University of Cambridge Seminar for local Year 12 & 13 students

University of Cambridge Seminar for local Year 12 & 13 students

This term we opened our doors to 10 other local schools to host presentations from Kathryn Dillon (Schools Liaison Officer) from Pembroke College, University of Cambridge. The presentations were aimed at year 12 students interested in applying to Oxford or Cambridge, and year 13 students who have applied.

The first presentation aimed at Year 13 students, who have completed their UCAS applications was based around what to expect at interview. She hoped to demystify the interview process, by explaining what the interview would be like, giving some subject specifics and then answering any questions students had. She stressed that the interview was not the ‘be all and end all’, that it was just part of the application process, and that all the other parts of the process are equally important. Next, she highlighted the key things that they would be looking for at interview; they want to see that you have the aptitude to take the subject further & that you are motivated, open to new ideas, a flexible thinker and a critical thinker!

So, what should students expect? How will the interviewers assess if you demonstrate the attributes above? Firstly, Kathryn stated they are not trying to ask ‘trick’ questions in the interviews or trying to trip students up, they will just be looking for further clarification. There will most likely be an interactive test for you to complete, this will be so interviewers can gauge the level of interest, aptitude and knowledge you have. Please don’t expect to get all the answers right, it is designed to be challenging and not straight forward.

Each interview will last 20-40 minutes, it will be just you with between 1 to 3 academics, the interview is designed to emulate the ‘supervision’ sessions students have at Cambridge. Kathryn explained that students should always ask for help or clarification, as the academics want to encourage questions, they are happy to offer definitions to words or further clarification on things. They want to see if you work well in a tutorial style session, to see if it suits your learning style.

At Cambridge the interview will be over 1 day & 80% of applicants will be interviewed, so they will see 4 candidates for every 1 space and you will only be interviewed by 1 college. At Oxford the interview may be over 2 to 3 days & 60% of applicants will be interviewed, so they see 3 candidates for every 1 space and you may be interviewed by several colleges. 

So how do students prepare for the interview?

Wider reading is very important and keeping up to date with current news and affairs, re-reading everything you think you know, turning up ready to engage & discuss and remembering not to panic!


1.Underpreparing or overpreparing  2.not engaging critically with the material  3.a lack of clarity  4.a lack of flexible thinking  5.digging your heels in. For example, better to say, ‘I think I am right because’ rather than ‘I am definitely right’! Remember, the academics will be playing devil’s advocate and will try to challenge you, so be open to other opinions.

Top 5 Tips

  1. Think out loud   2. Think critically   3. Don’t give pre-rehearsed answers   4. Be confident/be yourself   5. Don’t panic

Kathryn went on to re-iterate how ‘thinking out loud’ was the most important tip, explaining that whilst many of us are used to reading and writing around the subject, we possibly don’t talk about it enough, so to practice talking to friends, family and teachers about your subject to get used to speaking your thoughts.

Then students were shown an example question for Humanities and Science and were asked to give their thoughts and opinions on them. From these examples students were able to show that they can construct an argument, they can listen to others’ ideas and to rethink their ideas, and to consider other approaches when discussed. In a nutshell, they are looking for you to show you are committed to getting to the answer / truth. Kathryn ended with ‘remember the interviews are designed to be intellectually challenging!’

Good luck to all those students who will undergo interviews soon! Our thanks to Sue Winship (Chemistry Teacher at Bosworth) for organising & coordinating the event so successfully, and to Kathryn for being so engaging and giving our students lots of useful tips and advice, including videos to watch on you tube

Coming soon, the Oxbridge Application Process for year 12 students!