It can be so very thrilling to get your invitation to interview at your first choice Oxbridge college, but also very daunting. In our current education system, students are trained to become masters at the written examination, but with perhaps the exception of oral examinations for the languages, interview-style examinations are non-existent. For many students, their entrance interviews at Oxbridge may be the first time they have been examined orally, on the spot, on their chosen subject – and so it is no surprise that many students are woefully prepared for the interviews. This is an entirely addressable issue however as being good at interviews isn’t an innate skill or talent; just like written examinations, through practice and training, any student can become proficient at the interview process.

Even as we enter into November, there are several key activities students can engage in now in order to prepare:

  • Mock interviews: Practice or mock interviews are the key to success: the more you can do the better. It is only through practice that we can begin to improve the eloquence of our responses, develop strategies for answering questions where we do not immediately know the answer, and begin to identify shortcomings in how we deliver our responses. If you haven’t done any mock interviews yet, I recommend that you first start by asking your school. Many teachers will be happy to conduct practice interviews with you and their feedback can be highly valuable. However, the most realistic and helpful experience is to do a mock interview with someone you don’t know, as this will most closely reflect the reality of your actual interview. It can be nerve-wracking talking to a stranger about the complexities of Le Chatelier’s Principle and overcoming that anxiety is best done in a practice setting, not the real interview! Oxbridge Applications offers a range of services and programs for mock interview practice running up to mid-December, which I heartily recommend.
  • Finish or refresh your subject reading: At this late time in the year, many students still haven’t quite got round to those books mentioned on their personal statements. This can be fatal if you are questioned on them during the interview and are caught out on not having actually read the book, or even worse, not remembering any details. As such, make time to finish your reading list, even if that means cherry-picking a few chapters if the whole book is too much of a time commitment. In addition, go online, pick up New Scientist , or grab a newspaper and get up to speed on the most current science and technology stories. You do not want to go into an interview not knowing about this year’s Nobel Prize winners or the most recent headline-grabbing scientific discovery!
  • Use your family and friends: While your parents may not have the background education to properly conduct a mock interview, use them as a sounding board to test your ability to clearly and concisely explain concepts that may come up in the interview process. One common interview question for physics students would be “explain what imaginary numbers are to a layperson” or for medical students, “what are the pros and cons of active versus passive euthanasia”. If anything, discussing these questions over the dinner table will be good practice for you and may be the starting point for some interesting family debates!

In short, even though there may only be a few weeks till your interviews begin; there is still plenty of time to practice the interview process. The more rehearsals you do now, the easier and more relaxed you will be on the day itself!