There’s no magic formula for answering Oxbridge interview questions, neither is there the perfect answer. You can’t predict what questions you’re going to be asked, but here are some tips and advice on how to impress during your Oxbridge interview:
1. Allow yourself a pause before answering. You don’t have to dive headlong into answering. Give yourself a few seconds to collect your thoughts.
2. If you don’t understand the question, ask them to clarify it. If they use a word or phrase you don’t understand, then ask them to explain.
3. Don’t pretend to know about things you haven’t got a clue about. It can land you in hot water. For example, if you reference a book you haven’t really read, it’ll get awkward if they latch onto that and start grilling you about the book. If you do get in that situation, fess up: “I haven’t read that book in detail, but I have read this book which has some parallel ideas.”
4. If a question stumps you, confess that you don’t know the answer but try to approach it from different angles, or talk about how you might go about answering it.
5. Always try to push yourself when answering. Don’t just give them ‘good’ or ‘standard’ answers. Think of innovative or original ways of looking at the question, introduce other ideas, or link it up with another topic, but make sure you still answer the original question. The ability to make comparisons and draw links between different ideas and topics will definitely be something they’re looking for.
6. Don’t waffle. Try to give your answer a clear beginning, middle and end. It can be tempting to gabble nervously in order to fill the silence. If you feel you are waffling, pause, take a deep breath, slow your speech and summarise your point.
7. Avoid abrupt answers. It’s about engaging your interviewer in an academic discussion. Respect their academic opinion, whilst proffering yours. Don’t be afraid to disagree with them, but just make sure you back up your statements. You want to give them enough meat in your answers to fuel further questions and spark off a really interesting discussion.
8. For “college” interviews (e.g. non-subject based interviews) make sure you’ve researched the college thoroughly, find out about its atmosphere, ethos and the facilities it offers. They aren’t just testing you academically, but also whether you’ll be a good fit for the college. Pick out some good reasons why you applied to the college; not that it’s the easiest one to get into or the richest.
9. Arrogance isn’t attractive. Be assertive and confident in your opinions, but equally react and listen to what they say. The person interviewing you might end up teaching you, so you want to show them that you’ll be a stimulating and interested student, who is more than willing to learn.
10. The interviewer isn’t your enemy. They want to you to do well and prove yourself, even if that means giving you a bit of a grilling. It isn’t personal; they just want to make sure you’re right for Oxbridge.
If you want more information about Oxbridge interviews, check out our Oxbridge Interviews article.