Archaeology @ Newnham, Cambridge in 2018

Interview format

Archaeology Admissions Assessment; 2x interviews

Interview content

Interview 1: personal statement, subject-related practical problems; Interview 2: subject-related problems

Best preparation

Email academics who may be willing to help

Advice in hindsight


Final thoughts

During the interview, show your passion and analytical abilities

Remember this advice isn't official. There is no guarantee it will reflect your experience because university applications can change between years. Check the official Cambridge and Oxford websites for more accurate information on this year's application format and the required tests.

Also, someone else's experience may not reflect your own. Most interviews are more like conversations than tests and like, any conversation, they are quite interactive.

Interview Format

Test taken: Archaeology Admissions Assessment

Number of interviews: 2

Skype interview: no

Time between interviews: 1 hour

Length of first interview: 30 minutes; Length of second interview: 30 minutes

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

In my first interview, we spoke about the intersections between classics and archaeology.

We spoke a bit about my EPQ, and my interests in archaeology beyond my personal statement. She also gave me some artifacts and asked me to describe what I thought they were - she asked a few leading questions but I felt I just repeated her

I was pretty scared and deflated in that interview, especially because she would stare at me intently whilst I was speaking and for a bit after which made me scared she wanted me to say something else!

My second interview couldn't have had a better atmosphere. I felt at ease, and I was given two different images of sites. We spoke about what I wanted to know about them and how I'd find the answers - which was a really fun test and way of showing my general knowledge of archaeology.

When she revealed she had excavated one of the sites, I ended up quizzing her about her work for a bit and asked her about one of the artefacts I was curious about.

She asked similar questions about my personal statement and my work experience. She also asked me a lot more about my EPQ and what else I'd done outside of my personal statement and this time I had better answers (I'd had a think about what else I had done and remembered things).

I left that interview feeling elated, and it was one of the most enjoyable things I've ever done.

How did you prepare?

I took the two practice papers available, and got one marked by my History teacher, but obviously he could only mark me on style, not content.

For archaeology, you really need to look for advice beyond your teachers. My best preparation was simply having the knowledge of archaeology and passion for certain areas. My school mock interviews were much harder and not really relevant.

A lot of my general knowledge was things I'd seen in BBC documentaries years ago, so a mixture of reading and watching educational content is a valid approach. For your more specific knowledge I'd suggest reading a book or two about different interests.

My most effective preparation was either the subject-specific Cambridge open day day or my EPQ. The open day was essentially a lot of activities that mimic the interview questions about artefacts and sites, and the EPQ helped me learn more academic archaeology and how to write and talk about my interests.

I also went on a training dig, work experience at two museums (which I acknowledge is massive London privilege) and an archaeology summer school run by the department in Cambridge, so if you are looking at this at an early enough time I would recommend applying.

I would say my key piece of advice to applicants with little experience of archaeology and who don't have access to the things I did: email an academic in your field. I emailed my idol, and he was genuinely incredibly excited and eager to help me, and you will find most academics are, especially those who aren't particularly well-known.

What advice do you have for future applicants?

Looking back, what advice would you give to your past self?

Interviewers in archaeology are looking for genuine passion for the subject, and the ability to look at archaeological evidence and have some ability to analyse it.

My second interviewer really drew the passion out from me and she was excited when I described my interests. They definitely prefer you to take your time and verbalise your thought process when analysing things - even if you have minimal experience with objects, showing your reasoning and that you have absorbed some techniques from your readings, and they should be satisfied!