5 Tips For Acing Your Oxbridge Economics Interview

Economics Interview

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.

How To Ace the TSA: 5 Simple Strategies

The TSA is a real test of your ability to reason and argue under time pressure, which is why it separates the men from the boys in the applications process.

As admissions test become an increasingly important tool for tutors, failing to score well will mark the end of your application, while a very good score will be a huge asset for you and give you a little more room for manoeuvre.

While good preparation is vital, all the practice in the world won’t help you if you’re not able to apply it on the day of the exam.

Here are 5 simple strategies that will serve you well in the exam hall.

1) RTQ…ATQ (Read The Question…Answer the Question)

One of the most common errors applicants make is failing to read the question properly in their rush to give an answer and move on.

I have no doubt you’ve heard this many times before but the way to avoid making this mistake during the test is to read the question actively. This means underlining and circling key facts and figures and identifying exactly what’s being asked before trying to work out your answer.

For the multiple choice questions, this small initial time investment will save you a lot more time later as you won’t have to keep rereading the question. For the essay question, this could be the difference between a well-structured, relevant answer and a completely irrelevant one.

2) Manage Your Time

The TSA is a race against the clock and you need to be aware of the time you have left as you make progress through the test, without this becoming an unnecessary distraction.

The best way to do this is to set benchmarks for yourself, which you can check up on at predefined time intervals.

Given that you have 90 minutes to answer 50 multiple-choice questions, if you’re being disciplined you should be spending around 1 minute and 50 seconds per question, which will mean that as a general rule of thumb:

  • After 30 mins you should be on at least question 16-17
  • After 60 mins you should be on at least question 33-34
  • After 90 mins you should be finishing up on question 50

If at all possible, it’s ideal to try and move at a slightly faster pace than thus so that you have leave 5 minutes at end to check any answers you’re unsure of and solve any remaining problems that you’ve skipped earlier.

3) Educated Guessing

It’s very easy to get wrapped up in a question and suddenly realise that you’ve spent 5 minutes trying to answer it. If this happens more than a handful of times, you’ll be under serious time pressure and will probably fail to complete the test, so it’s crucial that you

The key to dealing with questions that you’re struggling with is to remind yourself that every question is worth only 1 mark and either:

  1. Leave it blank for now, move on and come back to it
  2. Use deductive reasoning to eliminate answers you know are wrong and make an educated guess from the remaining options

Remember, no marks are deducted for wrong answers, so it’s in your own interests to at least attempt every question on the paper.

4) Manage Your Mind

A big part of the battle during the test is psychological. There will be plenty of questions that challenge you and given that the average score is usually in the range of 60-65, you are likely to get some of them wrong.

If you’ve spent some time struggling with a question, don’t let it affect you. Each question is only worth a mark, but if you let a difficult question bother you, the cumulative effect will be much greater. Remember that the test is supposed to be difficult and that almost everyone else will also be finding it challenging.

Instead of assuming that everything will go perfectly, even if you’ve been acing your practice tests, it’s important to prepare yourself mentally for difficulty, so that if you do run into challenges, you’ll be able to deal with them.

5) Do What Works For You

Students always ask me what the best strategy for dealing with the TSA is and my answer is always the same: “Do what works for you.”

Whether it’s doing all the problem solving and critical thinking questions separately or starting from the back of the paper (where the hardest questions usually are) there’s no one right way that will work for everyone.

The key is to experiment with a couple of different methods early during your practice sessions and find what tends to work better for you.

I don’t recommend altering your strategy any less than a month before the test because you want to develop a certain amount of confidence in the process that will come from repetition and consistency. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how you approach the test as long as you perform well, so ignore what your friends are doing if you feel you know what you’re doing.

The 5 Keys to a Great Personal Statement

Personal Statement
Every year, admissions tutors have to go through hundreds of applications, which means reading hundreds of personal statements in a limited period.

Put yourself in the shoes of an admissions tutor for a second and you’ll realise that this is probably not an experience they relish. There are definitely more fun and interesting things for them to be doing, so whatever you can do to stand out and make their job easier will work to your advantage.

Here are 5 strategies you can apply that will make your personal statement stand out and increase your chances of an interview invitation.

1) Be Economical with Words

The mistake that many students make is thinking that the more complex and flowery their language in their personal statement is, the more intelligent a candidate they’ll appear to be. In most cases, the opposite is true.

The easier your statement is to read, the easier you’re making the tutor’s life who’s reading it and the more likely they are to pay attention to what you’re actually saying, rather than trying to decipher the intricacies of your written communication by going back over multiple clauses.

The best way to do this is to follow Oscar Wilde’s maxim to never use a long word where a shorter one will do. Obviously, don’t take this to an extreme and write with the vocabulary of a 5 year old, but be aware that tutors won’t be impressed by literary intricacies. What’s more by using simpler language and you’ll be able to say more with your limited word count.

2) Show Passion Through Action 

If I had a pound for every time I read a personal statement that started with the sentence “I’m really passionate about subject X” or some derivation of that I’d be a very wealthy man indeed.

Using this type of cliché not only makes your statement seem generic, it’s stating the obvious – if you’re not passionate about the subject you’re applying to study for the next 3 or 4 years then why have you chosen it?

The way to show passion for your subject, which is a prerequisite for any applicant is to demonstrate it by citing examples of how you’ve explored it – whether that’s through reading books, attending conferences or taking on personal projects in the field.

3) When In Doubt, Be Original

Given your limited word count, you’ll probably have more things you want to say than you’ll be able to fit into your personal statement. When it comes t making a decision about what to leave out, it helps to have a set of rules you can apply to the process.

The single best rule I always tell my students to follow is to ask themselves the question “Is this experience unique to me?”

The chances are that most people have read The Undercover Economist or Freakonomics – why not mention a book that’s a bit different that others are less likely to have read?

If there’s a relevant project you’ve worked on or a recent trip you went on that sparked interest in your subject, mention that. To put it simply, the more unique the experiences you write about are, the more you’ll stand out.

4) Cover All Your Bases

Just as there are certain ingredients you should include to make a particular dish well, there are certain elements a good statement should include.

The order you choose to put these in and the way you write about them is really up to you, but if you don’t include the following fundamental components, the tutors will wonder why they’re not there.

  • Subject knowledge
  • Reasons for course choice
  • Relevant reading
  • Work experience
  • Extra curricular activities

5) Say What You Can Contribute

Another mistake a lot of applicants make is to spend the whole statement describing how wonderful they are.

While it’s important to demonstrate your strength as a candidate, I think your application will stand out if you also make the effort to say what you can contribute to life at your college or university of choice.

Acknowledging that you’ll be part of a community that’s bigger than your own academic ambitions shows humility and respect for the institution you’re applying to and always goes down well with admissions tutors.

The Simple Secret To Getting into Oxbridge

oxford 2
Defining Success

Getting into Oxbridge isn’t easy.

But one of the simplest strategies that so many unsuccessful applicants neglect is spending time thinking about this question: What does success look like for you? And why do you want it so badly?

The reason this is so important is because when you know what your destination looks like, you’re much more likely to get there – you’ll be able to remember where you’re heading when the going gets tough and keep moving forward. The challenges that come your way will just be minor obstacles rather than stopping you from completing the journey.

Top performers in every single field know the importance of thinking about what success looks like to them. Take athletes for example.

In the days leading up to an important race, Usain Bolt will wake up each morning and play the entire race through in his head. He’ll taste the crispness of the cold air as he positions himself at the starting line. As he waits for the gun, he’ll sense the entire crowd holding its breath, sitting on the edge of their seats in anticipation in the moments before it goes off. He’ll feel the whole world slow down and seem to stop entirely. BANG. His muscles come to life as a wave of electricity floods through him. He charges forward like a gazelle, his legs springing him closer to the finish line with each step,. He feels the sole of his foot connecting with the racetrack beneath him as he reaches top speed. With one final stride, he crosses the line. He looks up. First place. Olympic champion. And the fastest human being on earth.

Now it’s your turn. Take a few moments to picture the ideal scenario and why it would be so great. You’d be going to Oxford or Cambridge, which would give you a tremendous educational experience and put you on the right path to a career of your choosing. You’d have a whole summer to bask in the knowledge that you’d made it into one of the top universities in the world and would have 3 years of studying in one of the most stimulating environments around.

Now take a moment to consider what your motivation for getting into Oxbridge is and why you even started reading this article in the first place.

Some of your motivations might be external like making Mum and Dad proud and looking good in front of your friends. As we discussed in the section before, there’s nothing wrong with making your parents proud and having some competition with your friends. Where this can go wrong is when these external factors become the main motivation for your pursuit of top grades in your exams.

Extrinsic motivators can be powerful tools, but the strongest and most durable are intrinsic motivations. Getting into Oxbridge is not just important because of the consequences – it’s a genuine test and life is nothing but a series of different challenges. I’m not saying that you should resign yourself to a life of grinding and hard work. I’m saying that challenges are not only fun but rewarding and that without them, we often end up becoming very bored indeed.

The challenge you have in front of you right now is your application and exams and by successfully navigating these you’re preparing yourself for the challenges that life has to bring. You’re practicing the process of planning a project in advance and peaking at the right time. You’re practicing your ability to shut out distractions and focus on what’s important. You’re practicing the ability to succeed in the face of adversity. All of these are crucial life skills, which are applicable to countless different areas.

What’s more, there’s nothing like the pleasure you get from meeting a tough challenge and coming out on top so don’t forget to keep reminding yourself of this during the process, especially when things get tough, as they inevitably will.

An Unexpected Strategy for Oxbridge Success

Oxbridge Success

“He who would be serene needs but one thing. Detachment.” – Meister Eckhart

What I’m about to suggest won’t sound right the first time you read it, so feel free to go over it again.

The way to achieve Oxbridge success and study the course of your choice is to not care about whether you get in or not.

Or at least, not to care too much.

Before you dismiss this advice as idiotic, I’m not suggesting you abandon your preparation and just expect things to magically fall into place. What I am suggesting is that you don’t attach your entire identity to getting into Oxford or Cambridge, because by doing that you’re heaping a huge amount of extra pressure on yourself in an already stressful situation.

Clearly, Oxbridge success is important to you, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this.  And for good reason too – a degree from one of these universities not only gives you a high quality educational experience but is also widely regarded in the marketplace and will create excellent career opportunities.

However, it’s important to remember that failing to get into Oxbridge is not the end of the world. Most of our fears are often totally irrational and the worst case scenario is usually far from irreversible.


I want you to try a thought experiment – grab a pen and a piece of paper and imagine your nightmare, the absolute worst-case scenario that could happen. This could be failing your admissions test or making a mess of your interview which ultimately means missing out on an offer from Oxbridge.

Whatever it is, write down what the scenario looks like in painstaking detail and imagine what would happen – have some fun with it. Once you’ve outlined the apocalypse ask yourself these questions:

1) What is the permanent impact on my life of this?

2) How likely is this to actually happen?

3) What steps could I take to repair the damage and get things under control?

Now ask yourself:

1) What are some more likely scenarios?

2) How likely is it that I could get to the interview stage?

3) Have less intelligent people than me applied to Oxbridge before and got in?

The answer to this last question here is a resounding yes, by the way. Plenty of people who you and I would not classify as exceptional have managed to successfully navigate the Oxbridge applications process and win a place so there’s no reason you can’t do the same.

By doing this exercise I hope you’ve realised one thing: no matter what happens, you will survive. And the chances are that your nightmare won’t materialise and things will work out just fine.

Having won a place to study Economics & Management at Oxford and successfully guided students through the applications process I can say from experience that the students who are more relaxed but still go about their preparation in a focused and methodical way consistently outperform the students who are stressing for months on end about the smallest details of their application.

Yes applying to Oxford or Cambridge is an important step for you, but by exploring the possibility of failure and realising that it won’t be the end of the world if you don’t get in, you’re already putting yourself in a better frame of mind for the journey ahead towards Oxbridge success.