That sinking feeling you get when you realise you have no idea how to answer a question.
Arguably every potential student’s worst nightmare (apart from those plagued by turning up to your interview in your underwear nightmares). However, these moments are easily salvageable with a few simple tactics and are not the end of your future career. Here are a few tips and tricks to help you through this horrible experience:
1. Firstly, take a breath. Then another breath. Then another.
I make this point as it is important to give yourself time to think. If you feel yourself panicking focus on your breathing for a few breaths and then start to address the question posed to you. Giving yourself a few seconds to compose yourself can give you the time you need to realise that you do actually know how to answer the question (or at least come up with a tactic to tackle it). Though this time will feel like an eternity, it isn’t that long in reality. The examiners will not get angry that you’re not answering straight away – they will just realise that you are mulling the question over.
2. Do not jump straight in and try and answer the question.
I cannot stress this one enough. There are too many times when students jump straight to avoid the awkward silence (though it’s not actually not awkward) and end up providing an incomplete, rushed, or just plain wrong answer. As stated above, give yourself time to compose yourself. This is true for answering any question, not just the ones that leave you stumped! If you’ve given yourself this time and are still drawing blanks, that’s absolutely fine.
3. The next thing to do is to start with the basics.
Vocalise your thought process as you talk around what you know about the topic – think back to what you’ve been taught at school or what you’ve read and give yourself a base to build an answer upon. Vocalising your thoughts will give you both more time to think and help you begin to form an answer. The examiners may give you guidance as you build up your thoughts to help guide you in the right direction. Some interviews (particularly Oxbridge) really like this as it shows how you are approaching the question, and your thought process.
If, however, after your breaths to calm yourself you are still drawing a blank and know literally nothing about a topic, then do not despair.
You are not expected to know everything about everything and the examiners know this. Instead apologise that this is not something you have covered in school (which is often the case) and that you do not know much about this topic. Then, you can offer another similar topic for discussion. An example of this would be “I’m really sorry, I’m afraid I haven’t covered cystic fibrosis in school yet. I do know this about it though (insert your basic knowledge here)” or “Would you prefer I talk about (insert other disease you can discuss) instead?”. This approach is far better than rambling and making up an answer.
Finally, the worst thing you can do is say nothing or “I don’t know” with no elaboration. At least attempt it and give it your best shot, they won’t get angry if you’re wrong and are likely to help guide you.
But what if you know the answer and just panic in your interview?
Interviews for Oxbridge can seem scary, especially if you’ve never done an interview before.
We’ve all heard the horror stories, from terrifying questions – “Describe the chair without describing any of its physical attributes” – to the one where an interviewer set his own desk table on fire. With all these rumours flying around, it can be a daunting task to walk into an interview. There are several things to remember that will help you keep calm during the big day.WHAT TO DO IF YOU PANIC