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12 tips for making the most of mock interviews

The UCAS season in well under way, and one of the most valuable bits of assistance pupils can get is a mock interview, to help them get ready to pitch themselves to universities.

UniBox contributor Philip Rogerson has these 12 tips for getting maximum value from mock interviews, and to prepare applicants for the real thing.

1. Find out what kind of interview format it will be and give similar format as a practice

For Medicine it could be one-to-one or two-to-one (possibly with a silent observer) and solely focus on science (Oxbridge) or touch on anything but science (eg medical ethics, structure of NHS) or be a series of stations (maybe 7 in an hour, including anything from manual dexterity to breaking bad news in a role play). The last (Multiple Mini Interviews) is now the most common and applicants need practice in what can be a stamina-sapping exercise. But maybe that is part of the test.

Accounting and Finance programmes sponsored by companies (eg by PwC at Newcastle and elsewhere) might include an Assessment Centre with group tasks as well as an individual interview (which can be over 1 hour long).

Individual university websites should offer guidance on format. If in doubt, contact the uni.

2. Encourage applicants to assume that they will be asked about their Personal Statement, but not to be surprised if they are not

This also applies to written work submitted or pre-interview questionnaires.

Practice interviews should therefore include questions based both on and away from their Personal Statement.

At Oxbridge the interviewers are researchers who pride themselves on their independent thinking, so they don’t necessarily like to toe a policy line.

3. Get applicants for science/engineering/economics to practise solving problems while giving an oral explanation of their thinking

This is what interviews at Oxbridge and elsewhere are likely to require, and applicants need practice in expressing themselves, while working towards a solution on paper or on the board. However, don’t assume that Economics and Management interviews will necessarily include this: some will, and some will not.

4. Give applicants practice in reacting to objects or texts

Objects might include animal skulls for vets, artefacts for archaeologists, photographs for History of Art or Geography. Texts might include a book review for History, a French or Latin poem, a Business scenario, and so on.

5. Give applicants practice in thinking across categories

Universities do not like an unduly modular approach. Some questions might be cross-disciplinary, linking perhaps another A level with the one which is the focus of the application.

An Oxbridge applicant for both a Choral Award and Archaeology + Anthropology was asked to give the anthropology of a choir. Another was asked to compare the leadership of a named medieval king and an American president.

6. Get them to read the course outline carefully

They should make sure that they can answer the question “Which of the 2nd year options might you be most interested in?”

7. Encourage them to leave plenty of time for travel

Travel-induced stress is the worst start to an interview.

8. Get them to practise greeting and interaction

Don’t assume that an interviewer will want to shake hands. Don’t give a bone-crushing handshake that is still being felt and resented five minutes later. Look the interviewer in the eye and smile.

If there are two interviewers, try to look at both from time to time when answering.

9. Encourage them to give clear and unrushed answers

This comes with practice, but an interviewer can help to clear up mannerisms (eg “um”, “like”) and a gushing stream of consciousness approach to answers.

10. Encourage them to believe that interviewers are not interested in right and wrong answers

They are likely to be more interested in thought processes: logical thinking, and a use of knowledge to develop and defend individual lines of thought. Don’t assume that an interviewer is negative, if a line of thought is challenged. A good applicant is likely to be challenged more and more by an interviewer encouraged by what has already been seen. The outcome of an interview is therefore very hard to judge.

Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification, or to say when you don’t know an answer. If you are given an answer to a problem or question which you did not get, show some genuine interest in what you’ve just learned!

11. Tell them not to give other applicants an unfair advantage

For example by telling other applicants about the interview that has just happened before they have had their own, or by allowing themselves to be “out-psyched” by those out to impress.

12. Develop oral confidence

Ask them to explain a complex issue in their subject to someone who is not studying it.


Are there any other tips you’d like to share for running worthwhile mock interviews? Please let us know in the comments.

Posted by Philip Rogerson on Tue, 14 Feb 2017

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Philip Rogerson read Classics at Oxford. He has taught in a wide range of institutions: from UN (refugee camps in Jordan) to university (Oxford). Philip has been an HMC/ISI inspector of schools and has was Director of Higher Education and Careers at Sherborne School from 1997 to 2017.

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