Physics @ St Hilda's, Oxford in 2017

Interview format

3x 25-40 min Skype interviews, over 2 days

Interview content

Interview 1: physics (mechanics); Interview 2: guided physics derivation; Interview 3: Maths problems

Best preparation

Did physics for fun; took past papers, working on timing and presentation

Advice in hindsight


Final thoughts

Do some physics problems: MIT OCW and Physics Olympiad problems are good.

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: Yes

Interview spread: 2 one day, 1 next day

Length of interviews: 25-40 minutes each

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

My interviews were quite relaxed actually. The interviews were specific to maths and/or physics.

My first interview was mostly Physics, which involved mostly mechanics at the high school level (projectiles with horizontal air drag, relative velocities in non relativistic cases, basic rotational dynamics, etc.) The topics are standard. The questions were not super easy, but were definitely doable. The pressure is also there to perform in front of an audience! But I have to admit that my interviewers (my current tutors) were very chill and tried to ease me when I started exhibiting some panicky behavior!

The second interview took a different turn and decided to make me do some derivation in simple modern physics, which I had no idea about. The point of the interviews are always to check if I can work things out, and not if I know things from my previous education. So this interview was a guided discovery of some basic atomic physics principles.

The third interview was a maths one. It involved some tricky integrals, tricky curve sketching, Taylor expansions to estimate functions, 3D Eucledian / Vector Geometry, etc.

Other than all this, in the first or second interview, we had some small talk about the climate in the UK vs at my home. In the last interview I was asked about Lagrangian Mechanics because I wrote about it in my personal statement. At some point I couldn't answer well since I didn't know much about Lagrangians / Hamiltonians, and that's when we stopped - the interviewer said it's something that I'll learn in my first year, and I did learn a bit!

Overall the interviews were relaxed AND I learnt quite a bit of physics and maths! I definitely knew at that point that I'd want to come to Oxford since the interviews are kind of mimicking the tutorials, although tutorials are less formal I think.

How did you prepare?

I studied Physics and Maths through MIT OCW. Since I didn't go to school for the last two years of my education, OCW and textbooks were my only sources.

I didn't specifically prepare for the PAT until the last month, since I was more into just doing Physics for the sake of fun, which works really well I think!

But in the last month I just did as many past papers as I could, and timing and presentation were things I had to work on.

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

As I said above, MIT OCW was my main resource. Reading about physics is not nearly as useful as actually doing physics - this means problem solving! So the problem sets in OCW, and problems from the past Physics Olympiads are some good resources to learn to do Physics.