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Q&A with an Oxford Biology Interviewee

By Sophie. K


Before the Interview


Beforehand, I felt very nervous about my interviews as Oxford has been the goal for me for a long time, so I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself! Before each of my interviews, I did some breathing exercises for 10 minutes to try and calm myself down and make sure that my stress and nerves wouldn't get the better of me. I didn't want to regret anything having been given this great opportunity to be interviewed by experts.


Preparation


To prepare, I went through my personal statement and came up with every possible question that I thought could be asked about it, to make sure that I wouldn't be caught out. It is important to note that I didn't memorise my responses like a script, but more came up with ideas to re-familiarise myself with the content of my personal statement. By doing this I felt more confident. Looking back, I wasn't asked anything about my personal statement in either of my interviews (although I think they sometimes do so to ease you into it), but this preparation definitely made me feel more comfortable and ready for the interviews.


I also read lots of articles to get used to engaging with new biological ideas - I got my interview invitation 3 weeks before my first interview, so I made sure to read at least one article per day. I wasn't told if I would get pre-reading for my interviews, so as I read through the articles I made annotations and asked myself questions about them to practise how I may go about tackling any pre-reading.


There are Oxford demonstration interviews online for each subject, so I spread these out across the time between getting my invitation and my first interview. After each question asked, I paused the video and gave my answer out loud to practice clearly communicating my ideas - this was really useful for me to see the pace of the interviews and I understood that it's really important to just give it a good go for each question even if you're unsure of the answer.


I did a mock interview at school, but this wasn't so useful because the questions weren't at all like the actual interview, so I found the online videos much more helpful although it was still good to practise talking to someone else about biology.


In the evenings before my actual interviews I watched some David Attenborough documentaries (of course!) as some gentle engagement with biology but not too pressurised.


My Interview


At the time I'm writing this, if you get to the interview stage for biology, you get two interviews - no more and no less. My two interviews were on two consecutive days. They were online and I didn't have any problems with the technology. Biology is a Tier 1 subject for interviews, meaning you only need to have access to Microsoft Teams, so that was a bit of a relief that I didn't need to set up lots of complicated technology!


For my first interview I had three interviewers and they were all very nice to me right from the start, which reassured me that I could give each question a go and they wouldn't make me feel stupid for getting something wrong, (something that I was afraid of.) They started with a general question about something interesting I had read recently, and then it was straight into the detailed questions, and each interviewer asked me a separate detailed question. In this interview, apart from the opening question, every single question was a graph question, so in total I had about 11 or 12 graphs in the space of 30 minutes! My interviewers were very good at helping to give me a little nudge to guide me to the right answer, and it helped that I was saying everything that I was thinking out loud, to give them an indicator about where I was going with my answers and how they could help me get to the correct ones. This interview had lots crammed into it but it did feel like a conversation and as though I was working with the interviewers, which was enjoyable in itself.


My second interview was 35 minutes long and I had two interviewers who were also very friendly and welcoming. For both of my interviews, it felt as though my interviewers were genuinely happy to see and talk with me, and that they wanted me to do well. From my experiences, hopefully this reduces concerns about interviewers being horrible. This interview was slower paced as there were fewer things that were given to me but the discussions were more in-depth. I was shown some pictures of specimens and had to talk about them, come up with a hypotheses and design experiments to test my hypotheses. I was then given some more graphs to go through.


I didn't get any pre-reading for either of my interviews.


After the Interview


I've got to say, I've never felt such extreme relief as I felt after my interviews, purely due to getting them over and done with. I know that I didn't answer every question correctly and that the questions were quite difficult because of the new ideas I was discussing combined with the pressure of the moment. That being said, I do feel proud of how I did because I truly felt like I did the very best that I could, I gave answers for all of the questions, and working together with the professors and reaching correct conclusions was very satisfying.


Final Thoughts


At the time I'm writing this, I haven't found out if I have got an Oxford offer yet, so I can't say for sure if my techniques have been successful.


However, as a piece of advice I would definitely say to think out loud. This is something that you will hear on literally any video about Oxbridge interviews, but after having now done mine I can really say that this is a great idea. At the start of my second interview the first thing they said to me was how it wasn't a test of my knowledge, and they are looking to see how I think. I read somewhere that they're looking for someone to teach, not the finished product. I think this is really important to remember because after all, the interviews are supposed to replicate the tutorial system. If you don't let them know what you're thinking by saying it out loud, how can they fully determine if you are suited to being an Oxford student?


Don't be afraid to give an answer to every question even if you aren't sure of your response, and ask for clarification if necessary to help you understand the question and answer it better - this also shows that you are engaging critically with the content presented to you.


Good luck with your applications!


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