Maths Interview


In preparing for my interviews I really had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know anyone who had interview at Oxford for maths and the prospect of having to discuss my subject with experts really scared me! I stayed in Oxford for 3 nights and in that time I had four 20-30 minute interviews. I had two interviews at the college I applied to (Keble), one at Hertford and one at St Peter's.

In my first interview I was asked a few questions about my life outside of maths to settle my nerves and then we began the main part of the interview. The first couple of questions were straight forward A-level style integration questions and then after that it was pretty much all new material. All of these questions I answered through writing down my working and talking through what I was doing. In every question I reached a point where I didn’t know what to do next but my interviewer was very helpful and guided me to the next step. It is important to remember the questions are chosen to stretch you: to see how you perform under pressure, how quickly you can understand a new concept and how you tackle problems you don’t immediately know how to answer. If you can answer every question straight away, the interviewer can learn nothing about you except that you’re good at maths (hopefully they already know this or you wouldn’t have an interview!) and so they will keep asking questions until you have to think a little more. Don’t be scared to talk through what you’re thinking even if you think you’re wrong- there is nothing worse than awkward silence.

My second interview at Keble was with two different people- a professor and a PHD student. In this interview there were two questions written on the board which I was asked to start working on straight away. As before I wrote my working down on paper and talked through what I was thinking. I found this interview far more nerve wracking than the first as I really struggled with the first question. Once I was through the first question I found I could do the second much quicker as it was a proof by induction which I had seen before. I only had time to answer two questions in that interview which I interpreted as a sure sign of failure.

My third interview was at a different college - Hertford. Surprisingly, I found I enjoyed this interview! I was far more relaxed as I felt my previous interview went badly so in my mind I had nothing left to lose! Again, there were two interviewers who split the questions evenly between them. My first questions was ‘Why do you want to do Maths?’. I was very excited as this was the first time someone had asked me a question I knew the answer to - already the interview was going better than I expected! The rest of the questions were similar in format to my other interviews, some were more conceptual and required some spatial awareness.

My final interview was at St Peters college and was a ‘blind’ interview. This means I was chosen at random by the St Peters tutors without them seeing my MAT score or my other interview scores. This is a demonstration of why it’s important not to overthink the number of interviews you have - it really gives no indication of the outcome of your application. This interview I found particularly difficult as they introduced concepts around rotational symmetry that I was not familiar with.

In general, try not to stress to much when preparing for interviews, try and find some past interview questions online and have a go at them but don’t worry too much if you find them difficult as its likely the interviewer would give you guidance throughout your answer. Looking at some funky functions and what they look like when plotted on a graph can also be helpful and you may be lucky enough to look at one that you get asked! Above all, enjoy the interview experience - it is essentially an opportunity to live for free in the beautiful city of Oxford surrounded by like-minded people!

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