How to Succeed in an Oxbridge Interview | 2. Technique

In the second part of our six part exclusive blog series designed to give the inside scoop on the Oxbridge interview process, BYT tutor James Walker looks at interview technique.

How to master the interview process for Oxford and Cambridge University

How to master the interview process for Oxford and Cambridge University

Ok, so you’ve got an interview at a top university. You’ve done your revision, you know your stuff but you’re still feeling a bit nervous about how you might come across in the interview room.

“What should I wear?”

“How should I sit?”

“How should I structure my answers?”

Here are a few tips and tricks to help guide you on the day itself.

1. Know what you don’t know

A key mistake many applicants make is to try and avoid looking like they don’t know the answer to a question. They squirm, try and change the subject or just simply try and style it out. It might seem like a weakness to admit that you don’t know something but in interview it’s actually a strength.

Don’t waste time trying to answer a question you don’t know how to answer just say “I’m not sure I know how to answer that question” or “I don’t think I know enough about X to answer that.”

The interviewer will then either help you or move on to another question. Remember: interviewers aren’t trying to find out what you know but how you think.

2. Take your time

The interview might not feel like a long time but that is not a reason to rush. When answering any question, even if you think you have the answer straight away, take a breath and run it through in your head. If you need some time to think, ask for it and say “can I have a moment to think about that”. If you realise you haven’t properly listened to the whole question, or have forgotten, ask if the interviewer can repeat the question. Once you are answering the question, try and slow yourself down and consider each aspect of it.

3. Lean in

The most important quality an interviewer is looking for in any applicant is a love for the subject. They want to see you engaged and enthusiastic — ready for three years or more of tough academic study. Everyone comes across differently but one way to show your enthusiasm in a simple way is to make sure that you ”lean in” to the interview.

Don’t sit back in your chair and cross your arms, lean forward and try and maintain eye contact. It will help you to listen to the interviewer’s questions and judge their reactions to your answers.

Before the interview, try to identify if you have a habit of fiddling with your hair, pen or clothing. If you do, try and consciously avoid doing it. It’s never going to make or break an interview but it might distract the interviewer from your brilliant answers. No one wants that!

4. Be yourself

Many applicants ask me what to wear for interview. My answer is always the same. Whatever makes you feel comfortable but you still think is appropriate for the interview. If wearing smart business clothing makes you feel ready and prepared, wear that. If a t-shirt and jeans is what you do your best work in, wear that. Maybe avoid holes in your clothes, dirt and maybe make sure you have a shower, but the most important thing is to be yourself. The interviewers at top universities are looking to see what you will be like as a student. You don’t have to fool them into thinking that you are a buttoned up scholar. The fact that you are in the room in the first place means that they think you are interesting. Be yourself because that is what they are interested in.

The key to a great interview is to enjoy it. It might sound like the hardest thing in the world but an interview is only really a simulation of the kind of work that you will be doing on a daily basis if you get into the University you’ve chosen.

If you love your subject, have reviewed and practiced your interview, then talking to your interviewer should be your first opportunity to talk to someone who really knows their stuff about the stuff you love. That is exciting. Good luck and happy interviewing.

Part three of our Oxbridge series will follow later this month!

Part three of our Oxbridge series will follow later this month!

James Walker is a Cambridge Graduate (Double 1st in English Literature). A communications and education specialist and tutors Oxbridge Entrance for BYT , James has successfully helped a number of our students gain places at Oxford and Cambridge.

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