Tell Books

BM Box Tell Books London WC1N 3XX • • Tel. 0207 209 5762


Thursday, 29 November 2018


Most interviewees will be seen at Oxford or Cambridge on some date between the 3rd and the 22nd of December. If the very thought of this is giving 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.

Talking to the undergraduates who will be welcoming you at the college can also be reassuring. What is not a good idea is to try and distract yourself from your unfamiliar surroundings with a new Netflix series or the latest computer game. You may find it hard to switch off before dawn and risk feeling like a zombie during the day.

As you wait your turn, 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 idea mentioned really baffles you, have a quick look online, but don’t spend ages trying to catch up. You need to be fresh enough to convey 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 academic field they love.

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. There is no point in giving a brilliant answer if only you can actually hear it.

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 quite detailed answers, preferably given in a few well-structured sentences. Just yes or no is never what they're looking for. Instead, try to  cover "what, why and how" whenever possible.  You want to show that you can explain events, analyse texts or calculate outcomes. This often requires some 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 bits of interview advice, check out OXBRIDGE ENTRANCE: THE REAL RULES, still available by one-day delivery from Amazon.

No comments: