10 Tips for Oxbridge Medical Interviews

18-19.002

James Fraser

Just getting invited to interview at Oxford or Cambridge is a considerable achievement in its own right, but it’s no secret that Oxbridge interviews are amongst the hardest a prospective medical student might have to negotiate. Even so, there’s plenty of preparation you can do to give yourself the best chance of success – here are ten of our recommendations.

Just getting invited to interview at Oxford or Cambridge is a considerable achievement in its own right, but it’s no secret that Oxbridge interviews are amongst the hardest a prospective medical student might have to negotiate. Even so, there’s plenty of preparation you can do to give yourself the best chance of success – here are ten of our recommendations.

Just getting invited to interview at Oxford or Cambridge is a considerable achievement in its own right, but it’s no secret that Oxbridge interviews are amongst the hardest a prospective medical student might have to negotiate. Even so, there’s plenty of preparation you can do to give yourself the best chance of success – here are ten of our recommendations.

1. Revise your science

Scientific aptitude is the single biggest factor by which Oxbridge interviewers assess medical applicants. Therefore, the best way to prepare is by getting 100% clued up on the relevant content of your A-Level science syllabuses. For Biology, that means practically everything but plant biology and ecology; for Chemistry, it’s harder to know what to revise, but the fundamentals of physical, organic and inorganic chemistry could certainly all be relevant.

Thanks to the Supplementary Additional Questionnaire (SAQ), you shouldn’t panic over topics you haven’t covered yet, as it allows interviewers to tailor their questions to what you’ve been taught. That said, there are certain topics that simply won’t be off-limits – think biological molecules or major organ systems, for example – ask your teacher to skip ahead if these are timetabled for after Christmas.

2. Make use of online information

Just because Oxbridge interviews are different from those at other medical schools, doesn’t mean you have to guess in the dark as to what yours could be like. The two universities, not to mention specific colleges, provide plenty of information online about how they like to assess applicants, and you can even watch mock interviews for free. Additionally, there are numerous sources of interview questions that previous applicants have been asked – on forums and on the Medic Mind website!

3. Plug the gaps in your clinical knowledge

Your A-Level studies and general knowledge will already span most of the clinical cases that could come up for discussion in an Oxbridge interview. But if you’ve got niggling uncertainties about any of the big ones – heart attacks, Alzheimer’s or an infectious disease, for example – it’s worth doing a bit of research and making some notes. You don’t want to get caught out!

4.     Prepare for questions involving unseen analysis

Oxbridge interviewers like to challenge candidates to analyse the unseen – from data in graphs or tables to objects (such as bones) and medical images (scans or histological slides). They don’t expect you to work out everything perfectly on your own and are more interested in seeing how you think and deal with the unexpected. However, if you’ve familiarised yourself with the basics of, say, how different bones are adapted for their functions, the process should be less intimidating.  

5.     Get suitable interview practice

You should try to organise at least one mock interview that imitates the Oxbridge substance and style – practice interviews for other medical schools probably won’t be similar enough. You can organise these with anyone you know who studied medicine or biological science of any kind at Oxford or Cambridge. If you don’t, though – as will be the case for most people – consider asking a member of the science department at school to try and replicate the interview experience for you.

6.     Research your interviewers

Typically, a written invitation to interview will include the names of those interviewing you. Looking them up online won’t tell you exactly what’s going to come up (far from it), but it’ll put a face to a name and – based on their research or clinical speciality – tend to offer a good indication of the broad line of questioning they’ll pursue. Not only should this show you which topics to revise especially well, it’ll help you feel more relaxed going into your interviews. But don’t be thrown off if they ask about something totally different!

7.     Practise delivering long answers

A great way for Oxbridge interviewers to see how your mind works is to ask open-ended questions that demand longer explanations with limited interjection on their part. How does the heart work? Or: what can you tell me about water?

A couple of points or sentences won’t suffice here. So, build on your interview skills by posing such questions to yourself and improvising answers that cover at least four or five of the most significant points. You’ll get more comfortable with the sound of your own voice, too, which is no bad thing.

8.     Explore beyond the syllabus

Reading beyond the A-Level basics is a classic piece of Oxbridge preparation advice for any subject. It certainly remains true for medicine, although there’s so much A-Level knowledge to test you on in the first place that you really don’t need to go overboard with this. Mentioning the latest scientific or clinical research on a topic can be a good way to show your enthusiasm for medicine, but not if your understanding doesn’t stand up to further questioning. A better strategy might be to read in more detail over specific areas of your A-Level course.

9.      Set most of the usual prep to one side

One of the unique things about Oxbridge interviews is that they tend to ignore the staples of most other medical interviews – questions about why you chose medicine or their specific university, as well as questions on your personal statement, work experience or personal traits. For the vast majority of interviewees, none of these will come up. That’s not to say you should tempt fate and ignore them entirely in the course of your preparation, but chances are that you will be able to answer these adequately with minimal prior work. 

10.  Don’t worry over a question

It’s typical for dons to close out an interview by inviting you to ask any questions you may have. Some applicants like to prepare off-the-syllabus questions intended as a show of intelligence. While this certainly won’t harm your chances of success, it can be an unnecessary cause of stress. We advise doing what comes naturally to you – asking about something in the interview that’s piqued your scientific interest; making honest enquiries about the course, college or university; or politely asking nothing at all.

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Jonathon PMedic Mind Tutor

21 April 2020

Great article! I had an interview at Oxford last year, and found it to be challenging. Its quite an experience, and you definitely get put out of your comfort zone. I sadly didn’t get an offer, but have an offer from Leeds 🙂