It’s the most anticipated, mythologised, dreaded part of the Oxbridge application process – the spectral challenge of academic strength that haunts the waking thought and sleeping dreams of Oxbridge applicants across the country. Rumours and mystery surround it and battle-scarred survivors tell terrifying tales of intellectual ardour and academic ordeal. But in reality, most Oxbridge interviews are much less traumatic and erratic than the urban legends would have you believe and, most importantly, it is eminently possible to prepare for them. Just follow these simple tips…and don’t believe everything you hear…

  1. Use Your Personal Statement. The topics and texts you refer to in the personal statement section of your UCAS form are very likely to be discussed in the interview. Firstly, make sure that you deliberately reference areas where you are confident you can shine and secondly, review your statement before the interview and refresh your familiarity with any specific books or subjects you mentioned.
  2. Be Prepared. When you receive your interview details, they should include the names of the individual supervisors who you will meet on the day. Use the college website to find out which subject areas they specialise in and try to brush up on those topics, or do a little background reading to introduce yourself to them if you have never covered them.
  3. Pick Your Topics. Choose five or six topic areas in which you feel you can excel and do as much background research on them as you can. Read extra books, watch documentaries, search online for news articles and build up a real knowledge base.
  4. Make it YOUR Interview. The interviewer is interested in what you DO know, so don’t panic if they ask you about a topic you haven’t yet covered at school. Just explain the situation, try your best to make some intelligent comments from the knowledge you do have, and then steer the interview firmly towards a different topic you DO know a lot about. The interviewer will be happy to be guided by you to a subject you are passionate and confident about discussing.
  5. Answer The Question. Resist the panicky urge to simply spew out all the information you know surrounding a given topic as soon as it comes up. Listen carefully to the question, which may be quite specific, and try to tailor your knowledge to answer exactly what has been asked.
  6. Read Up. In the run up to your interview, regardless of the subject you are applying for, try to read the newspapers daily and keep abreast of current affairs and world events. Specifically focus on news related to your subject area too – subscribing to a good magazine or journal like the New Scientist or BMJ is a great way to prepare.
  7. Be Confident. Whilst you don’t want to seem cocky or arrogant, do have the confidence to calmly, clearly make your points in a convincing way and to stand up for your ideas. Interviewers will sometimes play devil’s advocate or challenge you to see how well you can defend an argument or back it up with evidence, so don’t immediately retract or apologise when your ideas are questioned. Try to create strong, well-reasoned arguments backed up by fact and evidence and demonstrate how you reached your conclusions.
  8. Make Intelligent Guesses. Interviewers will often ask questions about topics you could not possibly know about, to see how you react to a challenge. They are not looking for miracles, but rather are interested to see you demonstrate your problem-solving abilities. Simply use the knowledge you do have to make intelligent, reasoned guesses, and don’t be afraid to offer two or three different possible solutions to show the breadth of your thought processes.
  9. Look Sharp. It seems so obvious, but dressing smartly, keeping long hair out of your face, not wearing fluorescent colours or too much make up; all will prevent your appearance detracting from your intellect. Of course it is true that you will not always be disadvantaged by dressing down, but you certainly won’t be by dressing smartly – so why take the risk?
  10. Make Yourself at Home. Whatever you do, arrive in plenty of time to find the interview room, familiarise yourself with the area (and find the nearest loo!) Feeling like you know your way around and not arriving, breathless and sweaty, moments before the interview, will stand you in good stead for a cool, collected performance.