39 -Oxbridge Preparation- questions

How do I write an Oxbridge personal statement?

For this I would advise three key points. (1) Remember you're applying to study a subject not, for a career. At Oxbridge there is a special emphasis on this and the people responsbile for admissions will be looking to see your passion for the subject you are going to study, not the career you want to use the degree for. Therefore, work experience can be good but what I'd advise as being even more useful is attending masterclasses or taster days where you can experience studying the subject and comment on that. Further, you should have at least three, substantiated and different reasons for why you want to study the subject. This should form the longest part of your statement.  (2) A common trap is to think that Oxbridge tutors are looking for a long list of impressive achievements in a personal statement. From my experience, selectively choosing a few achievements and going into detail about them will prove to be a much more successful approach. Primarily, you will get into Oxbridge for your mind and therefore it's better to go into depth about a few achievements so they can see evidence of you thinking. Mention what you learnt, analyse how that has been useful, give your opinion. 

(3) Approach an Oxbridge personal statement as an essay rather than a statement. You should be making a strong argument throughout (arguing and persuading for you to be given a place). There should be a sense of voice throughout, be critical (evaluative) about experiences or things you've read, develop your sentences, but keep it formal and true to yourself.
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What is an Oxbridge interviewer looking for?

2 main things: Intellect – your intelligence: This includes showing that you are able to think on your feet, able to logically and clearly articulate a view point and defend it and able to adapt your point of your view to different situations. For instance, the interviewer's objective is to push your viewpoint to the limit and see how you cope with this.  A passion for the subject - The people interviewing you are experts in their field and have very often written the books that students study from. So they want to teach someone who is just as passionate and enthused about their subject as they are. So you need to convince them of that (without referring to the term "passion" of course!) For example, even if you were contemplating between law and history: as far as they are concerned, you have always wanted to be a lawyer. In particular, make sure that you can distinguish between the practice of the subject and the academic study of the subject. Academics don’t want to hear that you want to go on to practice your subject e.g. to become a lawyer or teacher because they would like nothing more than for you to complete your Oxbridge degree and become an academic. So for example, make sure if you’re answering a question like, ‘Why law?’ you don’t say because you want to be a lawyer after your degree, keep it very focused on the academic study.
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What should I be reading for my interview?

Don't bite off more than you can chew: compiling a huge, broad reading list will only stress you out and prevent you from actually exploring your subjects and refining your interests, which is the point of reading for your interview. Start with a few classics, or books that have always interested you, and see where they take you. For example, if you're reading for English, you might start reading Victorian classics, and really enjoy Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. You might then decide to delve deeper into literature of this genre, style or theme, and read the 1966 novel Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Ryhs, which was inspired by Jane Eyre, and other less famous novels by Charlotte Brontë, such as Villette. You'd then mention this interest in your personal statement, and the interviewer might mention it in your interview - you'd be prepared to discuss the topic with some insight because of the deeper reading you'd done. There is no need however to feel you need to become an expert - just showing that you act on your interests, and are reading voraciously despite school work should be enough.
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What are the Dos and Don'ts of an outstanding essay?

When it comes to writing your best essay you often don't realise how good it is until you've finished it. A whole load of factors contribute to your pride and joy such as interest levels, time spent preparing, even mood when writing it! Nevertheless, from my time at University, I've noticed some patterns in what makes a tutor like an essay or not. So here are my Dos and Don'ts for all essays (but particularly University level ones). - DO read the book and know the plot. It may sound obvious, but it is very easy to want to dive into the critical literature without fully understanding the original text. Having made that mistake myself, the essay is about the text(s) and nothing else. Everything else is back-up. - DON'T disagree with the question for the sake of it. Having to discuss opinions (i.e. 16th Century German literature was not sexist. Discuss) might well present themselves to be disagreed with. I would advise never to know what side you're on unless you've read the whole text (or works) and some critical literature too. Don't be blinded by a thirst for controversy, sometimes adding to the opinion in front of you or exploring one facet of it is much better than arguing against it. - DO make sure every quote you supply is directly relevant to your point. General quotes (such as saying "Goetz von Berlichingen shouting 'Freiheit' when he dies is an example of freedom in the text") are not only very obviously fillers, but also slow the essay down to a standstill. Instead try seeing how that aspect of the text develops thoughout the narrative, or the significance of where it sits in the text. - DON'T overuse historical context. Again the essay is about the text. Of course historical context is important (and indeed sometimes vital), but I always make an effort not to let it stand alone without purpose (i.e. having a paragaph describing the sociopolitical landscape after the intro simply for the sake of putting it in). Add it to a point you're making and make sure that it's relevant (e.g. "It is not surprising Goethe explored freedom, when he himself was under the patronage of Grand Duchess Anna Amalia"). - DO go somewhere. The point in an essay should follow on from one another. The point made in the conclusion should be an evolution of the argument before it. Of course this is not always possible, such as when you're discussing both sides to an argument - but even then, the comparison between both sides should allow for one side being more favourable than the other. - DON'T worry about the length of an essay. Different tutors will say different things, but whether you're writing 1800 words, or 4000 it often has little difference on the mark or the quality of the essay. Shorter essays will tend to be more consice and have a more convincing argument but run the risk of not convering enough ground. Longer essays ensure that you can explore a very broad range of aspects to the question but run the risk of being viscous and difficult to wade through.  - DO spend some time writing the essay. Of course don't go crazy and spend weeks honing and sharpening one essay (there are more fun things to do!), but try to have at least read the text, 2 critical pieces and one text for historical context. Try not to start the essay the night before (from personal experience!) and try to get into the question. If you don't it could be stale to read and dull to write. Essays are a vital part to a literature course, but everyone will have their own styles and techniques to make sure it's a good essay. As tough as the work is to write an outstanding essay, it'll really help you have fun at uni.
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What is the most important thing to do in the interview?

From my own experience and asking other people and tutors I think the most vital thing to do is be enthusiastic and passionate about your subject. If you can demonstrate a real, genuine interest in your subject and wanting to learn it at either of the universities then they're going to want to have you. These are academics who live and breathe their subject and they want likeminded pupils studying there. I'm not at all saying let it take over your life and read an academic report a day but it's important that you do have a genuine interest in the subject and wanting to learn more about it. Knowing specific areas or subjects in it will really help towards this as well as it shows you have personal interests and have been exploring the subject.
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What are Oxford and Cambridge looking for in a personal statement?

The Oxbridge personal statement style is slightly different from that of other universities, and it is important that you don’t cater your statement towards one university in particular. While it is true that there is lots of overlap and common ground in what your personal statement should be ‘saying’ (and even then, your statement cannot be right or wrong), Oxbridge are definitely looking for particular things.
The most important of these is, undoubtedly, enthusiasm. The entirety of the Oxbridge admission systems seeks to find students who are passionate about their subjects, and you need to convey this as best you can in 4000 characters. Explain exactly why you love your subject - be honest and sincere, and use examples as evidence of this (next point!). Secondly, it is imperative that you talk about relevant literature or media you have independently sourced in order to both show this interest in your subject, as well as your ability to go beyond the A-level curriculum. Although this is important when applying to any top university, it is absolutely crucial that you do not talk about books that you haven’t read - you do not want to find yourself sat in an interview having to blag your way through Dickens’ novels if you’ve never even heard of David Copperfield. Thirdly, you will have to make sacrifices on the extra-curricular front. To put it bluntly, Oxbridge don’t particularly care about your non-academic pursuits, but that is not to say you shouldn’t put any in. They can convey well-roundedness and personality, something less important in Oxbridge admissions pre-interview but more important to other universities.
Remember that your personal statement is not only going to Oxford or Cambridge - you’re applying to five different universities, so make sure that whilst you’re meeting what Oxbridge is looking for, you’re creating a versatile and well-rounded statement that reflects exactly why you want to study your subject. Good luck!
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What will Oxbridge interviewers want to talk to me about?

Oxbridge admissions tutors see the interview as an opportunity for you to demonstrate your passion for and knowledge about your subject. There are several different interview formats, depending on the subject you are applying for. For the sciences, you may be given a problem at the beginning and asked to solve it or discuss it with your interviewer. For the arts, you may be given a text or a quote and asked to give your own opinion. You can expect the interviewer to have thoroughly read your personal statement too, so be ready to answer questions on any material you may have referenced in there. The interviewers do not expect you to have perfect knowledge of your subject field, and it's not wrong to admit you don't know something! Rather, they want to see the potential in your ability to critically discuss difficult questions, and whether you are truly passionate about your subject. So relax, read up on the bits of your subject that interest you the most and just be yourself in interview.
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How to I prepare for interviews?

The first (and probably the most important) step in preparing for interview is becoming comfortable talking about your subject. Interviews last around 20 minutes each depending on the subject and most of that time will be you answering or discussing a certain topic and explaining how you have come to those answers. Therefore, practicing discussing your course with family, friends or teachers is a really good way of doing this. A good starting point might be online articles. The BBC news website has lots of different subsections on certain topics so choose one (at random is best), read it through and then try to explain summarise what it is about to your listener and then explain your thoughts on it.  A few things that are good to start practicing are as follows: 1) Think! It sounds obvious but often silence can feel intimidating in an interview, so pausing to consider your answer can be easily skipped. Take a few seconds to consider what they have said and think through your response. It is better to take the time to think that to give an answer immediately that you don't agree with! 2) Ask! If you want them to clarify the question or they use a term that you don't understand, just ask the interiewer. They are not trying to try and catch you out, they genuinely want to see you thinking and reasoning at your best. 3) Answer in 3s! This isn't a strict rule, but when giving an answer, giving two or three points helps you to remember what you are saying when nerves are high and stop you from rambling.
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