalia ISBN 13: 9788497403757)
  • Golden Age Sonnets – selection to be made available online via Canvas (the University’s ‘Virtual learning environment’).
  • Federico García Lorca, Doña Rosita la soltera (ed. Mario Hernández Sánchez, Alianza, 2013 ISBN: 9788420675725)
  • César Vallejo. Los heraldos negros (ed. René de Costa, 2004, Cátedra ISBN: 9788437616698)

[For Sole Spanish Students Only:

Paper XI: Further Topics I: Introduction to Hispanic Film Studies

  • Cría Cuervos (dir. Carlos Saura, 1976)
  • Volver (dir. Pedro Almodóvar, 2006)
  • Memorias del subdesarrollo (dir. Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, 1967)
  • Camila (dir. María Luisa Bemberg, 1984
  • John King, Magical Reels (2nd ed. London: Verso, 2000)

Paper XII: Further Topics II: Introduction to Spanish Medieval Studies

  • Lírica española de tipo popular: Edad Media y Renacimiento, ed. Margit Frenk Alatorre. Letras Hispánicas, 60. Madrid: Cátedra, 1978 [extracts] – set edition
  • Sendebar, ed. María Jesús Lacarra. Letras Hispánicas, 304. Madrid: Cátedra, 1989 – set edition
  • Jorge Manrique, Coplas por la muerte de su padre, in Poesía, ed. by María Morrás. Clásicos Castalia, 271. Madrid: Castalia, 2003 – set edition
  • Diego de San Pedro, Cárcel de amor ed. by Carmen Parrilla, with a study by Alan Deyermond. Biblioteca Clásica, 17. Barcelona: Crítica, 1995 – set edition

Paper XIII: Further Topics III: Introduction to Short Fiction in Spanish

  • Miguel de Cervantes, Novela del celoso extremeño, in Novelas ejemplares, vol. II, ed. Juan Bautista Avalle-Arce (Madrid: Castalia, 1987) – set edition
  • María de Zayas y Sotomayor, El prevenido engañado, in Novelas amorosas y ejemplares, ed. Julián Olivares (Madrid: Cátedra, 2000) – set edition
  • Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, ‘Maese Pérez el organista: Leyenda sevillana’ in Rimas y Leyendas, ed. Franciso López Estrada and María Teresa López García-Berdoy (Madrid: Espasa, 2010) – set edition
  • Benito Pérez Galdós, ‘La novela en el tranvía’, in Cuentos fantásticos, ed. Alan E. Smith (Madrid: Cátedra, 2004) – set edition
  • José María Merino, ‘Acechos cercanos’ ‘Otra historia navideña’, ‘Lejanías’, ‘De fauna doméstica’, ‘Ensoñaciones’, ‘La memoria confusa’, ‘Ecosistema’, ‘Terapia’, ‘De vacas cuerdas’, ‘Reunión conmemorativa’ , ‘Cien’, in La glorieta de los fugitivos (Madrid: Páginas de Espuma, 2007) – set edition
  • Julio Cortázar, ‘Continuidad de los parques’, ‘Las babas del diablo’, ‘La isla a mediodía’, in Final del juego (Madrid: Santillana, 2009) and Siete cuentos, ed. Peter Beardsell (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999) – set edition
  • Juan Rulfo, ‘Nos han dado la tierra’, ‘Es que somos muy pobres’, ‘El hombre’, in El llano en llamas, ed. Françoise Perus (Madrid: Cátedra, 2016) – set edition


Improve your knowledge of the Spanish language. Read, for example, articles in a good newspaper, such as El País. Arm yourself with a good grammar and dictionary. I recommend the following:

  • John Butt, Carmen Benjamin and Antonia Moreira Rodríguez, A New Reference Grammar of Modern Spanish, 6th edition (Routledge, 2018). This is the standard work
  • For revision: John Butt, Oxford Spanish Grammar (Oxford, 1996)
  • Also valuable: R. E. Batchelor and C. J. Pountain, Using Spanish: A Guide to Contemporary Usage (2nd edn, Cambridge, 2005) and R. E. Batchelor, Using Spanish Synonyms (2nd edn., Cambridge, 2006

The best bilingual dictionary is The Oxford Spanish Dictionary, fourth edition (2008).

The Real Academia Española also has a monolingual dictionary available online:

In the Preliminary examinations there are two language papers:

  • I           Translation into Spanish of a passage of modern English prose and a selection of sentences in English (to test in particular grammatical accuracy).
  • II          Translation into English of two passages of contrasting modern Spanish prose.


Acquire a knowledge of literary theory and of the background to Spanish studies. The following books will help you [NB. THESE ARE SUGGESTIONS – YOU NEED NOT READ ALL OF THEM, NOR DO YOU NEED TO READ THEM COVER TO COVER]:


  • Terry Eagleton, How to Read Literature (Yale, 2014)
  • John Mullan, How Novels Work (Oxford, 2006)
  • Roberto González Echevarría and Enrique Pupo-Walker (eds), The Cambridge History of Latin American Literature, 3 vols. (Cambridge, 1996)
  • T. S. Eliot, Selected Prose (Penguin, 1963)
  • Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton, 1957)
  • Suzanne Keen, Narrative Form (New York, 2003)
  • P. E. Russell (ed), Spain:  A Companion to Spanish Studies (London: Methuen, 1973)
  • R. Wellek and A. Warren, Theory of Literature (Penguin, 1973)
  • Various Authors, A Literary History of Spain, 8 vols. (London: Ernest Benn, 1971-85)


Spread your wings and acquire a good cultural general knowledge. Classic works like Erich Auerbach, Mimesis (Princeton, 1953) or William Empson, Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930, Pimlico 2004) are worth browsing through.

I recommend particularly:

  • One of the great Greek or Latin epics of Homer and Virgil (in translation – of which there are many): the Iliad, the Odyssey, or the Aeneid.
  • Shakespeare: Othello, Hamlet, The Tempest, King Lear; the Sonnets.
  • The Bible: especially Genesis; Exodus, chapters 1-15; the Song of Solomon; the Four Gospels.

You should also acquire a grounding in Spanish history and culture. I recommend:

  • J.H. Elliott, Imperial Spain, 1469-1716 (Penguin, 1963)
  • J.H. Elliott, Spain and its World, 1500-1700 (Yale, 1986)
  • R. Fraser, Blood of Spain (Pantheon, 1979)
  • P.E. Russell (ed), Spain: A Companion to Spanish Studies (see above)

And at least a nodding acquaintance with that of Latin America. Read, for example,

  • E. Williamson, The Penguin History of Latin America (Penguin, 2009

Ben Bollig,
Fellow and Tutor in Spanish (Catz),
Associate College Lecturer in Spanish (St John’s).
March 2023


Oxford Spanish Literature Podcast: Listen in on our conversations with Spanish tutors at Oxford to find out what’s so fascinating about the literature they teach, why they love teaching it, and why they think you might love it too.

Study skills for incoming undergraduates

As an Oxford student, you have many great opportunities ahead, but studying here can also be very challenging. To help you prepare for this, we have put together some resources that will help you develop your study skills before you start at Oxford, no matter your subject.

Starting at Oxford

Starting a course at Oxford can be very daunting, but there are many resources out there to help you succeed! Here are some useful guides from across the University that you might want to check out:

  • Study skills and training: Here you can find advice on academic good practice including avoiding plagiarism, managing your time, reading, note taking, referencing and revision.
  • Student life: It’s not all about academics at Oxford; here you can find out about the range of other opportunities available to you as a student, as well as tips on how to navigate student life with your workload. If you prefer podcasts, much of this information is available in that form here!
  • Managing the cost: Undergraduate students Helena, Joe and Dan, have teamed up with the University’s Undergraduate Admissions team to discuss the financial support available to students and how they manage the cost of studying at Oxford.

Useful contacts

If you have any questions that aren’t answered on this page, you can get in touch with the following people:

ContactQuestions they can answer
Admissions Office: Sarah JonesAnything to do with offers, visas, UCAS issues, reading lists and preparatory materials
Domestic OfficeAccommodation, what to bring, insurance, electoral roll issues  
BursaryAll things financial
College OfficePractical arrangements, bank letters, etc.
Disability enquiries: Elaine EastgateAny issues relating to disability or special requirements