As we all know, the application process for Oxbridge is very competitive and as such there will be plenty of applicants who know all the ins and outs of their A-level syllabus. Given this you may be forgiven for asking how you can make yourself stand out from the crowd, especially in your personal statement and at interview. Whilst we have given you plenty of advice on how to make your personal statement shine, and our Interview Preparation will allow you to interview with confidence, there is another element of your preparation we haven’t touched on, and that is the lateral thinking interviewers and admissions tutors want to see.
This kind of flexible and lateral thinking is difficult to describe, but you’ll know it when you see it. The best way to think about it is to imagine the course of a typical Oxbridge interview. Interviewers will start on one topic and want to push you as far in a discussion about that topic as you can before moving onto the next point. In interviews what starts as a discussion about one book you’ve read or topic you mention might lead through a number of topics as varied as ethics, the logical issues with your point of view to your understanding of issues you wouldn’t even think were related. For example, in one of my interviews we started talking about whether changing every plank in a boat would leave you with the same boat, then whether the same reasoning could be applied to the human body (with it estimated that all of your cells replace at least every 7 years) and whether you’re still the same person, culminating in us discussing whether we should be able to imprison someone for more than seven years!
This sort of thinking can be developed in lots of different ways, and is something we cover in our Admissions Test Seminars and Interview Preparation, but one way in which you can get started now is by doing some extra reading. You can choose your own topics for reading which you feel interested in, or take a look at our subject-specific reading rooms for some suggestions. Whilst doing the extra reading try to think about what the author is saying, and how the view could be challenged. One handy way of doing this is by having a pad of paper with you while you read, and jotting down every time you think of a counter argument to the author’s point of view. You’ll be amazed how quickly these thoughts could be turned into something of a reasoned counter argument, precisely of the style interviewers will want to see. It’ll also give you some useful fodder for your personal statement! Mainly, the take home message is to be as critically reflective of what you read as possible. Admissions tutors and Interviewers want to see that you’re someone who has interesting and new ideas, and are someone they would love to teach for the next three years. The best way of doing this is thinking laterally and creatively, whilst being prepared to defend your point of view if challenged.