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Opinion7th November 2019

How to ace your Oxbridge interview

Ark’s Project Oxbridge is supporting 50 Ark students, selected for their academic potential, to gain places at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Our skills workshop, in partnership with OxFizz, helps students prepare for the notoriously difficult admissions interviews. We caught up with Beheshta, a student hoping to gain a place, and James, an Oxford graduate, to get their take on the day, and the challenge ahead…

James Tibbles is the Volunteering Coordinator for OxFizz. He graduated from the University of Oxford in July 2019.

“OxFizz was set up to support students with the application process to top universities like Oxford and Cambridge. We know that some students from more disadvantaged backgrounds will fall at the admissions hurdle, particularly the interview. They don’t always receive the same level of support as some of their wealthier peers.

“We’ve come here today with a group of volunteers from Barclays – all Oxbridge alumni – to run some mock interviews and skills workshops so that the students feel more prepared.

“I was in the first generation of my family to go to university, and so I didn’t get any wisdom and support from my parents. My school offered what they could but I had to do a lot of independent work. I had another friend who was applying so we coached each other through the process. Moral support is a good thing!

“The interview was definitely the most difficult part for me. We’re taught in schools to improve our writing skills and exam techniques, but the notion of an interview was very daunting. I wasn’t used to thinking out loud. Many of today’s students might have the same problem, so we are teaching them to learn how to work through problems by exploring different avenues and coming up with well-formulated arguments. If they are applying for STEM subjects, it’s all about logical thinking, and making calculated guesses. For humanities, they need to learn to explore abstract questions in unique and creative ways.

“We also recommend that they practice speaking out loud on a topic – even if it is just with friends or their parents. One of today’s exercises asks the students to speak for two minutes on a random topic, such as the solution to global poverty. Hopefully experiences like this will reduce the risk of them getting too nervous and clamming up in their interviews.”

Ark Academy

Beheshta is a year 13 student at Ark Academy Sixth Form in Wembley. She hopes to get in to the University of Oxford to study medicine next year.

“I’m here today to practice for my interview. My biggest concern is not knowing what to say, and being stuck! My interviewer asked me questions about genetic disorders, doctor-patient interactions and the ethics of medicine. Some of the questions I had an answer for, but others I needed to stop and think about, and then take an educated guess.

“It’s a lot of work to do, to prepare. I’m doing lots of wider reading around medicine, and preparing for my entry test as well as the interview, which is quite challenging. But I got strong grades in my GCSEs and it made me think that maybe I have the capability to give applying to Oxford a shot. I didn’t want to limit myself, so I decided to go for it.

“There are 15 other applicants to Oxbridge at my school, the most Ark Academy has ever had. I think we’re finally starting to see that universities like Oxford can be for us too. The stereotypes are starting to decline, and people aren’t letting these inform their decisions as much anymore.
“Today has really helped – I’m getting better at thinking on the spot and I feel much more comfortable about being in an interview environment. Without this preparation I think I’d be pretty nervous!”

You can find out more about Ark’s university and careers success programmes, including Project Oxbridge, here.