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Top Tips for Oxbridge Interviews

Interviews are known for being nerve-wracking, let alone the notoriously tricky Oxbridge undergraduate interviews! If you’ve applied to Oxford or Cambridge in this application round, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your outlook!) the interview is an unavoidable part of the process. Although you don’t know precisely what questions you’re going to be asked in the interview, interviews can still be prepared for. However, preparing for an interview if you’ve never experienced one can make it difficult to know where to begin. 

Depending on your course, college, interviewer(s), and university, your interview experience will differ. Some of your interviews may require you simply to log on for your interview slot, whereas others may involve pre-interview tests, assessments, or texts to be read. Have a look on the relevant university or department website for more details on what is likely to be required of you on the day (the specifics, such as timing, will be sent to you directly so don’t worry too much about this right now, although ensure that you’ve not got any immovable plans for the first few weeks in December!) 

You may already have attended some interview preparation events or worked on your interview skills with friends, school teachers, family, or even perhaps with us at Oxbridge Applications with an interview preparation package. However, there are some things that we want to signpost as being key to a successful interview: 7 things you can do before the interview, and 7 things you can bear in mind during the interview itself. 



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  1. Read back through your personal statement in detail, as well as any submitted work, and make a note of any questions you think the interviewers could ask you off the back of these pieces. Anticipate questions and then prepare for them, since interviewers are likely to use these documents as a jumping off point for discussion in the interviews. 
  2. Revise any key relevant content from your school syllabus. This is particularly important for students applying for science or maths-based subjects, since tutors on these courses are more likely to expect concrete knowledge of certain topics or concepts. 
  3. If you’ve mentioned any resources in your personal statement, such as books, essays, talks, films, etc., go over them again before the interview. You won’t be asked to review these works in detail in your interview (so for books perhaps skim through the chapter titles or any notes you made rather than reading it all the way through again), but you will be asked your opinions, whether you agreed/disagreed with the work, and any further ideas it pushed you to consider. 
  4. Make sure you are up to date on any recent events or developments within the realm of or relating to your chosen field. This may be particularly relevance for students of politics or other social sciences. You don’t need to be an expert; simply skimming through the BBC news website and reading through any articles that interest you should suffice. Just make sure that you understand the main issues at play as such stories may be used as a ‘springboard’ for further discussion. 
  5. Do as many mock interviews with as many different people as possible. The exact questions you will be asked cannot be anticipated, so it’s good to get as much practice as possible answering unexpected questions. 
  6. Research your interviewer or, if you don’t know who they are, the key faculty or fellows at your college and in your department. They will naturally know a lot more about their specialist area of study than you will be able to find out about, but at least being aware of their interests and knowing the basics might end up being useful. This could come in handy in particular when answering questions as to why you picked the college you did. 
  7. Immediately before your interview, do whatever you can to put yourself in the best position possible, both practically and in terms of your outlook. In the practical sense, make sure that you have a reliable device and a quite space with a good internet connection with which to conduct your interview (if you don’t have this at home, theme each out to your school and, failing that, the college you’re interviewing at for assistance). In a psychological sense, make sure you have a morning routine in place that sets you up nicely to be as calm and energised as possible for the interview; go for a run, eat your favourite breakfast, watch an episode of your favourite TV programme on the sofa with your dog. Whatever it takes, try your absolute best to remain relaxed and confident for the interview itself.

During the Interview

  1. Listen carefully to the questions. It is common for students to feel very nervous during their interview and begin answering questions that they think they’ve heard rather than those they’ve actually been asked. If you genuinely haven’t heard the question, then do feel free to ask for it to be repeated or clarified if you need - this will not affect your performance and is much better than answering the wrong question!
  2. Use every chance you get to sell yourself. Do not assume that the interviewer(s) have read your personal statement, or that they remember every item on it, so feel free to make it clear how widely you’ve read to them directly. Your interview is your prime chance to show yourself off to the best of your ability, so be confident and sell yourself!
  3. Think out loud. Oxbridge interviews are supposed to be difficult - the whole point is to give applicants the chance to show how well they think and engage with new and challenging ideas! If you’ve been asked a challenging question (and you will be), then voice your thought process so that the interviewers can see how you think organically. 
  4. Take the time that you need to think. This may seem in contradiction to the previous point, but it’s important to remember that whilst you do want to show off your thought process, you do not want to babble aimlessly whilst you come up with a good way to articulate it. Silence can be intimidating, but it’s important that you give yourself a beat to formulate what you are going to say and how you are going to get it across succinctly. 
  5. Ask for help if you get stuck. There is absolutely no shame in asking your interviewer(s) for a nudge in the right direction if you’re not sure where to go next - just make sure that you have exhausted all your thought process (out loud!) so that the interviewer can see that you’ve tried your best. 
  6. Don’t allow yourself to spiral! We know this is easier said and done, but rest assured that absolutely everyone has that inner demon at times that pops out just to tell you that what you’re doing isn’t good enough, regardless of whether that is actually correct or not. Try your best to take attention off yourself and focus wholly on the problem/question/discussion at hand; besides, your inner demon is probably lying!
  7. Finally, and most importantly, enjoy your interview! Interviewers are likely to end up supervising you if you’re successful, so one of the main things they want to see is if both they and you will enjoy the experience of working together. If they see that you’re having fun, chances are they will too! 

Read more free Oxbridge interview resources here

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