Modern And Medieval Languages @ Newnham, Cambridge in 2020

Interview format

MML at-interview assessment; 2x interviews.

Interview content

Interview 1 (ab initio Spanish): discussion of a translated pre-reading, the personal statement, and linguistics. Interview 2 (French): discussion of a French pre-reading, some questions in French.

Best preparation

Going over texts/films mentioned in the personal statement; searching for others' Oxbridge interview questions online.

Test preparation

Look at past papers and specimen papers; practice grammar in the language you are already learning.

Final thoughts

Try to enjoy the process and show your enthusiasm and interest in the subject.

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: MML at-interview assessment
Number of interviews: 2
Time between interviews: First was around 9am; the second around 4pm.
Length of interviews: Each interview had 20 minutes of pre-interview reading and 30 minutes of the actual interview
Online interview: Yes

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

Both my interviews started with a discussion on the pre-reading I was given 20 minutes beforehand - I applied for French and ab initio Spanish so my French pre-reading was in French and my Spanish text was an English translation of a Spanish one. The questions were about the general gist of the text, what I thought about it etc, there was no expectation to use specialist terms (same goes for the admissions test). My Spanish interview then moved onto a more general discussion about texts I'd mentioned on my personal statement, and then finally a more linguistics-based conversation (this was the only part in which the second interviewer asked questions). This interview was largely for Spanish but some more French-related aspects of my personal statement did get mentioned, and I wasn't expecting this but it went okay! I genuinely enjoyed my first interview, it wasn't anywhere near as intimidating as I thought it might be and it made me excited to study Spanish more.

My second interview felt a bit more intense as it was just with one interviewer and I felt very stretched by the questions, but the conversation was interesting! I struggled more with the French pre-reading as it was in French and quite tricky, but once I'd spoken about it a bit and translated a small section (or at least attempted to), the interviewer moved on. I then got asked some questions in French and finally some questions in English about what I'd said in French, as well as some other topics. The conversation took some unexpected turns and I felt very out of my depth but I think that was the aim. I remember feeling quite disheartened after my second interview and thinking there's no way I'd get an offer, but I did, so it can't have been that bad! Most people tend to remember the worst parts of their interviews and think they've gone badly - it's easier said than done but try not to think over your interviews too much once you've done them as it's really hard to tell how they actually went!

How did you prepare for your interviews?

A good starting place was making a list of everything I'd mentioned in my personal statement and going over the texts/films etc. so I'd be comfortable talking about them (a couple of things I mentioned did get brought up at interview so this was helpful preparation!)

I also googled 'Oxbridge languages interview questions' and a website came up with a LOT of questions, most of which seemed really 'out there' and scary. I had a go at thinking about/talking through answers to these which was fairly helpful, though it's important to note that Oxbridge interview questions often get taken out of context, i.e. they'll often come at the end of a long conversation but end up on websites/in newspaper headlines in ways that give the impression that the first question you'll get asked in an interview is a really abstract one! From my experience, that wasn't the case, and the best preparation I did was looking over things related to my A-Level subjects, my personal statement and my general academic interests.

What I didn't do enough of was looking at unseen material related to the subject e.g. literary extracts because a decent part of both interviews was talking about unseen texts so I think I'd have been more confident if I'd practiced that a bit more!

If you took a test, how did you prepare?

There are some specimen papers on the Cambridge website so I looked at them, the mark scheme, then had a go (at first not worrying much about timed conditions, then building up to timed conditions). One of my French teachers very kindly offered to look over my grammar for the French section but honestly any grammar practice you can do is helpful. I'd say the main useful thing though is trying out the past papers because it's a tricky test to go about preparing for but the sample papers are the best example of what you might come across in the actual test.

What advice would you give to future applicants?

Try to enjoy it! The application process can feel overwhelming and scary at points but on the whole, it's a chance to learn more about your subject and (if you get an interview) chat about it with experts! I lacked confidence throughout the application process, thinking there's no chance I'd get an offer (even though I put an unhealthy amount of pressure on myself to do just that). The application process is far from the be all and end all, but whether you get an offer or not, it can be really rewarding so be proud of yourself for getting through it and try to appreciate the opportunity. I reckon the interviewers can tell if you're genuinely interested in the subject so don't be afraid to let that come across - once I settled into my interviews, I quite happily nerded out on some interesting things that got mentioned and those were probably my favourite parts.