The Cambridge interview can be a very daunting and anxiety-inducing process for many students. This is a simple guide that aims to dispel some of the myths surrounding the interview and give practical tips for how to prepare effectively.
What the interviewers are looking for:
Whether you are being called to interview for Spanish, History or Maths, what the interviewers are looking for is enthusiasm, passion and willingness to learn. They are seeking students who are engaged and honest, open to new ideas and enjoy being academically challenged. The interviewers will push you to think outside of your academic comfort zone, beyond what you have learnt at school. But they are not expecting you to have knowledge on everything. Don’t worry about learning hundreds of facts and dates. The interviewers won’t mind if you make the odd error. What they want are students who can think critically and creatively.
A great way to prepare is to know who you are likely to be interviewed by. Simply search online the subject and Cambridge college where you will be interviewed. It should come up with a list of staff. Read up on their specialities and research interests. This might give an indication of what topics or themes could come up in the interview. It is also a good idea to research in detail the course specification and first year reading lists to develop a general sense of what modules you will be studying.
Know your personal statement:
There are many misconceptions over what will be asked at the Cambridge interview. Generally, the interviewers are not there to ‘trick’ or ‘catch’ you out. They will use your personal statement as a basis for the interview. Make sure you re-read your personal statement several times before your interview. Annotate key points or readings mentioned within it and consider any counter-arguments or criticisms. It is essential that, if you cite any books, arguments or studies in your personal statement, you have read them and can discuss them with confidence.
From the studies/concepts you refer to in your personal statement, it is important that you read more widely around these topics. A good way to find relevant wider reading is to look at the bibliography of a core text you have read. Wider reading should include not only studies that support your arguments, but also criticisms and counter-arguments. When engaging with these texts, make sure you read them ‘actively’: highlight key points, note down important ideas and annotate anything you could critique or link to other materials you have read.
For many subjects – Sciences and Humanities – you will be given a pre-interview reading. It is essential to practice how to read academic texts quickly and thoroughly. To do so, try reading several short academic articles a week within a 20 – 30 minutes time-limit. During this time limit, it is recommended to read the text three times. The first time read quickly to get a general overview of the text, a second time to highlight key points/details and a third time to write notes that might be important. The interviewer may ask you to summarise the text and your opinion of it. When practising at home, write short bullet points to summarise the text and consider whether you agree/disagree.
Practise, Practise, Practise:
It is vital to practise speaking confidently and articulately prior to the interview, especially within academic contexts. Use every opportunity you can to practise speaking. This could be attending a drama club at school or putting your hand up in class. In the weeks leading up to the Cambridge interview, get a family member, teacher or friend to practise with you. This could include: getting someone to ask you questions based on your personal statement or more general questions about the subject and your personal attributes. It is useful to research past interview questions online and write out possible answers. Don’t try to learn these answers word for word, but do have a general idea of what you could say before you enter the room.