Modern And Medieval Languages @ Christ's, Cambridge in 2017

Interview format

2x interviews (25-30 mins). Pre-preparing passages.

Interview content

First interview: Italian focus. Second interview: German focus.

Best preparation

Revising grammar and personal statement; Cambridge official YouTube video on the interview

Final thoughts

Don't worry about getting the answer wrong; think aloud

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

My day started by going into college in the morning and sitting down in a waiting area full of fellow applicants and student helpers who were on hand to provide information, direction, and emotional support to students who were feeling extra nervous before their interview, and also to students who came back from their interview feeling they had completely failed. This was a very common feeling, and the student helpers were really nice and helpful in those instances.

I personally had 2 interviews, one for each language. 30 minutes before each interview I had to go into a preparation room and study a text for half an hour while making notes on it. For my "ab initio", or beginner's language, the text was in English, and for my post A-level language, the text was in the target language. In my opinion, the English text was actually more difficult, as it was more complex, and thus more difficult to grasp what it was about. The respective texts were then discussed in the interviews.

Each interview lasted about 20-30 minutes, I think. Both were "academic" interviews related to the languages I was applying to study. I had 2 interviewers for each interview, and I had about a 1 and a half hour break between the interviews, enough to get lunch in college.

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

My first interview, "ab initio" Italian, started by discussing an English text which I had just spent 30 minutes reading and preparing before the interview. I didn't understand half of it. I wasn't even doing English Literature as part of my A-Levels, so I was very lost. Nevertheless, I had heard that in the interviews you are meant to think out loud, so I just said whatever came to mind. My interviewers actually seemed really interested to hear my ideas, however far-fetched, and I actually enjoyed the experience of being able to discuss a subject with people who were experts in their field.

We also discussed my motivations for studying Italian and language more generally. And they also asked me to read aloud a passage from an Italian poem, just so they could hear how I pronounced the language I guess. I got plenty of pronunciations wrong, and was corrected many times, so I didn't feel too good about that one.

My German 'post A-level' interview was similar in structure. We discussed the German passage I had been set to prepare, and my interviewers also asked me to read it aloud to judge my pronunciation. The reading aloud was the only part that took place in German, the rest was in English. This could be different for everyone though.

I also got plenty of questions about the passage wrong. I think the important thing again was that I thought out loud, and I was able to understand why my answers were wrong. Or something like that.

The rest of the questions centered on my personal statement, and were about stuff like my interest in linguistics (I had said that I was on my personal statement) and what I knew about it.

Both interviews were really relaxed, and while I was obviously very nervous beforehand, my interviewers made me feel at ease, and I came out having actually enjoyed the experience, even though I was equally convinced I hadn't gotten in.

How did you prepare?

I didn't really do too much to prepare, other than revising grammar and making sure I had read the books on my personal statement. I had an admissions test after the interview, and the grammar really came in handy there, even though I could have done with revising vocab too (I forgot the word for author in a task that asked me to write about the author's opinion lol). One thing I did find helpful though, was watching YouTube videos about the interviews. Cambridge has a video titled "the interview" which was really helpful.

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

The interviewers are not expecting you to know the answer. Like, at all. At least for my subject. What they are most interested in is seeing how you think, and whether you are teachable. So, when you get an answer wrong, are you able to take in the right answer and the feedback and understand why you were wrong.

The number one piece of advice I would give prospective students is to think out loud. Say whatever comes to mind, even if you think it's ridiculous and stupid. Because if the interviewers don't know how and what you're thinking, they're also not able to help you.

It's also important to remember that the interview is only one part of the application process, and it's really difficult to tell how it went afterwards. Just try to enjoy the experience. Afterall you get to have a discussion with leading experts in a field that interests you, make the best out of it!