Interviews: what are we looking for?

Admissions Tests and Interviews at
Cambridge and Oxford 2012
Dr Andrew Bell
Tutor for Admissions
Gonville and Caius College
University of Cambridge
From sixth-form to university
no, or very few, re-sits
no bells, few collective timetables
integrating elements in linear courses
formative and summative assessment
learning “the wrong way round”
rapid progress
students do not work to a mark scheme
self-motivation and self-discipline
What do we look for in applicants?
• Very strong exam record, especially in Years 12 and 13
• Excellent school/college reference
• Appropriate choice of subject and course
• Good test performance (BMAT) and high-quality submitted
written work (Arts subjects)
• Academic potential, meaning: knowledge and skill; logic
and clarity of thought; intellectual flexibility; imagination
Selection criteria
Admissions decisions are based on:
• A level (or equivalent) grades and subject combinations
• AS grades and (Cambridge) unit marks
• GCSE grades
• UCAS personal statement and school/college reference
• Submitted work (where requested)
• Test results (chiefly Oxford)
• Interview performance
• Students apply via UCAS to Oxford OR Cambridge by 15
• Cambridge applicants also fill in an online questionnaire
after they have submitted their UCAS form; this
essentially gathers AS scores
• Many Oxford applicants sit an aptitude test in early
November; so do Medics and Vets for Cambridge
• Most applicants choose a College but many take the
‘open’ application route; choice of College has no impact
upon likelihood of success
• Typical Oxford offer:
mostly AAA (A*A*A Maths)
• Typical Cambridge offer: A*AA or A*AAA
Use of Contextual Data
Both universities use contextual data to help make admissions fairer
So, we look at:
The performance of the applicant’s school or college at GCSE or equivalent
level, and the performance of the applicant’s school or college at A-level or
equivalent level.
But also at
Whether the applicant come from a low participation neighbourhood (LPN)
Or from an area of relatively low socio-economic position (ACORN information)
Or whether they have spent significant time in care
These allow us to see achievement in context.
A very strong examination record
• We seek students whose academic record places them in
approximately the top 3% of the ability range
• Most – though by no means all – successful Cambridge applicants have
an AS UMS average (across their best or most relevant three subjects)
of comfortably above 90%
• The mean AS average of students receiving offers from a range of
Cambridge Colleges in 2010/11 was 94-96%
• There is no minimum required number of A*s at GCSE, though most
successful applicants achieved A* in most of their GCSEs
• Normally two or more interviews, each usually lasting
20−30 minutes
• Conducted by lecturers and predominantly academic and
• Discussion-based and intellectually challenging
• Check the websites for videos and further information
Interviews: what are we looking for?
The last piece in the jigsaw rather than the ‘final hurdle’
• Academic ability and potential to be successful
• Self-motivation, commitment and serious interest in the chosen course
• Ability to think independently and critically
• Use of existing knowledge to assess new problems
No trick questions!
Interviews: what to expect
• Focused and challenging questions
• Applicants are usually asked to talk about:
• Academic work completed in the last year or two
• Relevant wider reading or work experience
• Subject-related issues that are very readily visible in the
wider world
• ‘Prompt’ material
• Prompting from interviewers
• Questions to interviewers
Interviews: How to prepare
• Refresh your memory about:
• the course for which you applied
• recent school/college work
• UCAS personal statement
• submitted work
• Wider reading
• Practise discussing academic work and ideas
• Vocational subjects

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