October is flying by, half term seems a distant memory, and the ever-dreaded interview season will soon be upon us. I won’t beat around the bush, the Oxbridge interview process is a key hurdle in the application process and one that will make or break many students’ success. Given their looming importance, it can be tempting to push all thoughts of them to one side and wait till December to face them head on. However, that would be to do yourself a distinct disservice and in this month’s blog I’d like to talk through a few approaches to upping your interview game over the coming weeks.
First of all, practice is key. Those interviews will probably be the first time many of you have been interviewed one-on-one. Apart from answering questions in the class room, I doubt many of you have been in situation where you have been forced to discuss difficult scientific concepts with an academic for twenty minutes. What is important is that when you walk into your Oxbridge interview, that is not the first team you undergo such an experience. Like with any new activity, you will most likely perform badly at your first interview, but the good news is that with a little practice you can rapidly improve your performance and how you are perceived by the interviewer. While you might be shy and not keen to engage in mock-interview activities, you will be doing yourself such a favour by signing up for every practice interview possible. The reasons for this are two-fold; first, speaking eloquently about science is difficult! The first time someone asks you to walk them through Le Chatelier’s principle, you will stumble and mumble, but by the third time you will sound as eloquent as your science teacher! Second of all, interviews can be as diverse as they are difficult, especially for Natural Sciences applicants. Not only will you be getting some Chemistry questions, but depending on what A-levels you took, you’ll get some Biology and Physics questions (and maybe even a little Maths) thrown in, so there is a lot of different material you might need to respond to on the spot. As such, the more practice interviews you do, the more types of question and interview style you will experience, which is of benefit as you won’t feel as thrown off guard when you go in for your actual interview – and trust me, they will always have interesting questions to throw at you in the real Oxbridge interview!
The other key part of practice is building your repertoire of examples and anecdotes. It is important that you use your interviews to demonstrate your extra-curricular reading and exposure to science and/or medicine beyond the core curriculum. Not only do top candidates answer questions correctly and eloquently, but they furnish their answers with additional insights gained by their extra-curricular activities. For example, if the interviewer asks “Can you give an example of a symbiotic relationship?” a top notch answer could be:
“During my recent work experience placement at the local aquarium, I learned about the symbiotic relationship between the Hawaiian boxer crab, which has a symbiotic relationship with sea anemones that live on its claws…”
Once you have started to experience a few mock interviews, you will start to notice that certain themes or questions always come up, so you can prepare ahead of time by having some excellent go-to examples ready to share. Talk to your school, as they will often collect feedback from students in previous years to see what sort of interview questions they received – the more you ask around, the better you can prepare yourself! Good luck!