Whatever you might have heard, your interview will have a critical impact on the final outcome of your Oxbridge application.
While admissions tutors take into account all elements of an application – including your personal statement, UCAS form and admissions test scores – the interview is so important because it’s their only opportunity to meet you in person and find out what you’re really about.
There have been plenty of candidates who were exceptional on paper but didn’t get in because of a poor interview. On the other hand, there have been many candidates who were average on paper, but truly excelled in their interviews and won a place as a result.
Why is this exactly? It’s because the interview is a direct experience of what you’d be like to teach as a student. And tutors will always ask themselves the question “Would I want to teach this student for 3 years?” after an interview.
Admittedly, there is an element of subjective preference involved here – you’re more likely to click with some tutors than others – but there are certain strategies you can apply during your interview that will massively increase your chances of success.
1) Treat the Interview like a Conversation
You’ll almost definitely be nervous before your interview – I certainly was. It’s important to realise that there’s nothing wrong with this – it shows that you care about the outcome and every other student will be nervous as well.
The key is to stop these nerves from affecting your performance negatively and the best way to do this is simply to frame the interview as a conversation with people who are interested in your subject.
By doing this, you take the pressure off yourself and start thinking of the tutors as people who you can learn something from over the course of a 30 minute chat, rather than taskmasters who are trying to push you to breaking point.
2) Think Out Loud
During your interview, you’ll probably be asked to solve a brainteaser or mathematical problem of some sort. The reason why tutors ask these types of question is not to see if you’ll get the right or wrong answer – it’s to see how you think under pressure.
The worst thing you can possibly do in this situation is think silently to yourself for a few minutes (which will seem like hours) and come out with an answer.
To show them how you’re thinking, you need to articulate your thoughts out loud. Even if you end up getting the wrong answer, you’ll have shown them the method you used to get to the answer you did.
They may even jump in and correct your thinking if you stray down the wrong path, but they can’t do this unless you’re thinking out loud.
3) Justify all Arguments with Evidence
During your interview you’ll almost certainly be asked to make arguments about economic issues – whether it’s something related to current affairs or an age-old ideological debate.
The tutors don’t really care about what you argue, provided that you argue it well. Every good argument should follow a similar structure: I think A because of B and B is proven by C – A is your position, B is a reason for your position and C is a piece of evidence that backs up your reasoning.
Citing relevant economic research is certainly impressive, but the tutors aren’t necessarily expecting you to have names and dates to hand for every argument that you make. If you can, great, but if not, try to think of examples in current affairs or economic history that back up what you’re arguing.
4) Consider Different Perspectives
One of the most important skills tutors will be looking for is critical thinking and the way you demonstrate this is by considering different aspects of an argument, or looking at an issue from more than one perspective.
For instance, if you’re asked whether the European policy of austerity following the start of the debt crisis has been a success, it makes sense to consider more than one perspective, regardless of your opinion.
This doesn’t mean sitting on the fence all the time – tutors want you to express an opinion. What it does mean is acknowledging the other side of the argument and identifying situations where it may hold, whilst still making the case for your own opinion.
5) Take Your Time
This tip is probably the simplest advice to give but the hardest to implement. Your instinct on being asked a question will be to jump in immediately and start talking, but there’s more than one reason you shouldn’t do this.
By jumping in too quickly, you may fail to understand the question, but perhaps more importantly, you’re showing the tutors that you’re not taking the time to think things through, which is not an impression you want to give.
Instead pause for a few seconds, think about the core issues the question is getting at, any relevant knowledge you have and why the tutors might be asking you to do it. Then move into your answer, speaking at a pace that’s easy to follow and gives you time to structure your answer as you go along.