Classics (4 Years) @ Peterhouse, Cambridge in 2016

Interview format

1x Latin test (2 hours); 1x pre-interview task (10 mins); 2x interviews (30 mins each; 2 interviewers each)

Interview content

Latin test: discussion of Latin texts; Pre-interview task: analysis of Latin text; Interview 1: discussion of prepared Latin passage, personal statement; Interview 2: unseen Latin text analysis; artefact analysis

Best preparation

School support; mock interviews; interview insight

Final thoughts

Don't stress too much - a lot of it is unpredictable

Remember this advice isn't official. There is no guarantee it will reflect your experience because university applications can change between years. Check the official Cambridge and Oxford websites for more accurate information on this year's application format and the required tests.

Also, someone else's experience may not reflect your own. Most interviews are more like conversations than tests and like, any conversation, they are quite interactive.

Interview Format

My interview was in early December. I was taken to the JCR and sat with current students doing a few different degrees.

First off was a Latin test in Peterhouse, which took roughly 2 hours. I think it started around 10-11am. Then I went to a quiet room with roughly 5 other students in, and was given a sheet of paper to prepare (not translate). I was allowed roughly 10 minutes to prep. I then went into my first interview with two interviewers. It lasted about half an hour.

My next interview was at Sidney Sussex, a short walk away but the interview was much later. This was also with two interviewers. By the time I was done it was roughly 6pm.

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

First test - a passage of Cicero. I was slightly nervous about this, since I believe it was from an A-Level text and I didn't do A-Level, so I thought I'd be a bit disadvantaged. I was at the back so I could see people started writing very quickly, but I took a while longer and it felt like mostly guessing. There was also a passage of Ovid, which I felt better about, I've done more Ovid and I prefer the poetic style.

First interview - first, the interviewers reviewed the prepared passage. I misinterpreted what they said and was a bit embarrassed at first, but they didn't seem to mind. We discussed authors and dates. Once the passage was done, they moved on to discussing with me some works I'd said I found interesting in my personal statement. (Of course, not the works I'd reread to prepare).

Second interview - I was given a short text in Latin with a translation that was relevant to something I had written about in my personal statement but which was unfamiliar to me. I was asked questions about the meaning of it. I overthought it a bit - I remember saying "I don't know what it means, it's so complicated!" and the interviewer laughing and saying "yes, I think the point is that it's complicated".

The interviewers gave me a small bag of artefact fragments which we discussed (and it was okay if it was just very obvious things). I still don't really get this! I couldn't pick out much more than what was obvious, and sometimes even less than that - I talked for a while about the possible meanings of a figurine of an animal before the interviewers told me it was actually a human :( But maybe they liked my creative interpretation?

How did you prepare?

My school organised quite a lot. There were about 20 students in my year who were applying to Oxbridge, I think 12 got in in the end. We had lunchtime sessions once a week for a few months, for all the applicants. In the first ones, teachers went through general interview advice (don't panic, think laterally, a hard question is because they're challenging you).

Then we were put into groups by subject, and 'interviewed' each other, at first using interview questions that others had put online, and then making up our own interview questions and prompts.

Our school asks all Oxbridge applicants to write a review similar to this after they do their interview, so I was shown interview reviews from other Classics applicants so I'd have an idea of what the real experience was like. Plus my Latin teacher did mock interviews. My school was very helpful, basically.

Looking back, what advice would you give to your past self?

My interviewers focused a lot on the things I'd mentioned in my personal statement - not those things themselves, but on the themes that tied them together, and other things that played into those themes. But I know another Classics applicant who was asked no questions anything to do with her personal statement. It really depends on the interviewer.

So basically I wouldn't recommend cramming the small details of everything in your personal statement - you're just stressing yourself out. It's unpredictable what they'll choose to talk to you about, and they're interested in your critical thinking, not your cramming.