Engineering @ Clare, Cambridge in 2016

Interview format

Engineering Admissions Assessment; 2x interviews.

Interview content

Interview 1: mathematical puzzles; Interview 2: long subject-related problem, personal questions.

Best preparation

Emailing Cambridge academics (but proceed with caution), subject-related websites, college websites.

Final thoughts

Explain your thought process aloud; don't worry if you get something wrong

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: Engineering Admissions Assessment (ENGAA)
Number of interviews: 2
Time between interviews: about 2 hours
Length of interviews: 20 minutes
Online interview: No

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

In one interview, I was given some mathematical puzzles. Similar to the sort of thing I would see at school, but with twists that made them just a little more challenging. I was given these puzzles an hour ahead of the interview. I was lucky that I was calm. The puzzles are definitely not out of your reach if you have studied Year 12 maths, however, it takes some confidence to find new approaches. So, it was important for me to be comfortable and calm while trying them out. If I remember correctly, I didn't really boss any of the puzzles. I had a good stab at each one, but I did not go into the interview with all of the answers. I knew that was normal though. They just want to talk about the questions with you, so there is no need for everything to be perfect ahead of time.

In my second interview, I was asked a much longer question. The kind of thing you can't really answer straight away. It was a little more abstract, but it did not contain any high level topics. So, the way it worked was that the interviewer walked me through the process of answering the question. They really didn't let me struggle: every time time I seemed stuck, they would give me a hint. Which meant that it wasn't very scary. Some people try to make it sound like they just give you a really hard, weird questions and then leave you there to sort it out. It was not like that. We had a good chat and took quite a bit of time getting to the answer, together.

Aside from that, the second interview was an opportunity for me to talk a bit about myself. They asked personal questions. It seemed like they truly wanted to get to know me better. I enjoyed this part. I remember thinking that it was a rare opportunity to discuss my interests with people who know so much about engineering! So I thought I should make the most of it. We also spoke about non-engineering things, which was good fun.

My interviewers were very friendly! They really put me at ease and I am sure they will try to make you feel as comfortable as possible. They don't want to scare you. I treated the interviews as though they were supervisions. I asked questions when I was stuck and admitted that I didn't understand things, when necessary. This approach made the interview feel very productive and comfortable. I have heard from many supervisors that the interview should feel like this. They are testing to see whether or not they can teach you. The atmosphere in interview was lovely! My interviewers were smiley and patient, they did make me feel bad when I got things wrong. On the contrary, they were happy to help.

Of course, some people might not be as naturally friendly as others. I wouldn't let it worry you if your interviewer seems a little less humorous or happy. It won't be personal. For all that my experience was very positive, I found it hard to get over my nerves. I was almost shaking before my interviews. I tried to follow the advice my auntie had given me: she said "Close your eyes. Take one deep breath and put your shoulders back. Remember that you are wonderful. Then walk in". That is exactly what I did before each interview, and it was definitely a good way to start. Remembering the words of encouragement from my family and friends helped me to feel at home.

Clare seemed almost keen to get applicants to talk to each other on the interview day. I really didn't want to do this! Haha, I was actually really trying to think of ways to sneak away! I didn't want other applicants to scare me. I tried to eat breakfast alone, but other applicants came to sit with me. I am so glad they did. They were all so friendly and we were all equally nervous. Chatting to them really put me at ease. I made friends that day and I had a great time.

So, my advice is that you don't need to avoid other applicants. Even if you do feel the inclination at first. I remember thinking that even if I didn't get in to Cambridge, I would still cherish my memories of the interview as an amazing, surreal experience.

How did you prepare for your interviews?

So, to prepare for interviews. I emailed Directors of Studies and asked them for advice. They sent me some sample questions and two of them agreed to meet me in person to give me a practice interview. This was totally invaluable. However, I suppose emailing DoSs should be treated quite carefully. They are busy, and it may be awkward for them if you intend to apply to their college (I spoke to DoSs at colleges I did not intend to apply for). Nevertheless, I would recommend being a little brave. I was surprised by the number of researchers and fellows who really were happy to help me.

As for resources, I continued visiting and

I also scoured lots of college websites to try to pick up on their preferences: some Colleges seem to put more emphasis on having extra-curricular interests, for example. Others only mentioned academic excellence. Queen's asked engineers to make something ahead of the interview, I was glad I spotted that because I did not have anything prepared. The information on college websites was really helpful, it definitely informed my choice of which college to apply to. I avoided student forums because they would make me feel insecure and worried. Sometimes there were a lot of people talking about their scores and knowledge. I felt I would do better if I didn't concern myself with other people's progress.

If you took a test, how did you prepare?

I taught myself Mechanics 1 and Mechanics 2 (OCR) over the summer holidays.I had been told that having never being taught about mechanics, I was not an attractive candidate. So I took no chances! I also bought a puzzle book from Amazon, called Professor Povey's Perplexing Problems Pre-University, I tried to do those regularly. I tried to make a daily habit of practising problem solving using and I emailed different Cambridge University members to see if anybody could meet me to give me advice. Several directors of studies agreed to have a chat, which was great. I also completed all of the practice tests ( I believe there were only two at the time) which were available online.

What advice would you give to future applicants?

You are so much cleverer than you think! If you are invited for interview, then you are excellent. The questions will be set at a standard you will be comfortable understanding. So there is really no need to panic. The interview is not a test to see whether you are a genius or not, they already know you are smart enough. They are just checking to see whether they can teach you. So, I suppose that means that you should be able to show them how you thinking. Explaining your approach to the question is a great idea. That way, they can pick you up on any great ideas you have, and also help you if you seem to be going down the wrong track.

On which note, being wrong is extremely normal. Don't let that worry you. The test is to see whether or not you can use their guidance to correct yourself. So listen carefully and ask all of the questions you need to. Really, I don't think any question is too silly. Just ask away. Try to work with the supervisor to get the task done.