Student Blog

The Men, The Myth, The Legend: The Lowdown on Oxbridge Interviews

 For those of you who have been offered interviews at Oxford and Cambridge, first off: congratulations. It’s no mean feat, and no matter what happens you should be proud of yourself for making it thus far.

 Whilst many of you will now be hurriedly researching your chosen subject, for some of you (who may be less well acquainted with Oxbridge), it might be just as helpful to clarify some misconceptions surrounding the whole process. The Daily Mail doesn’t make it easy, but we’ve managed to narrow it down to 5:

1) They’re trying to trip you up

A quick Google of ‘Oxbridge interviews’ and you’ll soon find a string of horror stories: students terrorized by eccentric, slightly sadistic old dons; students drilled with bizarre questions like ‘Would you rather be an apple or a banana?;’ students scrutinized Dragons Den style, in some dimly lit, oak-panelled study in a forgotten corner of Magdalen.

 This is not the case. Oxbridge interview questions are designed to make you think. Your arguments will be questioned. But they are not looking to catch you out – they just want to see you think creatively and independently, and not just recite pre-planned answers. And I promise they won’t be hiding behind the curtain just to see how you respond.

2)  Being pooled is a bad thing

If you’re invited for another interview at another college, please don’t read into it too much: it doesn’t mean you’ve been rejected from your first college; and it doesn’t mean the first interview went badly.

 The rationale behind pooling is a mystery to us all – there might be a secret logic to it, or it might be as random as where your surname comes in the alphabet, or how many glasses of sherry a tutor has consumed that evening. Yet candidates often stress about it, so try and remain as open-minded as possible. For, in the ever immortal words of Kanye and Jay-Z’: ‘nobody knows what it means, but it’s provocative, it gets the people going.’

 3) Everyone will be posh

 It is easy to assume that everyone you meet at interviews will be tweed-bedecked aristocrats called Rupert and Tarquin who only swig port straight from the bottle – and there may indeed be one or two. Yet Oxford and Cambridge are actually places of great variety (despite the media’s obsession with its perceived elitism), and you will meet people from a range of classes, countries, and counties (in other words, not everyone will be from Surrey and south-west London.) Embrace it.

4)  You’re not allowed to disagree with your interviewer 

The words and works of your tutor are not Holy Scripture, and therefore you do not have to religiously follow everything that they say. Remember, they may deliberately play devil’s advocate, and if they say something openly provocative don’t be afraid to question it; and equally if you say something openly provocative don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself.

Having said that, there is a fine balance between confidence and arrogance, and seeming determined and just being downright stubborn. Be flexible in your approach, consider what your tutor says carefully, and most importantly, whatever happens, keep smiling: it’ll make you seem instantly more agreeable.

5) You have to wear a suit

There will be many times in an Oxbridge career where you have to wear a suit, bow-tie, gown, and even a carefully colour co-ordinated carnation (I kid you not) – but your Oxbridge interview doesn’t necessarily have to be one. The term ‘smart casual’ can be frustratingly ambiguous, but it ultimately means wear something that you are comfortable in but don’t look too scruffy. At the end of the day it is your mind being assessed, not your fashion sense, so don’t panic if your tailored three-piece isn’t back from the dry cleaners yet. (Photo credit: Stokpic, Pixabay)

 Finally, take the advice of someone who knows more about Oxbridge interviews than anyone: Cambridge don Mary Beard, who famously said, ‘my priority is to get the kids to talk themselves into a place, rather than out of one.’

Written by Kristina Murkett

A MyTutorWeb English Tutor

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