What Happens at Interview?
Most interviews take place in early December, immediately after the end of term. Despite all our attempts, applicants invariably feel nervous at interview and the interview period can be very stressful. We are aware of this and interviewers will typically try their best to help you to relax.
We want the interviews to provide you with an opportunity to show yourself at your best. It is no good to us, or to you, if you feel so nervous, intimidated or confused that you cannot reveal your true capabilities. So we try to make sure that arrangements run smoothly, that you know what will be expected of you and where to go for your interviews. We offer refreshments in College, a room to wait in for anyone accompanying you (such as parents or friends) and overnight accommodation, for you, when necessary.
The University offers an excellent on-line guide to the interview/admissions process and we strongly recommend you watch the videos produced by the University below. Some further practical information about attending Magdalene for interview is available here.
Do remember that the interview is only one part of our assessment process and that we take into account your previous academic performance, statement, references, etc in addition to any submitted work, written assessments, etc.
Preparing for your Interviews
Here is a short video about preparing for Cambridge interviews:
This video was produced by the University of Cambridge (and features an appearance by one of Magdalene's former Admissions Tutors, Dr Emily So).
Another video, about the interviews themselves, can be found in the link on the right. As part of that video, you can see some actual interviews, recreated by students who were successful in getting a place at Cambridge.
A few more details
In some subjects you may have been sent a passage or article to prepare before coming to Cambridge for interview or may have been asked to collect a passage from the Academic Office prior to interview. These articles/passages are designed to offer a basis for discussion in the interview. A quiet room is set aside in which interviewees can prepare these. This room can also be used by applicants who just want to sit quietly before their interviews. If you are being interviewed for English then you will be asked to complete a short written exercise (or 'quiz'). This is not a test and is not graded, but is used in a similar way to the passages to open up areas for discussion in your interview.
Our interviewers are very conscious that candidates come from a variety of backgrounds and while some will be used to talking at length about themselves, others will not have any experience of being interviewed and may be uneasy at the prospect of discussing their interest in their subject with an unfamiliar adult. Interestingly, there seems to be no difference statistically between the marks received by those applicants who have had so-called 'interview training'; and those who have not!
Nearly all candidates will receive two interviews. At Magdalene we try, so far as possible, to hold our interviews in pairs. We feel that a pair of interviewers is somewhat less intimidating than 'a panel' whilst the opportunity to have two interviewers present means that the second interviewer can sometimes re-phrase a question to help you if it is apparent that you are having some difficulty with a particular line of questioning.
A Subject Interview
At least one of your interviews will be a subject interview. Subject interviews normally involve the Director of Studies and another subject specialist from your chosen field of study.
They will be familiar with the knowledge, ideas and methods you might reasonably have been expected to gain from your school studies, whether it be A-levels, Scottish examinations, International Baccalaureate or other exams.
A key objective is often to assess how you would respond to the small group teaching environment (supervisions) offered in Cambridge. In science subjects the interview will often comprise a series of discussions or problems in order to investigate not only your current level of baseline knowledge but also to probe your mental flexibility; how you think and are able to develop arguments when offered new data and whether you can apply these ideas to new problems. In arts subjects, the interview will often provide you with the opportunity to develop arguments through discussion of particular passages or texts and perhaps extend these to new areas.
Interviewers are likely to utilise material from your written exercises, set passages, submitted work, or information on your personal statement as a starting point for these discussions. It is substantially easier for interviewers to concentrate on and develop those areas you do know about - not the ones you don't. Our interviewers work hard to formulate questions which allow candidates to do their best.
A General Interview
The second interview may be another interview with subject specialists or it may be a more general interview, perhaps with interviewers from other (but usually related) subjects.
General interviews are sometimes misunderstood and assumed to be non-academic interviews. This is not the case. Whilst the general interviewers may not necessarily be experts in your particular subject, they will be interested to hear about you motivation for your chosen course and how these perhaps fit into your future plans if you have them.
They might discuss your interest in the course as well as other matters such as extracurricular interests which you may have mentioned in your UCAS personal statement. Often the interviewer will introduce a general line of questioning, perhaps about current events or an area related to your academic interests.
In some subjects, where the Director of Studies feels that there is a wide range of skills to cover in order to assess your aptitude for the subject, you may find that part of the second interview will be of a general nature and part will be taken up with further discussion of a subject-specific nature.
There will normally be a chance for you to ask questions about the College or the course at the end of each interview and to mention briefly anything that you feel is important and which has not been covered. However do not feel obliged to raise a question unless there is a particular issue which you feel requires clarification.
Things to do and things not to do
Before interview: It is helpful to re-read your personal statement and any submitted work to familiarise yourself with the information that the interviewers have. If you had a test or assessment, you might like to consider the questions again and think whether you could have answered them better.
After interview: In order to make comparisons between different candidates, interviewers may often use similar lines of questioning in their interviews. Whilst it may be tempting for you to discuss tests or interview questions with other candidates, this is not in your best interests and you are ultimately less likely to gain a place.
You will find that there is a team of current undergraduates on hand during the interview period. They often arrange hospitality for candidates, especially for those staying overnight and will generally provide help, dealing with queries you might have about interviews, studying at Magdalene etc or offer support or some distraction from the interviews themselves.
The student helpers, Admissions staff and the Porters will be willing to show you where an interview room is, direct you to Cripps Court Cafeteria for something to eat, provide help if you need to contact someone, or just give a word of support and encouragement.
We hope you enjoy the opportunity to visit Magdalene and hope that the interview experience proves not to be as daunting as you had feared!