Maths @ Sidney Sussex, Cambridge in 2018

Interview format

Pre-Interview Test, STEP; 1x interview

Interview content

Discussed pre-interview test

Best preparation

STEP and BMO past papers

Advice in hindsight


Final thoughts

Practice explaining your thoughts outloud while doing maths

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

Test taken: STEP

Number of interviews: 1

Skype interview: no


Length of interviews: 1 hour

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

First there was a written test. It was an hour long, and non-calculator, with 10 questions on a variety of topics. The questions kinda reminded me of ukmt maths challenge/Olympiad questions, but weren’t too hard. (There are specimen tests on the Trinity College maths page). After the test, I handed in the question paper and took my answers to the interview which was immediately after. In the interview we went over the questions and saw which were correct and which were wrong/not done. I then had to solve some of the incorrect/not done questions with a little guidance, showing them my working and talking through the problem as I went. They also took a question I’d done correctly and modified it to make a new question I’d have to solve a different way.

How did you prepare?

My schools maths department gave some extra preparation lessons to all STEP candidates. I also did a lot of past paper questions, found both on the STEP website and through google (e.g. on physics and maths tutor). I also had a booklet of questions with hints and solutions (Advanced Problems in Mathematics, Stephen Siklos) that was sent to me by a teacher. Before this I’d done a lot of prep for the BMO (British Mathematical Olympiad) which is kinda similar and I think that helped too.

What advice do you have for future applicants?

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

Well for a maths application the best way to prepare is just to do a lot of maths. I would recommend looking at MAT papers, BMO papers and STEP papers since those are all tricky maths problems that are sort of similar to what you’d expect. You can find past papers for all of those online. It’s also useful as all the interview questions are long answer where you have to show working and proof with words too which is different from the sorts of things you do at GCSE and A level where you can just give the answer.

When I was preparing for interview, I had a couple of practice interviews with the maths department at school, which were useful as you don’t often narrate your thoughts when doing maths, which is what you have to do at interview, so it was good to get in some practice so it wasn’t as unnatural in the real interview. It was also good that some of the teachers who interviewed me had never taught me which made it more realistic since the interviewers will be people you’ve never met before. A topic I would particularly practice is graph sketching since it always seems to come up and and it’s a little terrifying if you’re not expecting it.

I was quite nervous throughout the process, but the invigilator was very relaxed and friendly during the test, so it wasn’t too bad and the interviewers were also very nice. It helped that we only discussed maths problems and never discussed things like my personal statement because I prefer maths to talking about myself.