Biochemistry @ Lincoln, Oxford in 2021

Interview format

2x interviews

Interview content

Personal statement, applying prior knowledge to other examples they had come across, chemistry

Best preparation

Revising A-Level chemistry and creating a summary sheet of personal statement

Final thoughts

To pursue what you genuinely find interesting and not compare your experience to others

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

Number of interviews: 2
Time between interviews: (how-long-were-you-waiting-between-your-interviews)
Length of interviews: (how-long-were-each-of-your-interviews)
Online interview: (were-your-interviews-conducted-online)

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

Both my interviews were conducted online. I remember being worried that it would feel super impersonal and I was also scared that if there were any technical difficulties, it would affect my chances of being offered a place. In reality, I had nothing to worry about. Every tutor conducting my interviews were super engaging and kind, making me feel super at ease immediately entering the discussion. Before one of my interviews, the college had also arranged a small breakout room with two current students to calm me down and give me some last pieces of advice before I met the tutors. Colleges are also super understanding about any tech issues. I all else fails tutors can either phone you to continue the discussion, or you can reschedule for a later date. It won't affect your chances in any way. I chose to do both my interviews from home and also took a few days off school to make me feel as comfortable as possible with the process. Don't be afraid to do what you feel is right for you. To give you some insight into what biochemistry interviews are like; In both my interviews, we first discussed a small section of my personal statement. This is where the tutors guided me to apply my prior knowledge in topics of interest to other examples they had come across. I found this to be really engaging, as straight off the bat instead of it feeling like a conventional interview, it turned more into a collaborative conversation (an added bonus was that I was later able to delve deeper into the topics tutors had brought to my attention after the interview was over). One of my interviews also had a pre-reading exercise, which discussed one of the most recent Nobel Prize research topics. As my interview was conducted online, the college emailed me the extract 30 minutes before my interview began, which gave me plenty of time to highlight and annotate it (don't be afraid to scribble down some wacky ideas, they might turn out to be an interesting discussion point). The remainder of my interviews followed a similar structure of discussing molecular structures, considering changes in environmental conditions, analysing graphs and completing some small, chemistry-associated calculations. Each topic we discussed gradually built up in difficulty over the course of the interview, however, although some appeared daunting, you never felt as if you'd been thrown in at the deep end. I found that every new addition to the concept, linked to what the tutors and I had spoken about prior, so the conversation never felt disjointed, which eased my nerves even more. Every single tutor who interviewed me was extremely encouraging, so no matter how intimidating some of the questions appeared, they were always there to steer me in the right direction. Finally, if there is any time remaining at the end, tutors tend to finish by asking if you have any questions. I remember asking about the fourth-year research opportunities available, as I hadn’t come across many examples on the department website. Try not to feel pressured into asking an overly pertinent question, by that point, the interview is already over and it will not contribute to your performance score in any way. One example of a particularly funny question was my friend's 'How's Simpkin doing? (Simpkin is the Hertford College cat). Although the application process is holistic, many, including myself, tend to become overly stressed about interviews, which is perfectly normal. Instead of interpreting them as the ‘last hurdle’ just think of them as ‘another step’. Easier said than done, but it definitely makes a difference. Interviews certainly aren't the 'be all end all' that everyone makes them out to be, as often, if you excel in one aspect of your application (e.g. admissions tests) the interviews won't have such a drastic influence. I thoroughly enjoyed both of my interviews (once my nerves had calmed down, of course). It was such a wonderful opportunity to discuss, in depth, a topic of mutual interest with world-leading researchers and tutors in the subject I have come to love. 

How did you prepare for your interviews?

Two ways to prepare that I found the most effective were recapping any taught A-Level chemistry so far and creating a simple summary sheet. Looking over some of my chemistry notes from class really helped me solidify some foundational knowledge that proved to be invaluable (especially anything related to organic chem). My second source of prep work was my summary sheet. This allowed me to sit down with the topics I mentioned in my personal statement and create a small summary of each which included any independent thoughts I had about them and also some of the broad overarching themes within them. This was by far the most enjoyable thing to do while preparing because it really opened my eyes to how expansive just a small section of biochemistry can be. It definitely cemented my passion further.

What advice would you give to future applicants?

To pursue what you genuinely find interesting and not compare your experience to others. Many people when writing their uni applications tend to become heavily focused on what they think the tutors want to see. In reality, you'll have a lot more fun pursuing what you're truly interested in and this will shine through in both your personal statement and your interviews. 4 years is a long time to spend studying a subject you're not all that interested in and forcing yourself to seem passionate about it will only harm you in the long term. Comparing my experience to others was probably the most detrimental thing I did during my application cycle. It just left me feeling inadequate and drained. Applying to Oxford can be emotionally tiring, however, I genuinely think there are some really brilliant aspects of it that you should take the time to enjoy. For example, meeting lots of like-minded students and discovering new and fascinating areas of your subject you weren't previously aware of.