Cambridge Demystified- Classics (4 years)

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by tritonpw - context: i'm a state school student who did 3 A Levels, only 1 of which were facilitating
Why did you want to study your subject?
1. I wanted to study classics because I think it's a fascinating subject that essentially explores the root of Western civilisation. Because it's a multi-faceted subject, you get to study its literature, history, philosophy, politics and art all in one go- and learn two languages!
2. What what the process like in year 12 when deciding on the degree?
As a student who has never academically studied anything classics-related, cultivating a palpable passion to study the subject was difficult. And so, I attended several Classics study days, taster days, and the UNIQ Classics summer school to explore my interests. Before Classics became a degree option, I was 100% sure I was going to do English. What made me realise that I couldn't do it though was when I tried to write a personal statement for it, and I couldn't even write one sentence. When it came to Classics, however, expressing my passion and love for the subject came naturally. That was the breakpoint for me.
3. Why Cambridge?
Oxbridge has also been a a dream, so to choose between the two was difficult. I prefer Cambridge's smaller, more cosier feel, which is important to me. In terms of the course, I like how in Cam you get to specialise in an area (e.g. philology/art etc) early in the second year (or first year for the 3yr students). Also, it looks like Ox places more emphasis on the literature side of the degree in comparison to Cam, which I'm not a fan of.
4. Did any of your teachers inspire you? Or any other expert (TV presenter etc)
I did not have teachers to inspire me, mainly because my school didn't teach any classical subjects and so I wasn't surrounded by any teachers who taught it. No experts inspired me either! It was mainly independent reading and research that sparked an interest.
5. Which resources did you use?
My resources were mainly documentaries, youtube videos and books. I sort of typed in 'Ancient Greece' or 'Ancient Rome' in youtube and watched whatever I saw. I recommend CrashCourse specifically, they do great videos on classical civilisation. I also used Google Scholar to read some articles about Classics.
6. Which books/journals did you read?
BOOKS: The Satyricon; The Odyssey; Medea (Euripides' version); Pot of Gold; Oedipus Rex; Classics- a short introduction; Classical Mythology- a short introduction; Classical Literature- a Pelican introduction (must read for 4 year applicants!!!); Poetics, Aristotle.
ARTICLES: Luck, Georg, Arcana mundi: magic and the occult in the Greek and Roman worlds; Bernal, Martin. Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization Volume I.
7. Did you attend any lectures, or take part in any competitions? If so, would you recommend them, and why?
Lectures were very important for me. I attended an Ancient History lecture at UCL, two Classics study days at Oxford and the UNIQ Oxford Summer School for Ancient Greece. I took part in two essay competitions- I 100% recommend you to take part in essay competitions as it looks great on your PS and it highlights your passion to write.
8. Did you have a specialist subject/EPQ?
I did an EPQ about the French Revolution and its impact on England, and I (accidentally) learnt a lot about classical civilisation through my research (since the radical English Romantic poets and artists took a renewed interest in the ancient world following the French Rev). I mentioned this in my personal statement, and my interviewer ended up questioning me about my EPQ for a good third of my first interview!
9. What did you mention in your personal statement and why?
I mainly focused about why I wanted to do a classics degree, since I don't study any classical A Levels. I talked about how I got into it, what I read and my opinions on certain books. I discussed my fascination with how language works and my interest to learn Greek and Latin. I briefly mentioned my extra curriculars and accolades. In terms of my SAQ, I used the extra space to quickly express my interest in the language and art divisions of the degree.
10. How did you prepare for your test?
I had an at-interview test, which I briefly prepared for. I did some reading on the English grammar, the mechanics of sentence structure and how verbs/nouns/adjectives work.
11. How did you choose your college?
I chose my college at the last minute. What was important to me was that it was in the centre of town, it wasn't large and its facilities weren't expensive. I eventually chose my current college as I visited it a few years ago on a school trip and had fond memories of it, and it also embodied the above list.
12. How did you find the interview process?
Preparing for the interview was stressful- I revised for it more than my actual subjects. For the actual interviews, I was excited but also terrified. I was physically shaking from the nerves when I was sat outside the door to my interview- so much so that I had to tell myself to calm down! The actual interviews were surprisingly way more easier than my mock interviews, which I had four of. My first interview was 90% personal statement. My second interview was mainly around unseen material, the essays I had submitted and a discussion over an extract they emailed me earlier. I stayed overnight at my college for my assessment the day after, which was at the Classics faculty.
13. How did you feel after the interviews?
My literal reaction as soon as I left both interviews included me squealing with joy and fist pumping the air. No so much confidence when I came out of my assessment though, feeling like I completely bombed it and sabotaged my application.
14. Any interview tips?
a) KNOW. YOUR. BOOKS. I revised the ones I mentioned in my PS to the point that I knew quotes from all 5 books. I feel like that impressed my interviewers the most, as whenever they tried to challenge me, I had quotes from the texts to fire back and defend myself. I essentially was able to formulate a PEE paragraphs on the spot. b) enthusiasm goes a long way- your interviewers will vibe with you way more if your passion is palpable and bouncing off the walls. c) have self confidence and sway when you argue in your interview, as it implies self assurance and shows you really revised hard. d) BE PREPARED FOR UNSEEN LATIN- I just want to clarify I have never studied latin in my life and know *nothing* about it. In my second interview I was given a short poem in latin and asked to translate it (?!!?!). Luckily I managed to translate it, but my God did it almost throw me off. I used etymological similarities between English and Latin to translate (e.g the poem has the word 'dicere' which looked like 'dictate'/'dictaphone', so I guessed the word was 'say/talk') & some GCSE Spanish knowledge (e.g. the poem read 'amo', which is similar to 'amor'- love- in Spanish). Just beware guys !!!.
15. How was socialising before and during your interviews?
I had my interviews early in the week so I only limited socialising for a few days before my interview. In the couple hours before my interviews at Cam, I spent most of my time in the JCR watching TV and talking to the other interviewees. Only in the last 10 mins did I pop to the quiet room to look over my notes. Since I was staying overnight, I had the whole day to explore Cambridge and meet up my friends who were also having interviews. I also met a lot of new people during dinner at my college and in the JCR in the evening.
16. Where were you when you got your offer? How did you react?
I was on the sofas in my sixth form when I found out. First in shock when I saw 'I am pleased to say', then cried hysterically to my friends and screamed on the phone to my parents.
17. Are you looking forward to coming up to Cambridge?
100%. The idea of being independent, experiencing new things, meeting new people and studying a subject I love is more than I can ask for.
Last edited by tritonpw; 2 years ago
Oxford Mum
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Further resources:

Classics sample interview questions


Course info
Oxford Mum
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For many classics applicants, it is an unknown entity, especially if they have never studied Latin, Greek, or classical civilisation at A level. It's scary. You don't know where to start. This is why this chapter is so precious to me.

The fact that you 100% wanted to study English, rather than classics, but could not write one word on your personal statement, yet came alive when you wrote about classics, must count as the greatest academic love story on either Oxford or Cambridge Demystified! :cry2:

And what a herculean effort you made to find out more about it! To say you are not a literature fan, you certainly got to grips with it, reading such greats as

The Satyricon - Petronius
The Odyssey - Homer
Medea - Euripedes
Pot of Gold - Plautus
Oedipus Rex - Sophocles
Poetics - Aristotle

And, knowing that the Cambridge classics degree is all about culture, etc, you read many articles as well to further your knowledge. The only thing missing is you hopping into the tardis with Doctor Who and going to visit ancient Rome!

If any readers want to know more about the ancient world, why not look at some Mary Beard documentaries

By the way, Mary Beard is a classics tutor at Newnham college, Cambridge

I am very pleased to note that both Oxford and Cambridge gave you a lot of support and information about classics

It's a myth that you have to have Latin and Greek A level to study classics and I am reassured that you are telling us this!

Unlike many of the chapters I have received, you have received no inspiration from any teachers, etc but the inspiration came from inside of you. You wanted to find more about your beloved subject, so you jolly well went off and investigated it. This is an important lesson for any Oxbridge applicant. That place won't be delivered to you by Federal Express, you know. Each and every successful offer holder has to work for it, and that is why I admire Oxbridge students so much.

As you say, much of our European culture comes from the ancient world, and so it is very clever of you to tie this in with your EPQ. Indeed, I studied French at Manchester uni, and I was given the choice (and took it) to study a classical civilsation module. Very interesting it was, too!
Last edited by Oxford Mum; 1 year ago
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I absolutely loved your comment about the interviews so much:

"your interviewers will vibe with you way more if your passion is palpable and bouncing off the walls".

Enthusiasm is key to success (all the way through the process, actually). No Cambridge don wants to teach a student who is "meh" about the subject they have spent their whole working lives being devoted to.

Know your books: this is also very, very important. For example most of one of my son's interviews (German) revolved around a book he had put on his PS. In fact, a PhD student who was studying the same book was sent from Hertford college to interview him!

Don't be like another one of his fellow interviewees, who put a German DVD down on her PS but had never seen it all the way through :eek:

My other son had devoted a large part of his time to his EPQ, and he took every opportunity to twist the interview questions back to it. This isn't always possible, but keep your options open by knowing everything you have talked about on your PS backwards.

You have said, OP, that studying your subject is all you can ask for.

Well this chapter is more than I could ever have asked for, and I hope those readers with a curiosity for classics will fall in love with it too, thanks to you.


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