Mathematics And Computer Science @ Somerville, Oxford in 2018

Interview format

6x 30 min interviews, each half a day to a day apart

Interview content

Warm-up questions, maths questions

Best preparation

MAT and other questions, talking through solutions aloud to self

Advice in hindsight


Final thoughts

Be persevering with hard problems.

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: MAT

Number of interviews: 6

Skype interview: No

Time between each interview: half a day to a day

Length of interviews: about 30 minutes each

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

Both of my interviews at my first college began with a general warm-up question, one about my general feelings on the subject personally and one about something I’d mentioned on my personal statement. One of my other interviews began with the tutor reassuring me that he wasn’t trying to trick me, he was trying to teach me; it was helpful to have him explicitly say so.

The bulk of all interviews consisted of the tutor giving me (difficult) questions, me taking a stab at them, and them directing me in particular directions by asking questions that led me to certain approaches. My comfort level varied - in my first college’s interviews, I was nervous but able to quickly relax and enjoy solving the problems. This was also true for my second college’s interviews. By my third college’s interviews, I was tired and so felt less sharp and more insecure. It didn’t help that one of these interviews had questions that were very heavily based on theoretical calculus (it was the only one with this type of question), so I felt more intimidated. The tutors were all fairly cordial, just very no-nonsense.

How did you prepare?

I took practice papers from the official MAT website under simulated test conditions (no notes, quiet room, timed, etc). I also was on the Math Team at my high school and used some of the problems from that to prepare (more abstract).

I mostly prepared for the interviews by reviewing old math notes and MAT tests and making sure I knew all the material well. I also practiced walking through these problems out loud (by myself) to get used to explaining my thought process. I also mentally prepared myself to be called out for mistakes and corrected or redirected. I don’t think I would do anything differently - this mix of preparation techniques made sure I understood the material but also the nature of the interviews and how they were not about being correct but about being adaptable and able to take constructive criticism.

What advice do you have for future applicants?

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

I think one of the big things the tutors look for is willingness to tackle hard problems and give them a good hard try (or a few good hard tries), so it’s probably a good idea to take whatever steps make you feel confident and ready to do that. I think that confidence is really key. I still don’t completely know why I got in, but I think part of it was because I was always willing and able to throw out an idea of how to approach a problem and give it a shot, and if I got stuck, I could acknowledge that I didn’t know or needed help without getting too discouraged.