Best Oxbridge Interview Tips (Part III) – How?

Have you got an interview? It’s a huge achievement if you have and well done!
If you haven’t; please don’t be too disappointed. The level of competition is fierce. Forget Oxbridge for now and focus on your A levels (or equivalent). If you get all A stars, you can always consider applying next year. A different college may offer a greater chance of success so don’t forget to contact us on [email protected] and we can give you advice.

Oxbridge Interview Tips

We have discussed the “who, when, where and what?” of interviews and this week, we’re turning our attention to the “how?”. How are you going to ace your interviews? What are the tutors looking for? This is a sales job to a great extent and the product is you and that mighty brain of yours. An interview is your chance to shine and we don’t mean that in an arrogant way. You have a c. 20-minute opportunity to prove to a particular tutor (or two or three tutors) that you are worthy of a place at Oxford or Cambridge University and will be a pleasure to teach. Impress the tutors with your knowledge of and passion for your chosen subject. Read around your subject as this will show your enthusiasm; remember that academics absolutely LOVE their subject. They’ve made this their life’s work so show them that you share their passion.

The most important thing to remember about the Oxbridge interview process is that you should treat it like a mock tutorial. 

Don’t be afraid to argue your point – tutors want to see that you have conviction in your point of view. Some tutors will argue hard whereas others won’t. Don’t worry if you think you’ve said something stupid; almost everyone does. Back up your ideas with evidence, but be intellectually flexible in your ideas, and willing to take your argument in a new direction. That shows teachability which is very important.

  • If you don’t know the answer; don’t panic. If you haven’t read a particular author or come across a particular equation – that is fine. Show a willingness to learn, however.
  • If you haven’t heard of something, don’t shut the question down by simply saying you don’t know. Think your workings out loud. Give it a go. The tutors that interview you want you to succeed: they have invited you to interview because they think that you have the capability to flourish under the tutorial/supervision system that Oxbridge offers, and this is your chance to prove your suitability
  • Revise your personal statement. You are highly likely to be asked a question on something that you have mentioned in your personal statement, and so this is an easy area to prepare for in advance. If you have said something controversial, practice backing up your argument.
  • Re-read the texts that you have mentioned and maybe even come up with new ideas about them.
cambridge interview

Your Oxbridge interview will inevitably be nerve-wracking, and it is okay and completely normal to be nervous.

Try not to let your nerves impair your enthusiasm for your chosen subject, but also remember that the tutors have been in your position before, and so they understand just how nervous you are, and will be understanding of this. You may even (and I know this sounds ridiculous) enjoy aspects of the interview. You may be speaking to the world leading authority on something you find fascinating. What an opportunity!

How to calm and reduce pre-interview nerves:

  • Be ready ahead of time. Get dressed, load the interview meeting link and prepare yourself well before the interview start time. Nothing is worse than rushing around when you’re already stressed and being ready early gives you breathing room in case anything goes wrong.
  • Get a good night’s sleep the day before. If you’re sleep-deprived, you may find it harder to think clearly and you may be prone to feeling more anxious. 
  • Eat a filling, healthy meal beforehand. Give your brain the power it needs and make sure you aren’t worried about your stomach rumbling in the middle of your interview! If you’ve lost your appetite, try to eat some light fruits or a smoothie. Avoid having too much caffeine- it can make you feel more jittery and anxious if you overdo it. 
  • Try some positive self-talk. Rather than telling yourself you are nervous and scared for the interview, shift your mindset and tell yourself you are happy and excited to get a chance to speak to an Oxbridge tutor. Some people find saying positive affirmations out loud is a great way to give yourself a confidence and energy boost.
  • Breathe deeply and slowly. When we are stressed, our breathing gets shallower and faster, which in turn increases our heart rate and activates our fight or flight response! Instead, try counting to 5 with each inhale and exhale until you feel more relaxed. This will also help you speak more slowly and clearly. 
  • Try meditation. Meditation is a scientifically proven method to reduce anxiety and improve focus. A brief meditation can help you block out distractions and gain a confidence boost before your interview starts. 
  • Plan something fun for afterwards. Once your interview is done, treat yourself and do something you enjoy- maybe go for a walk, go see a friend, or watch your favourite movie. Try to step away from what has just happened and be proud of yourself for making it through your interview!


Your academic capabilities need to shine through most, but remember that the tutors interviewing you are likely to be teaching you for the next three years, and thus you need to be likeable too. That doesn’t mean you need to clown around or be desperate to please but be yourself. Smile! It will relax you. Just because you want to study at a serious academic institution doesn’t mean you have to be dour.

There are many more great interview tips that you can find under Insider Info on our website along with practice questions for your particular course. If you haven’t yet bought membership for your course, please feel free to do so. 


You can use the discount code LASTMIN for 50% off Optimal membership. If you encounter any problems at all (or have a question), please contact us on [email protected]

Oxbridge Interviews Part II – What?

oxford university

Last week, we discussed the “who, when and where?” of interviews and this week, we’re turning our attention to the “what?”.

What is going to happen at your Oxbridge interview?

Interview style and format differs from subject to subject but there are certain aspects in common. You are likely to be interviewed more than once and you may well be interviewed by another college if you applied to Oxford University. You will be interviewed online (unless you are UK-based and applied to Trinity College, Cambridge). The content and format of the interview will be exactly the same as if you were face-to-face.  

 You will be interviewed by a tutor or tutors (supervisors in Cambridge). Sometimes there will be one interviewer, sometimes there will be one interviewer asking questions, and one taking notes. If you have expressed an interest in a particular field that another tutor is an expert in, they may sit in on the interview. Sometimes there will be a panel of interviewers. Don’t worry about the set up, and try not to second guess your interviewer’s reactions. One of the owners of Optimal Oxbridge was told that she didn’t understand a poem in her interview, and she left in tears. She later gained a place at her chosen college.  

What tools do I need?

Cambridge University uses Zoom or Whereby and Oxford uses Teams. Whilst you don’t need to be an expert in these applications, do make sure the computer or device you intend to use works with them. You need a webcam and microphone (often built-in), and headphones might be useful. Make sure you have tested all of your hardware, that you have a good internet connection (turn off other applications and, if applicable and possible, ask others in your house/building not to use the internet during your interview. You should have a pen and paper with you in case you need to show any workings.  

Some subjects may need you to show workings, so a tablet and stylus would be ideal (this is less applicable to the Humanities).  There are alternatives so don’t panic if you don’t have a tablet. Oxford splits subjects into 3 tiers according to the tech you need for your interview. Most Humanities subjects are Tier 1 and you simply need the hardware for video conferencing. Some sciences including Biology, Biomedical Sciences, Medicine and Materials Sciences are Tier 1.  

Some subjects (see the bottom of this article for which subjects are in which tier) are Tier 2 and they require an interactive virtual whiteboard via access to the Miro website (it’s free), so you can get some experience of using the whiteboard.  The tutors interviewing you may paste to the Miro whiteboard or use it to write or draw on. You are unlikely to need to write out any complex mathematical notations although you may well need to show workings.  

Most Sciences are Tier 3 (see the list at the bottom of this article) and they require an interactive virtual whiteboard and a touchscreen device (separate from the device you’re using for the interview itself) you can use for handwriting via a stylus. The touchscreen device should have a screen that’s at least 8 inches. You may well use your stylus for writing out mathematical notations or sketch a diagram. These should all be practiced many times so you’re familiar with the technology and it doesn’t faze you. That way, you can focus on having a conversation with the tutors rather than worrying about how to get Miro to work.  

 If you don’t have access to the requisite technology, talk to your school first as they can often help. If they can’t help or you are not at school, contact the Admissions Office of your college.    

What if things go wrong?

 At Oxford, you will be invited to each interview via a calendar invite which has the link you need for the interview. At the time of your interview, you click on this and wait in the virtual interview waiting lobby until the actual interview. If something does go awry with the tech, such as your internet connection going down, or the interactive whiteboard not working, don’t worry. You can hold workings up to the camera or the college will rearrange the interview. Such issues may seem the end of the world at the time, but the tutors and admissions team are human, and they know that things can go wrong under such circumstances. You would not be penalized for anything tech related.  

 Sometimes you may be ‘pooled’ to another college (which means that you will also have a set of interviews at another college). Some subjects pool every candidate so that they are interviewed by at least two colleges. Others don’t, and only certain students are pooled. Don’t overthink this. Being pooled does not necessarily mean anything about the strength of your performance in interview, but it may reflect that a college has a high number of applicants, and so they are ‘sharing’ their applicants with another college. It may be that all applicants are pooled. If you were being interviewed at college, you would get to meet the other candidates and you would know if all or some were being pooled. You’re in isolation with online interviews so don’t ruminate on anything since it’s impossible to know.  

What will I be asked?

What are you going to be asked? Take a look at the sample questions under the “Course Insider Info” page(email us on [email protected] if you need any assistance in finding these pages). There are plenty of actual interview questions there to practice with your teachers and your peers and even friends and family. The faculty pages often give advice too and you can find links to these on the relevant Course page. You will often be given a problem or some pre-reading before at least one of your interviews, so it is worth being prepared for that. With pre-reading, you will probably first be asked what you understood from the passage/poem/political cartoon/historical source etc. After that, the conversation will flow from there as the tutor asks you analytical questions about the piece.    

In your Oxbridge interview, you are also highly likely to be asked questions based on your Personal Statement, so re-read your PS. What would you ask you based on your PS? You might be asked what have you read recently and whilst you might have been reading an interesting but lightweight novel, we suggest that you talk about something subject related (unless your subject is English, but then make sure the novel is a little more highbrow). We will talk more about how to answer these questions next week. 

What else can I do to prepare?

One thing a lot of candidates really worry about it what to wear. In the long and distant past, everyone wore a suit and tried to look business like. This is not necessary at all. Wear what you’re comfortable in, although I suggest you draw the line at gym gear.  

What are the tutors looking for? What hacks are there to help you? We will discuss this in more detail next week when we discuss “How?”. Are you ready and excited about an academic discussion? That’s going to help as that is at the heart of a successful interview. The discussion is there to highlight your critical thinking skills, your intellectual ability and flexibility, your teachability and, crucially, your passion for the subject. Passion is key: no tutor wants to spend their time teaching students who aren’t really interested in their subject. Why would you when you’ve dedicated their career to a particular subject? They love their subject and they’re looking for others who share that love.  

Good luck! We hope you get an interview.

Oxford University Tier 1 Subjects
  • Ancient and Modern History 
  • Archaeology and Anthropology 
  • Biology 
  • Biomedical Sciences 
  • Classical Archaeology and Ancient History 
  • Classics 
  • Classics and English 
  • Classics and Modern Languages 
  • Classics and Oriental Studies 
  • English and Modern Languages 
  • English Language and Literature 
  • European and Middle Eastern Languages 
  • Fine Art  
  • Geography 
  • History 
  • History and English 
  • History and Modern Languages 
  • History and Politics 
  • History of Art 
  • Human Sciences 
  • Law 
  • Law with Law Studies in Europe 
  • Materials Science 
  • Medicine 
  • Medicine (Graduate-entry) 
  • Modern Languages 
  • Modern Languages and Linguistics 
  • Oriental Studies 
  • Philosophy and Modern Languages 
  • Philosophy and Theology 
  • Psychology 
  • Religion and Oriental Studies 
  • Theology and Religion 
Oxford University Tier 2 Subjects
  • Biochemistry 
  • Economics and Management 
  • History and Economics 
  • Music 
  • Philosophy 
  • Politics and Economics 


Oxford University Tier 3 Subjects
  • Chemistry 
  • Computer Science 
  • Computer Science and Philosophy 
  • Earth Sciences 
  • Engineering 
  • Mathematics 
  • Mathematics and Computer Science 
  • Mathematics and Philosophy 
  • Mathematics and Statistics 
  • Physics 
  • Physics and Philosophy 

Oxbridge Interviews – When, Where and Who?

oxford university

You have applied, you’ve sent in all your documents and written work, you may have sat an entrance exam. Now you’re waiting to see if you’re going to be invited to an interview. You may well be dreading the invitation but hoping madly that you’ll get one (you’re not going to be successful without one, after all! The two universities do not offer a place to someone they have not interviewed).  

How can OptimalOxbridge help you? This week in Blue, we are talking about the practicalities of the interview process, and then over the rest of November and at the beginning of December, we will discuss interview strategy. If you have subscribed to your course on OptimalOxbridge, you will find all sorts of interview preparation tips on the Course Insider Info Pages under your course. If you haven’t, why wait? Subscribe now for all sorts of useful tips. Use this discount code for a last minute 30% off LASTMIN (Valid until December 15th 2022). Find your course, buy a membership, and get access to a vast amount of insider information.  

There are some really useful articles under the Insider Info tab. There’s a piece written by a current undergraduate about the process and a whole series of Interview Tips and over 50 “General” questions. These are questions, sometimes quite philosophical, that could be asked of anyone, no matter the degree that they wish to read.  General questions are not as frequently asked as they used to be, but you are quite likely to be asked at least one and it’s advisable to get used to them just in case. They’re good mental gymnastics, whatever your degree subject.  


Oxbridge interview(s) will take place between the 1st and the 20th December 2022. You will be informed by email or letter in mid to late November or December if you’re invited to interview. You may only get a week’s notice before your interview so start preparing now. You never know!  

Oxford interviews are held mainly between the 5th and the 15th December and there is an interview timetable on the Oxford University website. At Oxford, your interview invitation will most probably come from the college you have applied to. If you’ve made an Open Application, your invitation will very likely come from the college you have been assigned to.  You most probably will have more than one interview and at Oxford, you may be interviewed by more than one college, although you are very likely be interviewed by your chosen college first. You are sometimes only given 24 hours’ notice before a second interview so be vigilant.  If you applied to Oxford and are interviewed, you will be told if your application is successful on the 10th January 2023.  

Cambridge interviews are in the first three weeks in December and, at the moment, no more information about dates is available (but we will keep you updated). Most interviewees get two interviews, but some get one, and some three, but you cannot read much into those numbers. None of them mean anything definitive about whether you will get a place so don’t stress! Cambridge has what is known as the Winter Pool and if your college thinks you may be worthy of a place but hasn’t made you an offer, you may go into the Winter Pool for other colleges to consider. In that case, you could be invited to be interviewed in January by another college after your December interviews. Cambridge applicants will hear if they have been successful by the end of January 2023.  


Most applicants will be interviewed online this year. UK based applicants to Trinity College, Cambridge will be interviewed face-to-face in college (non-UK based Trinity College, Cambridge applicants will not be required to travel but will be interviewed online). As these interviews are online, you get to choose your location. You need access to the right technology first and foremost. Secondly, you need a quiet room where you will not be disturbed and, preferably, somewhere free of distractions. Would home suit you? Is there a room at home that works? Do you have reliable Wi-Fi? Maybe a room at school would be better. We suggest that you discuss this with your school. For anyone who requires special arrangements (due to disability or access issues), we suggest you start discussing this with your school now.   


Cambridge states that it invites the majority of applicants (75%) to interview. Oxford interviews a lower percentage of applicants at slightly less than 50%.  

The Oxford Course pages (The Facts) in state the number interviewed for each subject, and this varies quite widely. This information is only available for Oxford. As a generalization, the higher the percentage that are offered a place, the higher the percentage that are interviewed and vice versa. 94% of Classics applicants are interviewed (highest in the university) and 40% of Classics applicants are successful (joint highest in the university with Music, which has the second highest percentage of applicants who are interviewed). Just 19% of Computer Science applicants are interviewed (lowest of all degree subjects) and only 6% of CompSci applicants are successful (joint second lowest in the university).   

The numbers*:

  • The most competitive course is Mathematics and Statistics, with just 5% of applicants being successful and only 22% of applicants interviewed. 
  • Size of intake has little bearing on your chance of being interviewed since Mathematics and Statistics has the fourth smallest intake in the university whereas PPE has the largest and your chance of being interviewed for PPE is still just 11%.
  • In general, most science subjects interview a lower percentage of applicants, although Chemistry and Earth Sciences both interview 89% of applicants. 
  • Languages and Joint Honours degrees that include languages consistently interview a very high percentage of applicants. 
  • Medicine interviews 25% of applicants and Law interviews 40%. 
  • About 1 in 5 of those interviewed for Mathematics and Statistics get offered a place whereas at the other end of the scale, more than half of those interviewed for Theology and Religion get offered a place.  
*These stats are for Oxford only. Cambridge doesn’t give out any information on who gets an interview but in general, the interview percentage is much higher for all subjects.

At Oxford, 25% to 45% of interviewees for the vast majority of subjects are offered places. These are higher than the Cambridge numbers where, on average, three quarters of applicants are interviewed (all those Cambridge considers having a “good chance” of being offered a place) but only on average 25% of those interviewed get offered a place.    

Next week Blue will discuss interview format. Expected interview style and format changes subject to subject, and college to college, but we will guide you as to the likely format and prepare you so you know what to expect. 

Neither university encourages tutoring but a surprising number of applicants do get some form of tutoring, especially to get support through their interviews. This can be extremely expensive. If you’re looking for a less expensive form of tutoring, let us know [email protected] and we will match you with an Oxbridge undergraduate who can help.  

Room with an (inter)view: The final stage of applying to Oxbridge

Room with an (inter)view: The final stage of applying to Oxbridge 

Few things in the world are the subject of as much speculation as the Oxbridge interview. Rumours range from the esoteric to the downright wacky: have you heard the one about the tutor who chucked a ball at students as they walked in? Or the plucky applicant who was asked to define bravery, said “This” – and walked out? Although interviews are meant to stretch you intellectually and creatively, the reality is much less “Alice in Wonderland”. What they are is an opportunity to discuss a subject you’re passionate about with some of the world’s foremost experts. 

Maybe the term “Oxbridge interview” is misleading, because the process is slightly different depending on which university you apply to. For one thing, Cambridge invites around three-quarters of its applicants for an interview, whereas at Oxford it’s slightly under half. If you are called for an interview, which will take place around late November or December, you’re more likely to stay overnight in Oxford on account of its pooling system (more on that later). Cambridge tries to get its interviews over in a single day, though it does arrange accommodation for those who have long journeys home. 

Don’t worry about finding your way around the colleges while you’re there. While many of them are grand, and some seem labyrinthine, there will be a small army of volunteers that are ready to help you navigate the college. 

Everyone’s interview will be different, based on the subject you’ve applied for and your personal statement, but it’s essentially a chat between you and a couple of tutors. (You can find our tips and sample questions elsewhere on the site). It should challenge you without being intimidating: don’t panic if you find it difficult. Most people who feel like they’re struggling find it’s because their interviewees have tried to see how far they can take an idea. 

A good principle is to think out loud. When Alan Rusbridger, the principal of an Oxford college, sat in on interviews, a tutor told him: “We’re trying to assess their ability to think as the interview progresses.” Make it easy for them and let them know what’s going through your mind, even if the ideas aren’t fully formed.

“We’re trying to assess their ability to think as the interview progresses.”

- Alan Rusbridger

You should also be prepared to think on your feet, because applicants are often handed a source to analyse. For arts subjects, this is likely to be a poem, book extract, article, or piece of criticism. Aspiring scientists are often asked to analyse or draw graphs, though some are handed random objects to talk about. Unlike Oxford, Cambridge usually holds written assessments on the interview day. 

A small number of students are “pooled”, which means you could get a place at a different college to the one you applied to. The process, known by some tutors as “horse trading, is an attempt to make sure the strongest applicants are accepted, not just the ones who applied directly to the college. Some candidates will get an extra interview at a different college: at Cambridge this is known as the “winter pool” and takes place in mid-January, while at Oxford this is likely to be on your second day. In Alan Rusbridger’s account of Economics & Management interviews, three places are allocated after the first day, with direct and pooled applicants competing for the final spot. 

If you’re sent for another interview, don’t take it as a snub. Maybe the college you applied to feel you’d make a better fit elsewhere, or they want to make sure you’re up-to-scratch before offering you a place. Either way, it confirms that they’re interested in you.