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Oxbridge Biology: The Interview

What to Expect

Being interviewed at Oxford or Cambridge will undoubtedly be one of the most challenging and nerve-racking experiences for any A-level student. Unfortunately there is no fixed format for these interviews and different tutors in different colleges have complete freedom over the questions they decide to ask each candidate.

What remains true for each interview is that they are strongly focused on academic knowledge and an ability to think beyond the A-level syllabus. Another key feature is that these interviews are short; applicants must demonstrate their abilities in less than 30 minutes. Compounding this is the fact that every candidate invited to interview will have the A-level grades required to study at Biological Sciences at Oxbridge. This means that even the most academically gifted students may fail to gain a place simply by not standing out at interview, either through nerves, or through poor preparation.

This is an excerpt from Oxford’s website on what they are looking for. “We are not testing factual knowledge but ability to think. If a student expresses an interest in a particular aspect of biology, they should be prepared to talk intelligently about it, showing knowledge of current affairs and recent developments in the field, and to have opinions about the topic. It is important, by the way, not to try to guess what the interviewer might want as an answer, but to have personal views which are logically expressed. The process is rigorous, but sympathetic, so that you can show us your best.”

Although there is no way of knowing exactly what will come up at interview, the Oxbridge Biology mentors have a good idea of the level of knowledge required, the format of questioning and the style of an interview at Oxbridge, not only through their own experiences at interview but also through the understanding of the tutorial teaching system which these interviews simulate.

In addition, these students will have spent three years with many of the tutors and will come to know their personalities, their subject of interest and their style of teaching. Having been taught by potential interviewers themselves, our mentors are ideally placed to give each applicant very specific advice on how to prepare for interview at their college of choice.

What we believe is extremely important is practice. Whether we see students for a single day or throughout the course of the application process our mentors will do their utmost to give each student the tools to fine-tune their interview technique in the run up to the interviews in December. Students who are prepared by our simulated interviews generally feel less intimidated on the day itself, giving them the opportunity to show their true abilities. With focused training, our candidates can even direct the course of the interview towards their stronger points and away from their weaker ones.

Interview Question Examples
  • ¨Why aren’t your ears on the front of your head?
  • ¨Describe  a well adapted plant
  • ¨If I put a rock in a boat, by how much will the boat sink?
  • ¨Why do animals have stripes
  • ¨Describe plant reproduction in as much detail as possible
  • ¨Who do you think had the greatest impact on the science in the 20th century and why?
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