In the whole of the University application process, I think that the interview is the most exciting stage; daunting and demanding perhaps, but it is where your preparation and presence of mind meets with the best opportunities available and people whose aim is also to push you in the direction you want for yourself.
But how do you prepare for what is essentially, a 20 minute slot assigned to you, to bring across your passion and interest, to study a subject that you have only just started with someone you haven’t met before?
Well, the first thing that both you and your interviewer have in common is that you both are passionate about the one and the same subject, above others and that you are both devoting time to it because you find it fascinating enough. That is a solid foundation for your conversations. (You may also end up talking about a variety of other things in addition. In one of my interviews, we talked about my interests in Table-Tennis, Harry Potter and Indian Classical dancing!)
Next, and crucially, expect to be asked things you don’t know. A good part of the interview will start with what you already should know from your studies. But eventually, new and unfamiliar scenarios will be thrown your way, to stretch and challenge you to see what you come up with; to catch your entire thought process as you are creating your answer. As you know, it is not enough to just say that you are interested in the subject – and as you tend to show it best when you demonstrate it, the interviews give you an opportunity to do exactly that. The questions that really do push you, often require you to find and make pathways and connections in your subject, in ways you may not have done before.
A good answer in an interview for a physical sciences subject lies in good structure and a clear thought process. So, even if you are unsure what the answer is and how you get to it, think about where you’d start. Avoid:
By doing one of the above, you aren’t giving the interviewer enough information to help steer you if you are stuck, or if your answer is wrong. Your interviewers could potentially be your tutors, who, on a weekly basis at the very least, will guide, push and challenge you with study materials where you don’t always know all the answers. So, an Oxbridge interview can be thought of as a mock tutorial/supervision in a sense. The tutors are looking to see how you think for yourself and how teachable you are. And I always say, you should also take that opportunity to see whether you also like this style of learning.
For Oxbridge interviews, you will be called up usually for 2 or 3 days, and you will stay in a college for the duration of that time. A few of the current undergraduates will be assigned to help you settle in during this time. Take those opportunities to talk to them, ask them about their experience.
For the time that I was in Christ Church for my interviews, I used my time outside of interviews to talk to students, explore and get to understand my environment, to see how I felt about the place, people and atmosphere. I left with a better understanding of what it would mean to me to study there, and that understanding and clarity was important for me and helped in my motivation to do the work needed.
BEST OF LUCK!
Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint. You need to pace yourself through the next 12 months so that slow and steady preparation will see you through your application forms, interviews, and ultimately achieving the grades you need, to start your University life! I wish you all the best.