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How to Prepare for Oxbridge Medicine Interviews

How do Oxbridge interviews differ from other medical schools? And how should you prepare for them?

December 2021
Chandan Sekhon
Cambridge University - 1st Year Medical Student

So, you’ve applied to either Oxford or Cambridge and you’ve now received an invitation to interview (Congrats! That is an amazing achievement in itself). Whilst you should celebrate and be proud, it also means that it is time to begin your interview preparation. But how will you do this, given Oxbridge interviews are usually very different to what you will get elsewhere? In this post, I will explain the style of the Oxbridge interviews, provide you with some tips for interview preparation, and describe what to expect on the day(s).

What is the style of the Oxbridge interviews?

Oxbridge interviews differ from those used by other medical schools around the UK. These are panel interviews but with a twist – they don’t tend to focus on your experiences or motivation to pursue medicine, instead, they tend to focus on your scientific ability. This contrasts to the more commonly used MMIs (multiple-mini-interview), consisting of different stations testing and examining different skills, and the more traditional panel interview, where a few academics will interview you, usually asking questions about your own experiences, suitability and interest in a medical career.

The main aim of Oxbridge interviews is to see your problem-solving skills. They will often begin with a question which you should be able to answer from A-level knowledge. But don’t be lulled into a false sense of security as this often leads to more difficult questions relating to the topic you are discussing. One question will quickly lead on to another and you will probably start to find you have not come across this information before. They know this, but expect you to use critical reasoning skills to work out the answers to their questions. This usually involves taking educated stabs at the answer and backing it up with valid reasons so interviewers can see your thought process. The exact style of the interview can also vary between different colleges. Whilst some might give you 2 interviews, others might give you 3. You may have a general interview, where the focus is getting to know you, alongside a few subject-specific ones, or you might just have subject-specific science-oriented interviews. Some colleges might give you material to read and a set of questions relating to the information beforehand, whilst others may not give you anything at all. It is therefore quite hard to anticipate what you are going to get!

How to Prepare for an Oxbridge interview?

Oxbridge are looking for individuals who would make excellent scientists: they select those who wish to become academic doctors and therefore the interview will assess the skills they feel are most valuable for this, hence the strong scientific focus.

  1. Know your stuff. You need to be on top of your A-level content, and not just for biology. Chemistry and maths skills are just as important, as these are often tested too during your interviews.
  2. Articulate your thoughts. Knowing the content isn’t sufficient to excel in an Oxbridge interview – you need to be able to articulate it well. So, one tip I have is to practise verbalising your thoughts. If you have the opportunity to do mock interviews, then try to make the most of them as they are very useful for this as they will be most representative of the actual interview. Of course, this may be difficult to arrange, so if this is not possible, try and see if your teachers at school would be happy to have discussions about university-level science topics with you as this is a good alternative that takes a bit less time/organisation! If you are confident speaking about science and trying to work out solutions to problems through application of your current knowledge, you are more likely to succeed in an Oxbridge interview.
  3. Expect the unexpected. Prepare to be shown unfamiliar material including images or specimens – this is quite a common feature of Oxbridge interviews. If you are asked questions relating to an image or graph or physical object such as a bone – don’t panic. Apply the tips I have mentioned above: think about the questions you are being asked, how you can use your skills and knowledge to answer them, and talk through each stage of your thought process.
  4. Review your personal statement. I would recommend going through each line and brainstorming possible questions you could be asked. That way you can prepare ideas for answering or expanding upon certain points you’ve covered. This is not something I would exclusively recommend for Oxbridge interviews – it is likely to be covered in other medicine interviews too so is a very useful thing to do!
  5. Extra reading. It is sometimes useful to have done some reading about topics such as the basics of how the body works, genetics, cardiology etc. as these are likely topics for interviews. Do not neglect ethics either – make sure you are aware of the four pillars of medical ethics and can apply them in situations. Whilst this is uncommon in Oxbridge interviews, you may still be asked about medical ethics (I was asked about ethics during my Cambridge interview).

What is the Oxbridge interview experience like?

Sometimes for Cambridge, and almost always for Oxford, you will have the option to stay over at the college you applied for overnight or over multiple nights. If this is optional, decide carefully, as some people would prefer to just turn up to the interview on the day and leave straight away. Others (like me) might prefer to stay over. The night before is crucial, as you need to ensure you are well-rested and are able to manage your nerves so you are ready for the interview. Personally, I preferred not to socialise much, as I thought I would be intimidated by the other applicants and it wouldn’t put me in a good position mentally for my interviews. Reflecting upon my experience though, I think it would have been a good idea to speak to others. Everyone is in the same boat, so there is a very high probability they will be just as nervous as you! Speaking to others might provide reassurance that it is normal to feel this way and help calm your nerves.

On the day of the interview, it is so crucial to make sure you don’t get too flustered as a lot of people tend to make mistakes and act differently when stressed or nervous. Before your interview, try and calm yourself down as much as possible and remind yourself that it isn’t the be-all and end-all – this is definitely easier said than done though! Make sure to breathe. You’ve worked hard! You deserve to be here as much as any other applicant, and it is so easy to forget that. But as long as you remain focussed and relaxed, you can perform at your best. Remember to display your enthusiasm for the subject and to ask questions. In fact, interviewers want to see that you are keen to learn more, and one of the best ways to do this is always to ask questions and interact well. You should never be afraid to say you aren’t sure of something and to ask for some help (I definitely did). As long as you show that you have some ideas and are giving the questions a go, it is okay if you can’t answer every question. Never say “I don’t know” and just sit quietly. This shuts off all conversation and doesn’t give the best impression.

Most questions you will get will be open-ended, which gives you the opportunity to develop and expand upon your ideas to give a detailed answer to the question. As mentioned earlier, think out loud, even if it sounds stupid, and enjoy the interview! It is more of a discussion than anything else and in my experience, you come away from your interviews learning things you didn’t know before.

To Summarise...

Oxford and Cambridge are universities many bright students aspire to attend, but honestly, they are just like any other university. You will have a great medical education wherever you go and the main difference between Oxbridge and non-Oxbridge universities is the style of teaching. Therefore, this is a factor to consider before you even apply, so that you end up at a university that is truly suited to you. You can still be a great doctor and achieve amazing things at any other medical school – so don’t be too disheartened if you don’t receive an interview from Oxbridge. If you do get an interview though, please be proud of yourself, as this is a fantastic achievement. Make sure you prepare well and don’t obsess over it too much. Good luck and try to enjoy the experience as much as possible!

Author: Chandan Sekhon

Editor: Allegra Wisking

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