Oxbridge Interviews Blog

Spotlight on Genetics

by Catherine on


Today’s blog post will be particularly focusing  on genetics and the development and movement of people – so this is relevant for medics, biologists, anthropologists and of course human scientists.

If you are interested in genetics and evolution as well as related fields, some good places to look for further information are this site here, as well as:

Evans-Pritchard – lots of things but a good place to start is Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande

Richard Dawkins – The Selfish Gene

all sorts of things by Malinowski

Let us know your suggestions for anything else you’ve found useful! Budding scientists, get in touch if you want to book some interview preparation; the 15th of November is particularly good for the biological side of sciences.

Famous Academics

by Catherine on


Over October, we’re going to be sharing some reading tips and suggestions from the team at Oxbridge Interviews. First up is especially valuable for classicists and ancient historians.

If you’re interested in the way  classics intersects with modern life and modern ideas, have a look at this article.

If you’d interested in the kind of things Professor Beard is known for – archaeology and popular history especially – it’s worth reading her book Pompeii which is very accessible for sixth formers/undergraduates, and she has a new one coming out imminently called SPQR.

Also worth a look are Jerry Toner’s Popular Culture in Ancient Roman, Robert Knapp’s Invisible Romans or Rubicon by Tom Holland. All are on the lighter end of the ‘academic’ scale compared to some that you’ll read once you get to university, which means that they are often an easier read. Don’t worry about that though – they can be really good starting points to then explore further and also valuable if you’re asked about historiography or the like.

If you want to talk through your reading with someone or book a practice interview, get in touch on 0207 607 5370.

Interviews soon approaching…

by Catherine on



We are now into October, and personal statements are nearly finished (hopefully!). It’s time to start thinking about the next steps.

It’s really important that you allow plenty of time to fit in your interview practice, so that any skills you learn or improve have time to settle and become second nature.

You can never learn all the knowledge about your subject – nor should you try – but it’s important skills like clear presentation, structuring your answers, and using examples that really shine at interview.

If you are interested in getting some interview practice, do get in touch on 0207 607 5370 to speak to one of our team of Oxbridge graduates. We are booking up quickly – look for available dates here.

Colour Blindness

by Catherine on


Continuing the week’s theme of BBC articles covering all sorts of topics, today we have an article about colour-blindness and its impact on a small population in the Pacific Ocean. As usual, take a look and then glance below for some questions and ideas to think about. See if you’re colour-blind by taking the test here!


What do you think the advantages of colour vision are? Is it more important than excellent smell in humans? What are the effects of close knit societies without a large gene pool? What other examples are there? What causes colour blindness? Is there any hope of a treatment being developed, and what do you think the most likely avenues for developing treatment are?


Thinking about the Pacific more broadly, what has the impact of colonialism been? How would you evaluate whether it’s had a good or bad overall effect? What has it meant in medical terms (think spread of diseases, increasing gene pool) and how has that affected us in the modern day? Is globalisation the modern colonialisation?


How are islands characterised? What do you assume when you hear the phrase ‘desert island’? (There’s a good short essay on this called Chronotopes of the Sea by Margaret Cohen, in The Novel, Moretti) How can setting influence readers’ perceptions – is an island remote, idyllic, backwards, abandoned, an escape, or a prison? Think of two authors’ use of colour (or lack of) and discuss.

If you’re struggling with how to answer tricky questions, look at the support we offer here.


London: all or nothing?

by Catherine on


Another day, another great BBC article on London and how it dominates Britain more so than the capital of nearly any other city. Have a read then think about some of the issues we raise below.


What are the implications of being so dependent on the financial sector? What can we do to avoid another crash? What are the risks and rewards for regulating banks?


What is the effect of having the financial markets, government, and central bureaucracy all so closely linked geographically? Is the closeness beneficial? Does a dominant London run the risk of alienating the rest of the country? (Think Jeremy Corbyn and how well his favourite issues are received elsewhere, for example, as opposed to David Cameron)


How was London as a city helped to shape its course through History? How did London remain so important even when focus shifted from Europe to the new world?  Are there similar examples of other cities emerging during the Industrial Revolution as did Manchester, Leeds, etc?


Are there many cities not based on a river? Should government spending focus on London, or attempt to even the gap?

Land Economy

The rise in banking has gone alongside an increase of skyscrapers. What do you think will be the corresponding building change with the increase in either tech companies or ‘hipster’ businesses?


Give some examples of how cities are characterised in your favourite period of literature – it doesn’t matter whether you use Juvenal, Chaucer, Hardy, Blake, or Garcia Marquez! How consistent are they? Does it reflect the way society was at the time? Is there a difference between poetry and prose depictions of urban life?

If you want some rigorous and realistic interview practice, take a look at all the types of support we offer here.

Cheese: food of giants

by Catherine on


You may think it odd to have a blog post about cheese when you are looking for interview preparation, but don’t worry – this interesting article from the BBC raises points that can be relevant to all sorts of degree disciplines. Have a read, then think about some of the questions below (and there are some cheesy puns at the bottom as a reward for making it that far).


What is the impact/potential impact of a country dominated by one industry? What can go wrong, why would it go wrong, and how can we prevent it? (Ideas: think about the tulip craze…) Consider milk quotas in the EU and their recent abolition – what impact is there on the UK’s milk production industry, and on the Dutch? Are there issues allowing such a fundamental industry to become controlled by a few big companies? What is preventing Dutch farmers producing French cheese? To what extent should we preserve local industry?


Does a country’s geography have an impact on its people and national psyche? (E.g. the fertile dairy land in the Netherlands). How does industry shape society? For a mildly related topic, look at the Cheese and the Worms which is very well known in historiography.


What do you think about the claim that the Dutch are so tall due to such a dairy-heavy diet? What are other examples of when diet affects physiology? What can lack of diary do?

Human Science/Anthropology:

Do you think we have evolved alongside bacteria used in cheese production? (see Red Queen effect) How well can we evaluate the diets of those in the past, and with what methods?


Do you know who the first author to discuss cheese production is? (think Cyclops) What effect does it create when authors spend time detailing food and drink in their works?

Cheese puns!

What cheese do you use to hide a horse? Mascarpone

How do you tempt a bear out a cave? Camembert

What did the cheese say in the mirror? Halloumi

What cheese is made backwards? Edam

What cheese remains after an explosion? The Brie

What cheese do you need to be cautious with? Caerphilly

‘Fun’ academic work

by Catherine on


Here’s our selection of the best quizzes and games to make your work a little more tolerable as you head into the coming week!


How well do you know Pi?


Populous Countries – with a twist!


Can you recognise the characters from famous works?


This quiz is harder than you think!

Computer Science

Though this is slightly dated, can you work out the top visited websites in 2008?


Quotations based around the letters V and U

Romance Languages

Can you pick then out?


Check your knowledge of SI units


Is your subject not represented here? Get in touch via Twitter and we can send one your way!

College Life

by Catherine on


In an earlier blog post, we talked about some of the things that you might bear in mind when choosing a college; now we’re going to talk about what kind of activities and experiences you can expect from college life.

  • A significant fraction of your supervisions or tutorials will be organised by your college
  • Pastoral care – tutors, senior tutors, directors of studies, chaplains. The exact format depends on your college
  • Sports facilities and sports teams; from rowing to squash courts, swimming pools to cross country teams, many sports are represented at college level for those unwilling to commit to university level sport or who would prefer a gentler pace. ‘Cuppers’ is the inter-collegiate sports competition.
  • Entertainment, which ranges from bobs and ents (school disco-esque parties) to plays, to quizzes in the bar, or film nights in the JCR
  • A ready made community of friends and of other freshers, who will probably stay as some of your closest friends throughout your time at university
  • Hall/Buttery: food served everyday for subsidised prices, and is a very social affair
  • Formal halls, which are sometimes candlelit and served to you; generally gowns are worn. Prices are still cheap though!
  • The Porters: part security, part receptionist, part receiver of parcels and post. If you have a problem, they will probably be able to sort it – it’s worth making friends with them early on.
  • Library and librarians; these differ in scope but certain colleges will have really great resources for some subjects, while in others you will be better off at the faculty or central libraries. At any rate, it’s great to have a space for work that isn’t your room
  • Computer rooms and wifi are provided in varying amounts, but it would be wise to take a laptop

These are just a few of the things that go on college – it’s a really great system and your college will soon become your home.

Personal Statements

by Catherine on

scared of exam

It’s getting close to the time when personal statements have to be submitted. Are you fed up of it yet? Or is it all a mad panic to get it finished in time?

Here are some of the top tips from the Oxbridge Interviews staff, to supplement the advice that you are no doubt receiving from parents, teachers, and everyone else! Don’t forget to have a look at our Resources page for more ideas on structure and what to include.

  • Avoid cliches and claiming that you were interested in your subject from very young childhood.
  • Focus on the academics – that is what Oxbridge admissions tutors care about.
  • Show that you have read beyond the syllabus.
  • Give some examples of things you found interesting, and make sure you can answer questions on them in an interview.
  • Be personal – they want to know the real you!
  • Don’t lie or exaggerate. When faced with experts, your story will unravel.
  • Have opinions about what you read: can you argue against the conclusion or methods? Can you defend them? Can you draw links to other things you have read?
  • If you are applying for a vocational course like medicine, do mention work experience and what you learned from the experiences.
  • If you’re applying for a joint honours or wide-ranging degree course like HSPS or Human Sciences, try and show how you’ve thought about how the course links together, and what skills you have that show you can deal with the different aspects.

Good luck! In the rush to get personal statements sorted, don’t forget to think longer term and consider how the things you are putting in your personal statement will impact on your interview. Take a look at the types of support we offer when preparing for interviews here.


On Stage

by Catherine on


Many of you will have heard of the Cambridge Footlights or perhaps the Oxford Revue, but you shouldn’t mistake these groups for the only way you can tread the boards.

In Cambridge there is the hugely successful ADC theatre, which holds all sorts of productions, from comedy to musicals, to intense drama. They are all student organised and run, so you can get involved either on stage or off.

The Cambridge Corn Exchange has a range of external shows and concerts, and there are occasional opportunities for students to join in; look out for the triennial Greek Play, which is a performance entirely in the original Ancient Greek.

Some colleges have excellent theatrical facilities, and thriving dramatic societies – the Corpus playroom is an alternative venue for smaller student productions, and Homerton, Girton, King’s, Churchill, St John’s and Pembroke all have college theatre groups.

For a more musical experience, head to the Gilbert and Sullivan Society or the Musical Theatre Society (CUMTS).

In Oxford, there’s the Oxford Playhouse and the New Theatre Oxford which you can visit for all your spectatory needs.

Drama cuppers (inter-college competition) takes place in the first term and is done by freshers – it’s an easy opportunity to get involved, and if you have that under your belt you can go on to greater things.

There’s a Drama Society, a Gilbert and Sullivan Society, Musical Theatre Society, Society for Theatre Technicians, and many more.

Do get involved if you are interested in the theatre, as it is one of the most social things you can get involved in, and all ‘thesps’ (thespians = actors and dramatic types) seem to know each other!

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