By Ruby Nixson
When I found out I had an interview for maths at Oxford, I had never felt more nervous in my life. I was the first from my school to interview for maths at Oxford and so I had very little idea of what it would be like. I applied to and was interviewed at Worcester College over 3 days. I had 2 interviews at Worcester, one at New College, and two at Christ Church. For maths, it is extremely likely that you will have an interview in at least 2 different colleges, one being the college that invited you for interviews.
When I arrived at Worcester, all of the candidates were given a sheet of around 10 problems and were told to pick at least 3 to work on in preparation for the first interview the next day. Much like the unseen interview questions, these questions were designed so that it was unlikely we would reach the end of any of them, but were accessible enough that we could start them. All 5 of my interviews took place with 2 tutors in the room and usually one leads the interview while the other made notes. All but the first interview were based solely on questions I hadn’t been able to look at beforehand.
In my experience, I was not asked any details about my personal statement, but I know other maths candidates who were, so it’s still a good idea to know it well! Once the interviewer has asked the question, it is a good idea to take a few seconds to gather your thoughts but don’t stay silent for too long; even if you don’t know how to answer the question, it is still a good idea to say what you think could work or to relate it to a situation that you do know! Much of maths is simplifying problems to make them into something easier that you know how to solve, so this is a good skill to show. The tutors aren’t trying to trick you, just see how you respond to unfamiliar problems - it is important to talk through your reasoning and methods as you write your solution. If you tell them what you are thinking, it makes it much easier for them to help and guide you!
No matter how well you progress through the questions, there will almost always be a point where you don’t know how to progress any further! Always look back to what you have already done and how it might help. Try not to think too much into the number of interviews you have or what the tutors might have thought of you. When I left both of my Christ Church interviews, I felt pretty deflated but the tutors went on to give me an offer! They aren’t looking for perfection, just enthusiastic people who they believe they could teach and would do well in the Oxford system!