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Oxbridge Interviews Demystified

The deadline for applying to Oxford or Cambridge passed on 15 October. Oxford alone received 17,000 applications this year for 3200 undergraduate places.

The next phase is the wait… and then, for those who are selected, interviews will follow in December.

Both universities offer plenty of online advice about how to approach interviews. Oxford has even gone public with some of its interview questions, “in an attempt to explain the reasoning behind even the most strange-sounding questions”, it says.

For Oxford’s advice on interviews, start with this page: www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/applying-to-oxford/interviews.

Applicants to Cambridge should look here: www.study.cam.ac.uk/undergraduate/apply/interviews/
Both universities are at pains to stress that the interviews are not meant to be terrifying – though they are, naturally, testing.

Oxford University outreach officer Cressida Ryan, writing in the Telegraph here, says the subjects tests sat by Oxford applicants “aren’t designed to be something you should swot up on – they’re not about regurgitating facts, but demonstrating that you can think well, creatively and quickly, in the style that suits your subject.”

(Cambridge does not use pre-interview aptitude tests except the BMAT – Biomedical Admissions Test – for prospective medics and vets.)

Of the interview itself, Cressida Ryan says: “Interviewers want to know whether you have the academic passion and ability for Oxford – but they couldn’t care less about your background, accent or what you wear.”

She says the point of open-ended interview questions “is that there really is no right answer – it’s your thought process in explaining yourself that we care about.”

Meanwhile,  University of Cambridge director of admissions Mike Sewell has said the interview is to assess whether candidates have enough background knowledge and will succeed in the Cambridge teaching environment. He said: “To put it in a nutshell, can they think?”

Both universities offer online resources for teachers and HE advisers, including e-newsletters.

Cambridge’s teachers’ pages can be found by going here: www.study.cam.ac.uk/undergraduate/teachers/

Oxford’s are here: www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/open-days-outreach/events-students-teachers/resources-teachers

The Telegraph hosted a webchat in September about Oxbridge applications, and that has some useful insights into what interviewees can expect (as well as good information for applicants in future years).

Posted by Nicholas Manthorpe on Tue, 31 Jan 2017



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Nick was a reporter for the Eastern Daily Press and its sister weekly titles in Norfolk and Waveney, then served as Media Officer for North Norfolk District Council for 13 years. He now works as a writer and PR and media relations consultant. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, an associate member of the Chartered Management Institute and a member of East Anglian Writers.

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