Physics @ Oriel, Oxford in 2017

Interview format

3x 20 min interviews

Interview content

Interview 1 (physics): small talk, personal statement, motivation, mechanics problem based on diagram; Interview 2 (maths): just maths questions; Interview 3: combination of maths and physics questions

Best preparation

Check specification and structure of PAT, since these often change

Advice in hindsight


Final thoughts

Interviews go surprisingly fast!

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: PAT

Number of interviews: 3

Skype interview: No

Length of interviews: about 20 minutes each

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

I had three interviews altogether, a physics interview and a maths interview at Oriel, and another general interview at Worcester.

The first one was the physics interview (although it still involved a lot of maths), conducted by the senior tutor and a PhD student. It started off with some quick small talk about getting down (there had been lots of snow), then a short discussion about my personal statement and why I wanted to study physics. The interviews properly began (without going into too much detail) by one of the interviewers drawing out a diagram of a mechanics situation and asking me to solve an aspect of it. My first thought was ‘I don’t know how to do this’, but I just got started, making notes on the diagram, and I soon realised I could do it. The rest of the interview was maybe 2 or 3 more questions, usually instigated by one of the interviewers drawing a simple diagram, leading into a question. They were both very friendly, and the interview went well. My main piece of advice would be not to freeze and think ‘I don’t know how to do this’, but, like in PAT papers, to begin to write down - and explain to the interviewers! - what you do know, and it should become clear.

The second interview was conducted by a different tutor and a different PhD student, and only involved maths, with similar question styles, giving you a piece of paper to work something out or sketch something. If you’re not going in the right direction the interviewers give you guiding points; don’t worry about not being able to do a question and the tutors sitting there in silence, that won’t happen.

The final interview (at Worcester) was a mix of physics and maths questions in the same vein as the first two. One final piece of advice I’d like to reiterate is to explain your train of thought and what you’re writing down to your tutors. They want to see how you perform in a situation where you talk through solutions, as happens in tutorials, rather than just producing an answer as in an exam.

How did you prepare?

Over summer I learnt the year 13 content and revised the year 12 content needed for the test. I went through the past papers and noted which questions I didn’t get right (after having looked at the solutions at oxfordpat.wordpress). Then, once I’d done all the papers, I went back through and redid the questions I didn’t get the first time, which took me up to about the start of year 13. In the remaining time I repeated this, so I’d done every paper at least twice, and also had a look at some extra question sources, e.g. from the Physics Olympiad, although I did stick mainly to the past PAT questions. Useful resources for the PAT were the past paper solutions on Physics and Maths Tutor, as well as oxfordpat.wordpress. I learnt the required year 13 content from the standard textbooks for my A level maths and physics courses. One piece of advice about the PAT is to check on the physics department website exactly what the specification is, and what the structure of the exam is, as these both change fairly regularly.

My school didn’t provide much advice or support in my application, but I did find especially helpful the sessions held in a nearby school run by my regions’s associated college: an evening talk about applying to Oxford early on in year 12, and closer to application time a session about personal statements. The college (Queen's) also ran a science residential in Oxford during Easter of year 12.

As well as preparation for the PAT, I also increased my general knowledge of physics by reading around the subject, and discussing the books I’d read formed an integral part of my personal statement. Before interviews I had a look over my PAT past papers to help with the interview questions, as well as re-familiarising myself with the books I’d mentioned in my personal statement, especially the particular sections I’d mentioned - don’t get caught out by talking about a book you haven’t fully read!

What advice do you have for future applicants?

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

Having properly prepared for my interviews, once at Oxford I could almost ‘relax’, as I wasn’t having a last minute panic over whether I remembered something I might be tested on, and took the time to have a look round Oxford.

One thing I was surprised at was how quickly interviews seem to go. Twenty minutes does fly by when you’re concentrating on the questions.