History @ Emmanuel, Cambridge in 2018

Interview format

History Admissions Assessment (HAA); 2x interview.

Interview content

Interview 1: personal statement. Interview 2; pre-interview article

Best preparation

Practice communicating ideas with clarity; listen to podcasts.

Test preparation

Practice papers; A-Level sources

Final thoughts

It is not how much you have read, but how you reflect on what you have read. Make links. Be comfortable, and that leads to confidence.

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: History Admissions Assessment (HAA)
Number of interviews: 2
Length of interviews: 30mins

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

I had two interviews: one was on my personal statement and one was on a twenty page article I had been sent a few weeks before.

The thing I would most like to stress is that I wasn’t asked any vague philosophical questions- all the questions I was asked directed related to either material I had provided them (in my personal statement) or they had provided me in advance (by emailing an academic article). The interviewers aimed to put me at ease- they know you’re nervous and that you will want you to show what you can do.

For my personal statement interview it mainly focused on my EPQ. I would recommend doing an EPQ if possible and talking about it in a paragraph of your personal statement. That enables you to talk about a topic you have spent time on and read lots about. It is also probably one of the closest things you’ll have done so far to university essays (in addition to coursework). Use what you have written as a springboard to talk about other books/ articles you have read on the topic- it’s best if you can cluster around one theme and compare different perspectives- the period doesn’t matter! Bring in other media if you can- radio programmes (e.g. 'History in our Time' on Radio 4 or the 'Revolutions History' podcast) or good documentaries you have watched. Don’t worry if you feel the books you have read aren’t suitably ‘academic’ history- talk about their shortcomings and how they have been aimed at a broader audience. Think about the angle from which the historian writes and their primary focus, aim and any areas of weakness. Think about how your other subjects complement history- eg the context of books studied in English, or the use of economic theory to studying economic history.

For the interview on the article I was sent I printed it out and annotated it in advance and was allowed to bring this to the interview itself. I also summarised the key points in bullet points on the front cover. They are *not* assessing you on your knowledge of the period- that’s why they pick a random article. What they will look for is how you identify what sources the historian uses, from what angle they are writing (e.g. Marxist, Feminist) and how they structure their argument- maybe by setting it up against previous scholarship. Don’t be afraid of extrapolating but make it clear this is only a potential reading if you lack the background in the period. It is good to note how the article takes a similar approach or contrast other history you have read- even on a different period.

How did you prepare for your interviews?

I spoke to my history teacher and asked him to do a mock interview. It’s most helpful to ask someone to quiz you on your personal statement, helping you be prepared to expand on what you wrote. It’s especially useful to think about what books you read and which historiographical angle they come from.

I also found it useful to listen to the 'In Our Time' history programme to expand on the sort of history I interacted with.

I thought about how my other subjects interacted with history. For example, how the books I studied in English Literature were informed by historical events and the contemporary politics they spoke to.

For one of my interviews I got sent a source in advance- so I printed this out and spent time annotating it and summarising the key points on paper. I also tried to explain its argument to someone who knew nothing about the topic. Clarity is really important- your interviewer may be a medievalist and not know much about, say, a modern period you have studied. That does not put you at a disadvantage- what you need to be able to do is communicate ideas clearly, and be able to argue, backing up any claims you make.

If you took a test, how did you prepare?

I prepared with practice papers and by doing source questions from A-Level papers on topics I had not studied, to practice responding to sources without context. I also looked on the Cambridge history faculty website for advice on responding to sources and they had a few examples there.

What advice would you give to future applicants?

There is no set thing you need to know for history- in the tripos you get choice over the papers you take and what period they cover. It is best to cluster around one topic you know well and read several things on that subject. It is much better to talk about something you know well than something you think seems intellectual but are less familiar with. It’s not about what you know or have read so far but how you reflect on it and make links with other areas. Enthusiasm is also very important!