Oxbridge university interviews: the truth behind the myths
By Rebecca Hughes (Digital content producer, Which? University)|11 November 2013|4 min read
Have you been invited to interview at Oxford or Cambridge Universities? Don't just rely on the rumours – students who have been through the interview process share their stories...
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'Would you rather be a novel or a poem?'… 'Why do animals have stripes?'… 'What is language?'
These are just a couple of examples of the tricky interview questions that have been posed to Oxbridge applicants in previous years. But are the dreaded interviews as intimidating as they sound? We asked students who have been through the renowned interview process for their top preparation tips and the truth behind the myths…
The interviewers just want to see how you respond to the situation – they are at no point trying to catch you out. Enjoy the experience because it is very similar to what the teaching experience is like at Cambridge. You're not expected to know the 'right answer', just to be able to argue your point and show a willingness to develop your ideas. First Year English Literature Student | University Of Cambridge
Don't stress about silly mistakes
I actually quite enjoyed my interview – I was nervous of course, but once in there it was more like them trying to teach me and see how I responded than anything else. My only tips are to try and relax, and not get too worried about silly mistakes – they want to see that you can learn, not that you already know everything. First Year Maths Student | University Of Cambridge
Think out loud
Keep a clear head and don't worry about reflecting before replying. Sometimes it's even a good idea to talk out loud and develop your thoughts with the interviewer, as it shows them how you think and approach problems, thus what kind of a student you will be. Second Year French Student | University Of Oxford
You'll be taken out of your comfort zone
Having heard horror stories about Cambridge interviews, I had prepared for the worst – in other words, completely random, unexpected questions about things that I had never heard before. What I actually had was one interview, with straightforward academic, problem questions that were only a little beyond my then academic standard. In general, I’ve learnt that no matter how much you prepare, they will always take you out of your comfort zone, but they are just looking at how you deal with that. They will help you through your questions, which are looking for how teachable you are.
Also, remember the interview isn't everything. Your AS-level results and your UMS scores (a standardised way of looking at your A-level exam and module marks) in particular are crucial. Second Year Chemistry Student | University Of Cambridge
Don't be scared to disagree with your interviewer
It's really easy to think that your interviewer clearly knows best but if you disagree with their opinion then say it. Interviewers want to see how you think and will play devil's advocate so don't just bow to their opinion, fight your corner. Third Year Geography Student | University Of Cambridge
And here's how to be prepared for whatever they might throw at you...
Know your A-level material and personal statement back-to-front
I had two interviews, both very academically orientated. I would reiterate the advice I received beforehand - know your A-level material back to front, but you will be asked to think rather than just to repeat information. Both interviews used my personal statement as a starting point, so make sure that you can talk about everything you write.
Talk about things that show your interest in your subject, and don't worry if you feel out of your depth – often, being pushed is a good sign. Third Year Genetics Student | University Of Cambridge
Make the most of open days and online resources
My interview at Oxford was certainly a daunting and stressful experience; however, since I had attended an information day a month before I had a fairly comprehensive idea of what to expect from the interview itself. Plenty of information and advice from current students is available, both in the university prospectus and online. Tutors will want to see that you are committed to your chosen subject, capable of thinking 'outside the box', and prepared to explore the paths of your own original thought. Third Year French Student | University Of Oxford
Relax and be yourself
The interview is the thing that most people get worried over. Don't. And don't try and pre-empt anything they might ask you. My advice would be to go in and be yourself. The interview isn't testing what you know, it's testing whether you'd be able to cope with the teaching style – if you go in and pretend to be someone else they will never be able to get a good read on you. You'll have to study that subject and work with those tutors for the next three or four years so you may as well start as you mean to go on. First Year Law Student | University Of Oxford
Interview tips from Oxbridge tutors themselves...
From accommodation to academic facilities, we've also asked current students to tell us about their university or college experiences - you can find out what students from the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford told us on their individual profiles.