Guide to UK Applications • Undergraduate

7 Tips for a Successful Oxbridge Interview

POSTED ON 11/25/2016 BY The Red Pen

7 Tips for a Successful Oxbridge Interview | The Red Pen

As December draws closer, your anxiety levels are probably skyrocketing in anticipation of your interview with Oxbridge university tutors. One thing you can do to calm your nerves is to be prepared. 

Here are a few tips to help you prepare for an interview with Oxbridge university tutors:

1) Don’t believe the myths:

Numerous myths surround the Oxbridge interviews. You will not be asked to peel an orange thrown at you. Nor is it true that tutors throw a rugby ball as students enter the interview. You will not be awarded a place or a scholarship based on your dexterity, reflexes or rugby skills! These interviews are not designed to trick you, but instead, serve as a way for university staff to assess if you can thrive in the rigorous Oxbridge atmosphere.

2) Treat the interview as a discussion:

One of the most important things to remember is that the Oxbridge interview is akin to a mini tutorial or supervision. Tutorials and supervision are an integral part of the learning style at these universities. If you secure a place, you will have several of them weekly. Tutorials and supervisions require you to discuss your subject with conviction. If you can not do so, it won’t matter if you are strong in academics as you won’t be able to contribute to the tutorials. During your interview, it’s important that you discuss your point of view and do not simply play along with the interviewer’s opinion. If you have a differing viewpoint about the issue at hand, stand your ground and back your views with valid examples.

3) Know your personal statement and essay well:

Many colleges at Oxbridge have additional written assignments that are a part of your application. If you had to submit any essays be prepared to discuss and analyse those aspects, along with anything you may have mentioned in your personal statement. Interviewers are very likely to use these as a starting point for the discussion and may even have follow-up questions. 

4) Go beyond your classroom academics: 

Oxbridge interviews comprise questions related to your subject. However, most interviewers will ask questions that challenge you. For example, if your chosen subject is English literature you might be asked, “JK Rowling has published a book for adults after the hugely successful Harry Potter series. In what ways do you think that writing for children is different to writing for adults?” Philosophy, politics and economics applicants may be asked, “I’m having trouble with the meaning of three words: Lie, Deceive, Mislead. They seem to mean something a bit similar, but not exactly the same. Help me to sort them out from each other.” It’s very important that you read avidly and are well-informed about your subject and beyond.

5) Be logical:

Tutors want to understand how you think. They do this by throwing a problem at you and observing how you assess and approach a solution. For instance, an engineering applicant may be asked, “How would you design a gravity dam for holding back water?” There is no forfeit for making mistakes as long as you can explain your logic along the way.

As you put forward your point of view, you may find that the tutors will guide you in a particular direction to help you get to the answer. In a molecular and cellular biochemistry interview, a student was asked what a molecule was, after being presented with a complicated diagram of oxygen, hydrogen and carbon atoms. Now, no one memorises molecules! The interviewer wanted the student to talk about the physical and chemical properties of the molecule and then connect this to a particular function. Of course, all this happens during a conversation, so you need to take the right hints from your tutor to deduce the answer.

6) Break down questions:

If you find that you are at a loss for an answer, do NOT sit silently and stare at your interviewers. Use this opportunity to collect your thoughts, try to re-frame the question or break it into parts. Discuss what you have understood and what you did not. Do not be afraid to ask the interviewer to repeat or clarify the question.

7) Dress to impress:

Lastly, appearances do matter. Make sure you are dressed neatly and arrive on time. You don’t have to be formally dressed; even wearing your school uniform for the interview is perfectly acceptable. 

Oxbridge interviews are meant to be challenging and often times the interviewer will increase the level of difficulty of questions. This is not meant to throw you off course. This just means that the tutors are challenging you further to gauge the depth of your knowledge and ability to handle complex issues. This is a good sign as this shows they believe that you have potential. 

Being invited for an interview is a huge achievement and an amazing opportunity, so ensure that enjoy your experience thoroughly. If you visit the campus, take time to explore the historic and beautiful campus and get up to speed with some traditions. To read a first-hand account of the Oxbridge interview process, click here.

If you require assistance in prepping for your Oxbridge interview, sign up for an exclusive one-on-one session with our interview experts, along with an Oxbridge alumnus. Our experts have over five years of experience and have a 90 percent success rate. If you require further guidance, get in touch with us.