Education @ Queens', Cambridge in 2014

Interview format

2 x interviews; written assessment

Interview content

French; read and analysed French texts, answered comprehension questions, discussed grammar points. Education; discussed own education and the current education system.

Best preparation

Education; introductory texts, news articles. French; L’Étranger by Albert Camus.

Final thoughts

Outreach sections on college websites; UCAS website; don't use private companies.

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

I had two interviews in mid-December. A student greeted me at the porters' lodgeand took me to wait in the college café, where a number of other interviewees were waiting too. There were some current students around who could answer any general questions we had and mostly reassured us that we shouldn't be too scared.

I was then taken by a student to my written assessment in a college teaching room, which was a French comprehension exercise. Afterwards I had a break again and was then taken by a student to my first interview, for French. I had to read and prepare a passage in French before the interview outside the room. The interviewer then called me in. He was very friendly and made me feel much more at ease. I was provided with a free lunch in the college café, and then had my second interview for Education. I did not have to prepare anything for this interview.

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

In the French test, I had to read a text in French and answer some comprehension questions on it in English. I definitely didn't understand all the details of the text, but got the overall gist of it and felt that I was able to answer the questions relatively well. It helped that I had to write in English and not in French!

For my French interview, I read a passage from literature before I went in and made some notes on anything interesting I noticed in it. There were no questions with it so this exercise felt very open, which was a little unsettling although it also meant I didn't have to worry about getting the wrong answer. Once inside the room, my interview told me that the interview would consist of three sections: a little about myself and my application, a discussion of the passage, and some grammar, where I could choose what grammar I wanted to talk about. One of these sections would have to be in French but he gave me the choice of which one to pick, so I chose grammar as I felt this would be easiest.

Throughout the interview my interviewer always made an effort to make me feel at ease, and prompted me when I got stuck with an answer, for example when I forgot all the forms of negation. When discussing the passage he seemed genuinely interested in my opinions and this gave me a great insight into what supervisions at Cambridge are like.

My Education interview was fairly informal. There was no text or anything to prepare, I simply met the interviewer in a room in college and he started out by asking me about my own Education and to critically reflect on it. This was a nice way to start the conversation as I was talking about my own experiences. He also asked me about why I was interested in the course, as it is fairly unusual. I think the most difficult question I was asked was about my opinions of the current education system, which threw me a bit. I don't think I gave a particularly insightful answer, but the rest of the interview felt like a positive experience. As it was not based on prior knowledge, this interview really just aimed to see how I think and why I was interested in the course, which you can't really get wrong.

How did you prepare?

For Education, I read Oxford University Press' Education: A Very Short Introduction, which gave me a good insight into a topic I knew nothing about. I also read the Education section on news websites such as BBC News and The Guardian, so I knew a little bit about current trends. Although these things didn't come up directly in my interview, it helped to familiarise me with the themes and language used in Education.

For French I read L'Etranger by Camus, and discussed the book with my French teacher at school. This was very helpful as I was then able to talk about existentialism and the philosophical background in my interview, which luckily related to the passage I was given to read.

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

If you feel you need more preparation for your interview and your school is perhaps not able to provide it, look for outreach sections on college websites! Almost all colleges have schemes where you can come and visit a college and attend an interview workshop, or someone from the college might be able to come and visit your school and help you.

Use the UCAS guide and the University website for more information on interviews. Don't use private companies claiming to tutor for interviews - none of them are endorsed by the University, and you are better off contacting a college and hearing from people with genuine experience of the interview process.