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Date:February 07, 2014

What to expect at Interview

The Interview

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 Physics 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.” Admissions tutors are looking for students who can talk intelligently and express themselves and their passion for a topic, while fielding questions about a subject.

Although there is no way of knowing exactly what will come up at interview, the Oxbridge Physics 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: Physics
  • ¨Draw the graphs of y=1/x +x and y=7+3cos(2x+pi/2).
  • ¨Derive an expression for the separation of fringes caused by Young’s Double Slit apparatus.
  • ¨calculate the mass of oxygen in the classroom we are in
  • ¨How does a plane fly?
  • ¨If you leave the fridge turned on in a thermally isolated room, what happens to the room?
  • ¨What is the Best angle for a projectile with wind resistance
  • “Why can’t you light a candle in a spaceship?
  • “A ball bearing is flying through space (vacuum and no overall gravitational field). It heads towards a doughnut, through it’s centre and out the other side. Draw graphs of 1) speed versus time and 2) acceleration versus time.

Qualities sought during an Physics interview (as taken from the Oxford Physics website)
Candidates invited for interview should expect an academic or technical interview. They should be able
to demonstrate:

  • Motivation: a real interest and strong desire to learn physics.
  • Ability to express physical ideas using mathematics; mathematical ability.
  • Reasoning ability: ability to analyse and solve problems using logical and critical approaches.
  • Physical intuition: an ability to see how one part of a physical system connects with another; and to predict what will happen in a given physical situation.
  • Communication: ability to give precise explanations both orally and numerically.

As well as more general questions candidates will be asked some based on the mathematics they have done at school and others on physical situations
requiring the application of physics and simple maths to test the candidate’s ability to express physical
concepts mathematically.

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