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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!

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