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Tuesday, 13 February 2018


 One trait shared by many successful Oxbridge applicants is the ability to think ahead. A Year 12 student aiming for a degree course starting in 2019 should therefore start engaging with the Oxford or Cambridge course prospectus right now. Not only does it spell out the formal entry requirements of each course in terms of A-level subjects and grades  (thus clarifying a student's real options), but it also lists the wide range of careers which this may lead to. As some course names  (think Land Economy or Materials Science) will mean very little to parents, this could reassure them that you are making a sound choice.

To both help you with the choice and enable you to become a suitable applicant,  Oxford and Cambridge also run a huge number of introductory events, often combining a general introduction with a course-specific taster talk, plus some questions and answers. Future applicants also get a chance to quiz current students about their experience. Some events  include funding information or a college tour. While most of these (usually free) events take place in the summer months, students may need to apply or just register for them very soon. Note the application deadlines!

·       CAMBRIDGE OPEN DAYS (5th and 6th July 2018)

(Cambridge also runs course-specific DEPARTMENTAL OPEN DAYS between March and September.
Again, events  are free but booking may be required.)
                Held throughout the year, these are stimulating, course-specific talks by university
                academics which include Q&As and admissions advice. There is a £20 charge,  but the
                events are very good value. Past attenders even attributed their success to them.

                These are entirely free, residential, course-specific summer schools which 
                combine intensive learning with tours and social activities. Aimed at high-achieving 
                state school students, priority is given to disadvantaged applicants and those 
                living in areas in areas with low progression to higher education. 
                (Applications are now closed).

                These academically intensive, free one week courses held in individual colleges   
                enable state school students to engage in intensive study, interspersed with 
                tours and social activities. Applicants need five or more 6-9 grades at GCSE or 
                5 credit passes at  Standard Grade.
Year 11 students thinking even further ahead may want to explore the 
FOUNDATION YEAR run at     Oxford's Lady Margaret Hall for able applicants 
from disadvantaged backgrounds.

        Lastly, special events for BAME students, a still much under-represented group, 
                are now  run  under the umbrella of TARGET OXBRIDGE by 
                Rare Recruitment Co. UK.
                Tel. 020 3846 0350.

Readers will find yet more suggestions on how to prepare for the Oxbridge admissions 
process in my best-selling guide, OXBRIDGE ENTRANCE: THE REAL RULES. 


Thursday, 23 November 2017


If the the very prospect of your interview still gives you bad dreams,  yet more preparation will calm you down. Start by googling your prospective interviewers.  Not only will they seem less like strangers when you meet, but a special interest mentioned can suggest topics that might come up.

Don’t, though, try to plough through an interviewer’s book at this stage. It may still be well above your head anyway. Focus on practical things instead. If your Oxbridge interviews involve an overnight stay, pack something that will take your mind off the challenges ahead. For some people, that will be a thriller, for others Rescue Remedy or their favourite chocs.

Once up, get to know some of the other candidates (who may become fellow students), rather than just viewing them as potential rivals. Some will have read books or explored subject areas you never even heard off, but don’t worry now. Interview questions can usually be handled by drawing on a variety of sources.

If a term or author mentioned really baffles you, have a quick look online, but don’t spend hours trying to catch up. You want to stay fresh enough to display your own knowledge and engage with new ideas.

Still worried you might embarrass yourself in front of those super-clever interviewers? Remember that this is actually not what they’re trying to achieve. They’re just experts looking for yet more good learners keen on the much loved course they teach.

Most will try hard to make you feel welcome, but don’t be put off by an interviewer who seems unfriendly or glum. It does not mean that black-gowned figure hates your accent, school or cutting-edge haircut. The poor soul may simply be exhausted after interviewing a dozen students in one day. Other great minds, however well-meaning, merely lack the social skills to put a stranger at ease. Either way, they will still be taking in everything you say and discuss it with fellow interviewers later.

So, keep relating to what you are being asked, instead of fretting about the feel of the event.  And, if you really want to be liked, practise speaking up; whispering, mumbling students are the bane of a don’s life.

While doing so, keep in mind one more,  absolutely key interview skill: answering the question actually asked (rather than the one you would like it to have been). Also, remember that interview questions are meant to be hard, so don’t despair if you got the odd answer wrong. 

Lastly, wise students are aware that interviewers expect fairly detailed answers. Just yes or no is never what they're looking for.  So try to  cover "what, why and how" if possible.  Can you explain events, analyse texts or calculate outcomes? Show a knack for logical or lateral thinking? And, if a totally unfamiliar scenario is put in front of you, can you draw on what you do know to engage with it?

For yet more advice, check out OXBRIDGE ENTRANCE: THE REAL RULES, still available by one-day delivery from Amazon.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017


Still limbering up for your approaching interview? Here is the key advice. For a start, do remember that the interview itself is not a life-or-death matter. Your personal statement, school references and, in most cases, test results will co-determine whether you are offered a place. So, instead of fretting, you may want to just  raise your game a bit further.

Try to at least skim any book (s) you mentioned in your UCAS statement, this time focusing on methods rather than findings or facts. How exactly did Gregor Mendel discover the genetic basis of heredity? How might an archaeologist research the lives of illiterate, long dead people?

While being familiar with the periods covered in your A-level history is essential for subject applicants, of course, you may also want to ask yourself why some events within those still hugely resonate with us, while others don’t.

An applicant for a course requiring students to solve maths problems may need to practise showing (on paper or board) how they arrived at the solution. It is not enough to just verbally present the interviewer with it.  

·    Make sure, too, that you can understand, define, spell and confidently use the main subject terms. You don’t want to muddle up fission with fusion (or allusion with illusion) on that long, stressful day.

     Google-check you are up-to-date on major developments in the subject area you expressed an interest in. Have there been great new discoveries in cancer treatment or the causes of hurricanes?

·    Practise speculating when faced with an unfamiliar scenario. The idea is to draw on what you know, but also use your imagination (or an appropriate calculation). What would have happened if Churchill had died in 1939? Why might an economic theory not work in real life? 

In fact, recent sample questions released by Oxford suggest that these are  steadily broadening to make up for very unequal class sizes and academic support, an approach shared by  Cambridge: while interviewers will still  expect a familiarity with the structure of organelles (or the definition of an iambic pentameter), the ability to give strong reasons for your views or look at an issue from more than one angle does count for much. 

What this means is that a law applicant may have to state why she believes a common type of behaviour should (or should not) be illegal, while a would-be philosopher might be asked to suggest ethical reasons for caring about the environment. The idea is to see if the student can apply what (s)he has learnt to a different context or problem.

Reassured that these are far from insurmountable challenges? If so, the next step is to remind yourself of the five crucial interview skills:

·     1. Listen carefully. Does your interviewer want you to discuss what happened in 1914 or in 1941?  Are you being asked for a fact, an explanation or your opinion?

·    2. Order  your thoughts before replying in a few reasonably short sentences. Don’t just ramble on, hoping that the right answer will eventually come to you.

·    3.  Always use proper subject terms, avoid text speak and write in full, grammatically correct  sentences in any  written test. 

4.  If applying for  for Economics or a STEM-related course, make sure you can do quick, basic sums  in your head.  You should also be able to draw a simple numerical table and make sense of one you are shown.

5. Speak in a clear, audible voice rather than whisper: there is no point in giving a brilliant answer if your interviewer cannot hear it.

Well, that's pretty much it, though you'll  find much more detailed advice in the six interview chapters and three course-specific sections of OXBRIDGE ENTRANCE: THE REAL RULES. Best of luck!

Monday, 13 November 2017


University of Oxford

Is the result of your students' Oxford or Cambridge applications too often disappointing? Or is Oxbridge a new ambition for your school? Our well-established STATE SCHOOL TO OXBRIDGE interview workshops are uniquely geared towards schools with a high proportion of applicants from non-university and/or minority ethnic backgrounds.
As the author of best-selling guide OXBRIDGE ENTRANCE: THE REAL RULES,  I know that success takes preparation. While the free Oxbridge Access events cover some of this, even the brightest “non-traditional” applicants often need more targeted help to display their abilities. Our  school-based, one-off interview workshops  strengthen  subject-specific knowledge, articulacy and the broader academic skills top universities seek.  Each event includes both interview practice and individual advice. Teachers have described our workshops as “invaluable”.

Cost is still just £150 for a one-off 90 minute (or two hour) workshop, designed to provide you with the frank, strategic guidance Oxbridge staff cannot give. The result for participating schools tends to be recurrent Oxbridge success.

For more details about this and other STATE SCHOOL TO OXBRIDGE workshops, just call 07791 574 866 or email us at with any questions you have.

Monday, 25 September 2017


Trinity College, Oxford

Staying within the UCAS-set word limit is one of the most challenging tasks ever encountered by many students. Here are key rules that will help:

              1. Don't repeat  yourself. Once you’ve said that you found working with that food bank team really inspiring,  you don’t need to add that you acquired valuable team-working skill and like working with people.

              2.  Don’t list everything you have done. Just mentioning six different extra-curricular activities is pointless. Instead, show that you are organised enough to do a couple of challenging things alongside your studies. Then say which useful (but not blindingly obvious) insights or skills you’ve gained.  

              3. Avoid space-filling generalisations such as “biology is a truly fascinating subject”. You want to focus on what fascinates you personally. The application chapters of OXBRIDGE ENTRANCE: THE REAL RULES have lots of detailed suggestions on how to do this. 

              4. Write in clear, not overly long sentences, using correct subject terms. Florid, convoluted phrases will just make the reader wonder if an adult wrote this for you. As strong writing skills are prized by most  admissions tutors, you may want to mention a well received essay or research report you did in the space gained.  

              5. Don’t try to solve your space problem by copying a UCAS statement found online: Admissions tutors now have the software to identify plagiarism.

              6. Re-read, and re-read again, and not just for spelling errors.  Have you said more about the course or the profession you are aiming  for than about the skills or aptitudes you bring to these? Are your extra-curriculars  taking up more space than your academic interests? Since what university students do most is read, did you remember to list the course-related book(s) or article(s) you've read? If you leave final checks to the last moment, the result could be not just typos but a muddled narrative or fatal omissions.

Friday, 15 September 2017


Emmanuel College, Cambridge

The secret of a good personal statement lies in the rewrite(s).  Creating your perfect academic selfie is a slow process, so don't even think of leaving version one for October. It will probably take  three or more drafts to convincingly show your abilities, as well as your interest in your future course.  Best not to rush it.  

One way to start is by stating what made you aware of an intriguing aspect of the course. Was it a lesson, a book, a school research project, an excursion, a talk or some TV programme?  How are you trying to learn more about it? Is there a science book, poetry collection or article on British history written for adult readers you have enjoyed? What you want to show here is that you are capable of intellectual activity beyond or  independent of school requirements. 

Next, you might want to mention some non-academic extracurriculars.  Have they taught you any skills useful for your course? Do they suggest particular strengths or character traits?  Also, are there any prizes you have won or  disadvantages overcome? Don't worry about length in the first draft. You can cut, paste and edit later.

Keeping the above points in mind will allow you to progress smoothly or at least keep panic at bay. It will also help admissions tutors to fairly assess your suitability for the course. Before you proceed to the final draft, though, make sure you have avoided the most common pitfalls:

1. Not making sure you have the right A-level subjects for your course: there are rigid subject rules when it comes to some Oxbridge courses, while others, including Law, accept quite a wide range. Unless you read the entry requirements first, you may be throwing away one of your four or five UCAS choices. 
2. Not bothering to read the full course description in the university prospectus: before mentioning a subject-related aspect you are particularly keen on (such as medieval studies), make sure it is actually offered in conjunction with the course you picked. At Oxbridge,  this would  probably be History or Archaeology.  Getting this wrong may count as laziness.

3. Thinking about your degree subject only in the context of your future career: far too many Oxbridge applicants write that they chose Economics because they are "hoping for a career in finance”. What admissions tutors want to know is which course-related financial, social or mathematical problems are of interest to you and how you are already exploring them.

4. Overdoing the extracurriculars: you just want to show that you are organised enough to keep up with two or three activities alongside your studies. It would be nice if one of these was also vaguely relevant to your course, has offered you some great insight or given you useful skills. Merely listing five different activities is pointless.

5. Being too impersonal in your UCAS statement: admissions tutors want to know about you as an individual. By mentioning personal strengths, concerns, achievements or life experiences you may become more convincing, as well as more memorable. 

7    6. Sloppy writing: there is no need for formal language, but applicants are expected to use proper subject terms. Also, your statement must be grammatically correct and without spelling mistakes. So, don't just rely on the spell checker.

7. Asking a well-educated relative or family friend to write your statement for you:  any admissions tutor can tell the writings of a middle-aged graduate from those of a sixth former. Also, the type of student Oxbridge seeks has considerably changed over the years!

Still unsure how to make a strong, memorable application? For more detailed and  course-specific advice, read OXBRIDGE ENTRANCE: THE REAL RULES.

Sunday, 3 September 2017



Even Oxbridge hopefuls  whose teacher won't expect to see a draft personal statement written over the summer must now intensify their course engagement. Do you know what university  academics are currently excited about? Oxbridge video podcasts will tell you even more than audios about  their discoveries, ways of thinking and topical concerns. Watching a course-related video is a great way of both developing and showing your  subject interest. It will also make it easier to understand a course-related book.

Don't worry if you don't yet understand absolutely everything. The idea is that you will in time. While some podcasts are tailored to  a general audience, others are aimed at future applicants or fellow thinkers, but all convey a lively, inspiring picture of Oxbridge academic  life. Viewing a couple of them will help to reassure you about this slightly scary university choice and enable you to check you've picked the right   course.

Below is a selection based on the main Oxbridge degree subjects in no particular order.  If you want to save time, it's fine to skip a talk host's lengthy introduction of the speaker. 

(You can start at 7.12 minutes)

Keen to learn more? OXBRIDGE ENTRANCE: THE REAL RULES has lists of key books for students eager  to read around their course subject or pursue new interests triggered by a podcast. Good luck!