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Wednesday, 22 March 2017

EASTER IS THE TIME TO PICK YOUR OXBRIDGE COURSE

Magdalene College, Cambridge
 
Like the challenge of an Oxbridge course, but can't decide which one to pick? If so, set aside a few hours during the Easter break for a recci of this year’s Oxford or Cambridge prospectus. Each of them is full of tempting, well described courses: now is the time to look beyond those familiar from school. Even if you’d never heard of Norse or Archaeology before you might well excel at it later.
 
Attending an Open Day at Oxford or Cambridge  held in July is another step forward. Aim for course-specific  or departmental events, rather than those offering mainly college info. While most of the former need to be booked in advance and some are full by Easter, others are run on a drop-in basis. The friendly undergraduates helping out on Open Days also often have useful advice.
 
While there are also Open Days in September, students who focus on Oxbridge only then tend to have a much poorer success rate. This is because you need to embark on  some course-related reading well before the October application deadline. Summer is the obvious time, but if you nail down your course choice fast, you could start this Easter. Unsure what to read? My best-selling guide, OXBRIDGE ENTRANCE: THE REAL RULES, lists  a range of inspiring, course-specific books and websites.
 
If you cannot make it to any Oxbridge Open Day, subject tasters at other (preferably Russell Group) universities will help you with choices and preparation. While courses of the same name offered by different universities are not quite identical, they are likely to have the same core.  
 
What's crucial next is to double-check the entry requirements of any appealing course, which can be quite detailed. To stand a good chance of an Oxbridge place, you may need to meet every single one. These currently include A-level grade predictions ranging from AAA to A*A*A*, sometimes but not always in specific subjects.
 
The university may also mention an additional school subject (often AS Maths) as  “useful” though you might still get in without it. If a third A-level science or Further Maths is “recommended” your chances of a place are not quite so good. Course applicants without a “highly recommended” or “highly desirable” subject need to know that some 90 per cent of those admitted may have it.
 
Students should also note that while such course rules tend to apply to all colleges at Oxford, some Cambridge colleges have different ones. So, having chosen your course, you may want to click on a few college web pages  to see which AS or A-level grades and subjects they seek. Colleges high up on the Cambridge league tables may have added entry requirements.
 
Remember, too, that even if a course page does not list any required subjects, applicants will still usually need at least two “hard” A-levels to get in. And although you won't need an A-level in Law to study Law, or A-level Economics to study Economics at Cambridge (or Economics & Management at Oxford), their admissions tutors do expect some proof of subject interest, academic ability and hard work.
 
Evidence of good writing skills is also important for these and quite a few other courses. Admissions tutors may therefore wish to see one of your classroom essays. If you don’t have any essay to show, ask your form teacher to set you one well before your application.  
 
Oxford and Cambridge, in short, are on the hunt for more than just cleverness. A wise  applicant, therefore, will steadily build up their course-appropriate skills, qualifications, and interests. Teachers may want to note, however,  that for students from very disadvantaged backgrounds or regions some allowances may be made.

 
*****
 

 
 
 

HELP FOR SCHOOLS NOW AIMING FOR OXBRIDGE

 
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  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 Access events cover some of this, even the brightest “non-traditional” applicants tend to  need more targeted help to display their abilities. Our school-based, one-off student and teacher events provide this help, while allowing you to remain within the ethos of your school.
 
Costs are a mere £150 for a teacher or student workshop, covering all aspects of Oxbridge preparation.  Schools booking both events usually enjoy the most satisfying results. For more details, please click on STATE SCHOOL TO OXBRIDGE, or email us at oxbridge.workshop141@gmail.com with any questions you have.
 



Sunday, 4 December 2016

LAST MINUTE INTERVIEW ADVICE FOR NERVOUS STUDENTS

Oxford

Getting jittery as your Oxbridge interview approaches? A little more preparation may just 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, remember the two key interview skills: giving yourself time to think before you reply to a question is one. Answering the question actually asked (rather than the one you would like it to have been) is the other. Also, 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, so try to  cover "what, why and how" if possible.  Can you explain events, analyse texts or calculate outcomes? Show a knack for logical thinking?

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




Tuesday, 29 November 2016

GETTING READY FOR YOUR OXBRIDGE INTERVIEW?

Wadham College, Oxford
 
Did that thin letter with the college arms turn out to be an invite to your  interview? If so, give yourself a big pat on the back.  Oxbridge has concluded that you are “a realistic candidate”, i.e. a hard-working and high achieving student. Roughly half of Oxford applicants are interviewed, partly on the basis of how well they have done in pre-interview tests. Cambridge this year greatly extended its use of  such tests, but will still interview a somewhat higher proportion. Since  applicants vastly outnumber places, many of those turned down are excellent students, too, and will doubtlessly shine elsewhere.
 
Having named the day for the lucky ones, meanwhile, Oxbridge dons hope to find some proof of both mental skills and subject knowledge. While an ability to do well in tests, think logically and express yourself clearly counts for much, wise applicants therefore raise their game a little further. Here are some of the best ways to do that:
 
·         Try to re-read or 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?
 
·         Being familiar with the periods covered in your A-level history is essential for subject applicants, of course, but 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 mathematical 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 a reactant with a reagent on that long, stressful day.
 
·          You also need to be fairly up-to-date on developments in the subject area you expressed an interest in. Have there been major new discoveries in the causes of earth quakes or the development of human language?
 
·         What can be helpful, too, is a willingness to speculate 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?  
 
·         Lastly, be aware that to give a really good answer to an interview question often means looking  at a problem from more than one single, narrow angle.
 
You’ll find links to features which will help you give such academic answers   in my tweets @oxbridgentrance. For advice on how to do well in all aspects of the interview, read the eight interview chapters of OXBRIDGE ENTRANCE: THE REAL RULES, available for next-day delivery from Amazon.


Thursday, 6 October 2016

UCAS STATEMENT TOO LONG? HERE'S HOW TO CUT IT!

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1. Don't repeat  yourself. Once you’ve said that you found working with that first aid team really enjoyable, 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* offer lots of advice on 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 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. Most crucially, don’t leave the final cut to the very last moment.  Writing a good UCAS statement is a major job. If you rush it, the result could be not just typos but a confused narrative or fatal omissions.
___________

 *   - As Oxbridge admissions rules frequently change, applicants need to read the current, 2016 edition of the guide (ISBN 978-09545944-80). The alleged downloads of this book are at best extracts of old, outdated editions. Avoid!







UCAS STATEMENT TOO LONG? HERE'S HOW TO CUT IT!

r   

1. Don't repeat  yourself. Once you’ve said that you found working with that first aid team really enjoyable, 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* offer lots of advice on 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 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. Most crucially, don’t leave the final cut to the very last moment.  Writing a good UCAS statement is a major job. If you rush it, the result could be not just typos but a confused narrative or fatal omissions.
___________

 *   - As Oxbridge admissions rules frequently change, applicants need to read the current, 2016 edition of the guide 9ISBN 978-09545944-80). The alleged downloads of this book are at best extracts of old, outdated editions. Avoid!







Sunday, 2 October 2016

PITFALLS TO AVOID IN YOUR OXBRIDGE APPLICATION

Clare Bridge, Cambridge
 
If you are an able, high-achieving student, you may now feel that your entire school life has been a preparation for the next stage, a degree course. This can lead you to assume that your UCAS application needs to be a mere summary of what you learnt, hope for or achieved.  If your targets include Oxbridge (or any other top Russell Group university), though, rather more is expected. So, well before going online to fill in that application form, make sure you have avoided at least the most common pitfalls:
 
     1. Not checking which A-level subjects are essential 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.Failing to independently explore a degree subject taught at school: good applicants are avid readers. Especially (but not just) in the humanities, an applicant who has only ever read set texts is unlikely to impress admissions tutors. So, try to list  at least one interesting book, article or relevant online feature you have come across, then say what it taught you. 
 
3. Not bothering to read the full course description in the Oxbridge prospectus: before mentioning a subject-related aspect you are particularly keen on (such as medieval studies), make sure it is actually offered by Oxbridge in conjunction with the course you picked, in this case probably History or Archaeology.  Getting this wrong may count as laziness.
 
4. 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 subject areas are of interest to you and how you are already exploring them.
 
5. Giving too much space to extra-curriculars: you just want to show that you are organised enough to keep up with a couple of 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.
 
6. 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. 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 somewhat changed over the years.
 
8. Copying a UCAS statement found online: admissions tutors have for several years had the software to identify such statements. Do you want to be marked down as a plagiarist?
 
9.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. Make sure to reread it more than once, and don’t just rely on the spell checker!
 
Still unsure how to make a strong, memorable application? For more detailed and  course-specific advice, read the 2016 edition of OXBRIDGE ENTRANCE: THE REAL RULES.