Psychological And Behavioural Sciences @ Christ's, Cambridge in 2015

Interview format

2x interviews (30 mins)

Interview content

1st: subject based; 2nd: personal

Best preparation

Nature' website; mock interview; Cambridge & Oxford websites

Final thoughts

Enthusiasm & eagerness to learn is key.

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 had two interviews in December, both within the grounds of Christ's College and on the same day. I got to the interview location slightly ahead of time, but wasn't sure whether or not I should knock on the door and enter or wait to be collected, so I obviously ended up several minutes late to the interview (it took that long for the feelings of abandonment to force me to enter).

The first interview lasted about half an hour or so, and was with the Director of Studies of PBS at my college and another woman who I'd never heard of. The first interview was more "academic" and was not very free-structured, with a list of questions that they obviously asked all the students.

After this interview ended, my mum (aka my cheerleader for the day) and I went to have lunch before the second interview. This interview was a lot more "relaxed" (which was so disconcerting for my brain that I freaked out and ended up choking on a sip of water for several minutes), and also had two interviewers, neither of whom I had researched previously. The interview was probably roughly the same amount of time as the first one, but felt like eons when I was trying to desperately stop my spluttering.

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

The first interview with the DoS: I was very nervous but I also felt quite "prepared" because I'd memorised a bunch of recently published scientific articles that I had found fascinating. One of the first questions required me to design two different studies, and after I proudly answered with "correlational study!", my mind went entirely blank. After struggling for a minute or so, and with prodding that was gradually growing less and less polite from my interviewers, I finally suggested an idea which, as I noted, was kind of "erring" on the side of ethics. My interviewers quite liked that a deep consideration of ethics was the reason I had taken so long to suggest this tactic (and not because I was simply an idiot), so I really suggest that even when you're blanking, you describe your thought processes out-loud. Who knows, maybe they'll somehow find it insightful and have no issues with locking up children in a video game dungeon.

Other questions from this interview were logical and also involved reading a graph and being asked to explain the relationship I could see (fun fact: one of my interviewers later became my first year supervisor, and after I'd failed a graph-interpreting exercise, brought up the fact that in the interview I had correctly identified an "interaction" in the lines. I regard this information very suspiciously, because neither in my application year nor my first year of Uni did I ever understand just what on earth an interaction was). The final bit of the interview involved me explaining why I wanted to study the subject.

I left the interview feeling quite positive, because my interviewers (or at least, one of them - the second didn't say a single word - just sat there smiling like a cat) were providing reassuring prods throughout. Ironically, it was the second smiling cat supervisor who I think calmed me down the most, because I took her smiling as sign of her being pleased with my answers.

Floating on the high of believing I had impressed smiling cat lady, I walked into my second interview quite calm (to be honest, overly calm). As my college had told me that the first interview would be academic and the second would be personal, I let my mental faculties take the rest of the day off. The interview started off okay enough, with them asking questions about specific lines I'd written in my personal statement, such as a question about a psychology article I had written for my school newspaper. One question did throw me, and in the moment I felt I couldn't articulate my thoughts. Trying to bide my time, I daintily took a sip of water from my glass, only to have my panicked throat convulse on the droplets instead ("MAYDAY MAYDAY WE'RE BEING ATTACKED BY WATER WEAPONS!"). It was at this point, as I was sputtering loudly in the quiet room as two pairs of eyes started down with pity, that I decided that maybe Cambridge wasn't for me. I didn't manage to regain any scraps of dignity in that interview, and ended it by scurrying out into the corridor where I could finally cough as loudly as my treacherous throat wanted to. I'm pretty sure they could still hear me.

How did you prepare?

I pretty much scoured the Nature website (and DailyMail, which reported the headlines in much more entertaining ways) every couple of days when writing my personal statement. All I did for the interview was ensure that I understood all of the articles I had mentioned and could potentially talk the interviewers through the procedures and findings. On the advice of someone (I can't remember who but will never forgive them), I also memorised the names of all of the article authors. Was several hours of memorisation worth the fleeting stab of pride I got when I said, "and of course, Bob Lawblaw's article on the mice overlords was particularly fascinating..."? Not really, especially because my brain immediately convinced me I'd said not only the name wrong, but also the wrong name.

My school did organise one practise interview with a guidance counsellor (who then proceeded to promptly cancel or not show up to the first several attempts) and as inept as she was, I do believe that having some sort of understanding of what an interview feels like is invaluable. Especially since guidance counsellors are normally not experts in the field you're applying in, so you have the chance to explain certain concepts in a simple way (which is one of the best ways to test if you truly understand something). I also went on the Cambridge and Oxford websites and attempted to answer their past interview questions for Psychology, which gave me a vague idea of what kind of thinking they were looking for.

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

Despite what the website says, I do believe that compatibility plays a role in determining certain offers. My answers were by no means exemplary in either of the interviews, and aside from my passion for my subject and good understanding of IB subjects, I didn't have much going for me. Especially for PBS, where there is a heavy emphasis on eloquence in essay writing, it really pays to make an effort to be pleasant and cordial. This is really hard when you're nervous, but I really recommend just letting your passion shine through as much as you can, even if that means acting like a total dork.

Remember that, unlike the bullies at your school, your interviewers will reward an almost obsessive thirst for knowledge. When I remember my interview, one of my boldest memories is a moment where right after I was asked a question and realised I could figure out the answer, my face broke into the goofiest smile. Although I might be completely wrong, I truly think that supervisors are looking for that sort of attitude towards a subject (along with academic aptitude, obviously).