Jul 18

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Oxbridge experience #2

Cambridge university advice for interview preparation and Oxford university interview questionsWhen you’re thinking about applying to Oxbridge, or you’ve already started the process, it’s good to hear from others who’ve gone before you. Here’s the second of our Oxbridge experience posts, from a natural sciences graduate who shares what she remembers about her Oxbridge interview.

How did you prepare for your Oxbridge interview?

I had a couple of mock interviews. One was with my science teachers at school, whom I knew very well, so it was a bit of a laugh. It was fun to have technical questions thrown at me, and I don’t mind talking about myself, so it felt easy. It was good interview prep to practise talking how I would solve a problem, as I’d not done much of that before. Thinking out loud was definitely important during the interview.

I had another mock interview with our head. He took it more seriously. There was a question he asked, using a word that I didn’t know, and rather than admit I didn’t know, I tried to blag it. I’m pleased I learnt that was a bad idea then, rather than in the real interview. He also told me not to say ‘yeah’ but instead say ‘yes’, and ‘throw away’ instead of ‘chuck’. I’m pretty sure this would make no difference to my chances of getting on offer.

In terms of other prep, my maths and physics was in good shape because of A level study, but I did revise my calculus. And I re-read the book I mentioned in my personal statement (Genius by James Gleick, a biography of Richard Feynman), and talked over why I wanted to study natural sciences with anyone who’d listen.

For the past year or so I’d been listening to Radio 4 every morning, which – I still think – was the best single action to benefit my readiness for interview.

What do you remember of the interview itself?

I remember feeling intimidated beforehand as other candidates the waiting room were dressed in super smart suits.

My first interview was with the woman who later became by personal tutor. She was really friendly and encouraging. We sat in armchairs, and chatted about why I wanted to read natural sciences, and what else I wanted to do at university.

The second interview was with a professor of physics and a professor of chemistry. We were sat at a table, in a paneled room, surrounded by bookshelves.

They put me at ease, but it was definitely more formal than the first interview. They asked me a bunch of technical questions, including ‘how would you calculate the mass of air you breathe in a lifetime?’. It helped that my mental arithmetic was in good shape, but I wasn’t able to complete the whole estimate on my own. They had to give me some help in working out the volume of a single breath (think about how many breaths it takes to blow up a balloon, and work out the volume of a balloon). What helped me feel particularly good about this problem was that I happened to remember the density of air from a calculation I’d done the previous week. That was a big fluke. They also asked me to do some calculus, and describe how I’d get a computer to draw a cube.

The whole experience was fun. I learned things, and felt like I would fit into their world. The interview made me more convinced that Cambridge was the place for me.

If you liked reading this and want more, keep an eye out for the next Oxbridge experience post. We will hear from a language grad about her decision to apply to Cambridge.

Impetus Coaching helps Oxbridge candidates prepare for a confident interview performance, through one-to-one coaching and workshops in schools. If you’d like to know more, contact us now, we’d love to hear from you.

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