Human Sciences @ St Catherine's, Oxford in 2019

Interview format

2x interviews; Thinking Skills Assessment

Interview content

Interview 1: interpreting a graph; Interview 2: unrelated questions

Best preparation

Annotated personal statement with extra research on topics mentioned

Final thoughts

Research the application process beforehand to plan your time.

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: Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA)
Number of interviews: 2
Time between interviews: 2 days
Length of interviews: One hour each
Online interview: Yes

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

In my first interview, I had two interviewers and they each showed me a graph and then asked me to interpret it. They then told me some more information and asked me questions about it. The questions were both things that I wasn't supposed to have any prior knowledge on, I think they just wanted to see how I thought. They just let me talk, for the most part, I tried to stick to some advice I had read about using phrases like 'my first thought would be...' or 'I think one way you could look at it..' because then it meant that I could say 'alternatively you could also say...' which just allowed me to explore different perspectives and give longer answers. They also asked me if I had recently read anything linked to my course, and then they just kept prompting me to expand on what I was saying.

In my second interview, they asked me many random questions that I did my best to answer. If I got stuck they gave me a few hints to guide me in the right direction. I would say don't be afraid to ask for clarification! I did this quite a few times as sometimes I just didn't quite get what they were getting at with their questions, I said 'umm sorry I'm just thinking...' and the interviews were always like 'Of course! Take your time!'. Also, just try to keep going even if you think it's going terribly. About halfway through my second interview I was convinced that I had crashed and burned but they were the ones who gave me on offer so you really do never know! My interviews were online and had a few technical issues e.g. I had a lag in the video which were quite offputting. One of my biggest regrets was not telling them that, as I think they would have been a very understanding. Apart from things like that, it was fine really. It's quite cheesy but I think they really did try to put me at ease with just some chat at the start and stuff like that. They do ask some tough questions and it is challenging but it doesn't feel like they are trying to catch you out. I think it felt more like they were playing the devil's advocate for literally everything and always pressing for me to think about another side of whatever I said but not in a grilling way. Basically: they are like a discussion, not an interrogation. Once the interview starts it's wasn't so scary and I found myself relaxing.

How did you prepare for your interviews?

As I was abroad, I wasn't able to have mock interviews or practise talking to anyone about the course/ my personal statement and I think these would have helped. Instead, I broke down each sentence of my personal statement and expanded on what I meant so that if I was asked about it. I did research into the bigger topics I mentioned and wrote a list of questions that I thought someone could ask me purely based on my personal statement. This helped me feel more confident. I also looked at current events and read a few articles on linked topics that caught my interest. I then looked at all the information about the course on the different websites so that I would know what I was talking about and be able to answer any questions about why I wanted to study it or which parts I found most interesting. I watched a few YouTube videos by Oxbridge and by other people on their interview experiences, but I didn't do this too much as I found that there were also a lot of articles and videos etc that made it sound very intimidating and scary which wasn't helpful (or true!).

If you took a test, how did you prepare?

I did as many past papers as I could and watched youtube advice videos/googled advice, there were a few by people who mark the exams which were really helpful - I think Jesus College, Oxford has a few videos on the TSA. I then found that I was spending too much time on the math questions so I then spent some time going over things like times tables to help speed up. I would definitely advise trying past papers under time conditions.

What advice would you give to future applicants?

I think I would say to remember that the interviews are more looking for your potential and how you think, rather then looking to test how many facts or articles you can regurgatate. Other advice I would give would be to make sure you find out what your application process is going to look like (e.g. written work, an exam etc) and the deadlines as soon as possible. Then you can make sure to plan out your time and make sure you don't have any panics. If someone was trying to decide whether or not to apply, I would say just to go for it. I was nearly put off by the whole stereotype about Oxbridge and the application process but I promise that its really not like that. I was also convinced that I wasn't clever enough because I thought Oxbridge was only for absolute geniuses, so if this is something you are worried about you aren't alone and you should definitely still go for it.