Music @ Murray Edwards, Cambridge in 2017

Interview format

Written test at interview; 2x interviews

Interview content

Interview 1: discussion of prepared extracts; Interview 2: general motivations, reasons for A Level choices

Best preparation

Read Nicholas Cook's 'Music: A Very Short Introduction'.

Advice in hindsight


Final thoughts

Remember the interviewers are assessing how you use new information

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: written test at interview

Number of interviews: 2

Skype interview: no

Time between interviews: 30 minutes

Length of first interview: 30-45 minutes; Length of second interview: 30-45 minutes

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

My first interview was a subject interview. In advance of this interview, there was an hour long test where I was given a short song and an extract from a book - I was told to prepare to talk about these materials, and was allowed to make notes that I could take into the interview. So the basis of the interview was discussing what I thought about the piece and the extract of text. At first they allowed me to discuss what points I had made about the piece, then followed these with more specific questions. The case was the same with the extract of text, but the questions meant I had to think about the application of what I'd read about in other pieces of music. The final part of the interview, far more casually, was asking about my qualifications. Despite being two interviewers, only one was talking, and the other taking notes, which made it feel less intense. They were very happy to re-phrase any questions that I didn't quite understand (which really helped me give the best answers I could), and explain principles if I said I didn't understand. It was a surprisingly chilled and enjoyable interview (really more of a chat than anything else, as the questions didn't seem to be pre-set). I actually came out of it wanting to do it again!

My second interview was more general, with an admissions tutor. There was a bit of subject-related discussion, which I wasn't expecting and threw me off at first, but once I'd got rid of my expectations, it was far easier to respond to the questions. After this, it was more a discussion about my A Levels, my favourite topics within them and what use they had for Music. This was also a fairly chill interview - its purpose seemed to be to get a feel for my personality and how I thought in a less academic-based discussion. Once I relaxed into it, it was also very enjoyable and I left the room smiling!

How did you prepare?

I prepared by re-reading all the content of my Personal Statement to make sure I knew it, plus general history documentaries such as those on Beethoven, Mozart, etc. Going to a Subject Masterclass at Cambridge, if you get the opportunity, was good for information, but more for having an insight into the way that they teach. One of the most useful resources I used was Nicholas Cook's 'Music: A Very Short Introduction'. As the title suggests, it is incredibly short (129 pages of actual reading), but very good at making you think in a more analytical way about music, and covers a lot of ground that you can then research further. Reading this was definitely the most useful thing I did, as I think it makes you think differently to the way you do for A Levels - something which makes the interview way of thinking less of a step. Because I had said in my personal statement that my biggest interest was in music history, I made sure that I would be confident to talk about a couple of areas in some detail. I mostly achieved this through overview documentaries: Howard Goodall's Story of Music (can be found on YouTube) was quite useful, and again, I read more into the areas that interested me (just using books available in my local library, or even Wikipedia!).

What advice do you have for future applicants?

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

Looking back, I am pretty pleased with my preparation, though would perhaps brush up on my music theory a little more than I did. In terms of mindset, I am very glad that I went in with very little idea of what was going to happen - the interviewers are looking for someone who can think openly and quickly adapt to new information, and I think this would have been a lot harder if I'd gone in with set expectations. I didn't get to have a mock interview before the actual interview, which I think might have been quite useful, just to prove that it is not a scary experience, so I could've been a bit less terrified going into it! But not having a mock interview is definitely not the end of the world. I think the most important thing is just to go into it with a positive, open mind, and remember that being wrong doesn't mean you won't be offered a place - the interviewers are assessing what you do with the new information, and how well you adapt to this. At the end of the day, the interviewers are looking for people that they want to teach - so if you are friendly, smile, and are polite and pleasant to talk to, then they're going to be more likely to consider you!