Human, Social And Political Science @ St John's, Cambridge in 2019

Interview format

Arts-Humanities Admissions Assessment; 3x Interviews.

Interview content

Interview 1: general questions; Interview 2 and 3: discussing content from submitted essays and personal statement.

Best preparation

Practice mock interviews and read around the subject.

Test preparation

Use practice papers and look at how to structure essays on the University of Cambridge website.

Final thoughts

Try to relax and refrain from comparing yourself to other applicants, both online and an interviews!

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: Arts-Humanities Admissions Assessment (AHAA)
Number of interviews: 3
Time between interviews: 1.5 hours
Length of interviews: 20 minutes
Online interview: No

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

The first interview I had, which I think is unique to St John's, was just a general interview with my tutor who wasn't involved with the HSPS course (it was almost like a warm-up interview), and we discussed things like human rights and Scottish independence.

The second and third interviews were by people teaching HSPS and they progressed like a normal conversation or discussion. They started from something in my personal statement or one of my essays and then naturally progressed and evolved until we were discussing a topic that was completely different but based on my responses so the interview can go into a lot of different places.

Although, in my third interview I was asked to just pick a question or topic out of a hat for one line of questioning, but the topic was quite broad, and the follow up questions would be based on your answer to that question so I wasn't expected to talk for ages on something I had no idea about.

The general vibe I got, and the way I approached it, was that the interviews were just a lot like a discussion you'd have with a teacher in or after class about a topic that you're interested in. It's not like a job interview where they're reading questions off a list and there's one specific answer that they're looking for - it's much more of a discussion and it flows much more naturally. There were a couple of moments were I felt uncertain about my answer because I didn't really know much (or anything) about the topic, but I just put forward my best guess and said it was a guess. You're obviously not going to know every detail about every topic that comes up, but as long as you have some form of answer that you can use to drive the conversation forward and show your initiative and how you think, that's absolutely fine.

How did you prepare for your interviews?

I was lucky enough to be able to do a couple of practice interviews and taster sessions through my school, which helped me get used to the process and content of the interview. I also read over the books that I put in my personal statement, the practice essays that I had submitted, and all of the information available on the HSPS website (e.g. interview advice as well as information on HSPS subject areas I'd never encountered before, like sociology and anthropology).

The most useful preparation I did, in my opinion, was reading Why Nations Fail as it had a good mix of anthropology, politics, sociology, and history, which gave me lots of examples and background knowledge. It doesn't have to be that book in particular, but I would really recommend reading a similar type of book, one that tries to answer a 'Big Question', as it will most likely approach that question from the perspective of lots of different subjects and also give you a clear argument to discuss in your personal statement and interview. If you want a general idea of what topics will come up in your interviews, then a good idea is to google the people interviewing you. The college or university website will say what they research or teach and they'll probably ask you at least one question related to that. However, the interview will obviously involve other topics as well so don't just do that.

If you took a test, how did you prepare?

Practice papers available on the University of Cambridge website - there's a mark scheme for the multiple-choice questions and I did a couple of the essay questions to make sure my time-management was good. I wrote the essay based on how I was taught in my A-levels because that's what I was used to, but I think there's also advice on structuring essays on the University of Cambridge website as well.

What advice would you give to future applicants?

My advice would be to try to make yourself as relaxed and comfortable as possible and just try to treat your interview day as a normal school day. For example, I wore what I would normally wear to sixth form, and when I got really nervous between the interviews I ate some McDonald's and listened to my favourite Spotify playlist to make me feel more relaxed and at home. Also, try not to compare yourself to other people you meet at interview or that you see online - if you're comparing everything you know about yourself to the version someone has chosen to put forward anonymously online or to a stranger, it's obviously not going to be an accurate comparison and it's just going to stress your out for no reason.