Oxbridge Interviews Blog

Don’t forget – we’re on Skype!

by Catherine on


Interviews are fast approaching, and we want to be able to support you in your preparation as much as possible – not limited by location. We offer all of our services over Skype as well as in person, so if you are an international student, or simply on the other side of the country and unable to get down for one of our interview days, then please get in touch!

We have very limited space left on our interview days on 28th and 29th of November, and are booking up very quickly for the 5th and 6th of December. However, with Skype bookings we can be a little more flexible – so phone us on 0207 607 5370 to book some last minute interview preparation!

Interview Experience: Niamh

by Catherine on

Niamh studied English Language and Literature at Oriel College, Oxford. Here she answers a few questions about her experience of the interview process.

Why did you choose your degree subject?

I’ve always loved  words, and the effect they have when they combine, and I wanted to understand why.

What is the best book you have ever read related to your subject and why?

The impossible question! I think some of my favorite reading came from engaging with critical theory; I loved reading Susan Sontag, and I’ve got a real soft spot for Terry Eagleton.

What is your top tip for applying for your subject to Oxbridge?

Read widely, and show your enthusiasm. You need to be living and breathing reading!

Tell us about your interview experience.

I applied to and interviewed at Oriel, where I had two interviews. One of these challenged my ability to analyse a previously unseen poem, and the other spent time discussing aspects of my personal statement and other things I’d read recently. I was then sent for an interview at Mansfield, and finally one at Jesus! It was pretty exhausting, and there was a lot of discussion in the common rooms about whether being sent to interview at another college was a good or bad sign. I can now confidently say that there was no correlation: some people I ended up studying with had multiple interviews, and others only had one. It’s best to just really focus on what you’re doing while you’re there, and not get caught up in common room gossip!

How did your interviews differ?

My interview at Jesus focused a lot on the piece of work I’d submitted, and didn’t mention my personal statement at all. My Mansfield interview involved only a short discussion on an unseen poem, and spent more time discussing the idea of studying literature. As I had two interviews at Oriel they seemed to cover all bases!

Any top tips?

It sounds silly, but do try to enjoy the process. Getting an opportunity to visit a beautiful college and talk to world experts about the subject you love is a fantastic experience, regardless of the outcome. Aside from that I’d say make sure you know the content you have mentioned in your personal statement really well. Also – be ready to learn!

Our Interviewers: Interviewed!

by Catherine on

Ollie Guest graduated with a 1st Class degree in Classics from Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he was a scholar. 


Why did you choose your degree subject?

Different; challenging; diverse.

What is the best book you have ever read related to your subject and why?

Courtesans and Fishcakes by James Davidson – it was very helpful when studying for my Prostitutes and Saints paper during Finals.

What is your top tip for applying for your subject to Oxbridge?

Know your grammar!

Best Oxbridge moment?

Maybe not ‘the best’ but one of the most memorable was when six of us capsized our canoes in the river Cam, to the delight of the Japanese tourists taking photographs. Playing football across Old Court was also entertaining, albeit not wholly advisable if the Porters are awake…

What are you up to post-Oxbridge?

Training to be a lawyer; I am currently undertaking the GDL and tutoring in my spare time.

Interview Experience: Sijana

by Catherine on


Sijana applied with an open application for Human Sciences and got pooled to St Hugh’s, Oxford. She had two interviews there, and one at Mansfield.

They were all a bit different because they were done by some social anthropologists and some biologists. They didn’t ask about any factual information – they asked some basic stuff on physiology and then built on it from there. The aim of the interview was to see how she thought, argues, and made deductions from information provided, as well as a couple of questions about her personal statement. All the interviews involved interacting with new materials – maps or objects. Overall it was a fun experience, the tutors were friendly!


If you’d like to practice interviews like this, our subject interviews are the most useful – get in touch on 0207 607 5370 if you’d like to book some in. There are very limited spaces left!

Interview Experience: Catherine

by Catherine on


Catherine – Classics – Cambridge

Obviously every interview is different, but today I’m going to give you a few examples of the type of questions and challenges that I faced when interviewing for Classics back in 2010.

I was interviewed at Girton College first, then Jesus – I had applied to Jesus, but all classics applicants will be interviewed by another college as well.

Questions and problems included:

  • a timed translation (some Caesar) followed by questions on the grammar and literary merit of the piece
  • a few minutes to look at a piece of Homer (in translation) followed by questions on the characterisation of Odysseus
  • questions on why I want to study classics, and why Cambridge
  • questions based on my personal statement (give examples of when you found Ovid’s wordplay funny, why do you want to study linguistics, what are the differences between comedy and tragedy, how would you stage them differently?)
  • questions on my submitted work (actually an essay I had written for History)
  • some slightly more general questions such as what I like to read in my free time

In all these questions, the key thing the interviewers were testing was how I thought and how I could learn; don’t worry about knowing everything, as the interviewers won’t be expecting you it. Take your time and think about your answers, and don’t be put off by silence – ending your answer definitively is better than rambling on because the interviewer hasn’t asked the next question yet!


We still have limited space for Classics (and other humanities) on the following days: 29th of November, 5th of December, and 6th of December. Get in touch on 0207 607 5370 if you would like to book in some interview preparation – we’re booking up fast!


Interview Letters

by Catherine on



Here at Oxbridge Interviews, we’ve heard of more and more students getting letters calling them to interview. Have you received yours yet? Don’t worry if you haven’t heard yet, Oxford have yet to send theirs out, and only certain Cambridge colleges have already sent theirs.

What can you do to prepare in this waiting period? One really important aspect is to speak to people who know what they are talking about – like our interviewers! We have limited space left for practice interviews in the next few weeks, so get in touch as soon as possible to reserve your place. You can also ring us on 0207 607 5370.

Structuring Answers

by Catherine on

As you have probably noticed in our previous blog posts, we strongly recommend that you structure your answers during an interview; as we have discussed previously, giving your answer a clear structure is important for the following reasons:

  • Firstly, a well-structured answer is easier for an interviewer to follow than a poorly structured answer; you want to make it as easy as possible for your interviewers to follow your train of thought during your interview.
  • Secondly, structuring your answer is also important as it should help to limit how much you ramble. If you have a clear idea at the beginning of your response as to where your answer is heading then it is far less likely that you will drift off-topic.
  • Thirdly, structuring your answer should help you to demonstrate to your interviewer that you think, and approach problems, in a logical and systematic fashion.

So, structuring your answers is a good idea – but what, I hear you say, does a well-structured answer actually look like? There is not, unfortunately, a one-size fits all answer to this question, but the points below should give you an idea of what a structured answer could look like, as well as providing you with some template structures which you may like to use in the future.

  • Another way to think about structure is to think of answering an interview question like climbing stairs. Each point that you make should build on your previous point, and it should help you to move towards your final answer or conclusion. In other words, a structured answer will have a clear sense of direction and progression.
  • An alternative way to structure you answer is for you to weigh up two side of a debate, before stating which side you find more convincing. In other words this structure is quite like a GCSE-essay where you list argument for, then you list arguments against and finally you draw a conclusion.
Step 1 – state the points on one side of the debate (for example, arguments which agree with the question or the interviewer’s position)Step 2 – state the points on the other side of the debate (for example, arguments which disagree with the questions or the interviewer’s position)

Step 3 – draw a conclusion (did you find step 1 or step 2 more convincing and why?)

  • Finally, you can structure your answer by identifying two or three key points and then working through them in turn. If you were to use this structure, you would list your key points at the beginning of your answer (thus sign-posting to the interviewer what you are going to explore), before working through each point in turn. This structure is particularly useful if you are answering a question where there is a huge range of points which could be made – this structure allows you to identify and discuss the most important points.

As you move forward with your preparation, keep the structures above in mind and see if you can apply them to some of your interview answers. Get in touch if you’d like to book some interview preparation – we’re filling up fast!

Answering difficult questions: continued

by Catherine on



Here’s an example of a difficult question, where there is no exact or correct answer.

“How many vehicles are currently in London?” Have a think and then look at the points below.

Hopefully you included lots of the following points in your answer:

  • A good starting point is to consider the key terms in the question; in this case, what do you mean by ‘vehicles’ and ‘London’? It does not matter too much how you define these terms, as long as you explain why you are defining them in the way you have chosen to your interviewer(s). For example, you might define vehicles as cars, vans, lorries and trains, but you might not include bikes because they do not require fuel.
  • Once those key terms have been laid out, you should work through your calculation in a logical manner. A possible route would be to think about the population of London (and if you didn’t know this figure, you should make a logical guess) and then to think about how many of the people in London may own a vehicle. You then may consider how many of the population may own multiple vehicles, whilst also thinking about the number of public transport vehicles which are based in London (again, make a logical guess – think about how many stations there may be etc). You may also then want to consider the time of the day and how this may impact the number of vehicles in London. Once you have worked through these different numbers, you should be able to add them all together to reach an answer. Even though your answer will probably be incorrect (because nobody really knows how many vehicles there are currently in London!), it is good practice to demonstrate to an interviewer that you are not afraid to provide an answer.
  • Now that you have reached a conclusion you should, as we discussed last week, reflect on your answer. In this example, you might like to comment that the number is constantly changing because people are constantly moving in an out of London. Adding this final point will make your answer a little more sophisticated and impressive.

The outline above it just one way of approaching the question ‘how many vehicles are currently in London?’; importantly, a strong interviewee will not instantaneously produce an answer but, instead, will speak out loud and work through their answer in a logical and well-reasoned manner. Interviewers are interested in the skills which interviewees demonstrate and use when answering a tough question, rather than being interested in testing the specific knowledge which an interviewee already holds.


If you’re worried, please feel free to get in touch on 0207 607 5370, or have a look at the support we can offer.

How to answer difficult questions

by Catherine on



How should you approach answering difficult interview questions?

In our experience, when you are faced with a difficult interview question you should do the following things:

  • You should show the interviewer your thought process by thinking out loud

As we have discussed, interviewers ask tough questions because they want to see how you think and you work through difficult problems. As such, it is paramount that you say out loud how you are approaching the question and how you have reached your answer.

  • You should think critically

When answering a tough interview question it is important that you demonstrate critical thinking skills. Now, critical thinking can look very different in different interviews but it may involve: double checking any workings, considering which approach will provide you with the most satisfactory answer before diving into your answer (and justifying your choice in your answer), defining terms in the question before you begin, identifying any problems or limitations with/to the answer you give and, potentially, asking for more information to clarify specifically what is being asked.

  • You should structure your answers

When faced with a tough question it is very tempting to ramble and to bombard the interviewer with everything that you know about the subject in the hope that you happen to answer the question. However, unsurprisingly, this is not the best approach. It is very important that you structure your answers. Now, there is not a one-size-fits-all structure for an interview answer but you should try to work in a logical manner, rather than dotting about. For example, you may want to start by defining a key term in the question, before, secondly, identifying and working through two main points with an example per point, and then, finally, you may identify a possible limitation with your answer.

  • You should draw on your existing knowledge

Finally, when you are answering a difficult question you should utilise your existing knowledge. As we discussed above, interviewers are eager to see how you apply and make use of ideas which you have studied before – so don’t forget everything you already know when you are faced with a challenging question! Even if a question seems to be on something which you do not know anything about, you should be able to draw on something which you have studied to give you some ideas or useful information. Similarly, you should be able to think of examples from your existing knowledge which you can use to support your answers; answers which make use of examples are much stronger as they are more focussed and examples act as evidence to support your points.

If you’d like the opportunity to practice answering some difficult questions, get in touch on 0207 607 5370 to book some rigorous, realistic, and testing practice interviews


“I don’t know the answer!”

by Catherine on


One of the most common fears for students applying to Oxbridge is that they will be asked a question that that absolutely don’t know the answer to. Don’t panic! In this blog post, we’re giving some tactics for  lessening the panic and answering successfully.

  • Firstly, take a deep breath.
  • Process what the problem is – do you not understand the question, or do you not have any idea of the answer?
  • Don’t be scared of asking the interviewer to rephrase the question.
  • Don’t be scared about not knowing the answer either – the interviewers want to test how you react to new ideas. They will keep asking harder questions till you get stuck!
  • Take a moment (don’t be afraid of silence) to think about similar examples from your studies or wider reading.
  • You could start with something like ‘I haven’t come across/studied X, but these similar (or contrasting) examples of Y and Z lead me to conclude…’
  • Remember that they want to know how you think, and how you react to unfamiliar ideas (as you will have to during your degree course). If you can structure your answer, and give relevant examples, it gives the interviewer confidence that you react well under pressure.
  • Admitting that you’re not sure and that your ideas could be refined is not necessarily a bad thing – but don’t start with ‘I don’t know’ as it seems negative and closes down conversation.

This weekend, we had an interview day at one of our partner schools. 100% of students now feel that they are more prepared for interview, with 97% finding the feedback from our interviewers useful. If you’d like to book a place on one of our interview days, please get in touch on 0207 607 5370.

“Really, really useful – great to have an interview with someone who’s actually been through the system themselves and actually knows what they’re talking about concerning interviews”


Read more about our comprehensive interview preparation courses.

“The questions themselves were really useful in highlighting areas to research that I hadn’t thought of before. Thank you so much”


Find out about our fantastic range of services, from practice interviews to full preparation courses.

“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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