Oxbridge Interview Technique Tips


Rowan Wright

Good interview technique can transform a mediocre interview into one which the interviewer will fondly remember. The following list is by no means exhaustive, but this advice provides a robust starting point for developing your technique.

Think Aloud

You might be reluctant to share your ideas with the interviewer until they are fully formed, and this feeling can be intensified by a fear of saying something wrong and looking silly. However, interviewers want to be able to see how you form your thoughts in real time, including your ability to correct yourself when you go down the wrong path. It’s essential to practise talking through your thought process when solving difficult problems, whether with a friend, teacher, or in a more formal mock interview.

Don’t Panic!

Some interviewers will design their questions such that they can be made progressively harder until even the very strongest students get stuck, though the extent to which this rather extreme practice occurs is overblown by some sources. In any case, interview questions are designed to be hard, and it’s important not to panic when stuck. It’s best to try and convey enthusiasm and, as much as possible, show excitement and enjoyment at grappling with a difficult problem.

Respond to Suggestions

As well as testing your problem solving ability, interviewers are looking to see whether you respond well to the small group style teaching used by Oxford and Cambridge, called tutorials at the former and supervisions at the latter. It is very important that you listen carefully to any hints given by the interviewer and respond to them well. Even if you would like to do the problem a different way, you run the risk of irritating the interviewer if you do not seem responsive to their advice.

Identify Connections

Just like in MAT and STEP questions, interview questions often comprise multiple parts, which are generally connected to each other. It may be that a later part of the interview question requires you to use a result you found earlier in the problem, or it may just be that certain ideas or techniques need to be reapplied. As in an exam question, one of the best things to do when stuck is to consider whether the earlier parts of the question might prove helpful.

Enjoy it!

Stressful though it may be, your interview presents a rare opportunity to discuss some interesting problems with world-leading experts in the field you wish to study, so try to enjoy yourself!