Modern And Medieval Languages @ Selwyn, Cambridge in 2017

Interview format

Modern and Medieval Languages Admissions Assessment; 3x interviews

Interview content

Interview 1: personal statement; Interview 2: Spanish text and painting; Interview 3: French text

Best preparation

Listing useful French/Spanish phrases

Advice in hindsight


Final thoughts

Researching the country's history

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: Modern and Medieval Languages Admissions Assessment

Number of interviews: 3

Skype interview: no

Time between interviews: about 5 hours

Length of first interview: 15-20 minutes; Length of second interview: 15-20 minutes; Length of third interview: 15-20 minutes

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

My first interview was a general interview: the interviews starting by asking me about Selwyn and Cambridge societies. The discussion then moved to my personal statement and I was asked to talk about my EPQ project and the film I was studying for French A-Level: this was different to how I would’ve discussed them in a French interview because the interviewer was a history professor and so I had to describe them to him in a way that needed no prior knowledge to understand me. The atmosphere was quite relaxed: the interviewer was kind and not intimidating.

My second interview was a Spanish interview: we were given 15 minutes to peruse and analyse a Spanish text before going into the interview. I was quite surprised to find we were given a painting to analyse as well as a text: I’d prepared how to analyse techniques used in poetry and prose but had no idea about paintings. In the interview I was asked about the text and its potential historical context. We then discussed what the painting was depicting (I got this quite wrong but he guided me through). Part of this discussion was in Spanish I think.

Discussion then turned to my personal statement and he looked at what books I’d written about on it, asking me about symbolism and character names. Again, the atmosphere was more relaxed than I had expected: the interviewer punched the air when I figured something out and after the interview offered me sweets.

My final interview was a French interview: I again had 15 minutes to look over a French text before the interview. The start of the interview began similarly as I was asked to read from the text in French and to analyse it. I was surprised to be asked to analyse it in French as I’d only revised the names of different rhetorical techniques in English. Similarly to the Spanish interview, we discussed what I could work out about the origin of the text and what I knew of the historical context of the time period. We then talked about a book I’d mentioned on my personal statement and how its historical context relates to contemporary France. The interviewer showed less emotion than the Spanish interviewer and so I was less certain about how I was doing, but the atmosphere was still relaxed.

How did you prepare?

To prepare I made myself a powerpoint where I broke the content of my entire personal statement down into slides, and then added further comments about each of the topics/books/areas of interest I’d mentioned, so that I could elaborate in an interview if asked to. I researched the socio-political context of current France and Spain and the history of each country, just so that I had a vague understanding of each, and also spent a lot of time gathering good phrases and a list of vocabulary in the foreign languages which I could use if asked to speak in the language in the interviews, or which I could use in the written text. I completed all the written test practice papers in timed conditions so that I was used to how much time to spend on each section and how much you could feasibly write in that time.

What advice do you have for future applicants?

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

If I had to do it a second time I would perhaps research the history of France and Spain more as each interview was very keen to situate the texts discussed into the country’s history and I found I couldn’t elaborate much about what the context of those time periods was. I would also prepare more for abstract texts (I only prepared how to analyse sonnets) and would also practise discussing a text in a foreign language as I had expected that discussion to be in English.

This said, the fact that I got my offer suggests the interviewers weren’t looking for perfect knowledge of French/Spanish history but rather an interest and curiosity about it, good critical thinking and analysis skills, and the ability to deal with the unexpected (hence why i was given a painting to analyse when i expected just a short text).