137 -Oxbridge Preparation- questions

How can I impress Oxbridge tutors?

My top tip for impressing Oxbridge tutors is to consider yourself an academic and treat the interview and your preparation for it like writing an academic paper- after all, by becoming a student, you are entering the academic world, at least temporarily. Academics create new knowledge; they look at things from new and original angles. In order to present original and interesting ideas about your subject, you need to know it really well and think outside the box. I recommend focusing on quality, not quantity; having original and interesting ideas about two things is better than knowing twenty on a superficial level. If you’re applying to study English Literature, read a couple of books that are not on your school syllabus (you want to demonstrate your interest beyond the material studied at school) and re-read them several times. Read papers by other academics on the subject- they will help you develop your own ideas, and you will be able to identify any gaps in current research or a niche that you could explore. Read critical theory and apply it to the books you are studying. You must also have a good understanding of the context. Relate your books to developments during the period in which they were written. How do they compare to works by other authors at the time? What makes them unique and what makes them characteristic of the period or style? Think a lot and be bold with your ideas. Mention some of them in your personal statement, so that your interviewers can ask you about them during your interview. Think of the interview as an opportunity to discuss your ideas with people who will probably understand them and help you to develop them. If they ask you difficult questions, they probably think that you can answer them- it's a good thing! Try to enjoy yourself!
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Answered by Kamila, who has applied to tutor with MyTutor


How do the colleges work at Cambridge / Oxford, and how should I decide which college to apply to?

Both Cambridge and Oxford are made up of a number of distinct colleges. A simple comparison would be to think of the fictional houses of Hogwarts.
Functionally, most students live within college accommodation, especially in first year, and so it is where you will make most of your initial friends. Colleges also provide places to eat meals (typically in a great hall and/or a college bar) and socialise (in student rooms or in common areas). Many colleges will have a bunch of societies where you can interact with like-minded people (e.g. comedy club, music society, feminist society etc.) and sports teams which will play against the other colleges at a slightly more approachable standard than the main teams of the university. While your lectures will NOT be in your college (they will take place at your subject's department or another location nearby), most of your supervisions/tutorials will take place in your college. These are 1-2 hour sessions between a teacher and a small number of students where you will be able to seek help on problem sheets / essays.
All of the colleges are similar, with slight variations in academic success / location / wealth / architecture / size. The main thing is not to panic too much about choosing, because you will love it, wherever you end up . That being said, you may wish to do a bit of research about the different colleges. If academic success matters most to you, you can look at the inter-college league tables (search for "Tompkins Table" for Cambridge or the "Norrington Table" for Oxford). If size matters most, then the college's intake numbers are also visible online - the larger colleges may have more traditions, more money, and more like-minded people, whereas the smaller colleges will be more adaptive, and more intimate. Location can have a profound effect, so have a look at where different colleges are with respect to your department / the main supermarkets / city centre. Note that some colleges will be able to offer affordable accommodation for all years of your studies whereas others may only provide this for first years. Needing to find your own place can be a tad stressful and often means living slightly further away from the centre, but it is also a useful life experience.
In the past it has been possible to apply without specifying a college, though I would recommend that you try to pick a particular college which is your favourite.
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Answered by David, who has applied to tutor with MyTutor


What is the best way to approach an unseen piece?

Read through the whole piece, underlining anything that is immediately striking / a bit interesting, even if you don't quite know why at first. Depending on whether you've been given a prompt (i.e. discuss X in the passage below) or are just commenting generally, this first read-through is essential. The bits that you know are "interesting" but can't quite decide why at first are often the bits that will get you most credit for commenting on, the bits that need unpicking. After this initial read through, make a quick note of the theme of the piece, what's actually happening, so you have a grasp of the whole.
Whatever the assessment, it can help to go through systematically and tick off structural points so you have something to talk about. Who is speaking? What is the form? The genre? See if you can note any poetic or rhetorical techniques: alliteration, assonance, metaphors, similes, personification, enjambment, caesura.... When identifying these poetic techniques for response to an ELAT, an exam question, or an interview, it is sadly never enough just to state their existence. They're either there because they're purposely inserted by the author and therefore MUST be commented upon OR they're an accident, and might as well be ignored. You will never have to talk about everything but a good range of these kinds of things, and an attention to detail within them, demonstrates the ability to close-read well. Once you've made your observations and thought about some of the effects of these devices, you can plan a response: an introduction which demonstrates your awareness of the piece as a whole, plus around three planned paragraphs of three themes each, and a conclusion in which you advance something new is often a good way to go.
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Answered by Jeannie, tutor with MyTutor


How should I prepare for an Oxford philosophy interview (for PPE) if I have never studied philosophy before?

Making a good impression in your philosophy interview at Oxford will be necessary to earn a place to study PPE. Oxford philosophy tutors will not expect you to have studied philosophy before, and they will not expect you to know any specific philosopher's work in detail. Tutors are mainly interested in seeing if you can think on your feet in a clear and methodical way.
Philosophers deploy arguments to advance or critique an idea or a thesis. An argument is a set of premises followed by a conclusion. Understanding the different varieties of arguments will help you to understand and engage with philosophical concepts. If you can identify what variety of argument you are dealing with, you will be better able to see if the argument is successful or faulty. Identifying an argument as deductive or inductive is an important first step in offering appraisal or criticism.
A deductive argument is one whose conclusion is true if all the premises are true (the truth of the premises guarantees the truth of the conclusion). For example:
1 - Mary is taller than Joe 2 - Joe is taller than Smith therefore: 3 - Mary is taller than Smith (conclusion)
If Mary (180cm) is taller than Joe (179cm), and Joe is taller than Smith (178cm), then it necessarily follows that Mary is taller than Smith.
An inductive argument is one whose conclusion may be false, even if all the premises are true (the truth of the premises does not guarantee the truth of the conclusion). For example:
a) - Mary has been to watch every Liverpool game b) - Liverpool are playing this Sunday therefore: c) - Mary will watch Liverpool play this sunday (conclusion)
Whilst it may be true that Mary has been to watch every Liverpool game, and Liverpool are playing this Sunday, Mary might not be able to go to the match on this occasion.
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Answered by Jonathan, tutor with MyTutor


How can I prepare for the HAA?

The main way to prepare is to look at past papers, however there are not very many of these yet so it will not take you long to finish them all. If you want to prepare further then getting a book of psychometric tests and doing the verbal reasoning questions may be useful for the multiple choice section, although these questions are usually much easier than the ones on the HAA. It does help get you into the right mindset, though. You could also find sources online and have a go at analysing them in a general way, thinking especially about how they could be useful, and how valid you think they are. Look at sources from a period you have studied and see if you can find clues to things you already know about the period, which aren't directly stated in the source. If you can do that then you can probably make guesses about what might have been going on in sources from periods you haven't studied. The source section of the HAA is all about deducing things from sources anyway, so it's a good thing to have a practice at.
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Answered by Caitlin, tutor with MyTutor


Suggest why DNA is a more suitable long-term storage molecule for genetic information than RNA.

DNA and RNA have similar, but not identical, molecular structures. It is these structural differences that enable DNA to be a more suitable long-term storage molecule than RNA. Firstly, the pentose sugar in a DNA monomer is β-D-2-deoxyribofuranose, whereas in an RNA monomer, the pentose sugar is β-D-ribofuranose. The hydroxyl group on C2’ of β-D-ribofuranose causes RNA to be more polar and more susceptible to hydrolysis, especially in the aqueous cytoplasm of a cell. Secondly, thymine is found as a nitrogenous base in DNA. However, in RNA, thymine is replaced by uracil. This means that DNA has a lower mutation rate, as spontaneous deamination reactions of cytosine to uracil can be readily detected by the cell’s mismatch repair machinery. (This is less readily recognised in RNA, since uracil is present in RNA to begin with.) Thirdly, RNA tends to be single stranded. DNA, on the other hand, exists usually as a double helix. The pentose-phosphate backbone of the double helix protects the bases within from chemical damage, preserving the base sequence.
Note that there are certain exceptions to these key differences in both RNA and DNA, which further affect how suitable each molecule is for long-term storage of genetic information.
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Answered by Kayden, who has applied to tutor with MyTutor


What do I say if asked, 'what is culture'?

There's no easy answer to this, and don't be afraid to say so. Address the fact that there is no set definition and that its ambiguity is precisely what Anthropologists and Archaeologists set out study. Having said that, many scholars will have a working definition they use, and it is helpful to have one yourself. For instance, 'the system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviours, and artefacts that the members of society use to cope with their world and with one another, and that are transmitted from generation to generation through learning' (Bates and Plog, 1990: 7).You might then expand on your answer in one of several ways: give an example of a 'culture' and how this may or may not fit your definition precisely; explain how Anthropologists over the history of the discipline have changed their working definitions of culture; or the way in which Anthropologists approach the study of culture (through Ethnography and Anthropological theory. You might also discuss the ways in which Archaeologists might differ in their approach to culture, and why.
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Answered by Julia, tutor with MyTutor


How can I make myself stand out in Oxbridge interviews?

First of all, congratulations on getting an interview for Oxbridge – you should be very proud of yourself! It’s also worth noting that you should not listen to all of the horror stories! Whilst they are designed to challenge you, they are not as bad as people make out! Okay, so not only do you need to be prepared with what you’re going to say, you also need to make yourself stand out from the other applicants. For my Cambridge interview I did not need to wear a suit, so I decided to wear a smart, patterned dress instead. I also wore my hair to the side and wore big earrings. Tricks like this make you more memorable, which is definitely important! For boys, wearing a smart shirt with a subtle print on it can also achieve the same effect. Also, Oxbridge interviews are designed to make you think outside of the box. Importantly, they want to see you think, so don’t rush into your answer! Pausing before you answer is a good way of showing the interviewer that you are thinking intelligently about the question. Good luck!
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Answered by Sophie, tutor with MyTutor


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