Year 12 Oxbridge Programmes / New Year 13 Interview Programmes
Select Page

What would you say the ideal candidate for Oxford Maths and Philosophy looks like? You might think that it’s a certain sort of person: posh, well-spoken and certainly knowing more about both subjects than you do.

So you can think about who the ideal candidate for Oxford Maths and Philosophy really is, consider these three applicants.

Applicant 1: Hannah, 17

Before her interview:  

  • Hannah is in her final year of school, and is predicted 4 A*s in her A-Levels 
  • She studies Philosophy at A-Level, as well as Mathematics, Further Mathematics and Geography.
  • She has read lots of philosophical texts, including all of Descartes’ Meditations and Hume’s Enquiry. She has detailed notes on both that she has mostly memorised for her interview preparation. 
  • She has found mathematics at school quite dull, but is sure she’ll enjoy the wider scope of university mathematics more.
  • She did a lot of preparation for the MAT, making sure she knew all of the content of her A-Level syllabus before sitting the exam. 
  • Her personal statement includes sentences like:
    • “You would want me to study at your institution due to my commitment and constant hard-working nature, exemplified by my extraordinary GCSE grades.”
    • “I have read most of the major works of philosophy, and similarly have explored lots of key proofs in mathematics, such as the Rank-Nullity Theorem in the field of linear algebra.”  

In her Interview: 

  • In her maths interviews, Hannah performs quite well. She answers the preliminary questions without difficulty, but struggles as it gets to the later sections where she has to develop ideas outside of the A-Level syllabus. 
  • The interviewers also ask her to prove as much of the “Rank-Nullity Theorem” as she can, since she mentioned it on her personal statement. Hannah is stuck here: she only read the Rank-Nullity Theorem once, and can’t really remember it anyway. 
  • She does not enjoy her maths interviews a huge amount. 
  • In her philosophy interview, the interviewers question Hannah’s extensive reading. It turns out she may have read and memorised the concepts, but when they push her a little further, it turns out she has not explored any of the concepts and is unsure of what they actually mean. 

Applicant 2: Josh, 19

Before his interview: 

  • Josh is currently enjoying his gap year, and has a very high IB score under his belt
  • He was going to apply to study pure mathematics, but on his gap year he has spent a lot of time thinking about himself and the big questions in life, and believes he might quite enjoy philosophy, so decides to apply for Maths and Philosophy instead. 
  • Josh has not done any mathematics on his gap year, but knows he’ll be fine as he was so good at it at school.
  • Josh forgot about the MAT entirely, so did next to no preparation for it. 
  • His personal statement includes sentences like: 
    • “When I was finding myself in Bali on my gap year I spent a lot of time alone thinking about myself. This introspection made me think I’d enjoy, and probably be really good at, philosophy.” 
    • “I enjoyed maths at school, and believe studying maths with you could reignite my passion for the subject.” 

In his Interview: 

  • In Josh’s maths interview, he stumbles a lot on the earlier questions. He has forgotten a lot of his A-Level content and even some of the basics. As the questions get more developed Josh has good ideas and solutions, but he is lacking the foundations required. 
  • They ask him what he has been doing on his gap year to keep his maths up to scratch. Josh hasn’t been doing anything. 
  • He is stumped in his philosophy interview. They ask him some questions about what philosophy he has read – he has not actually done any reading around the subject, he thought it was about thinking? 
  • When they get to the philosophical questions that require him to think, his thoughts are muddled and confused; he has spent very little time actually exploring the concepts in philosophy, and finds the whole thing a little perplexing. 

Applicant 3: Jake, 18

Before his interview:

  • Jake is in his final year at school, and is predicted A*s in Mathematics and Further Mathematics and an A in History.
  • He has really enjoyed studying history and likes the fact that Maths and Philosophy would allow him to continue writing essays
  • As well as reading a few texts about philosophy, he has listened to podcasts, been to lectures, and he regularly engages his mum in philosophical debate over dinner.
  • He has done a lot of MAT preparation, lots of past papers, and spent time exploring the skills required.
  • His personal statement includes sentences like:
    • “I have always enjoyed studying geometry in school, so, thinking this would be something I would like to explore further, I went to a lecture in London about projective geometry, and then tried to answer some harder and more developed problems about it.” 
    • “I have done some research into logic, watching some videos on YouTube about how to construct truth tables. I was struck by how mathematical this philosophical technique was, and I would like to further explore the huge crossover between the two subjects.”

In his Interview: 

  • Jake’s maths interview begins solidly. He employs concepts from his A-Level studies and wider reading. It gets harder, and Jake works slowly, vocalising his thoughts and listening to the advice given by the interviewer. He does not reach the correct answer, but his reasoning is thoughtful and sound
  • They ask Jake what he’s been reading recently, and he tells them he’s been reading “From Here to Infinity” by Stewart, and tells them about some of the concepts he has explored in this book. 
  • In Jake’s philosophy interview, he answers the questions methodically, thinking about lots of alternative solutions, and never settling on anything as certain. He is grateful for the practice he has had vocalising his philosophical thoughts beforehand. 
  • He mentions a couple of philosophers and theories he has previously read about, but doesn’t just mention them for the sake of it. His applications are relevant and useful to the discussion. 

Despite Hannah’s thorough preparation, it seems to have been misplaced, and Josh’s lack of preparation showed him up in his interviews. However, Jake’s preparation was useful, and he performed well in his interviews and wrote a good personal statement, so he is the successful candidate.

To get an idea of what might constitute good preparation, take a look at our guide to preparing for maths interviews and our guide to preparing for philosophy interviews.

What did Hannah do wrong? 

  • Hannah focused too much on reading everything she could that was related to philosophy, instead of focusing on developing and understanding the concepts. This caught her out in her interview, when she had to actually think about the concepts, as opposed to just stating them. 
  • As she was not particularly enjoying mathematics, perhaps she was applying for the wrong course. Remember, Oxbridge is a lot of work, and you’ve got to really love your subject to succeed at it. 
  • Her preparation for the MAT was not particularly useful. It is better to be active in your preparation, such as doing the papers, using online resources such as those on the STEPMaths website, or going on one of our courses.  
  • She made false claims in her personal statement. For example, she said she understood the “Rank-Nullity Theorem”, and this caught her out in her interviews.
  • She assumed they would want to take her as a hard-working student, which appeared a little arrogant.

What did Josh do wrong? 

  • Josh failed to keep up his mathematical skills during his gap year. He just assumed he would keep them, which caused an issue in his interview. He should also have actively pursued his love for Maths during this time. 
  • Josh had little understanding of philosophy, and had done nothing to explore the discipline, which meant his personal statement and philosophy interviews were disappointing. 
  • Josh did no preparation for the MAT, which meant he did not know the format and likely got a lower score because of it. 
  • Instead of focusing on maths and philosophy, his personal statement recounted his experiences in Bali.

What did Jake do right?

  • Jake explored the discipline of philosophy, by reading around the subject. 
  • To prepare for his interview, he spent time thinking about and discussing key philosophical concepts.
  • Jake prepared well for his MAT, focusing upon past papers and honing the relevant skills for the test. 
  • He performs well in interviews, and displayed the “teachability” skills that Oxbridge interviewers are looking for. 


Hopefully, you now have an idea of what the ideal candidate for Oxford Maths and Philosophy looks like. It’s not about being a certain ‘type’ of person, or knowing the right people, but about being teachable, eager to learn, and committing to the preparation.