Welcome to the second in my triptych of blogs about getting into Oxbridge. Sorry if you have a tweed fetish and actually came here for sex tips.
This blog is about the kind of preparation you should be doing before you arrive for interview. Both Oxford and Cambridge interview a generous number of applicants, so assume their largess extends to you and get cracking on the preparation as soon as you've sent your application. Here are three practical ways to prepare; they're also helpful diversions from shaking your own left hand for practice.
Distrust Your Opinions
I'm sure you've heard that Oxbridge are looking for 'how you think' not 'what you know', it's true, but I remember not really knowing how to act on this advice. A practical way to prepare for a 'how you think' interview is to try disagreeing with yourself.
It's not as one-woman-Fringe-play as it sounds. I'm sure you have strong feelings about your subject and a tutor will probably disagree with something you say at interview to test how deeply your thinking on it goes. If you make yourself take the other side of the argument while preparing for your interview you'll discover its weak spots.
So ask yourself, what if you had to argue for the Marquis De Sade as a feminist or Scientology as a valid religion or Gordon Brown as the greatest PM we've ever had? You never know, you might change your own mind. Probably not about Gordon though.
A-Levels are strangely link-less. You learn about a chunk of history without knowing what the world was like a few years out of your time period, or what was happening in scientific or domestic worlds during that time. Or you study a poet without reading the writers they were in bed with, often literally.
You'll do loads of linking things up at university. But it's worth having a stab at connecting ideas and thinking in a wider more contextual way in the run up to your interview. To do well at interview you need to forget A-Level's and to try to pull your thinking up to the level of a first year undergrad. Begin to ask yourself how your areas of interest connect, or why they don't.
Become An Expert
Pick a few areas and make sure you know your shit. There's a common misconception that if you're 'right' for Oxbridge the tutors will be able to tell just from chatting with you. This is, of course, rubbish.
You need to prepare, and you need to prepare strategically. Interviews aren't particularly long, they're between 20 and 45 minutes and you'll have no more than two or three of (them unless you're pooled). So you don't need wide encyclopaedic knowledge of your subject, you need a few areas of expertise. These should be topics which you love and which you've thought about deeply.
Teachers often get obsessed with preparing you to answer the 'why Oxford?' or 'why this particular college?' type questions because they're the only questions they feel they can reliably predict. In reality you might well not be asked them, and if you are its best to give a brief answer. You've only got about the length of time it takes to get to the bar on a Friday to impress them in, so don't bother mentioning how attractive their ratio of toilets to students is.
My next post will be about how to behave at interviews to make sure you come away feeling like you gave your best. It will feature both biscuits and the Kardashians. Stay tuned.