Oxbridge Interviews Blog

Keeping it Current: Classics

by Laura on


‘Keeping Classics current? Surely that’s a contradiction?’ These are not uncommon objections to the study of this discipline. So, what is the point of studying a dead language, dead civilisation? Well the point is that Classics is not dead at all. The inventions, ideas and social movements founded in classical times live on into modernity, and what Classics and classicists have to say about the world today is as relevant now as it has ever been.


Mary Beard, a well-known classicist who also teaches at Cambridge, is no stranger to misogyny. An opinionated and forceful political commentator, and a widely respected academic, Beard has been outspoken in the debate about online trolling, after receiving a barrage of abusive messages about her appearance via Twitter. In its brief history, social media has often been used as a forum for hate speech and prejudice, and women in particular have often had to endure aggressive and offensive remarks. Beard has suggested that modern misogyny may to some extent be rooted in the views of the ancients. How might modern day gender stereotypes derive from the social conventions of classical civilisations? Are the sentiments expressed ultimately similar to the views of ancient times, just through a new forum? Is Twitter a utopian expression of Athenian democracy, or a twisted mutation of that ideal?  You can find a recording and full transcript of the talk she gave to the London Review of Books here.


If you have been to the British Museum, you will doubtless have sought out the Elgin Marbles, the magnificent sculptures which adorned the Parthenon in Classical Athens. If you haven’t, we recommend doing so. The treasures were controversially removed and brought back from Athens to England by the Earl of Elgin in the early 19th Century, and in recent years, Greece has been calling for their return, even completing a state of the art museum in which to house the pieces, situated under the acropolis in Athens. Journalist and art critic Jonathan Jones, who has previously argued for the monuments to remain at the British Museum, has been convinced by a recent visit to the acropolis that Greece is their rightful home. The issue has been given more mainstream coverage following the release of Hollywood blockbuster The Monuments Men. Is it correct to claim that the marbles ‘belong to’ Greece? Some argue that the Parthenon sculptures are an item of global rather than solely Greek significance, and as such they should stay in a museum which is both free to visit, and located in one of Europe’s most visited cities. What is the basis for this assertion? And what does it say about our attitudes to classical art and artefacts, and classics more broadly? Find out more here.


Two poems, believed to have been written by enigmatic Ancient Greek poet Sappho, have been discovered by an Oxford University papryologist. A famously elusive and mysterious poet, Sappho is believed to have hailed from the Greek island of Lesbos, and her work is characterised by her emotional outpourings of love and desire, often for other women. The two new poems came to light when an anonymous art collector in London showed the fragments to papyrologist Dirk Obbink, who has said that the poems are “indubitably Saphho’s”. This assertion is based on the fact that not only does the subject matter of the new fragments link to poems already known to be by her, but the metre and dialect are of a style that points to Sappho. Have you read Sappho’s poems? What do they tell us about ancient attitudes toward homosexuality? What factors lead to the loss or destruction of ancient writing? What role might the subsequent homophobia of Christian Europe have played? Find out more here.

Below are some other useful websites and resources for those considering applying to study Classics or other related subjects.

Euripides’ Medea at the National Theatre – From ancient art to ancient drama: the National Theatre’s production of Euripides’ Medea starring Helen McRory (Narcissa Malfoy in the Harry Potter films) is sold out (why study classics indeed!). You can queue for tickets on the day of the performance; alternatively cinemas nationwide are screening the final night live on the 4th September.

Suda Online – around a thousand years ago, an encyclopedia of knowledge of the ancient Mediterranean world was assembled. With 31,000 entries, the Suda is in part a dictionary of grammar, and in part a collection of articles on classical literature that includes descriptions of, and quotes from, works that have long since disappeared. This great lexicon has recently been made available online.

Numen: The Latin Lexicon – this is a great site for supplementing your school language classes, or for taking your first steps in the language. With an online dictionary, video tutorials and various other interactive resources, the website is engaging as well as informative.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt – not strictly an online resource, but we couldn’t resist the opportunity to encourage you to read one of our favourite novels. A dark tale of evil and intrigue, the story follows Richard, who, taken in by the strange and charismatic classmates of his Ancient Greek class, is dragged further and further into their insular and fantastical world, where the boundaries of reality and mythology are sullied, and a terrible secret awaits. This novel alludes to some of the great mysteries of the ancient world, and is a brilliant read.

Oxford and Cambridge: Dispelling the myths

by Laura on

Despite attempts to improve their PR, Oxford and Cambridge still seem to be institutions shrouded in mystery. Whilst there is plenty of information out there if you are willing to look, the mythical, ancient status of these two prestigious institutions means that many people are bought in by the stories they hear, and sadly in some cases may be put off applying as a result. This article should help to dispel a few of those preconceptions, and encourage you that Oxford and Cambridge are not so alien after all…

5. “Oxbridge is only for the rich”


It is an unfortunate truth that, once upon a time, Oxford and Cambridge did used to be elitist institutions. However, much effort and campaigning has taken place throughout the last few decades to redress this, and ensure that admission is based not on class, income, race, gender or any other demographic factor, but on academic prowess and a rigorous and meritocratic selection system.

It is a great shame that the media continue to portray Oxbridge as a symbol of inequality and privilege, when in reality it is really a symbol of academic excellence. Yes, there are a disproportionate number of students who attended the top fee-paying schools, but all of them got their place on the basis of the strength of their application, not their background. And that is what is so great about Oxbridge, because once you are there, it is really a level playing field. Whether you went to a prestigious boarding school, or an inner city comprehensive, you receive quite simply the finest education in the world.

I personally attended an ordinary comprehensive, and very nearly didn’t go to Cambridge because I feared I would somehow be an outsider, but thankfully I changed my mind and enjoyed the best three years of my life there! Don’t let the media scare you – if you’re bright enough, Oxbridge will welcome you, wherever you are from.

4. “Oxbridge students don’t have any fun”


This is a major fear for many prospective applicants. They assume that an Oxbridge degree involves spending every waking moment of your day in the library, with little or no room for leisure of any kind. Whilst any course requires a great deal of work, this simply means students spend their free time more productively.

Oxbridge students engage in any number of extracurricular pursuits. The universities are home to hundreds of sports teams, ranging from loosely organised fun to elite level competition. Theatre and performing arts also boast a rich tradition in the two cities, who can name dozens of famous actors and comedians among their alumni. This doesn’t simply have to be by joining a club – there is an abundance of interesting and creative people at Oxford and Cambridge, and you do not have to look far to find inspiration. Whatever your interest, no matter how obscure, you can guarantee that, somewhere in the university, someone else will share it.

And if it’s just a cracking night out you’re looking for, then Oxford and Cambridge have a buzzing and varied nightlife that competes with any other university.

The one thing you might have to sacrifice is getting up at 12 everyday and watching day-time TV, but you’ll soon come to realise a fascinating degree and an active social life are infinitely preferable to a few episodes of Loose Women…

3. “If I’m good at sport, then I’ll definitely get in”


The Oxbridge rumour mill is full of stories about people being accepted for the wrong reason, and nearly all of them are nonsense. The best one I’ve heard is that at one Oxford college as you enter the interview room, a rugby ball is hurled at you. If you catch it, you get in. If you catch it, and then drop-kick it into the bin, you get a full scholarship.

Whilst it is true that sport plays a huge role in the history and culture of the two universities, and that colleges pride themselves upon their best sportsmen and women, the application process is about one thing and one thing only, and that is how good you are judged to be at your chosen subject. It really doesn’t matter to admissions tutors and interviewers whether you’re a county tennis player or a talented rower. If you are academically excellent, you will get in, if you are not, you won’t. It is really that simple.

2. “Oxbridge only care about academia. It won’t help me get a good job”


This is categorically not true. Both Oxford and Cambridge invest a huge amount of money into the university careers services, and take immense pride in the myriad diversity of interesting jobs their graduates go on to do. Of course, if individuals are particularly talented at their subject, the university encourages them to undertake post-graduate qualifications, and pursue a career in academia, but will actively support them in whatever they choose to do.

Whilst most of the Oxbridge courses aren’t strictly vocational in the sense of courses at some other universities, what an Oxbridge degree says about an individual on a more general level is what makes graduates of these two universities so successful. An Oxbridge degree shows that you are very bright, can synthesise information quickly and efficiently and that you can work extremely hard. All of these are invaluable assets to any company, and you’ll find that, whilst your degree is not the automatic ticket to career success that some believe it to be, it will make you stand out to employers, and may give you the edge you need in an ever more competitive job market.

1. “I’m not good enough to apply”


Every single student who has ever attended Oxford or Cambridge, at one time or another has felt that lingering sense of doubt that they are not good enough. “Maybe I only got in because of an administrative error”, “I’m not as clever as everyone else”, “Soon I’ll be exposed as the fraud I really am”. You ask anyone who’s been to Oxbridge and they’ll recognise these patterns of thinking, and these are people who successfully navigated the admissions process, often going on to achieve first-class degrees.

For many, Oxbridge can seem such a daunting prospect that they assume they are not good enough to apply. Well I can tell you if you are reading this you most certainly are good enough, you just need to show it. Oxbridge are looking for bright, articulate and engaged young people, who are passionate about their chosen subject. Don’t undersell yourself – if that describes you then go for it! You’ll never know if you don’t try.

Keeping it Current: Law

by Laura on


We live in a time of legal upheaval. With new technologies now advancing at an ever more rapid rate, the legal system faces a daunting task to keep pace with the scope of social change, a battle in which it has so far looked unconvincing at best. Further, following the Snowden revelations of unprecedented surveillance of the public by governments, domestic and international Law is under increased scrutiny to uphold and protect the civil liberties of its citizens. Far from being a static and verbose discipline, modern Law is dynamic and fluid like never before.


In response to international outrage over the Gammy case, Attorney General George Brandis has added his voice to the widespread calls for urgent reform of the laws regarding international surrogacy arrangements. The case came to prominence after an Australian couple travelling to Thailand to adopt a child were accused of abandoning a baby because he had Downs Syndrome. As controversy mounted, it was also revealed that the father, who adopted Gammy’s twin sister, was a convicted sex offender, previously jailed on multiple counts of child abuse. Following the incident, the military government in Thailand have given preliminary approval for the banning of commercial surrogacy agreements, but the case has raised wider questions about the law in general. The Hague Convention “protects children and their families against the risks of illegal, irregular, premature or ill-prepared adoptions”. What factors in the reading of the law do you think have contributed to this grey area? In what sense is the way we legally define ‘parenthood’ a critical factor? Should the surrogate parents be legally responsible for Gammy? Should any punitive measure be taken against them? http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/15/australian-couples-hit-thai-surrogacy-ban


In the U.S., protests and demonstrations have taken place in Ferguson, Missouri, after teenager Michael Brown was shot dead following an altercation with police in a St. Louis suburb. Witnesses claim to have seen Brown, who was “clearly unarmed”, run away from police, stop after being hit by one bullet to put his hands in the air, before being shot multiple times. The incident has sparked fury and outrage among St. Louis’ predominantly African-American neighbourhood, and has stirred up a debate about the profiling of young black men. The issue is a highly charged one in America, where African-Americans are still reeling from the verdict in the case of Trayvon Martin, and the issue is also salient this side of the Atlantic, where only 3 years ago the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan set the fuse for a summer of rioting and civil unrest in the UK, and raised wider questions about the scope of police power in the line of duty. Do you think that police powers have gone too far, or are cases like this simply anomalies, where rogue individuals have acted outside of the remit set out for them? Should police protocol go further than common law, in the name of public protection? Based on the law on the permissible use of deadly force, did police act unlawfully in shooting Michael Brown? http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/8/12/michael-brown-policeexcessiveforce.html


Across the middle-east and parts of Africa, Islamic fundamentalism continues to present difficult legal and moral questions. Advocates of an extremist interpretation of the Qur’an push for full Sharia Law, and in some states this has been adopted, often leading to a negative impact on human rights. Most prominent has been the treatment of women under Sharia Law, with particular concerns surrounding child marriage, education and female genital mutilation, amongst a range of ultra-conservative attitudes. Whilst historically religion has often played a key role in the formation of law, with many legal principles owing to the teachings of religious texts like the Bible, it has been argued that this relationship is only functional when it promotes human rights, protects personal freedoms and leaves ultimate authority in the rule of law, rather than religious zealots. There are several hotspots in the world currently where religion and law are engaged in a deadly power struggle. Nigeria, Syria and Iraq are all notable examples. How far should the rule of law respect religious doctrine, particularly when this doctrine impacts upon personal freedom? Do the international community have a legal obligation, under international law, to intervene to stop cultural practices such as female genital mutilation? Is there no place for religion in law? https://www.opendemocracy.net/openglobalrights/geraldyn-ezeakile/whose-faith-wins-keeping-religion-out-of-law

Below are some other useful websites and resources for those considering applying to study Law or any related subjects.

http://lawcommission.justice.gov.uk/ – a useful site for the latest developments in legal reform. The Law Commission is government run, an off-shoot of the Ministry of Justice, so this is particularly useful if you want to really get the news from the horse’s mouth.

http://www.lawgazette.co.uk/ – another useful website for current legal happenings, with news and features on all aspects of law, from medical ethics to corporate law.

http://learnmore.lawbore.net/ – a nice little interactive site, which will be particularly useful for anyone who did not study law at A-level. The site is focussed more on the process of law, honing skills such as mooting and helping you get to grips with the wide array of legal careers out there.

http://www.theguardian.com/law – the Guardian’s Law section is by far the best of any national newspaper. Filled with loads of features and comment pieces, this is really useful for supplementary reading, and for keeping up to date with the hot topics in the field.

Keeping it Current: Economics

by Laura on


In the wake of the financial crash in 2008, it seems as though every other news item has been a story of economic doom and gloom. The state of the global financial system has been an inescapable spectre, and government, banks, and several prominent businesses have struggled to emerge from the mist. However, every cloud has a silver, gold or bronze lining, and for us it is that there has seldom been a more interesting time to study Economics.


Recent estimates have indicated that the momentum of economic growth in Europe is beginning to falter. Official statistics from Eurostat saw the Eurozone experience 0.0% growth in the second financial quarter, with France and Germany, the two largest economies in the economic bloc, particularly struggling, and Italy, the third largest, falling back into recession. Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, has in recent weeks described Europe’s stagnating recovery as “weak, fragile and uneven”, amid fears the Eurozone is in danger of going into reverse. The risk of deflation continues to grow, with French consumer prices falling by 0.4% each month, whilst the Greek economy remains in crisis. What impact do you think the faltering recovery in the Eurozone will have on the UK? Do you think the political situation in Ukraine is linked to Europe’s economic woes, and if so, how? Analysts in Germany have attributed the stagnation to their sizeable construction industry – how might this have effected the recovery? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-27427398


With the referendum on Scottish independence rapidly approaching, one of the major issues for debate has been over currency. Alex Salmond has claimed that an independent Scotland would keep the Pound, whilst remaining economically independent from the UK, as part of a formal currency union. Alistair Darling and the No campaign, however, have argued that it would be impossible for Scotland to keep the pound, and Ed Miliband has even pledged not to allow Scotland to keep the currency in Labour’s 2015 election manifesto. Economists have also clashed on the issue, with Sir Donald MacKay arguing that it would be in the interest of the UK, as well as Scotland, to have a currency union, whilst Ewen Stewart has responded by arguing that Scotland cannot “keep the best bits” of the UK. What do you think would be the ultimate economic outcome of a currency union? Why do you think the main political parties in Westminster are opposed to it? Are their reasons purely economic, or are they political? Might it be possible for Scotland to shadow the Pound, as Ireland currently do, and if so why? http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/scottish-independence-scots-reject-euro-currency-back-alex-salmonds-demand-pound-1460812


Following the deepening unrest in Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea, and the shooting down of flight MH17, killing 298 passengers and crew, Western Europe and the United States have responded by placing economic sanctions on Russia, and particularly Russian president Vladimir Putin and his inner circle of Oligarchs. The hope, certainly among some Western leaders, is that the sanctions will further damage Russia’s already fragile economy, leading to a drop in living standards that, if not a significant deterrent to Putin’s imperialist ambitions, then the catalyst for civil discontent and a change of leadership. Europe’s sanctions have been far reaching, and have targeted in particular Russian banks, energy and arms. Embargos have been placed on the export of arms, sensitive technology and equipment for use in Russia’s oil industry. Russia have responded with their own tit-for-tat sanctions, which appear to have had a negative impact on the economies of Germany and France. In Western Europe, is the threat of economic sanctions now a more powerful and useful deterrent than the threat of military force? In what way could Europe be said to have ‘shot itself in the foot?’ Is the economy of Russia really as weak as it is presented to be? What implications might this have for the UK, and particularly London, home to hundreds of Russian businessmen. http://www.forbes.com/sites/markadomanis/2014/08/12/despite-us-and-eu-sanctions-russias-economy-is-still-growing/

Below are some other useful websites and resources for those considering applying to study Economics or other related subjects.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00msxfl – More or Less is a wonderful introduction to the use of figures and statistics. Each week examining prominent numbers used in the week’s news events, Tim Harford and guests pick apart the way they are presented, what they really tell us, and whether or not they are misleading.

http://online.wsj.com/uk – along with the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal is simply a must-read for any young economist looking to keep it current.

http://fivethirtyeight.com/economics/ – founded by prominent political and economic forecaster Nate Silver, Fivethirtyeight is a website that is all about prediction. Having correctly predicted the outcome of 49 out of 50 states in the U.S. presidential campaign, and all 35 senatorial seats, Silver has rapidly risen to become one of America’s foremost political and economic analysts. If you get a chance it is also worth reading his book The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction. There is a great section on subprime mortgages and the collapse of Lehmann Brothers.

http://www.neweconomics.org/ – the NEF is focussed primarily on a more progressive economics, one that takes account not only of money and financial systems, but of the economy of wellbeing, and what can be done to promote human happiness. With many governments taking note of the global happiness index, this is well worth looking into if you want to stand out at interview.

Keeping it Current: Psychology

by Laura on


Look almost anywhere in the news and there will be an example of Psychology in action. The field is currently in rude health, with more students studying Psychology at university than any other subject. Still, if you want to study it at Oxford or Cambridge, you’ll need to show you are up-to-date with the cutting edge.


Researchers at the University of California have found that babies’ brains grow the most rapidly in the period immediately after birth, reaching half their adult size within just three months. The cerebellum, an area involved in motor skills and movement, was the fastest area to develop, whilst the Hippocampus, which plays a role in the creation of memories, was the slowest. The brains of male infants were found to develop faster than that of females. The researchers involved in the project hope collating this data will help them to be better placed to identify the early markers of developmental disorders such as Autism. What does this research tell us about human development? Is there a critical period, or is there a case that all periods are critical? What environmental factors could have an impact on the early development of the infant brain? http://www.livescience.com/47298-babies-amazing-brain-growth.html

mental health

Of more immediate concern, crisis of mental health continues in the UK and elsewhere. Despite accounting for 23% of the UK’s total burden of ill-health, the provision of funding for mental health treatment is only 6% of total medical research funding. The publication of the DSM-V last year, featuring several diagnostic categories that were heavily criticised by clinical psychologists, has further driven a wedge between psychiatrists and psychologists. The debate has been raging for several decades now, but there is still no clear consensus on what mental health actually is, or indeed how we define it. However, with depression one of the most prevalent conditions in the world, suicide rates increasing among young men, and provision of support being hit by spending cuts, it is clear that this issue is as important now as it has ever been. How would you define mental health? What basis, if any, is there for the argument that mental illnesses are diseases? Which therapeutic approaches most interest you? Is there any merit to the the idea that mental illnesses are cultural creations? http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/aug/09/mental-health-work-is-just-firefighting-now


In the world of sport, a joint record of 4 matches in the 2014 Football World Cup were decided on a penalty shootout. Most notably, in the quarter final between Costa Rica and the Netherlands, Dutch manager Louis Van Gaal made the unorthodox decision to substitute his goalkeeper seconds before the shootout. Substitute keeper Tim Krul appeared to approach each Costa Rican penalty taker and tell them he knew which way they would shoot. Krul saved 2 penalties and dived the right way every time, winning the shootout for Holland, and sparing the blushes for Van Gaal. Researchers have suggested that penalty shootouts are ultimately psychological mind games. Whilst they found no pattern in the behaviour of penalty takers, it was found that, if penalty takers from one team shot in the same direction three times in a row, goalkeepers were significantly more likely to dive in the opposite direction when facing the fourth penalty taker. What inferences can be drawn from research into the psychology of sport and athletes? What other psychological factors are involved in penalty shootouts and other sudden death tie-breakers in sport? What kinds of techniques do you think are employed by elite sports psychologists? http://www.bps.org.uk/news/psychology-penalty-shootout

Below are some other useful websites and resources for those considering applying to study Psychology or any related subjects.

http://psychology.tools/ – for those with a particular interest in therapy and mental health, this is a useful site. Lots of information on causes, documents outlining models of understanding and therapeutic approaches, including person-centred, CBT and holistic.

http://www.g2conline.org/ – if you find interactive learning more accessible, then this is the site for you. This initially confusing mind-map guides you through the basics of neuroscience and psychological understandings of the brain, complete with videos, animations and games.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b041dlkx – broadcast earlier this year but unfortunately no longer available on iplayer, a brilliant series presented by Martin Sixsmith on the History of Psychology. With the help of guest speakers, Martin traces the development of Psychology as a discipline, its many sub-divisions, and the key issues it has sought to address, including the problem of consciousness, the psychology of evil, and the question of insanity. He also assesses the legacies of some of the most influential psychologists of all time, including Pavlov, Piaget, Freud and James. If you can find a podcast or recording of this, I thoroughly recommend it!

http://www.ted.com/ – TED talks are useful for more or less any subject, but it is in Psychology where they are most dynamic and fascinating. Delivered by a range of speakers, from a variety of fields, including Neuroscience, Business, Therapy and of course Psychology itself, TED talks are not only a great resource to keep you current, they are also thoroughly enjoyable to watch in your free time too.

Keeping it Current: Medicine and Natural Sciences

by Laura on


It is an exciting time to be a science student. New innovations and discoveries in medicine and technology are in a frantic arms race with the environmental and biological threats that continue to put humans and animals at risk.


South of the Equator, Africa is dealing with the deadliest Ebola outbreak ever recorded, with the World Health Organisation declaring the situation an international emergency. Ebola is spread initially through human contact with animals carrying the viral illness, but has quickly begun to spread between humans. Even contact with dead Ebola victims at a funeral can prove a significant risk. The current outbreak is killing between 50% and 60% of infected people. Given the illness is concentrated around rural areas of western Africa, what factors do you think have given rise to the crisis? Can particular cultural practices spread the virus? When working in third-world countries, what kinds of challenges face doctors in both the prevention and treatment of deadly illnesses? What are the ethical implications of using experimental drugs to treat the outbreak? http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs103/en/


Elsewhere, physicists in Australia have created the first ever tractor beam, successfully controlling the movement of a ping-pong ball in a water tank. Dr Horst Punzmann and his colleagues used wave technology to create pulses that forced a floating object to move against the direction of the wave, effectively allowing you to pull the object closer, much like the famous tractor beam seen in science fiction films such as Star Wars. The premise is very simple, and can be tried by anyone in a bathtub but, using new technology, the speed of the wave pulses can be sped up to between 10 and 100 per second, allowing for more complex manipulation of movement. In what way does this represent a breakthrough in wave technology? What uses do you think this can be applied to? http://www.nature.com/nphys/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nphys3041.html


The European Space Commission have recently launched their Rosetta spacecraft to orbit around Churyumov-Gerasimenko, an icy comet located at the edge of our Solar System. The aim of the mission is to probe the comet in unprecedented detail in an attempt to garner further information about the composition of comets, and what role, if any, they may have played in the origins of life on Earth. In November, mission controllers will attempt to put a Philae lander on the surface of the comet itself. What new information do you think Rosetta will uncover? How strong is the case that life on Earth arrived from out of space? What challenges face the scientists controlling the mission? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-28640783

Below are some other useful websites and resources for those considering applying to study Medicine, Sciences, or any related subjects.

https://www.societyforscience.org/ – really useful website that has the latest news, features and interactive content for budding scientists out there.

http://www.howstuffworks.com/ – one of the best science websites out there, this is really one for your inner nerd. Ever wondered just what goes into making the images on your TV appear as they do, how a shark tracks its prey, or how painkillers target where you hurt, then this is the site for you. Brimming with lovely little explanations of both the mundane and the grandiose, this won’t really feel like work.

http://www.bmj.com/ – The British Medical Journal is a great starting point for keeping up to date with the latest developments in the world of medicine.

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/games.html – a fun site with links to medical-themed online games. Useful both as an educational resource, and if you just want a break from all that reading!

Keeping it Current: Politics and International Relations

by Laura on


It is a tumultuous time in politics right now, and for those interested in studying courses such as PPE, Politics and International Relations, or HSPS, it would be wise to keep up to date.

isis iraq

Following a violent coup by ISIS militants in Iraq, President Obama has issued air strikes on IS militants in a bid to stifle the Islamist group and get crucial aid to the Yasidi minority trapped in the North-West of the country. The UK have thus far been reluctant to commit to any military action, particularly following the government’s defeat in the commons over military action in Syria last year. In what way is the crisis in Iraq similar or different to that in Syria? Is the government compelled by ideology or by pragmatism? What effect do you think next year’s election might have on the possibility of intervention in Iraq? http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2014/08/air-strikes-iraq

gaza child

Elsewhere in the world, civilian casualties continue to mount in Gaza. Israel has been widely condemned for its repeated shelling of Gaza, where several air strikes have targeted schools, community centres, and other public areas, many sheltering Palestinian civilians, including women and children. However, the Israeli government maintain that it is Hamas who are to blame, as they deliberately use civilians as human shields, and hide in vulnerable public areas. This conflict has deep-seated social, religious and political roots. What do you think are the key difficulties in finding a diplomatic solution? Is there any merit in the idea of a two-state solution, or is this unrealistic? What do you think are the driving factors behind the rise in anti-Semitic attacks across Europe in the wake of the crisis? Have the media been balanced in their coverage of the conflict? http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/08/-sp-gaza-israeli-strikes-unrwa-schools

scotland independence

Closer to home, in September the people of Scotland will vote on whether or not to remain as part of the United Kingdom, in an historic referendum. The Yes and No campaigns have already clashed on several issues, most notably over whether an independent Scotland would keep the Pound. What do you think would be the economic impact of a Yes vote? Given the sizeable fiscal deficit in the UK, how do you think the financial burden should be shared? What would be the political implications for the rest of the United kingdom? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-28722263

Below are some other useful websites and resources for those interested in applying for PPE, HSPS, Politics and International Relations or any related subjects.

order-order.com – an interesting right-wing anti-establishment blog, often the first on the scene with breaking news stories, most famously its leaking of the smear campaign orchestrated by Gordon Brown’s spin doctor, Damian McBride.

leftfootforward.org – a great blog promoting the progressive politics of the centre left. Written by Will Straw, son of former cabinet member Jack.

http://www.economist.com/ – The Economist is a brilliant magazine to get to grips with a wide range of global issues. With contributors and columnists from all over the world and across the political spectrum, this is a great starting point to keep you current.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/programmes/genres/factual/politics/player – Radio 4 is an absolute treasure trove of fascinating documentaries, incisive political exposes, and robust interrogation of the country’s leading politicians and public figures. Highlights include Today, (on every morning) a brilliantly rounded news program, More or Less, which examines the statistics that have made headlines each week and whether they stand up to critical analysis, and The News Quiz, which offers a more light-hearted but no less incisive satirical spin on the weeks events.

The Oxbridge interview: Why television and the internet can be as useful to you as books

by Laura on


Whilst reading is your bread and butter, might new media be your jam and cream?

As you begin to start polishing those personal statements, and the interview season looms, all the talk from those in the know is of how important it is for you to read. Read the newspapers, read the latest journals, read the canonical big-hitters in your field. There is no denying that reading is hugely important to your application, but rarely do the experts encourage you to watch more TV. Well, we live in the digital information age, and this can provide you with great opportunities to make yourself stand out.

When we say watch more TV, we don’t mean keep clued up with the frivolities of Geordie Shore, or be quoting from Celebrity Juice. Rather, we refer to the goldmine of informative documentaries and dramas that are out there. Whatever your subject, TV can be a fantastic source of information and ideas, you just have to look in the right place.


The schedules of National Geographic, the History Channel and BBC4 are all filled with fascinating programming capable of giving you a great insight into a subject area in an hour or two. News networks and current-affairs programmes such as Newsnight or Question Time break down complex current issues and synthesise them to be more accessible than they often appear in newspapers or books.

The internet, too, is a goldmine of information and great ideas. Want to know Marx’s key arguments on the role of religion – there’s a website with bitesize bullet points. Want to know what Simon Baron-Cohen has to say about the neurophysiological basis of Autism – there’s a youtube video where he explains his entire theory.

With the advent of smartphones and new-fangled apps, there really is no excuse for not staying in the loop. Of course, nothing is a substitute for doing your reading, especially of the key texts, but if being a bookworm ever becomes too much for you, TV and the internet are great ways to supplement and consolidate it.

Submitted Work: A guide

by Laura on

Particularly for arts subjects, many colleges ask applicants to submit one or two pieces of written work that can be used as an example of their writing and critical thinking, as well as form the basis for a wider discussion in interview. Lots of applicants get nervous and het up about this aspect of their application, and worry about what to submit. However, the submitted work is a great chance for you to really impress the admissions tutors who will be interviewing you. It is a chance for you to potentially set the agenda of the interview and discuss something about which you are passionate, or know a great deal about. In short, the submitted work can really be your chance to shine.

So what are the key considerations when selecting your piece of work?

1. A* work is not always the most appropriate

Whilst you may have attained 100% on your politics essay for competently ticking all the assessment objectives, Oxbridge are looking for more than simply the ability to jump through hoops. It might be tempting to submit the highest scoring piece of work, but scores can be misleading. It may be that that rogue essay where you argue passionately for a minority opinion will be more impressive than a piece of A* work.

2. Choose something that shows your personality

One thing the admissions tutor wants to get a sense of is what you are like as a person. This does not mean your hobbies or sporting interests, but what your values are, what you believe in. It is a good idea to submit a piece of work that showcases a strong argument for something you feel strongly about. Whereas GCSE and A Level essays require you to outline the arguments on both sides of an issue and summarise, Oxbridge are expecting something far more dynamic than this. They want to hear your critical voice, not just a descriptive list of things you know.

3. Longer doesn’t necessarily mean better

It may be tempting to wow the interviewers with a polemic thesis on your chosen topic, but in reality this could actually be detrimental to your chances. Interviewers would much prefer to see 2 pages of incisive critical analysis than 10 pages of waffle. Fact.

4. Ask the opinion of others

It is very easy to become attached to a piece of work once you have written it, and you lose sense of how it comes across to someone else reading it for the first time. Ask as many people as possible to read your submitted work before you actually submit it. That way you’ll get a stronger sense of the interviewer’s perception when they finally come to read it.

5. Choose something you can answer questions on

This might sound mind-numbingly obvious, but too often candidates submit a piece of work they have not done the thorough background research on. You must, must, must know enough about the issue you write about it to confidently answer probing questions about the arguments you put forward. Interviewers will not go easy on you, they’ll treat you as their intellectual equals and you will be forced to justify everything you write, so make sure you choose something you feel confident with.

Oxbridge Interviews can support applicants with set work interviews, and we offer mock set-work interviews with interviewers who specialise in your chosen subject. Give us a call today to find out more.

My Interview Experience

by Laura on

toby image

Toby Hayward-Butcher applied to Robinson College, Cambridge. He successfully interviewed there and was offered a place to read Politics, Psychology and Sociology (PPS).

I interviewed for Politics, Psychology and Sociology (now part of HSPS) at Robinson College, Cambridge, back in 2009. Though it was a while ago, I can still remember it all vividly, mainly because on the way up to Cambridge the satnav on my car redirected me onto a confusing ringroad, and I nearly missed my interview altogether! Word of advice, get the basics covered, you have to get to Cambridge before you can have the interview…

When I arrived, it was the Christmas holidays, and so Robinson had a strange atmosphere, taken up mainly by conference guests (many Oxbridge colleges rent out their facilities to company conferences during the vacations), with the odd student ambling to and from the library. I was ushered to a waiting room which I now know and love as the college JCR but at the time felt like a cavernous purgatory where I would wait for my moment of reckoning. I took my seat alongside the other nervous hopefuls and tried to get myself in the zone.

The first part of the day involved a three-hour unseen written exam, in which I was required to discuss the political implications of the chancellors recent pre-budget report, as well as give a broad brush definition of either Politics, Psychology or Sociology. Thankfully, I had decided to read three different newspapers the day before, and all featured several pieces on the pre-budget report. If I hadn’t done that I wouldn’t have known where to begin. My one big piece of advice to anyone applying to do social sciences, or any arts subject for that matter, is to keep up with the news. Interviewers love to use contemporary examples. Even if you’re applying for Classics, they might frame a question in the context of a modern day issue or event.


After the exam, I had a short breather, before I went for my general interview, or personal statement interview as it’s called now. This was with the warden of Robinson, a big, imposing man with a white beard and a deep, baritone voice. The warden specialised in law, having worked in the city for 40 years, and used several legal problem questions to probe my ability to rationalise deductively. The one I remember is him asking me whether I had committed a crime, were I to steal my own umbrella under the mistaken impression it belonged to him. He had a stern and business-like manner, but despite this, and the many curveballs, I think I acquitted myself pretty well.

dungeon boss

Finally, it was time for the main course – the subject interview. This is the part, like most applicants, that I was most nervous about. The interview was at the top of a series of dark stairs and passages, and gave me the impression I was about to fight the boss of the dungeon in a video game. Thanks to my nerves, this is the part of the day I remember the least about. I remember being interrupted on a few occasions, being forced to backtrack on some of my arguments, and at one point genuinely not having a clue what to say.

Afterward, I felt as though I had finally been ‘found out’ academically. I spoke to one of my teachers at school the next day, and he told me that whenever you feel like you received an absolute grilling, this is usually a good sign. “To be honest, if you felt like it went badly, you probably got in” he told me, and so it proved to be, as the letter dropped onto my doormat a month later, confirming my place.

My biggest piece of advice to would-be applicants is practice. I’m lucky enough to come from a family where politics is discussed at the dinner table every night. I’m used to defending my position, to articulating my point of view to adults, and also to listening to the views of others. Even so, very little can fully prepare you for an Oxbridge interview.

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“Very realistic, was made to think beyond what I would normally have to do in a Classics interview, focused in all areas of interview: Philosophy, Language & Literature. Very helpful”

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