Guide to Oxford and Cambridge Interviews
Interviews at Oxbridge are notoriously tough but are an essential part of the application process. Before worrying about your upcoming interview, you should first congratulate yourself that you have been selected for an interview! With all the applications Oxbridge receives each year, you have stood out as someone with potential.
To prepare for the interview season, this article will give you a run-down on Oxbridge interviews, what to expect, the questions they may ask, and how to prepare. Let’s get into it.
What is the reason for interviewing candidates?
Oxbridge collectively receives thousands of applicants a year, so the interviews are a necessary part of the application process to ensure they are accepting the best students for their cohort. This is not necessarily the brightest, most academic students, but the applicants that demonstrate a genuine passion for their subject and the institution they have applied for.
Tutors can only gauge a limited understanding of you from your application, the interviews are where they can truly see your personality and where your strengths and weaknesses lie. They want all their students to succeed, after all, so they are looking for potential in applicants and evidence that they will thrive in the university.
Oxbridge interviews differ from other academic interviews, in that interviews occur over a number of days and you will often stay on campus for a minimum of 3 days (accommodation and food are provided for you). This is because you will likely be attending multiple interviews with several tutors.
You may be lucky to have a few one-to-one interviews with a tutor which may ease the pressure, but it is equally as likely there will be a panel of tutors interviewing you at once.
You might also be asked to stay for an extra day to interview at a different college. But do not be disheartened! This is a good thing as it means a different college has heard about you and thinks you may be a great fit for their college too.
Preparing for an Oxbridge interview
So, how should you prepare for your Oxbridge interview? The first step is referring back to your personal statement. This is important because your personal statement is what got you the interview in the first place, they clearly liked what you said!
Review any material you have referred to in your application such as research papers or books as you may be questioned about these by the panel. Similarly, if you were asked to submit any essays or work ahead of your interview ensure you review these and familiarise yourself with what your key arguments were and how you formed these arguments – be prepared to back your ideas up.
Research, research, research!
You have reviewed your application, prepared all your materials, and have a watertight argument for your essay, this is a great start. Now it is time to prepare to answer questions about your chosen field. Oxbridge wants to ensure they are choosing applicants that are devoted and well-informed in their subject area, so ensure you are up to date with any recent developments in your subjects. Finding the most recent research papers or journals will help to achieve this.
You can also help yourself stand out by researching what you will be studying should you be accepted to your chosen institution. You are trying to convey your fit for the course, so prepare some answers that show you are the perfect student for the course!
What kind of questions will they ask?
Of course, there is no way to know what questions they will ask at an Oxford or Cambridge interview, so it is best to prepare for as many scenarios as possible.
However, to ease your worries, Oxford did in fact release some questions they have previously asked. There are as follows:
“In a world where English is the globally spoken language, why learn French?
“How hot does the air have to be in a hot air balloon if I wanted to use it to lift an elephant?”
They seem a little random right? The institutions argue questions like the ones above allow the interviewee to demonstrate how good they are, and argue that surprising applicants with off-the-cuff questions like these allow for elements of surprise. Tutors will not necessarily look for the right answer, but one that demonstrates inquisitive and applied thinking – skills that serve students well while studying at Oxbridge.
Gain some interview experience
If you don’t have a lot of interview experience, one of the best preparations you can do is to hone your interview technique.
There is a plethora of information online from applicants who have gone through the application process themselves. Read up on chat forums about your subject area and you are likely to find information about the interview you will be attending. Oxford University also has a page of example interview questions on its website for applicants to review, you can view this page here.
You may not be able to find the exact questions you will be asked, but it is a great way to gain a sense of the questions they ask interviewees.
Another great way to attend some practice interviews. Many colleges offer mock interviews and some even offer interview prep specifically for Oxford and Cambridge, so ensure you are utilising these resources if they are on offer. If your current place of learning does not offer interview preparation, you can ask friends or family to conduct a mock interview for you. Alternatively, many tutors offer specific Oxbridge interview support and can practice interview techniques with you.
Interviewing for Oxbridge is undeniably a tough process to endure, but you can ease the pressure through preparation. Ensure you are well-researched in both your application and the wider subject you are applying for. Utilise the wealth of information online from the universities themselves and from internet forums of students that have been there, and got the t-shirt. Once you are ready, practice your interview techniques with the services available at your college, with friends or family, or enlist the help of a tutor.
Completing these steps ahead of your interview is sure to help ease the pressure and ensure you are well-prepared to prove why you should be a future Oxbridge student.