English @ Sidney Sussex, Cambridge in 2018

Interview format

English Literature Admissions Test; 2x interviews

Interview content

Interview 1: Discussed poem given in interview, discussed answers from pre-interview test; Interview 2: Personal statement, general discussion

Best preparation

Looked up as much information as possible

Advice in hindsight


Final thoughts

Trust in the system working as it should and enjoy yourself.

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: English Literature Admissions Test

Number of interviews: 2

Skype interview: No

Time between interviews: About four hours

Length of first interview: About half an hour; Length of second interview: About half an hour

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

In the first interview I was given five minutes to look over a poem, which we then discussed. I was then asked a few questions based on the answers I had given in an hour long test I had taken just before the interview. The second interview was more general, loosely based on things I had mentioned in my personal statement, but really just a very general discussion where my responses led the conversation round all sort of different topics and ideas. I was nervous for both interviews, but the interviewers were very friendly and engaging – it definitely seemed like they were trying to give me opportunities to show my best, rather than trying to catch me out. The first felt a little more like I was being tested, whereas the second was genuinely just a very engaging and interesting discussion.

How did you prepare?

I used practice papers, model answers and the faculty website beforehand. I was very apprehensive prior to my interviews, and so I read all the information that I could find online and talked to the people I knew who had been through the process. I prepared everything ruthlessly, making sure that I could talk about anything and everything in my personal statement, or in the things I had said I studied at school. To be honest, the only value in this preparation was to make me calmer (which it didn't after a point) because the interview was not a test. I don't think I talked about a single thing that I had prepared, because even when I was asked about my personal statement the questions were ones I could not have envisaged. In light of that, I would say to do any preparation that will make you feel good, but really don't go overboard because the chances are that it will prove unnecessary – if I were to go back and do it again, I wouldn't stress so much about trying to know everything, because there's no point.

What advice do you have for future applicants?

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

Trust to the system – the interviewers are professionals and have seen hundreds of candidates. They will be able to tell if you are the right kind of person, whether you are nervous, or shy, or over-prepared or under-prepared. If they sense that you don't know very much about a topic or aren't happy talking about it, they won't linger but will look for something where you can shine. At the end of the day, interviewers are looking for someone they would like to teach, so be yourself, try to relax and enjoy it!