How to be successful in University Interviews
Updated: Dec 1, 2020
Let me preface by saying that these interviews are not the be all and end all of your application and success is subjective. If you come out of your interview thinking (as I did) that it went absolutely terribly, as hard as it sounds, try not to stress because they will not solely determine whether you get in or not.
Nevertheless, they are important as this is the chance for your chosen universities to see the face behind the personal statement (see my post on personal statements for help on how to write one!). It can be daunting and that's normal. To help ease that worry, my friends and I have put together some of our tips and advice to help you make the most of your university interview.
*This advice is given from the perspective of Oxbridge interviewees however can be applied to all other universities.*
Your interviewers don't expect you to know the answer to every single question they ask, and it is okay to get things wrong. What is more important is how you reach your answer, they want to see the way you think.
Whether you know the answer or not, always speak through how you are getting there and reaching certain conclusions. You need to be prepared to talk through your reasoning and methodology regardless of if you are right or wrong!
Always pause before you answer. It is so easy to just say the first thing that comes to mind such that when they do ask you about how you get there, it becomes harder to find a reason other than "it was the first thing that came to mind." This is especially important for those of you attending Oxbridge interviews because the questions you will get asked can be very obscure and the pressure of trying to make sure you say the right thing can cloud your judgement.
When you get asked one of these questions and you have no idea how to answer, ask your interviewers if you can take a moment to think. Someone once told me to always think out loud if not you will be sat there in an awkward silence which is honestly the last thing you want. This way, they can hear your reasoning and it helps them understand why you came to a certain conclusion. In my interviews, I must have asked at least 3 times if I could take a moment before I answered and I think the interviewers appreciate you carefully trying to come up with an answer whether it is right or wrong.
If you are unable to reach an answer, say so, then explain what you were thinking in regard to the question and how far you could get before you got stuck. Never reply with "I don't know" and leave it at that. You are better of saying "I am not sure, but this is what I was thinking...." as it presents to the interviewers that are you prepared to tackle challenging issues and work through problems which is the essence of your university degree.
Don't be afraid to ASK QUESTIONS. I cannot stress this enough. As I said, they really do not expect you to know the answer to every question they ask you, so ask questions when you do find yourself confused. It can be easy to think that you don't want to come across as "stupid”, but this does the opposite. It shows your curiosity and determination to get through a question as opposed to struggling and getting nowhere and they will have no issue in pointing you in the right direction. As interviews in Oxbridge are supposed to mirror tutorials and supervisions, your interviewers will understand and appreciate this as that is what they will spend a lot of their time doing.
Don't read too much into your interviewers’ facial expressions. I was so guilty of this and at times it through me off when I was answering a question. Once you have thought about an answer talk through how you got there confidently and wait for a response. Don't anticipate that you may be wrong just because of what your interviewers look like because for all you know, they may not even be paying attention to you but to what they're going to eat after this interview is over. Honestly, you never know.
Don't cram before your interview - Whilst it is important to know your personal statement inside and out and issues surrounding the ideas you have covered in your statement, but you can only be so prepared. You will never be 100% there and that is the unknown nature of interviews. Space out your preparation and you will be in a better position to remember anything you want to bring up.
Keep up with current affairs surrounding your degree. For example, as a law student this means following the news or having some idea about Brexit and the continuing legal challenges and consequences it poses as we continue though the transition stage and after we leave. As a medicine student, the advancements in the Coronavirus and the vaccine. You can never anticipate what you will get asked so having an awareness of current affairs put you in a good position to talk about what you have come across.
For STEM, Geography and Medicine students have a look at https://www.sciencedaily.com/
Keep up with legal stories in the news including Brexit, Coronavirus legislations, high profile court cases (Johnny Depp v News Group Newspapers Ltd (The Sun) for example)
Remember to think logically and coherently if you are asked a problem question. Tackle one issue at a time and then at the end talk about factors that may affect your answers.
Think with common sense and as blunt as this sounds it is true since most law interviews do not require you to have prior knowledge of the law. Therefore, a lot of the questions you may be asked require you to use your common sense. You don't need to know the law to argue why the death penalty should not be implemented against those who park on double yellow lines or why we shouldn't impose a law that states that everyone has to follow a certain religion.
If you are given a piece of legislation before your interview, read it carefully and at least twice through before you start writing anything to make sure you have a clear overview of what the law is saying here. Annotate it and underline key words that if interpreted differently, can alter the meaning of the law. Look at words such as "and" / "or" and what that may mean in regard to the legislation.
Medicine Students and STEM students
Know your A-Level content. If there is anything you are unsure about, before your interview, ask for clarity from your teachers because often in interviews, you are asked questions that build on your A-Level content. Be prepared however to have to apply your knowledge to unknown scenarios rather than recall it so don't be thrown off if you see something you have never seen before.
When you are asked to solve written problem, talk out loud as you are answering and go as far as you can until you really are stuck. It shows commitment to work through tough problems and when you reach that stage where you cannot continue any further ask questions as your interviewers will be keen to push you in the right direction.
Have a look at sample questions online and practice them because that is essentially what will make up a huge part of your interview. Remember however that although they will be testing the same skills, there is a high possibility that they will look very different to the ones you will actually be asked at interview.
When it comes to interview etiquette, there is nothing more I can add onto what you may have already heard before:
Smile, be passionate and interact with interviewers
Be as open and as confident as possible
One thing I will mention is that the interviewers understand that this can be an intimidating process and that we are human. They will never aim to trip you up so be confident in your answers regardless of if they are right or wrong as long as you can explain your reasoning behind what you have said. Whilst confidence is good, over-confidence isn't so be prepared to accept where you are wrong and move on from it, trying not to let it affect the rest of your interview.
You don't have to ask any questions at the end but if you want to, that is equally fine. Make sure to research your interviewers so that you know if any questions you have are not within their specific area of expertise.
Lastly, trust the process. Be proud of yourself for getting an interview because regardless of the outcome of your interview it is an experience to gain new knowledge, skills or just a different perspective so try and make the most out of it. If you don't get an offer from the university you wanted, that doesn't mean you're not smart or good enough, rather that you are not the best fit for them, as cliche as it might sound, and this does not have any bearing on your intelligence. Not everyone is suited to the tutorial or supervision styles you find at Oxbridge and you might find yourself happier somewhere else down the line.
All the Best!!
Hi, I'm Aba and I started The Student Scope to give other students advice on their academic journey. Have a look around and enjoy!