This is one of the top worries that people have when they’re about to go into the interview – what if you’re asked a really difficult question and your brain goes completely blank and you can’t answer. The first thing to say is, don’t worry if you can’t give a stupendous answer right away. The questions that the interviewers are asking you are designed to make you think –if you can answer immediately, it may be that you’ve not understood the complexity of the problem. When asked a difficult question, give yourself a couple of seconds to get your thoughts in order – it might feel like an age when you’re in there, but actually it’s not long at all. If you need a bit longer, you could ask your interviewer whether you could have a couple of seconds to think – just so they know that you are giving their question some thought rather than constructing an emergency escape plan in your head. If you’re really stuck, don’t think that this means that you’ve failed. Bear in mind that the purpose of the interview is to see how you will fair in the tutorial and supervision system.
You’re not expected to know everything – the purpose of your university education is to teach you. The most important thing is that you don’t just give up – announce that you don’t know and expect to be given the answer. Talk your tutor through your thought process and, if possible, identify your stumbling block and the tools you need to surmount the hurdle. If for example, you’re asked how much water has to flow through a hydroelectric power station in order to make a cup of coffee, and you are struggling with how much energy is required to boil a cup of water, you could explain how far you’ve got, ask for this piece of information and then continue with your answer. Likewise, if you’re looking at a historical source, and you don’t understand what a particular word means, you can ask what it means so that you can continue on with your answer. If you’re struggling to even get this far, you could ask for a bit of clarification from your interview. Why not explain what you’re thinking and ask if you’re along the right lines? The interviewers are really not trying to catch you out – they want to give you the opportunity to shine, so make sure you do!