English @ Peterhouse, Cambridge in 2017

Interview format

2x interviews (approx. 30-45mins each); 2nd interview: discussion of unseen passages (about 15mins to prepare beforehand).

Interview content

First interview: personal statement, A-level texts and reading for pleasure, EPQ; Second interview: EPQ, unseen texts (with preparation time beforehand).

Best preparation

Having conversations about books; reading a wide range of literature; writing down thoughts while reading.

Final thoughts

Be yourself; interview is a chance for interviewers to get to know you better; it may go differently to how you expect and preconceptions can be 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

I had two interviews with lunch in the middle! Both were 30 - 45 minute (approx, although I actually ran out of time with the second!) conversations with two college fellows, and I had preparation time for the second, in which I looked at some previously unseen texts for discussion in the interview. I can't quite remember the length of my prep time (15 minutes ish?), and a student escorted me from the JCR to both of my interviews and the preparation room.

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

My first interview was focused on literature in general - texts I read for pleasure as mentioned in my personal statement as well as a couple of questions on my A Level texts. I really enjoyed this one, because although I was nervous, it felt more like a conversation about books than an interview (I remember being asked about what I was currently reading, and also about my emotional responses to certain books). My interviewers picked up on themes in my personal statement and ran with them. They asked quite a lot about my EPQ too.

There were more questions about my EPQ in the second interview, although it was also centred on the unseen texts I had analysed immediately beforehand. The second interview was a lot trickier (mainly because I felt like I had completely the wrong idea regarding the topic of one of the texts), but it still wasn't as terrifying as I had expected it to be!

How did you prepare?

Informal practice with my English teacher (which was basically having coffee and chatting about books once a week from October to December!), formal interview practice a couple of times with my head of year and English teachers, and also reading everything I could get my hands on - poetry, prose, the lot - oh and forming opinions was really important too, so I wrote down my thoughts on everything I read!

I also attempted to reread my A Level English texts, but I didn't give myself enough time - I ended up having a lengthy conversation about tragedy and Othello, without quite remembering the finer plot details... but it didn't really matter, because I just gabbled my way through and moved on!

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

This is going to sound such a cliché, but my best advice would be to be yourself. By the interview stage, I guess most candidates have shown their academic ability on paper, so the interview is about learning a bit more about you. My first interview especially was... memorable... but I guess that wasn't necessarily a bad thing!

I thought that my interviews didn't go brilliantly - partly because my gift of the gab is heightened when I'm nervous, and I was gabbing about EVERYTHING, rather than having a pointed, intellectual discussion, which is what I had been expecting. It might have been better to have gone in without any preconceptions, because they were mainly proven wrong anyway!