Oxford and Cambridge have suggested that candidates treat the Oxbridge application similar to the study of an AS level – obviously they realise that schools do not have the timetabling space to offer something so prescribed, and feel that the emphasis should be on the aspiring candidate to put the extra hours in to make sure that they are at their very best come interview day.
Successful Oxbridge candidates fulfil the following criteria:
- They have researched their course thoroughly and it is the right subject for them
- They achieve the necessary entrance requirements with strong sets of results
- They have demonstrated that they have worked beyond the strictures of the syllabus – they have read widely, followed up piqued interests, undertaken independent research etc.
- They have proven that they have secure subject knowledge at interview
The unsuccessful candidates are nearly always rejected because they have chosen the wrong subject to apply for – they have to be both good at it and love the subject, and they need to show a passion for studying it rather than as aspiration for a career.
Each aspiring candidate is given an Oxbridge mentor – these will usually be the College Head of Department for the candidate’s chosen course but this does vary. As Oxbridge co-ordinator, Mrs Isabella Mech is another point of reference for all candidates and will send out reminders to mentors as deadlines loom.
Whilst the emphasis has to be on the candidate to be responsible for their entire application and be aware of all the different elements, the mentor should be sure to discuss the following with the candidate:
- Course choice
- College choice
- Personal statement advice
- Aptitude test preparation (where applicable)
- Submitted work
- Interview preparation
University Preparation Lessons
The forum for these discussions are University Preparation Lessons (UPL) of which we aim to have a minimum of three in the Spring Term another four in the Summer Term following examinations, and then weekly meetings in the Autumn Term as the application deadlines come into view.
These should be used for both the administrative aspects of the application as well as the academic development of the candidate. The emphasis should be on the candidate to prepare material for the lessons, which could be a presentation, leading a discussion or feeding back about some research or reading. The aim is that each candidate is given the tools to reach beyond the A Level syllabus or hone in further on a particular aspect within.
Alongside all of this it is imperative that the candidates are abreast of their academic work – gaining an offer, but then not securing it in the summer examinations is a real risk for pupils who choose to take their eye off the prize.
The candidate should try to choose the college for which there is the greatest chance of getting into – therefore an open application is recommended. However, only 1 in 8 tends to make an open application. When choosing a specific college – look first at the number of places available at that college for the subject of choice; the larger the number, the higher the chances of success.
Some colleges and faculties at both Oxford and Cambridge will ask that candidates sit additional tests. It is the candidate’s responsibility to ensure that they have enrolled for all necessary aptitude tests. Examples of tests include:
- BioMedical Aptitude Test (BMAT)
- Classics Aptitude Test (CAT)
- English Literature Test (ELAT)
- History Aptitude Test (HAT)
- Oriental Language Aptitude Test (OLAT)
- Physics Aptitude Test (PAT)
- Thinking Skills Assesment (Oxford) (TSA)
- Modern Languages Aptitude Test (MLAT)
- Maths Aptitude Test (MAT)
More information can be gathered by visiting www.admissionstestingservice.org. Candidates must register themselves for the UKCAT (Dentistry and Medicine), LNAT (Law) and TSA (Cambridge).
Mrs Isabella Mech, the Oxbridge Co-ordinator, can provide information about what the tests involve and to what extent the test can be revised for, and will organise for every candidate to sit one mock test under timed/examined conditions before Half Term of the Autumn Term, however it is expected that mentors are setting practice tests (where available) throughout the Autumn Term as part of University Preparation Lessons. Heads of Departments/mentors will mark and feedback to the candidate.
Some past papers are available, although College mentors have begun to create their own.
Not all courses require submitted work, although it is usually a requirement for Oxbridge Humanities courses. This needs to be thought about early –Oxford and Cambridge have stated that they like to review interesting pieces over perfect pieces, so candidates and mentors should give some thought to this when prep is being set and produced in the Autumn Term.
This is often the single most important aspect of the application and should not be taken lightly. To practice, an interview should be with an adult that the candidate is unfamiliar with, who will be able to engage the candidate in a subject related conversation. Ideally, the mock interviewer will have had time to run through the candidate’s personal statement and be aware of the content of the desired course and institution. Feedback from the mock interviewer should be given either orally straight after the mock interview or in writing.
College organises an external advisor to come into College to give a robust interview based on early drafts of personal statements at the end of the Summer Term – feedback is provided and a second interview can be arranged after the Oxbridge application deadline in October.
Additional practice interviews should be arranged by the mentor, both within departments – ideally with staff that the candidate knows less well, as well as externals, coming in or candidates being sent out to other schools. We have struck up reciprocal arrangements with The Cheltenham Ladies' College and Dean Close as well as with alumni Cheltenham College staff.
- Candidates cannot back up their personal statement
- They have not revised material they should know
- They demonstrate limited knowledge of their chosen course
- They have not read the cited works (in their personal statement), or at least not critically
- They try to second-guess questions or have prepared speeches or answers
Visting Oxford and Cambridge
Where a nearby Oxford and Cambridge conference is held during term time we will endeavour to take students to it. It is a chance for candidates to ask questions of current pupils, to have the application process explained by members of the university’s admissions team, attend talks by tutors and undergraduates from subject specific faculties and above all, it is a chance for them to check out the competition.
We do encourage pupils to visit Oxford and Cambridge directly and will usually be offering trips to both in the Summer Term, but it is also suggested that candidates register for the Open Days that both universities offer usually in July and September. Cambridge also offers masterclasses in February.
What can parents do to help?
Oxford and Cambridge discuss the importance of research and reading as part of the application. Candidates need to be able to demonstrate a deeply felt enthusiasm for their chosen subject as well as academic vim. Parents should encourage wider research (reading/ podcasts/ magazines/ journals etc) as well as relevant trips. If they have contacts through which they can achieve work experience or even practice interviews then these should be utilised, but most importantly they should ensure that candidates are given the time to practise and prepare.
We would also encourage parents to ensure that the personal statement is entirely their son or daughter's own work. The candidates will have to speak in much detail about the points they have made or achievements they claim in interviews and therefore it is paramount that they take ownership of the material from the outset.