Physics @ Somerville, Oxford in 2018

Interview format

3x 30 min interviews, each 1 day apart

Interview content

Technical problems in maths and physics

Best preparation

PAT papers, practice interviews (if possible)

Advice in hindsight


Final thoughts

Try to chill :)

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

Time between each interview: 1 day

Length of interviews: about 30 minutes each

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

All 3 interviews were entirely technical, from the minute I got in there the questions were all problem solving and me talking through my working doing mathematically based problems. I found them very challenging. I was a nervous wreck so I didn’t really relax into it, and it was quite a daunting atmosphere, but that’s the point of them. The tutors want to see you struggle (as bad as that sounds) because they want to see how you think and how you get around a problem or work out something you don’t know. If you walk in there and know it all without trying then it’s boring. These interviews are supposed to be hard, so please don’t stress if you struggle coz I struggled loads.

The interviews presented me with technical problems, alternating between maths and physics problems. Most of the time they would drop hints to me when I was making a mistake but sometimes they left me to it to see when I realised and how I came back from it. They might seem intimidating but they only want to see if you can cope under pressure, don’t let them put you off and don’t be frightened of the situation. Just do your best and remember it’s ok to struggle!!

How did you prepare?

I did all the past papers from the Oxford website (type in 'Oxford PAT on Google and the website comes up). I didn’t prepare for very long, mainly because I didn’t decide to apply to Oxford until mid September, around 4/5 weeks before the test itself, so it’s never too late. I started doing past papers, I tried to get in 2 a week and take any problems to my subject teachers at sixth form. Then, the week of the exam, I did all the ones I hadn’t done yet. I didn’t use any other resources (mainly because I didn’t have time to and I don’t think they’d have been as useful anyway) but I believe people often use the physics Olympiad questions. I personally would prioritise the PAT past papers

To prepare I did a practice interview with my physics teacher and a current student maths teacher at my school. They completely mimicked the situation, which made the real thing less daunting as I was familiar with it. It’s also very good practice for talking through your working and getting used to discussing how you solve problems (this is what the tutors are looking for, they can’t read minds so if you don’t talk them through it then they don’t know what you're doing or how you think, which is what they want to see). Having a practice interview with a teacher is the best thing to do. There is also a video of a practice interview on the Oxford physics website.

Do not script answers. Definitely try to do a practice interview, but don’t script the perfect answer for a question you might not get and still try to work that answer into it, because the tutors don’t like it. You honestly just have to go in there and be yourself. The practice interviews were a great help for my preparation, they were the best thing I did to prepare and helped my performance on the day.

What advice do you have for future applicants?

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

Not to put you off, but those interviews are scary, and they are going to be challenging for you. I came out of the second one, went to my room and sobbed on my bed coz I was convinced I’d completely bombed it. I made a right mess of it and I really really struggled. But it couldn’t have been that bad because I got in!! So it couldn’t have been as bad as I thought, otherwise I wouldn’t have got an offer.

So my advice would be not to stress about it. If you come out of it and are convinced you’ve bombed it, just try not to dwell on it. Focus on the next one. You’ll always think they’ve gone worse than they have, so just try your best to forget about it and enjoy your stay in oxford. The Christmas market will be on when you’re there, so go and enjoy it!!! Get a group of you together and spend some time shopping in Oxford and exploring the city, it’ll do you good to have a break.

When I was at interviews I saw a lot of people trying to cram loads and loads of revision in for their interviews, but I personally don’t think it helps. The chances of the interviewers asking them those specific questions are low anyway and all it will do is stress you out and get you super worked up before your interview, so chill :)