Human, Social And Political Science @ Emmanuel, Cambridge in 2014

Interview format

2x interviews (2 interviewers in each)

Interview content

Interview 1: general motivations, personal statement, Extended Essay, source-based discussion; Interview 2: work experience, personal statement, Extended Essay, unseen reading

Best preparation

Mock interview; practise speaking aloud; wider reading

Final thoughts

Think about the question for a few seconds before responding; it's ok to change your opinion

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 got to the college a day before my interview and they gave me free accommodation. I had two interviews. No tests but had to send in two essays before the interview. I had two interviewers for both interviews, all from the college. One was supposedly called a personal statement interview and the other a general one, but I felt the content was quite similar.

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

Interview 1 (General):

They first described the format of the interview we discussed my motivations for studying HSPS. I mentioned Enlightenment thinkers in my personal statement and we discussed their influences and applicability more broadly. We also talked about human rights and gender inequality, which I had written about in my Personal Statement as well my IB Extended Essay.

There was a discussion on the imposition of cultural values and cultural imperialism. They then showed me a bird's-eye view map of an ancient civilisation, and asked questions relating to methodology and what ideas the picture might give us about the society that lived there. I changed my mind and answers at this point; they guided me and prompted me as to what could help me explain it.

Then a picture of a statue and questions exploring the possible motivations of the people who had created it. I had no previous knowledge of Archaeology but I think it's fine as long as you try to be perceptive.

I had to read an article which I was asked to summarise, comment on the validity of the arguments and comment on what surprised/interested me.

Interview 2 (Personal Statement):

Questions on work experience and the influence of politics on our daily lives. There was also a discussion around my Extended Essay about colonial legacies.

There was a reading on a subject about which I didn't have much knowledge, and I didn't fully understand the text so I tried to divert the focus of this to something I knew. Again I was asked to summarise the article then comment on what surprised me, which I was challenged on too.

How did you prepare?

I had a mock interview organised by my school but I think the best preparation is just to practice speaking about the topics that interest you and some that you are unfamiliar with. I practiced speaking to myself a lot in the few months leading up to the interview and I think that definitely gave me confidence in there. For HSPS, I found it useful to read articles/op-eds on current affairs, Foreign Affairs magazine etc.

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

Interviewers are there to guide you and help you, so engage with them. Think about why they are asking the particular questions they are asking. It's completely fine to take a few seconds to think before you rush into answering a question - that helped a lot! It's also okay to change your opinion in the middle of a discussion as long as you can explain why. In some cases, they might prefer that as it shows that you respect other peoples' views and take their explanations seriously. I think it also shows that you are 'teachable' in supervisions.