Interviews can be nerve-wracking, but there’s no need to be terrified about your Oxbridge Physics interview. There’s plenty that you can do to prepare – just take a look at our top tips!
Can you prepare for an Oxbridge interview?
The whole point of the interviews is to put you on your toes and ask you questions you haven’t prepared for. To an extent, then, you can’t prepare for the unexpected. They want to see how you cope with new and developed material, but there’s still a lot that you can do to put yourself in the best position possible.
Practice working through questions out loud
The interviewers will want to know your thought process and see your physics reasoning skills. A good way to practice this is to explain physics concepts to your friends and families, and discuss questions with your friends that also interested in physics. Alternatively, talk through concepts by yourself, instead of just writing down the solution.
Also, try and get somebody to ask you questions about topics that interest you, so that you have to go into more depth, and really examine and analyse your own reasoning. The more comfortable you are discussing the subject content, the more prepared you will feel for your interviews.
Make sure you have a good sense of estimating
Lots of questions you get asked in your interviews will require you to estimate. For example, you may need to estimate the volume of the room, or the height of an average man, to use in your calculations. The interviewers are not expecting a perfect estimate, but make sure you are familiar with rough estimations, so that you don’t say something stupid, like a man is 6 inches not 6 foot .
It is also a good idea to practice units. Make sure you know which units correspond to different quantities. Units are a good way of keep tracking of your equations, and making sure that they are all correct. The units should match on both sides of the equation. This is a good way of testing whether you’ve got the right calculation.
Learn equations and all the basics from A-Level content
“I feel as though anything from year 12 physics and maths was fair game in the interviews, so you should have all the formulas memorised.”Jack, Physics, Oxford
Although the interviews are not memory tests, you want to show familiarisation with all the required content. And whilst the interviewers are likely to correct you or provide you with an equation, it is good to have a firm grasp of them all; if you aren’t aware of an equation, you won’t be able to see the required relationship.
Practice PAT questions out loud
The standard and style of PAT questions will be replicated in your interviews. Therefore, these questions are a good place to start in terms of interview practice. I would recommend practicing working through the questions out loud, so that you are able to express your ideas.
In your interviews, you may also be expected to work through questions on a whiteboard at the front of the room. It is worth practicing on a whiteboard, as you may feel more exposed. So if your teacher can let you practice on their whiteboard, that would be really useful.
It is really important to draw diagrams in your interviews, as not only will they help you, but they will help the interviewers see what you are thinking. If you draw a big, clear diagram, you will find it easier to visualise the situation, and the interviewer will be able to successfully gauge and guide your thought process.
Definitely practice drawing some diagrams from worked problems or exercises in your A-Level textbooks, and try and draw some large, detailed diagrams focusing on content you have studied. For example, you could practice drawing a diagram of how waves travel, or Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation.
In some interviews, you may get an exclusively maths question, although many interviewers avoid this because maths is tested as a stand-alone subject in the PAT. You may get a complex differentiation question. For example, differentiate xx. You are also very likely to get a graph drawing question, where the interviewer will present with a complicated version of a function, the basics of which you are familiar with.
Some examples of the graphs that you may be asked to sketch are:
When you’re sketching, you should consider:
- The behaviour of this graph close to the y axis
- Consider where this graph crosses the x axis
- Differentiate the function and consider the behaviour of its derivative, especially where it is 0 (these will be turning points), and where the derivative gets arbitrarily large (this will be where the graph is steeply increasing or decreasing)
- Consider any asymptotes of the graph
- Consider what happens as the graph takes arbitrarily large values – so, as the x axis tends towards infinity
Although physics should be your focus when you are preparing for interviews, it is definitely worth practicing your mathematical techniques. As maths forms an integral part of the physics course, interviews will naturally want to gauge your ability.