What do I need to get into Oxford or Cambridge – straight A*s?

Thinking about applying to Oxford or Cambridge? You’ve got to stand out against the tough competition - our five-step plan sets out what you’ll need.

Not all successful applicants to Oxford and Cambridge have a clean sweep of A*s at GCSE and A-levels – but let’s face it, quite a few do!

Make sure you take a look at what current students have told us about their Oxbridge interview experiences, too.

Application tips from Oxbridge tutors

First up, here's what tutors from Oxford and Cambridge told us when we asked them what they're looking for in your application...


1. Good grades

Yes, your grades will need to dazzle, and show that you’re a high achiever from your school or college. GCSEs are seen as evidence of work ethic - and you need a really strong one of those to cope with study at Oxford or Cambridge. Our ‘guesstimate’ is that the average successful applicant has around 8 A* GCSEs under their belt.

There’s another chance to prove yourself if you don’t have loads of A*s at GCSE. From September 2015, Year 12 students will no longer face assessments at the end of the year (instead these will come at the end of Year 13 and decide wholly their A-level grade). You'll still receive predicted grades based on your performance so far and these will be used when applying to universities (in conjunction with your GCSE grades and any aptitude tests the university requires you to take).

2. Wider reading

Simply following the syllabus in Years 12 and 13 and doing the minimum your teacher requires won’t cut it for Oxbridge candidates.

For any humanities, social science, science or engineering degree, you should read widely around your subject – and the same goes for when you’re applying to any other highly sought-after university, for that matter. This will mean you’ll:

  • have more relevant information to talk about on your personal statement
  • be able to talk widely around a subject during an interview
  • be more generally prepared to the pace of reading expected of you at university.

3. Strong interview

Think of your Oxbridge interview as being a bit like an exam, out loud. This will be an intellectual interrogation - but it should be a friendly one! The key is in your preparation.

Get a teacher, careers adviser or even a friend to do a mock interview with you, and re-read what you said in your personal statement on which some of the interview questions may be based. Budding scientists and mathematicians should expect to work out questions on paper or using a whiteboard.

Check out these interview tips from Oxbridge tutors themselves...


4. Genuine enthusiasm for the subject

Do you find yourself talking and reading endlessly about your subject and other related fields? It really will help if you have (and can express) passion and interest for the course you’re applying for, backed up by examples that demonstrate this.

5. Top in tests

While Cambridge asks for intricate details around AS-level results, Oxford has a wider range of pre-entry tests, so check if the course you’re interested in requires you to do one.

You should always do a mock test under timed conditions at least two months before the time of taking so you can see your weaknesses and attempt to do something about them. Ask your careers adviser or teacher to get hold of some example papers.

Be sure what the nature of the test is and what is being tested. For a BMAT part 2 test, being on top of your GCSE science syllabus would be helpful. For the TSA Oxford, knowledge of critical thinking techniques would be beneficial.


Search Which? University

Find further advice or search for information on a course or university