Psychology (Experimental) @ Somerville, Oxford in 2016

Interview format

4 x 15-20 min interviews, 1 on first day, 3 on second day (2 hours apart)

Interview content

3 interviews focused on psychology e.g. analysing graphs; 1 interview on philosophy which included working through a problem and having a debate

Best preparation

Engaged with subject outside school syllabus; tried to improve and overcome weaknesses

Test preparation

Practice papers; YouTube videos

Final thoughts

Work through problems out loud and think creatively. Have confidence and try not to be intimidated. Do what is best for you before/after interviews.

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: Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA)
Number of interviews: 4
Time between interviews: I had one on the first day and then 3 on the next day, spaced a couple of hours apart
Length of interviews: I can't remember, but I doubt they were longer than 30 mins each - probably more like 15-20
Online interview: No

What happened in your interview? How did you feel?

The first 3 interviews I had were all pretty similar - psychology focused, lots of interpreting graphs and experimental procedure (this is a lot of what you do on the course so if you don't enjoy it on the interview that might be a good tell as to whether you'll enjoy the course). Some of the things they asked seemed a bit obvious, but it's not to everyone so make sure not to cut corners as you need to show them you know what you know. I didn't get asked anything on my personal statement but I did get asked several times things around stuff not on my personal statement, so make sure you stay engaged with your subject after you've done that part of the application process so you have new stuff to talk about.

I also had one interview on philosophy, which I wasn't expecting as I wasn't applying for that, but apparently they interviewed everyone in psychology for philosophy as well at that particular college (I don't think they do it anymore). We essentially just worked through a problem and had a debate for a while. I think the key is to stay on your toes and not let things like that faze you - just engage with it and have fun.

I also noticed a pattern of the interviewer closing the interview by asking me something that, I think, was meant to throw me off a bit so they could see how I react. Again, just stay calm, think through the question and respond and you should be fine. In all my interviews, there were 2 people - usually 1 asking the questions and 1 taking notes. They were all really lovely and welcoming, and they really want you to do well so they're not trying to trip you up.

How did you prepare for your interviews?

I think the best thing I did was actively engage with my subject outside of the school syllabus e.g I went on a psychology conference in Nottingham (one for sixth formers) where I was introduced to all different types of psychology, I found the first year reading list online and started reading through that, I wrote an EPQ on the area of psychology I was interested in and so on. These all gave me things to talk about in the interview (especially as I hadn't done A Level Psychology) and showed my genuine interest in the subject. The two other tips I have is 1) think out loud - the interviewers don't have anything to work with if you sit there in silence for 30 seconds and then churn out an answer. Oxford is all about how you think and how you approach problems so even if it feels weird talk through your thought process, and practise doing that before the interview. And 2) pinpoint your weaknesses and try and overcome them before the interview - what I mean by this is I wasn't the best essay writer and my GCSE result reflected that as all the essay subjects were worse than my other ones. However I knew this, and I wanted to get better so I took an essay subject at A Level so I could keep developing those skills, I entered essay competitions (Oxford and Cambridge colleges run a lot of these so have a google and find some you're intrigued by) and I did fairly well in them. Then, when in one interview the interviewer asked me why certain grades were lower, I said it was because essay writing wasn't my strongest suit, but I was working on it, and then I could point to the evidence of that. When I joined a year later that same tutor commented on the fact I didn't like to write essays - so it clearly stuck with her.

If you took a test, how did you prepare?

I went on the Oxford website and they had a link to the TSA website with practice papers and guidance so I worked through all of those. There were also a couple of good videos on YouTube (there might be more now if you search) that talked about tips for taking it etc.

What advice would you give to future applicants?

I think work through the problem out loud, be clear, don't be afraid to think outside the box (there were a few answers the interviewer had to help me towards and the only reason I didn't jump straight to them is because I assumed they didn't want that answer). Also have confidence in yourself - there are honestly so many different kinds of people at Oxford, don't be intimidated by the people you see at interviews - you belong here, just stay calm and you'll be fine! On a similar note, don't feel like you have to socialise/go out during your time here for interviews. There are lots of things on if you do want to do that, but it's also perfectly acceptable to stay in your room, read over your notes for the next day and get an early night (that's what I did).