A question we get asked all the time is “Why should I start Cambridge Interview preparation now if I haven’t even got an Interview invitation yet?”
It’s a good question, and one with a good answer – especially if you are applying to Cambridge. Being prepared for a Cambridge Interview can sometimes feel like a tall order. Especially because they can take so many different forms. However, there are certain things that you can look out for and the best way to improve your Interview performance is by starting early.
This article covers how to prepare for Cambridge Interview questions, what the interviewers are looking for and how to approach difficult Cambridge Interview questions. We’ll begin with looking at the Interview statistics.
2023 Cambridge Interview Update
Before starting, some information regarding Cambridge interviews has recently been announced that is important to know.
Since 2020, both Oxford and Cambridge interviews have taken place online, but in 2023, select Cambridge colleges will be hosting in-person interviews for applicants within the UK. These colleges are as follows:
Applicants for all subjects at these colleges will need to attend interviews within the college buildings in Cambridge. Applicants from other colleges, as well as applicants outside of the UK, will be attending a virtual interview in the same format that has been in place since 2020.
All Oxford applicants will also be attending virtual interviews, with virtual interviews supposedly being required for the next five years according to tutors we spoke with at the 2023 Oxford Open Day. Discover more differences between Oxford and Cambridge interviews in our dedicated guide.
Cambridge Interview Admissions Statistics
Cambridge, historically, have always interviewed a large proportion of candidates, especially compared to Oxford. Cambridge generally Interviews around 70% of applicants, which gives those who perform well in Interviews a better chance. Oxford, on the other hand usually Interview less than 40% of applicants.
For candidates that may have a weaker application (low scores on Admissions Tests and not the highest GCSEs and predicted grades), there is still a decent chance you will be invited to Interview at Cambridge. This means that Cambridge Interview preparation can go a long way.
The statistic for getting an offer after Interview roughly stands at 17% for Oxford, and 23% for Cambridge overall, without considering the individual courses where for Cambridge Graduate Medicine, only 9% of applicants received an offer after the Interview in 2020. Effective Cambridge Interview preparation will increase your odds here.
Early preparation is the proven way to score highly in your Cambridge Interviews.
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Cambridge interview question preparation
To ensure you enter the Interview room with all the resources, knowledge and skills you need to answer the Interview questions, you should:
There are three main questions that are likely to come up:
- Why this university?
- Why this subject?
- Why this college?
You may also get asked more specific questions about the teaching system or about your career aspirations. This will also be the time for discussing any extenuating circumstances for poor exam results and similar considerations.
To do well with general Interview questions, your answers should show that you understand the Cambridge system and that you have strong reasons for applying there. It is essential that you prepare detailed answers to the common questions above so that you aren’t caught off guard. In addition, you should create a list of questions that could potentially be asked based on your Personal Statement or any submitted work.
Here’s an example of a general Cambridge question and how you could prepare for it:
Q: Why have you chosen to apply to study at Cambridge, rather than another Russell Group university?
A: You should address this question in two parts, the first is addressing the key features of Cambridge for your course and the second emphasising your own personality traits and interests which make you suited to the Cambridge system.
You could start off by talking about the supervision system and why this method of very small group teaching is beneficial for studying your subject, both for the discussion of essay work and, more crucially, for developing a comprehensive understanding of your subject.
When talking about yourself, a good answer could take almost any route, though it is always productive to talk about which parts of your subject interest you and why this is the case. You might also mention how the Cambridge ethos suits your personality, e.g. how hard work and high achievement are important to you and you want to study your chosen subject in real depth, rather than a more superficial course elsewhere.
What are interviewers looking for?
It is important to remember that Cambridge is not predominantly testing you on everything you know about the subject. Nor are they testing how many facts and figures you can regurgitate. The Cambridge interviews are much more about how well applicants can express themselves and argue a point.
This is a mistake that candidates make each year, they focus on the wrong aspects of an Interview. Concision is also extremely important as it shows that students can analyse information carefully and in detail.
The interviewer’s aim is to ask you various Cambridge Interview questions, both traditional and straightforward; abstract and challenging, that review how you react and adapt. This helps them understand an applicants suitability for small group teaching. It is also important for interviewers to see that the applicant is willing to persevere with a challenging problem even if the answer is not immediately apparent.
The following list contains aspects of knowledge and ability that the interviewers are looking for:
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Approaching difficult Interview Questions
All applicants will have tutors asking some of the more common Cambridge Interview questions, it’s the hard questions that people struggle to prepare for. The tricky Cambridge Interview questions are the ones that are less obviously connected to your subject.
Knowing how to prepare for a Cambridge Interview question like this can be difficult. However, it’s making the connection that is the key. Tutors will be looking for students who are able to relate these questions to their subject and explain why the two things are connected.
Some example questions include:
- What is the point of learning?
- If you could change one thing on the planet now, what would it be?
- Define success in one sentence.
The Cambridge Interview questions are not intended to put people off. They’re specifically targeted to test a student’s imagination and ability to adapt to situations. You should choose an argument and follow it. Your answers should also be consolidated with references from the subject you are applying to and the areas of your subject that you know and feel confident talking about.
Communicating With Admissions Tutors
The most important thing to do when communicating your answers is to think out loud. This will allow the interviewer to understand your thought processes. They will then be able to help you out if you get stuck. Never give up on a question; show that you won’t be perturbed at the first sign of hardship as a student, and remain positive and demonstrate your engagement with the material.
Use Practice Questions
Practice common questions and sample questions – this is better done with a teacher or someone you are less familiar with or who is an experienced interviewer. The early you start preparing the better too. Also, the more you practice, the more confident you will be with answering questions and the less likely you will be caught out during your Interview.
Read Around Your Subject
Read around your subject in scientific articles and books, visit museums, watch documentaries, anything which broadens your knowledge of your favourite topics while demonstrating your passion for your subject. Also, make sure you re-read your Personal Statement and any coursework or submitted essays you are providing. Anticipate questions that may arise from these and prepare them in advance.
Effective Interview preparation support is the sure-fire way to increase your chances of receiving your Cambridge dream offer.
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