Physics @ Somerville, Oxford in 2018

Interview format

3x 20-30 min interviews, over 3 days

Interview content

Interview 1: technical questions; Interview 2: motivation, (technical) questions; Interview 3: technical questions

Best preparation

Practice papers,, Isaac Physics, formulas

Advice in hindsight

Let the interviewers know what you're thinking

Final thoughts

Read about interview process on uni website; go to college pre-interview day if possible; don't worry!

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: PAT

Number of interviews: 3

Skype interview: No

Time between each interview: 1 day

Length of interviews: 20-30 minutes each

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

My first interview had one older professor and two PhD students, I think. They each had just one question for me. I had some big Numberphile-looking brown paper on the desk for me to do my work on, which was nice. The questions were cool and the interviewers were super chill about me asking questions and thinking out loud. That's my number one tip - think out loud. They will appreciate your ideas and help steer you in the right direction. The first question I really liked, cool integration (but I forgot +c). For the second question I forgot the easy formula, but that was OK, they told me. The older professor's question was the hardest for me and I didn't really get it, but he helped me out. I still didn't get it, so he gave me a basic version so I could end on a high.

The second interview had two professors, I think. They were running late so I had to sit outside for 30 mins - not ideal, but I don't think it happened a lot. I don't remember the questions really but there were only one or two long ones. they also asked at the start about my interests in physics, so I talked about my EPQ, but it was just an ice breaker; I guess it doesnt really matter as long as you seem interested. There was one cool question about the olympics and I got it but then I made a joke about it as the interview ended and it didn't really land, so I'm glad they didn't hold it against me.

My last interview was at a different college. A student took me there and I had to wait in a room with not enough seats. Like for all the interviews, a student then took me to the exact room, but this one was up lots of stairs. This interview had one cool professor guy with a beard and one silent lady on a laptop. This just had one or two questions as well, and I dont really know how it went.

All the interviews were enjoyable and the interviewers were all friendly. I think physics professors are probably the most awkward and unintimidating of any department. I was pretty calm overall and just tried to have fun with the interesting questions. 

How did you prepare?

Practice papers are the one to be honest. The uni website had lots of PAT papers but no answers (shaking my head), but had all the PAT tests with their answers so that was much better.

Isaac Physics is also a shout - they have good questions but don't explain the answers if you don't get it wrong. Also check what formulas you need to know, but that should be fine.

What advice do you have for future applicants?

If I had to give advice, then I'd say to be enthusiastic and let the interviewers know what you are thinking. Everyone says dumb stuff, so don't worry about getting it wrong. Listen to them as well, because they won't want to teach you if you don't. I was most worried about them asking why I wanted to do physics, but thankfully that didn't happen. The interviewers stuck to the maths and physics questions and that's what they care about. Remember you probably know more than you think and they will be more than happy to help you in there. Good luck!

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

I didn't do any mock interviews and nobody at my school really knew what goes on. I'd say: definitely read what the uni website says about interviews and how they work. An outreach officer from Cambridge did visit our school to talk to us, but that didn't really help, as I knew most of the process already.

The best thing I did to prepare was go to a pre-interview day at the college. This was only for state school students and it was before we knew if we even had an interview. It was good to see the college before interview, as I hadn't seen it on the open day. The best thing on the day was a mock physics interview with a professor and current student. This showed what a typical question could be and showed how you can interact with the interviewer. This was very reassuring, especially because both the student and the professor struggled with the question. There was also a chance to ask questions to the physics student and she was very helpful. If you get invited to an event like this, it is for sure worth going, even if you dont think your test went well.

In the run up to interview I didn't do too much. I made sure to bring my formula sheet and look at it before each interview, but even then it wasn't that important. I didn't want to spend my time at the college just in my room cramming and I don't think that would have been at all useful.

I think the real interviews were very similar to the casual mock interview I watched and I knew what they wanted based on what I had heard and read. There is good information online and mock interviews on YouTube. I had a mini interview before as well, so I knew I would be OK with speaking in the interview. But lots of people will be super anxious and not come across as well as possible. I think you can prepare for this by speaking to other strangers and maybe explaining physics things to your classmates. The tutors will be aware of this, though, so you dont need to be nervous about coming across as nervous.

On the uni website there should be a list of the topics that could come up in a test or interview, so just make sure you know about each of them. You should be ok and just skim any topics you might have forgotten a bit.

I think there is a perception that Oxford interview questions are super weird and abstract, but that's not true. Questions will be similar to your test questions, but a bit longer and with people there to help. You don't need to be an expert on everything. They want you to learn something new with them. Just make sure you know what will happen and what is expected of you. There is loads of information out there and that helped me feel good when I walked into the interviews.