History interview at Cambridge

(10 Posts)
Oatsinajar Fri 14-Oct-16 19:34:41


So I'm asking on behalf of a mentee of mine who has applied to Cambridge to read History. Does anyone have experience of an interview that they would be willing to share or any tips?

He is from a comprehensive school and from a disadvantaged background, but works damn hard, is intelligent and well rounded, and I would really like to see him succeed, and not be let down because of not knowing properly what to expect at an interview. So any advice you can share would be much appreciated. Thanks

OP’s posts: |
jellybeanteaparty Fri 14-Oct-16 21:39:54

Hi my DD has just started at Cambridge (not history but another arts subject) and went to a comprehensive school.
The Student Room website and forum has a lot of useful info including a thread hosted by a Cambridge admissions tutor whose subject is history.
The interview is in many ways similar to the supervisions you would have if you get in so they are looking for students that cope/enjoy that style of teaching.It can be intense and fast paced and they wanted to see how you approached new concepts/ideas/material rather than testing what you know.
Preparation tips would be talking about your subject with people you don't know well (perhaps the school could help with a mock interview-my daughters school who did not have much oxbridge experience asked a local private school to do this) Reading around/beyond your subject.
I also seem to remember there were some utube videos produced by Cambridge showing the process.
Hopefully some other folks here will also have some tips.

boys3 Sat 15-Oct-16 12:13:44

DS1 currently reading history at Cambridge.

Has never spoken in any great detail about the interviews in the college he applied to beyond saying he was constantly pushed to explore the question further - sort of a constant stream of "and what about", "what might that lead to" etc, etc. He said it was akin to a conversation that probes deeper and deeper, as it was a line of questioning for which there was no definitive answer. Don't expect question - answer and on the to next topic.

Approach may well vary by college so worth checking that out.

DS was very well read and had a genuinely serious interest in the subject, and had read about a number of periods not covered by his A level (or indeed GCSE) course. In his interview nothing in his PS came up - may not be true for the experience of others though.

From afar I was left with the impression that the interview process is tough but designed to help the candidate succeed - just that the bar for success is very high. There will be a lot of excellent candidates who won't get an offer, but I think whatever the outcome - assuming he is invited to interview - there will be a whole set of positives to take away and learn from.

YellowPrimula Sun 16-Oct-16 08:38:01

Definately check out YouTube, lots of official and unofficial advice on Cambridge interviews , I think there is an official one with a mock history interview.Oxford have similar

FuzzyWizard Sun 16-Oct-16 08:55:02

I'm a history teacher at a comprehensive and did some training with Oxbridge admissions tutors on this sort of thing. One of the interviews usually involves some form of obscure source material that they are asked to study before they go into the interview. (One of my students was given a photograph of an African decorated vase 4 years ago, 2 years ago at Oxford my student was given a 9 page academic essay on historiography of early modern Germany I seem to recall.) It will be unfamiliar and he shouldn't panic about knowing where it has come from or having prior knowledge of the topic. He should concentrate on trying to pick out key themes from it and thinking about what it can tell him rather than wasting time trying to "guess" the context or author. He might also want to think about whether the themes in the source are similar to anything he's studied in his A Level topics as sometimes the interviewer might want to see how comfortable a candidate is drawing comparisons between different periods and/or locations. My best advice is to just enjoy it! The interviewers will push him hard, they aren't trying to trip him up but to find the limits of what he can do. I always tell my students that if you come out feeling like you nailed it and knew all the answers then chances are you missed the point of the question. They shouldn't panic if they get something wrong or are gently corrected or redirected by the interviewer, just take into account what they are telling you and then have another think about it. Have fun chatting about history to people who live and breathe it every day.

goodbyestranger Sun 16-Oct-16 09:17:13

This may be of limited use since it relates to Oxford not Cambridge but I second what FuzzyWizard says. Good advice would be not to be thrown by the source. These are very widely used and some colleges (at least at Oxford) seem to delight in producing seriously obscure resources. Fishing rights in long ago Newfoundland for instance. The good thing is that at interview the students from the top name schools seem equally appalled by these sources and emerge from the interviews saying they didn't have a clue, in about the same ratio to ordinary state school students, so they really are a great leveller.

LRDtheFeministDragon Sun 16-Oct-16 14:43:22

They've just put this out: www.theguardian.com/education/2016/oct/06/how-to-survive-a-cambridge-interview

There's also this: www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUwN6GI-0EQ


Oatsinajar Sun 16-Oct-16 18:26:38

Thank you everyone! There's some very good advice on here, I'll pass it on.

OP’s posts: |
Dustylaw Sun 16-Oct-16 23:03:08

I wish your student the very best of luck but please remember to tell him or her that there is also a lot of luck involved. It was always so - even in my day I remember our tutor telling us that in our first meeting (he went a bit over the top in hindsight since we weren't all puffed up with confidence). Application ratios have soared since then and even if you say that some proportion won't be prime candidates the fact is that there will be many more great, enthusiastic, pleasure to teach, engaged students who would absolutely be suitable for the course and teaching style of Oxbridge than there are places. It is nonsense to think that not getting a place means people wouldn't have not been excellent Oxbridge students - it is just a consequnce of huge competition. So please make sure your student is really aware of that - the competition means that not getting a place does not mean failing to make some god-given grade, simply that there are a bunch of tutors doing their best to allocate limited places. There are some equally wacky/brutal decisions made by other elite universities but maybe it is the interview system at Oxbridge that makes it all more personal. Tutors may love you but they have to decide between you and someone else they think is great as well. Sad fact of life. On the sort of bright side, obviously your student is going to go to a top university, should have a great and worthwhile time, and in 3 years time the applications to top grad schemes will even everything out - even more competition, same element of luck and keep plugging away till you get what you want. If you get one rejection you will be very unusual indeed. Resilience - an under rated virtue. Great to have the confidence to apply to Oxbrige and never feel stupid for having done so but please see it as one part of a whole life game and move on.

RhodaBull Mon 17-Oct-16 09:08:40

Yes, ds had a talk last year when he arrived for interview and they were told that three quarters of them would be unsuccessful - so they could all be brilliant and still there was only a one in four chance of getting in.

There is also the randomness of the interviewers. Ds had one interview where they went at him hammer and tongs until he was a crumbling wreck and then another where they looked bored and didn't really engage and there were some awful silences which ds didn't know whether he was supposed to be filling or waiting for another question.

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