The teacher reference provides an essential external view on an applicant for Oxbridge admissions tutors. They can be useful for identifying a series of personal qualities that would make the student suitable for an Oxbridge education; comments on these qualities should be as specific and evidence-based as possible.
It can be difficult to know where exactly to look for this evidence - for inspiration, we’ve created a list of some key qualities that an Oxbridge applicant should have, with some ideas for how your student may have demonstrated them.
Curiosity – particularly in their subject
To demonstrate curiosity in general, an applicant might be constantly asking questions in class, or have taken part in an extra-curricular group that explores any subject in more depth; they could also always be bringing new information to class discussions.
For the subject they are applying for, it is essential that they have done some research outside of the curriculum. This is particularly essential for subjects they have not studied at school – do they fully understand the demands of the course? Medical and Law applicants should also have some relevant work experience.
Analytical ability & Intellectual flexibility
These qualities have most likely been demonstrated in class work. As part of a discussion, has the applicant shown intellectual flexibility by adapting their ideas in the face of new information? Have they always been analytical in their approach to problems, and when justifying their points of view?
An ability to learn quickly
Are you able to give a concrete example, or examples, of a time when the applicant picked up an idea or ideas particularly quickly? Have they progressed through their academic career quicker than other students, for example, or is it consistently the case in class that they grasp new ideas easily?
Excelling within their context
For this, it can useful to give an overview of the school – is it selective, has the student had consistent teachers for their subjects, are there small or large class sizes? For any class size, provide an idea of their ranking (e.g. the student’s performance is within the top five students of a group of 30.)
This is important for understanding in what way the student might be outstanding. You can also mention any personal circumstances that might influence their exam results, or behaviour at interview. Providing context is particularly significant for students who might have underperformed slightly at any point of their academic career to date.