The Most Common Cambridge Interview Questions

Preparing for Cambridge Interview questions is not an easy task, so we’ve put together some common Cambridge Interview questions to look out for and how to answer them.

Last Updated: 31st October 2018

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Preparing for Cambridge Interview questions is not an easy task. There are so many possible things that they can ask.

There are multiple different types of Interviews that you can be called for when applying to Cambridge. Every candidate will have at least one subject Interview. Applicants, to some courses, may also have a general Interview, especially if they are applying for an arts subject. Either way, you will be asked questions that touch on the course you are applying to study. 

To help you out, we’ve put together some common Cambridge Interview questions to look out for. Most of which are general Interview questions, as we have covered subject-specific Interviews in our other guides. Let’s go through some examples of what might come up and how to tackle the questions. 

The 'Cambridge' Interview Questions

Cambridge Interview questions are often more of a test of how aware a candidate is of what they have applied for and what this means for their application. University questions will mostly be based around the following:

These common Cambridge Interview questions may seem ridiculously simple. However, they are also a good opportunity to demonstrate your passion for the University and the subject. For example, the best answers to questions like this are answers based around the subject, the course, the college, and the subject the tutors at that college specialise in. Do your research! Being able to answer these questions shows interest, passion, and knowledge of the University.

You may be asked variations on these questions such as:

How did you choose which college to apply for? 

Good Applicant: I chose which college to apply for based on a number of factors that were important to me. First of all, I needed to consider how many other students at my college would be studying the same subject as me; this was important to me as I want to be able to engage in conversation about my subject with my peers. Secondly, I am a keen tennis player and so looked for a college with a very active tennis society. Finally, I wanted to ensure that the college I chose would feel right for me and so I looked around several Cambridge colleges before coming to my conclusion.

Poor Applicant: may respond with a noncommittal shrug or an answer such as, “my brother went there”. The interviewers want to see that you have researched the university and although the reason for choosing a college won’t determine whether or not you get into the university, a lack of passion and interest in the college will greatly influence how you are perceived by the interviewers.

Why have you chosen to apply to study at Cambridge, rather than another Russell Group university?     

Good Applicant: would answer this question in two parts, the first addressing the key features of Cambridge for their course and the second emphasising their own personality traits and interests which make them most suited to the Cambridge teaching system.

It is useful to 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, why this is the case, and how this ties in with the course at Cambridge. 

Poor Applicant: would likely demonstrate little or no knowledge of their course at Cambridge and volunteer little information about why studying would be good for them or why they would be suited to it.

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The ‘moral’ common Cambridge Interview questions

Moral Cambridge Interview questions are a chance to argue why the subject is important on a wider scale, how it can benefit society and why. Here are some examples:

The tutor will probably feel the same way you do but they are testing candidates to see if they have looked at their subject from a larger perspective. They do not want to see students applying to Cambridge just to receive a good degree for their next step in life.

Let’s take a look at how you might approach these questions. 

Tell me why you think people should go to university

This sounds very general but it is, in fact, about your personal motivations to go to university. You don’t need to enter into a discussion about what universities are designed for or any educational policy issues.

The best strategy is to discuss your motivations, which could include a broad range of different things from interest in a certain field, inspiring and diverse environments, academic excellence, opening up of more opportunities in the future and buying time to find out more about yourself etc.

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Personal Statement Questions and Wider Knowledge

These are both surprisingly tricky common Cambridge Interview questions. The former is difficult because candidates will need to make sure that they avoid regurgitating the Personal Statement or the work that they have handed in. In addition, it is a bad idea to be too specific and talk about one very small area of study. The latter is difficult because it is not clear whether it is a trick question.

It is important to remember that it is okay not to like certain aspects of your subject, but keep it within reason. Furthermore, if areas of dislike within the subject are mentioned, it should be backed with good reasons.

For example, candidates could say the following: “I find it difficult at the moment, but I hope to understand it better over the course of my degree.” Or, “I find it too simplistic, and prefer more complex areas of study”.

Here’s how you might approach other questions of this type:

What is your proudest moment?

This is a chance to highlight your suitability for the course, so try to make it as subject-relevant as possible. “I felt proud to be awarded first place in a poetry competition with a sonnet I wrote about…” (if you’re applying for English). “I recently won the Senior Challenge for the UK Mathematics Trust.”

It’s not easy to pick one achievement and this is not a question you might have expected. You could also argue that you can’t really compare your achievements from different fields e.g. your 100% Physics A-level and football team captaincy. This will allow you to bypass the question’s number limit and mention more than one achievement so that you have more opportunities to impress the interviewer.

What’s an interesting thing that’s been happening in the news recently?

The answer should not be a complete analysis of the issue but an intuitive and logical description of an event, with a good explanation of why it is interesting to you, personally. Interviewers really want to see your enthusiasm for the topic of the article in question (and hopefully the topic of your chosen course) as well as your ability to reflect in a mature way on its most general themes.

Hopefully, this has given you a clearer understanding of the common Interview questions that can come up and their variations. Early preparation will give you the time you need to cover the main questions that can be asked, to reduce the risk of being caught out. Remember to relate the questions back to the subject you are studying and stay relevant to Cambridge and your college. 

Although it seems like questions are written to catch you out, they are really being asked to find out more about you and your motivations, so ensure you demonstrate your passion and suitability to the subject, college and Cambridge life. Good luck!

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