Oxford and Cambridge are two of the most prestigious universities in the country. So it stands to reason that the application process is a tough one. If you’ve got through to the interview stage, well done! Now’s your chance to really show them what you’re made of.

To the uninitiated, Oxbridge interviews are something of a mystery. There are plenty of rumours and horror stories, but are the interviews as terrifying as they sound, or is it all a myth?

Here’s everything you need to know about the Oxbridge interview process. Including whether or not they really ask you those strange trick questions...

1. You’ll be taken out of your comfort zone

You’ll likely be asked questions at a higher academic level than you’re currently studying, so the more you learn the better chance you have of knowing the answer.

Don’t just stick to the AS syllabus. Read around your subject. The more you know about it, the more passionate and interested you will appear.

You’ll also be better equipped for dealing with any unexpected questions.

2. Interviewers may play devil’s advocate

Don’t be afraid to disagree with something your interviewer says.

They might be deliberately provocative to see how you react when challenged.

Debate intelligently, calmly and with an open mind to new ideas.

3. They expect you to be yourself

Everyone else is taken, remember?

The whole interview process is designed to see if you’re a good fit for the university, and if you can cope with the teaching style. Interviewers want to meet the real you, so don’t try to be the person you think they want you to be.

They’ll know if you’re trying to fake it, so do your best to relax and be yourself.

4. ‘Horror’ questions are real, but they’re not designed to trip you up

Would you rather be a novel or a poem? Why is the universe like a banana? Which person from history would you most like to interview and why?

These are just a few examples of the questions asked at Oxbridge interviews. Rather strange, don’t you think? But there’s actually a really good reason why these sorts of questions are asked. And it’s not to trip you up. 

These types of questions are designed to test your creativity and knowledge. They give the interviewer an insight into the way you think and learn. There’s (usually) no right or wrong answer. The aim is to get you thinking, preferably out loud, and discussing interesting issues in an intelligent way.

The interviewer will help you through the question. So think of them not as the enemy, but as a side-kick. They want you to succeed, but they also want to be sure you’re a good fit for the college. 

Even if you’re completely clueless and have never heard of the topic before, have a stab at it. Reason it out, use knowledge you’ve gained from other areas to at least try and answer the question.

The interviewer doesn’t expect you to know everything, but they’ll be impressed if you show a willingness to learn. 

5. Dress smart

But don't go overboard. Remember, it's not a job interview, and the tutors won't necessarily be that dressed up themselves.

Boys should wear smart trousers and a shirt and girls can wear a smart top and skirt or trousers or a smart dress (make sure it's not too short, especially when you're sitting down!).  

Opt for under-stated jewelry, and don't wear anything that might make a noise when you move your hands, or something you may be tempted to fiddle with during the interview.

6. Back up your answers

You need to give appropriate examples in your interview to back up any claims you make.

This is why it's a good idea to make notes about any relevant news stories you've read about recently, and any extra reading around your subject that you've undertaken.

However, don't just talk about them for the sake of it - they need to be used naturally within the conversation.

7. Mind your manners

In order to give the best impression of yourself, you need to be professional and polite at all times.

This means avoiding the following mistakes:

  • Slouching
  • Fidgeting
  • Crying
  • Raising your voice or shouting
  • Arguing in an unconstructive way
  • Lying
  • Being arrogant
  • Turning up late
  • Insulting the interviewers.

8. You don’t have to take it too seriously 

You’re probably feeling a bit nervous already. Nerves are healthy, but don’t let them tarnish the experience. The interview will give you an insight into what it’s like to learn at Oxbridge, so enjoy it! 

Try to demonstrate you are an interested, open-minded, intelligent candidate with a passion for their subject who will make the most of their time at Oxbridge. 

If you’re not doing so in your interview practice, you need to think about why and what you can do to convey enthusiasm for your subject and the dedication to learning that you feel.

Remember to smile and be friendly too; a positive attitude will always go a long way!

Good luck!

Further information

For more tips and advice on applying to Oxbridge, please see:

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