The proportion of applicants who are invited to an interview at Oxford or Cambridge varies, but on average about 75% of Cambridge applicants are interviewed while this figure is about 50% for Oxford. Interviews are usually at the University itself, or if you are applying from a far away country then you might have to go somewhere else or it could be online. Due to COVID-19, all interviews were online in 2020.
1: Know the format of the interview
You’ll be told the format of your interview beforehand.
Usually you’ll have 1-3 interviews, 20-30 minutes each. An interview normally involves sitting with two academics and can be anything from a conversation about your interests to you solving problems while they try to help you. No two interviews are the same, and some subjects will give you something to go through just before your interview.
2: Memorise your application
Make sure you know exactly what is in your application, so then you know what they know about you and you’ll be prepared for anything they can ask you. Your school will write you a reference about you, and if you can read it beforehand that’d be very helpful. The first question in one of my interviews was about something in my reference.
3: Think out loud
Explain your thought process. Don’t sit there quietly, say what you’re thinking and don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s not about getting the right answer, it’s about how you think. They’re there to find out whether Cambridge’s supervision or Oxford’s tutorial style of teaching suits you.
4: Practise interviews
Do practise interviews with whoever you can. This can be teachers, friends’ parents, or even friends. Any interview practise can help you, especially if it involves talking about your subject. Even talking out loud to yourself it good practise.
5: Read ahead on your course
Reading ahead on the A-level(s) (or equivalent) which are relevant to your subject could help you with your interview. You could go through the whole of year 13 content before your interview. You don’t need to learn it all, but understanding it can be helpful.
6: Revise what you’ve learnt already
Don’t just read ahead, but revise what you’ve learnt already, such as AS-level content.
7: Read around your subject
Depending on your subject, this can mean many things. There will always be relevant books. If you’re applying for science, reading about the recent relevant Nobel prizes or scientific journals can be useful. If you’re applying for HSPS, keeping up to date with current affairs via the news can be useful.
8: Research your interviewers
You’ll be told who your interviewers are beforehand, so you’ll have a chance to look them up online. Doing so means that you’ll know what they are experts in. You could potentially look at their research and talk about it during your interview, but this is a risky move because they might not like being told about their research by some teenager.
9: Plan something to talk about
You might have the opportunity to talk about something you choose, so be prepared for that. You can talk about super-curricular work or reading you’ve done which is relevant to your subject, or you could even bring something physical to show.
10: What to wear
This isn’t that important, but you might want to know about this anyway. There is no dress-code so you could wear whatever, but most people go for something formal and I’d say that’s a reasonable thing to do.
Being stressed will probably have a negative impact on your interview performance and experience, so try not to be. Everyone is going to be stressed to an extent, and not being stressed will help you.
12: Enjoy the experience
Unfortunately, most people who get an interview won’t get in. Make sure to try to enjoy yourself while you’re there. You’ll meet plenty of interesting people who are in the same position as you, and you’ll get to spend a day or so in a beautiful college. Enjoy the food and try to have a look around Oxford or Cambridge.
For more advice, check out my YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/c/IlyasCambridgeAdvice
For official interview advice, follow these links: