Biochemistry interview advice

InsideUni Team
Created: 2 years, 1 month ago
Last modified: 2 years, 1 month ago

Congratulations on getting invited to interview for Biochemistry at Oxford! Here we’ve summarised some of the best advice from real Oxford biochemistry students to give you an idea of some ways to prepare, and what might happen on the day, and general advice.


“To prepare, I had a few mock interviews from teachers in my school and some university students online. I also made up mock interview questions for myself, and I answered them alone just before the interview, speaking alone and writing on a whiteboard (I was lucky to have one in my interview dorm!) as if it were the interviews. You can really just make up questions by yourself, even if you don't know if there is an existing answer. I think that really helped me because it put me in the mood to answer questions about my subject, and when I went into the interview, it just felt like a continuation of what I had been doing, so it was less of a shock to start thinking.”
St John’s College, Oxford, 2018 🔗

“I went through my personal statement to make sure I had things I could say about everything I mentioned, which I would recommend doing but not spending too long on.”
Wadham College, Oxford, 2018 🔗

“I read through my A-Level biology and chemistry revision notes to refresh my knowledge, as well as my personal statement and the books I mentioned.”
Brasenose College, Oxford, 2018 🔗

“The biggest help for me was just talking about my subject. My school didn't have any idea about Oxbridge interviews but the most useful thing I did was sit down with my chemistry teacher and just talk about Chemistry/Biochemistry and build that confidence in discussing things that I wasn't sure on, and working through different problems.”
St Anne’s College, Oxford, 2019 🔗

“I read articles on the New Scientist and chose to look deeper into the ones I liked and then I used the BBC news app and the newspapers my parents got to look at some current stuff. Then I Googled scientific papers on stuff that linked or was mentioned and gave them a read. I made simple brainstorms of the key bits and what area of my personal statement they linked to and took that up with some of the printed articles in a little folder so I could look over them if I wanted to. I also tried to talk about science stuff with my family so I could get used to articulating it. I think my preparation enabled me to come across excited and enthusiastic about the course and allowed me to show my genuine interest in the subject.”
Somerville College, Oxford, 2018 🔗

The Interview

“Both interviews asked me about why I wanted to study Biochemistry. From this they asked me a question about why I thought genetics was important as I had mentioned this. They then proceeded to question me to find out a little bit more about what was in my personal statement. This was useful as it allowed me to relax into the interview experience. After this stage, in both interviews, the question stage began.

My first interview focused on a written question with some images, related to a little test that we had done the day before. The questions began with A level basic knowledge, which I initially stumbled over in one yet was corrected, reassured and then continued. The questions got more difficult and challenging, but they corrected and guided me. ”
Merton College, Oxford, 2017 🔗

“My first interview was very relaxed and quite discussion-based. We started with talking about an article that I was given to read before the interview - I didn't get to finish it but that wasn't a problem. Then we moved on to talking about a book I wrote about in my personal statement and we discussed some of the finer details of a concept I spoke quite broadly about. I was also given a few questions but these were also very discussion-based and we worked through them together. We then finished up by just discussing what subjects I was doing at A-Level and the areas I enjoyed most. My second interview was more questions based and I was initially given a few organic chemistry questions and had to work through my answers on a whiteboard. Then I had some biology questions which were very similar to A-Level exam questions which then sparked a short discussion on one of the processes I found particularly interesting.
Christ Church College, Oxford, 2019 🔗

“For both my interviews, I was given an article to read for ~40 mins before the interview. We weren’t given much instruction so I just tried to take it in as much as possible. In my first interview, I was asked questions related to the article to see what I could recall, but then the questions led more into A level knowledge and drawing conclusions from previous questions. The atmosphere was really nice and I was encouraged to think out loud and draw my process on a whiteboard. The 30 mins flew by! My second interview was similar, if not even more relaxed. In this one, I was also given a really interesting article about new technology and was asked about how it might work. What threw me the most was a maths question- despite having been doing Maths and Further Maths A levels, I was still useless at doing a simple dilution on the spot. It took me a ridiculous amount of time to get to the answer but they didn’t mind, and you can tell they see it a lot. The most important part was the thought process and reasoning behind the steps. I was also asked about something from my personal statement in this interview, but it was more about what I had learned from the event and if I could explain why it was interesting, rather than testing my proclaimed knowledge. Overall both experiences were really nice, and felt like they went so quickly! I enjoyed both my interviews a lot.”
Christ Church College, Oxford, 2018 🔗

“My first interview had one of those "long" questions where they ask a series of smaller questions building up on one topic. My second one just had many unrelated questions, but they were interesting. It was fun because these are mostly questions/material you have never covered before, but it's amazing how your brain already knows so much more than you think you know!.”
St John’s College, Oxford, 2018 🔗

“For my second interview, we explored an A level topic. Although I had not fully covered it, they were not at all fussed that I didn’t know some of the basics of the topic as they know you are only midway through your studies at school. So I was ‘prodded’ in the correct direction and given necessary information so that I could work things out myself, although I definitely needed extra help at some points. If you do get stuck in an interview like that, there’s no shame in asking for more.

In my third interview, I was given a sheet with some information and was asked some introductory questions about the topic (DNA, chromosomes, etc in my case). I then was told to explain the figure on the sheet. I laid out my thought process - every single step - with the information they had given me. I kept on going round in circles, as I couldn’t make the final leap because I’d forgotten a key piece of basic information. Not that that mattered, as they kept dropping hints every time I’d arrived at the start again, until eventually, after a really obvious hint, I’d realised what I’d missed and correctly made the last jump.”
Trinity College, Oxford, 2017 🔗

General Advice

“I now know the interviewers are just looking to see how you tackle unfamiliar questions that build on what you already know. So say all of your thinking out loud (no matter how silly it seems - it’s good for them to know that you’re thinking some things that may seem obvious to you, but they won’t know you’ll have thought about unless you say it), and ask clarifying questions.”
Wadham College, Oxford, 2016 🔗

“Don't take any notice of people who tell you they've researched loads of things and done tonnes of prep, since often this can be detrimental. Tutors want to know how you deal with unknown content. Often if you spend time memorising things this can affect how you approach a problem because you'll be trying to remember an answer rather than working it out. The only thing I regret about my interviews was how I over-analysed them afterwards and beat myself up about them. You can never know the outcome and either way it's a unique experience so just make the most of it.”
Oriel College, Oxford, 2018 🔗

“The interviewers aren’t looking for the perfect student who knows all the answers straight away without any problems, they’re looking for people who can work their way through a problem that they’re not familiar with through applying what they do know and going from there. It’s about being able to talk through the way you get to an answer rather than just giving the correct answer. It’s also about being passionate and being able to convey how interested you are in the topics and the subject as a whole - they want to be teaching people who actively enjoy what they’re learning!”
Brasenose College, Oxford, 2018 🔗

“The interviewer is looking for someone who is willing to answer questions they don't yet know the answer to - say whatever you think might be the answer, and what makes you think that. Many interviewers are very kind and welcoming, and your interview is much more like a conversation than I expected.”
St John’s College, Oxford, 2018 🔗

If you would like to read the accounts of Oxford Biochemistry applicants in full, all interview testimonies for Biochemistry can be found here 🔗. You can find out more about the interview and how to prepare an Oxbridge application here 🔗. The Cambridge University YouTube channel has a video 🔗 about the interview process, and you can find a video about Oxford interviews here 🔗 (produced by St Edmund Hall, an Oxford College). Good luck!