We interviewed our Oxford and Cambridge tutors over a two year period with a view to understanding their experience in the Oxbridge interview process. In this blog series we’ll be posting our findings.
The case study below is from a student studied on the _Archaeology and Anthropology Undergraduate course, Cambridge 2000.
Cambridge Archaeology and Anthropology Trinity College
Questions and content of the interviews
In advance of my interview I was asked to read at least one book from a reading list on Archaeology and Anthropology. One thing that I would recommend is that when reading it, don’t get too hung up on reading everything, but try to read one or two chapters in detail and recall the main arguments and theories. As this is a subject that you will not have studied in the past, the interviewers are not expecting you to have an expert background knowledge. They just want to ensure that you can read something and absorb the key points. It is better to know a few topics in details than trying to absorb a lot of facts that hang together loosely and will not enable you to form any arguments in an interview.
In addition to speaking about the books I had read, I was asked about my school work. I remember being surprised and unprepared for this and with hindsight this was short-sighted of me. The interviewers asked me about a novel I had read in my English lessons – I had mentioned it and they had taken me up on it, but I could think of nothing to say about it. Make sure that if you drop any texts into conversation that you can make some points about them! It is the same as when you write an essay – prepare a few key arguments about one or two texts that you have been reading. Look for strengths and weaknesses in an argument as well as arguments for and against a theory.
Advice for future candidates
I was asked about my extra-curricular activities. This was always my strong point at school, having taken part in sports teams, music, theatre and CCF. Here it is just important to show that you are enthusiastic about trying out different things and that you have some get-up and go.
If I were to go back on my own experience, I would have made key notes on the arguments in the papers that I was asked to read as well as on my own school texts (rather than thinking that they were irrelevant to this new course – they aren’t – all knowledge is relevant).
Know all arguments FOR and AGAINST. When you are asked a question, make sure that you make an argument, stating both sides, but conclude by picking one side and give your reasons for this.
If you are asked to write an essay, be prepared to talk about it and perhaps argue against your original ideas.
Don’t try to quote a professor back at themselves. They want to see if YOU can think. Not that you can read their books.
Don’t be afraid to take time in the interview to think. They would prefer you to think about the question and answer succinctly and with analytical thought, rather than manically regurgitating a few ideas that either do not answer the question or are unrelated to one another.
From my own perspective, if you have a parent or grand-parent who went to the college that you are applying for, I would avoid bringing this up. I have done so in the past, sometimes it is appreciated by interviewer and at other times it has, I feel, held me back. At the end of the day, you want to be there on your own merit.
The most important thing, in my opinion,is to be relaxed and confident in the interview. You will obviously feel nerves. What I did not realise then, however, but do now, is that the interviewer wants you to do your best. They are not trying to catch you out, they want you to succeed just as much as you do. Remember that they are on your side. Do not doubt yourself.