Interviews can be a daunting experience for students: entering an unfamiliar environment, with expert academics, and being asked complex questions is enough to make any prospective student feel nervous!
If your interviewer asks you a question you don’t know the answer to, it’s important to stay calm and panic-free. The interview is not designed to be easy – the questions are meant to tax your mind and thinking skills. Remember that the interview is testing how you think, not whether or not you arrive at the correct answer straight away.
It’s always wise before starting any answer to give yourself a moment to get your thoughts in order. There’s no point starting to talk if you don’t know where you’re going with your answer or what your argument is: it is better to take a few moments to compose yourself, than get halfway through an answer and then realise you have no idea where to go next.
If this does happen to you – as it did to me in one of my own Oxford interviews! – resist the urge to panic. Simply take a moment to calm down, clear your head, and move onto your next logical point. The interviewer will probably respect you for realising you are getting ahead of yourself and returning to the question to make a valid and cogent argument.
If you’re not sure where to start, don’t worry – this is something that tutors come across regularly. Remember that in tutorials and supervisions they are teaching students who may not have a full grasp of the topic or question. One of the purposes of the interview is to see how you would cope in this kind of teaching system.
Our top tip in this situation is ‘don’t give up’: your interviewer will not simply give you the answer if you don’t make the effor to think about the question. You need to talk through your thought processes about the question and the possible answer. If it’s a problem you need to solve, or a confusing word you need to clarify, try to get as far as possible, explain your ideas for the next step, and ask the interviewer for some direction if necessary. If you’re completely stuck, you could ask the interviewer to clarify the question for you: this will buy you a little time and will make the question clearer. You could suggest how you have interpreted the question, to see if you are on the right lines, before beginning your answer.
By demonstrating how you’re thinking through the different possibilities and problems posed by the question, you are demonstrating the skills you need to succeed at Oxbridge.
For more support in tackling the unknown at interview, why not book onto one of our Interview Preparation Days, complete with interview skills workshops and mock interviews? We’re running these events in different venues across the country: Manchester, London, Bristol and Birmingham. Book now to secure your place, either on the website or by calling us on +44 (0)20 7499 2394.