Helpful insights and top tips: preparing for an interview at the University of Cambridge

by Caitlin Law on 18 November 2019

Wondering how a Cambridge interview works? Read on for our handy guide on what to expect on the day.

The basics

First important point: interviews will take place during the first three weeks of December, so please make sure to keep this period free in your diary! You’ll also need to confirm your attendance with your college.

Usually candidates will have one, two or three interviews (usually two) and you can also have one to three people interviewing you. The interviews will usually last between 20-45 minutes and will be subject-focused. Make sure to read your invitation to interview really carefully as this will tell you all about what to expect.

Aim to get to the interview in plenty of time so you’re not rushing (say about 30 minutes early) and head to the porter’s lodge to let the porters know you’ve arrived. The porter’s lodge is essentially the main reception for each college, and the porters are always really friendly and helpful.

Worried about what to wear? Don’t be! There’s no set dress code, so just wear something you feel confident and comfy in.

What actually happens in the interview?

Interviews are academic, subject-related discussions. Interviewers want to see that you are enthusiastic about your chosen subject and that you have the ability to think critically and analytically. There is usually discussion surrounding topics you’ve studied at school and mentioned in your application. You might also encounter something new you haven’t seen before, and in this case you’ll need to apply your existing knowledge to help you approach the question. What the interviewers are looking for here is your ability to develop an unfamiliar idea.

Some top tips

Listen to the question carefully and give yourself time to think

Your answers need to be relevant to the question you have been asked, so make sure that you are listening properly and try to respond to the question directly. The interview is not a test of how quickly you answer, so try to relax, breathe and give yourself plenty of thinking time. A careful, thoughtful answer will probably be better than a rushed one. It’s also absolutely fine if you need to ask the interviewers a question if you’re not sure about something.

Think aloud

Interviewers want to see that you’re willing to give something a go, even if the answer isn’t obvious at first glance. Try to think aloud and show the interviewers you’re engaging with the material in front of you. If the interviewer gives you some suggestions or some more information, try to use it in your answer. We want to see if you are receptive to teaching and to new ideas or unfamiliar material.

Don’t worry if it gets more difficult!

Interviews will usually get more challenging as they go along, so don’t worry if you need to take a little extra time to think things through. Often there is no single right answer, and what matters is your thinking process.

Finally, remember that the interview is just one part of your application. A super polished, perfect performance is absolutely not what is expected. So take a deep breath and go for it.

Want to learn more?

The main university has lots of info on interviews here

There are also a couple of great videos produced by the university which are definitely worth watching before interview:

Preparing for Interview

The Interview

And FAQs - Undergraduates here.

Best of luck!

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