30 -Oxbridge Preparation- questions

What do the tutors want from an interview candidate?

The interviews are really a kind of mock-tutorial, an opportunity for the tutors to see how you interact with them in discussion in an academic setting, so essentially what it would be like to have you as a student. You're typically given a text to read for five minutes before you go in, and you'll discuss that text with them. Discussion about your school life/ gap year/ personal statement will be minimal. They're looking for your ability to think critically about a text and about a subject, and your ability to think on your feet and debate. Ideally, you'll go in with ideas and an argument about the text you're given, but don't be afraid to ask clarifying questions if there's anything you're unsure on - it's not an exam, it's a conversation. With regard to the discussion, there's a line to be drawn between holding your ground and being bullheaded - just like any student, you should have your own ideas and have faith in them, but equally be willing to learn from your tutors. 
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Would it matter if tigers became extinct? Why do lions have manes? Why do we have red blood cells?

Some of the best interview questions do not have a 'right' or a 'wrong' answer, and can potentially lead off in all sorts of different directions. It's much more about how people approach the problem/question, and how they defend their stance. Are you able to have a discussion and state your thoughts clearly? Are you able to use information from what you have learned in school and college and apply it elsewhere? 
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I know I am good at maths, but is there anything more I need to do in my interview to secure a place to study it?

Oxbridge admissions tutors are not looking for someone who is good at maths at school, they are looking for someone who will thrive studying mathematics at university. These are often two very different things. First of all, you don't need to worry about being a well-rounded person, or knowing all sorts of interesting mathematical fact bites. Instead, make sure you understand the old material - ask questions about it, try and confused yourself with it, use old tools in new and curious ways. Mathematics at Oxbridge will puzzle you - but it shall be all the more enjoyable for it. Secondly, interviews are like tutorials: what you are experiencing now will be what you will experience every week, perhaps five times a week, if you get into Oxbridge. Thus, try and enjoy it! Although you are likely to be nervous, and obviously wanting to do as best you can, the tutors want to enjoy teaching you, and you to enjoy being taught - so give it a go!
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What should I include on my personal statement?

Oxbridge applications focus on academic merit, so extracurricular activities are not as important as your school may have led you to believe (although if there is something really impressive, don't leave it out!). What you want to convey is your love for the subject you are applying for, and why they should choose you (i.e. why is your interest greater or more important than other applicants). Often people choose to include and article or book they have read in their personal statement- this can be really useful, but do make sure that you actually read it, as I was asked about mine in my Oxford interview! The main thing to get across is your enthusiasm for the subject you are applying for.
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Students will often ask how to answer the common question "why did you apply to this college?"

The importance of college selection is often underplayed by the university attempting to make what is often a daunting decision seem easier to make. Whilst it is true students will more often than not warm to the college they are eventually accepted into, it should be a consideration in your interview preparation. Interviewers at the college you apply to will be both affiliated to that college and have a lot of academic contact time with you. As a result your answer should be in two parts. Firstly, you have to express some interest in the unique aspects of that particular college, be it the location, history or gardens for example. Secondly,greater emphasis should be placed on the academic reasons for applying to said college, most notably because of any alignment of interests with the field of study of the academics there. Not only will this catch the attention of the interviewer but hopefully steer the academic conversation down this route which will be a more favorable discussion.
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What do I do if I don't know the answer to the professor's question?

Don't worry, they are doing this on purpose! Oxbridge interviews aren't meant to trick you, but they are meant to test how you cope with new information and working things out on your own. The interviewer wants to see how you reason and think about issues. Take your time and talk through the issue. Ask questions if you need to clarify a point. Take small steps that show how you would try and get close to the answer. Don't worry about going wrong or making mistakes, but if you do realise you are going down the wrong track then say so! Don't try and pretend that you're right when you know otherwise - awareness is a much more highly prized skill in Oxbridge interviews!
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A hypertensive patient asks you to choose his treatment without disclosing potential side-effects of different options as that would only make him anxious, he claims. Which medical and ethical issues would you investigate before proceeding?

This question tests Oxbridge interview skills, mainly in area of Medicine. Purpose of the tutor is to guide the student through the dilemma and provide factual information or leading questions when stuck. This is akin to the structure of most Oxbridge interviews. Important points to discuss: 1) Mechanisms of common anti-hypertensive drugs (reduced afterload/vasodilation, reduced cardiac contractility, reduced circulatory volume) 2) Likely side-effects that these drugs might cause and how they might affect different people's quality of life and/or co-morbidities (e.g. postural hypotension, erectile dysfunction, electrolyte disturbances) 3) In light of that: The issue of consent when information is inadequate. Can the patient truly understand what is being omitted? 4) Patient autonomy and preference maximising medication choice (whilst not making them anxious) would involve an investigation into patient's lifestyle and personal preferences, e.g. sex life, how active they are, do they have other conditions, do they life with someone who can help them in case of an accident. 5) Considering all of the above, would you feel confident prescribing a standard set of first-line medications for hypertension?
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Given the nature of the interview questions, what constitutes a good answer?

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