Wednesday 18 January

How to Survive the Oxbridge Interview

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Having just been received a conditional offer to read Physics at St Peter's College, Oxford, Year 13 student Tom Perry gives some interesting insights into the daunting Oxbridge interview process and how best to prepare.

When applying for Oxford, or Cambridge, you must either apply to one of the 38 colleges or for an open-college application. I applied to St John’s, Oxford, but I was assigned to St Peter’s, as St John ’s didn’t have enough space. This happens with some applicants, so do not be alarmed if it happens to you as it doesn’t really matter in the long run.

Arriving off the train, the daunting interviews lay ahead of me, but the beautiful city, with its archaic shopfronts, winding backstreets and atmospheric high street lifted my spirits on the journey to St Peter’s College. Upon arrival, I was greeted by a team of students eager to help and show me round. I was given a brief tour and a pack of useful information.

My interview period was over two days, I spent these in St Peter’s accommodation.  All applicants stay in a standard first-year room in order to get a good feeling of what it would be like. My room had a brick archway in the middle but was very spacious with a great layout and a sink, I shared a bathroom with three others. The raised area with a desk in the room provided a great environment in which to work.

I mainly revised my Physics knowledge the night before my first interviews and that evening had the opportunity to speak to the other students in the Dining Hall. They came from a variety of backgrounds but all were keen to talk about their main worries for interview and how theirs had gone already. The main worry seemed to concern being asked about books they had claimed to have read in their personal statement, but hadn’t. Everyone was incredibly friendly and were all trying their best to calm the others.

In the useful information pack I was given, I had a timetable for the coming days. On the morning of the first day, an informal orientation meeting was arranged. However, I was timetabled to attend an interview at my second-choice college at the same time so, unfortunately, missed it and therefore missed out on some vital information. I had two interviews at my first-choice college and one at my second-choice, Lady Margaret Hall.

The interviews were nowhere near as horrific as they have been made out to be. Mine consisted of answering several tricky Maths and Physics questions on paper. All three interviews were conducted by a panel of two different college tutors. They led the session in a similar manner to that of a tutorial lesson here at school. They made me feel at ease and did their best to work through the catching points in the questions with me and tried to teach me more about the subject matter at the same time. They were just looking to see if I would fit in well with the tutorial style of teaching and had sufficient aptitude with the subject.

If I could do it again with my knowledge now, I would tell myself to remain calm and not fall into a state of panic after each falter. They expect you to make mistakes, they are looking to see how you deal with this. Also, I would recommend talking through technical aspects of your subject with someone who has similar interests to you, whether that be a teacher, parent or friend to become more accustomed to the level of precision in discussion that they are looking for.

I enjoyed the experience greatly and I wish anyone who is applying the very best of luck.