Cambridge interviews: Students' advice on how to prepare

Cambridge university

There are plenty of myths and half-truths that surround the process of being interviewed for a place at Cambridge.

But the reality is far less likely to involve outlandish questions and devious mind-traps, than simply being a process where the tutors guide you through an explanation of why you want to study there.

We asked TSR members studying at Cambridge to share their experiences of the interview process.

Preparing for the interview

As part of thinking about what you may be asked in the interview, make sure you're familiar with everything you've mentioned in your application. 

"The main thing I did was consolidation of work I'd already done. I skimmed key parts of texts I had mentioned in my personal statement. I thought about them and how I would relate different ones," says TSR member koi koy. 

"I reread my personal statement to make sure I knew what I had said," agrees chazwomaq. 

If your school offers them, it's also worth having a practice interview – and even if it doesn't, you can ask someone else to do a practice run with you. 

"I had a practice interview at school with a biology teacher, and a general interview practice with an outside person," says chazwomaq. 

Dealing with the unexpected

No matter how well-prepared you are, don't be surprised if there are some questions that you haven't anticipated. 

"There were a couple of surprises but these were adjacent to the questions I had expected. The level of particularity caught me off guard but also made the interview really interesting and exciting," remembers koi koy. 

chazwomaq says "all the questions were things I had never been asked before. But the general interview was just basic things like 'why do you want to come here?' and 'why this subject?', as well as some stuff on my personal statement. 

"The technical interview tested learning I already had from A-level chemistry and maths, even though I hadn't seen the questions before. There was one biology question that forced me to speculate about the adaptations of this weird animal I had never seen before, but it just required saying sensible things about evolution."

Thinking out loud

If you're not immediately sure how to answer a question, thinking out loud can help – just make sure you're considered in what you say. 

chazwomaq advises that you "take your time with your answers so you don't blurt out something stupid. If you don't know the answer to a technical question, express your thoughts out loud. The tutors can then hear your thought process, and will guide you along. If you remain silent trying to work things out, it can look like you have no ideas at all."

And relax

chazwomaq has some tips to help you calm your nerves: "watch the practice interviews on the Cambridge website. Try some breathing exercises before if you are nervous. Get a good meal inside you and plenty of sleep the night before."

"Relax!" says koi koy. "You won't be able to have a good conversation – which is all an interview is – if you're tired, highly strung and stressed.

"You've already done most of the work for the interview in preparing your personal statement and working for your admissions test to develop key skills. Now, just try and enjoy a conversation with some of the top academics in your subject."

Have questions about getting into Cambridge or want to share your own experiences? Visit the official Cambridge interviews thread 2020.

More on TSR: 
Ask questions about the University of Cambridge
Talk about Cambridge colleges 
Cambridge applicants 2020 discussion

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