Sep 20

It’s not what you know…

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It’s very possible that you absolutely, definitely, totally have the brains to make it at Oxford, Cambridge or another top university. However, if you are invited to interview, you will be one of thousands of others who look similarly good on paper. How will you show the interviewer you’re one of the few who’s really got what it takes?

Three points to start considering now:

  1. What are your strengths? How do they make you well-suited to studying your subject? How have you demonstrated these strengths in the past (in a way that you can casually weave into the conversation)
  2. How do you cope when you don’t know the right answer? They aren’t really interested in what you know (it’s clear from your grades you know what you’re meant to know). They want to know how you operate when you’re outside your intellectual comfort zone.
  3. Where have your shown your commitment to your subject? Talking about how immensely passionate you are about medicine/classics/computer science is not going to cut it. Show, don’t tell. Practise talking about how you’ve walked the talk.

The thought of an interview might already make your mind blank and send your stomach sideways. It’s ok, you can still make it. Shyer and more chaotic folk than you have won Nobel prizes.

If you know you have the right qualities to succeed at a top university, but are worried about whether you can convey this at interview, you might want to attend one of our open workshops in London and the Midlands.

Check out our #Oxbridgeexperience tumblr posts for stories from the interview front line.


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Aug 05

Key piece of advice for Oxbridge candidates #1

Cambridge university advice for interview preparation and Oxford university interview questionsThe best piece of advice any one gave me as a prospective Oxbridge candidate was listen to BBC Radio 4. My listening prompted me to read a book that I referenced in my personal statement, and fuelled a brilliant conversation during my interview.

Radio 4 listening serves two purposes.

The intellectual debate on the current affairs programmes train listeners’ brains for the kind of thinking Oxford and Cambridge Universities (and other elite institutions) are looking for. Try the World at One  or PM. With the magic of the iPlayer (the BBC’s listen on demand service) it’s often possible to skip to the highlights.

And the second benefit is that subject specific programmes provide a painless and interesting way of keeping up with the latest discussions in your area of interest. Here are a few ideas for programmes currently on air (June 2016).

Maths, economics, physical and natural sciences: More or less

Physical and natural sciences, medicine, veterinary science: Life Scientific, Natural Histories, Frontiers

Medicine, biological sciences, philosophy: All in the Mind

History, economics, politics, classics: In Our Time

History, economics, politics, geography, physical and natural sciences: Analysis and File on Four, Face the Facts

Literature/languages/music/arts: Front Row

Music: Tales from the Stave

Medicine, biological sciences: Dr Brok’s Casebook

History, literature: Shakespeare’s Restless World

Law: Law In Action

Literature, languages: A Good Read

Business, management, economics: In Business

Not every episode will be immediately relevant to the subjects listed above, but this plays to your advantage.  At the level of higher education, subjects are less well defined and tend to blur into each other. Stretching your areas of familiarity in a handful of directions will help you navigate interview questions with flair.

If your subject is not listed above, then follow your nose starting with the subject you’re studying at A level/ Pre-U/IB.

The beauty of the iPlayer is that in many cases you can pick and choose the episode that’s most interesting to you.

Impetus Coaching provides workshops and coaching to help students applying for Oxbridge (and other elite institutions) prepare for a confident interview performance, and write a winning personal statement.

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Aug 01

Key piece of advice for Oxbridge candidates #2

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We’re helping Oxbridge admissions candidates by sharing the experiences of successful applicants.

Here’s what one Oxbridge graduate said was the best piece of advice she received.

“My brother said that what they are looking for is for people who are both interested and interesting. That stuck in my head as something I later thought was very true.”


What does being interested mean?

It means demonstrating that you are keen to learn (in the widest sense of the word) about ideas, peoples, events, places. You are curious.

What does being interesting mean?

It’s a side effect of being interested, plus the ability to talk about what’s in your head and is relevant to the conversation at hand (or write about it in your personal statement).

What does that mean in practical terms?

Get curious, as follows….

·      Nothing is off limits in your intellectual wanderings (feel free to stray outside the traditional remit of your subject into an interesting radio programme/TED talk//newspaper article/random book that catches your eye)

·      Don’t assume you know the answer to the gaps in the story

For example, it might seem obvious to you as to why x, y, or z happened, but your obvious might not be the same as other people’s. Ask the question. It might go something like this…

Why… did they do that?/did they go there?/did they make that choice?/now?

What… was the point of that?/was the inspiration?/ changed?/ was important?

When… was the turning point?/did it first make sense?/stop making sense?

How… did they decide?/did they start?/could I find out more?

Who… were the key players?/was important at that time?

·      Leave your head with some empty air time (that is having nothing to do or think about or distract) and ponder what might be the answer to those questions, and how you might find out.

·      Talk things over in person with anyone who will listen, or – if you’re feeling bold – with the big names who are relevant (the internet makes this much easier than it used to be). The internet also makes it easier to find people who will be interested in the same things you are. Go search social media for general interest groups, or for a discussion on a particular thing that’s attracted your attention this week. Someone, somewhere will be talking about it too.

Life is busy so we don’t always get the chance to do the things an interested person would do. Find time (even if it’s just five minutes). It will enrich your conversation at interview. More importantly, if you really are interested, it will be fun.

If  thought of talking about your interesting stuff out loud at interview feels tricky, then follow us (or search #Oxbridgeexperience) for interview tips and other good stuff to make the admissions process less daunting. Please like us if you do, and share to spread the love.

Impetus Coaching helps students applying to Oxbridge and other elite universities, through workshops and 1-to-1 coaching.

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Jul 18

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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Jun 21

What should I wear to my Oxbridge interview?

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Best to plan ahead what to wear for your interview

The short answer is – whatever you like.

Here’s the longer answer.

Some of your fellow interviewees will be in fleeces and walking boots. Others will be in very sharp suits. And most will be in the ’smart casual’* zone in between. Your interviewers will span the same range.

Some other points for consideration:

  • Colleges can be draughty in winter, so have something warm to hand or pack your thermals.
  • Colleges can have lots of cobbles, so high heels might be tricky.
  • Avoid wearing an outfit for the first time, you don’t want to be bothered by an itchy label or gaping shirt.
  • Just for fun, consider wearing something with which you have positive mental associations (think lucky socks).
  • Pay attention to the impression you want to create. If you talk about attention to detail in your PS (as an argument for your suitability for intricate lab work), then perhaps the skirt with the dodgy hem should be left at home.
  • If you know you sometimes come over as too relaxed, then perhaps wear something a little more formal so you can get into the right vibe. And vice versa.
  • Clean your shoes.

And finally, when you turn up on interview day, don’t be freaked out if you are dressed differently to everyone else you meet on the day. There is no ‘normal’ at Oxbridge. Do what works for you.

*Smart casual most often consists of chinos/skirt, blouse/jumper/shirt with no tie, proper shoes, jacket/cardi if you feel like it.

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