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How can I prepare for the style of the questions?

In your engineering interviews, you will get some maths and physics questions, often applied to engineering contexts. Many of the questions will begin like those from the ENGAA or the PAT, and then become more developed as the interview continues. 

A good way to prepare for your interviews is, therefore, to look over the ENGAA and PAT papers, and do any you didn’t do. 

Top tip: The most substantial difference is that, unlike the ENGAA, where you have to think fast to rapidly reach answers, in an interview you need to be able to clearly explain how you reached the answer. 

You can prepare for this by doing the multiple choice section of the ENGAA, by writing out your workings clearly and then saying aloud exactly what you are doing. You need to get used to verbally communicating your thought processes, as opposed to doing it all internally. This is a rare thing to have to do when it comes to mathematical problems, so it is definitely worth putting in some preparation. 

Practice drawing graphs

It is quite likely that you will be asked to draw some graphs at the beginning of your interview, so practice drawing an array of complicated graphs. Think about all the graphs you have studied in your maths A-Level, and try and think about changing them to make them more complicated. For example, try and draw sin(1x) instead of sin(x), or try and draw the exponential function to a weird power: for example, you could consider etanx. Make sure you are familiar with all graph transformations and the basic trigonometric curves. 

Top Tips for Graph Drawing

  • Make the axes nice and big, so that you can display clearly the behaviour of the graph in all regions. 
  • Think about the behaviour of the graph at 0. There may be a discontinuity here for example. 
  • Think about the turning points of the graph. You may not need to explicitly calculate them, but think about where they will be roughly. 
  • Think about the gradient: it may be worth differentiating so you can get a rough idea of where the turning points are, but also so you can see where the graph is increasing and decreasing, and any other sudden changes in its behaviour. 
  • Think about what’s happening as the x value goes to infinity. Does the graph go to infinity too, or does it tend to some value. 

“In my first interview at Mansfield College, I was asked to draw some graphs from the equations they gave me. The hardest equation they gave me was an equation for a vector in 3D space, so that was hard to draw!”

Sophie S, Engineering, Oxford 

Practice drawing diagrams

Similarly, practice drawing clear diagrams. They may give you a difficult situation to understand; for example, a bungee jumper is moving up and down and you have to work out all the energy changes. A great way to show that you know what’s going on, and to help your understanding, is to draw a detailed and labelled diagram. Also, if you label something wrong, the interviewer will most likely point this out to you, putting you back on the right path so you don’t introduce the mistake later on. 

Learn your basic equations

Another key thing to do when preparing for interviews is to learn the basic equations. You will not be given lots of formulas, and you may need to call on one to solve a problem, so familiarise yourself with all the key equations from the Physics A-Level content. Make sure you fully understand where to apply them and how, as this is the sort of information you may get on an A-Level question that you definitely would not get in an interview. 

Practice problem-solving

You can also prepare yourself for interviews by solving some of the questions on websites like n-rich maths, i-want-to-study-engineering or IsaacPhysics, which have lots of involved problems that relate to engineering. Practice answering these questions out loud, maybe going through them on a whiteboard if possible. Try and explain the concepts you are using to someone, whether it’s your dad, your brother, your teacher. Even if it’s someone who doesn’t know anything about the subject, this is sometimes more useful. Get them to ask you lots of questions, and you’ll have to go into great depth to explain. The more practice you get communicating your ideas and thought process, the better. 

Re-visit your personal statement

Also, make sure you reread your personal statement before your interview. For any work experience you may have mentioned, ensure you can explain what you did and what you enjoyed. For any books you mentioned, remember what was written and anything that struck you as particularly interesting. You don’t want to be caught out and embarrassed when you can’t remember what you meant when you wrote something on your personal statement back in September! 

Prepare for pre-interview tests and group interviews

At Cambridge, you may also have to do another short test before the interview. You will then be asked to bring your answers to the interview, where you will discuss them. They also sometimes do group interviews in small groups of 6. There, you solve problems together, so if you have any friends that are applying to Engineering or a similar course, doing some problems together would be brilliant preparation for this. 

Even if you don’t have a group interview, it’s still great practice, and seeing how other people solve problems will help you work out the best way for you. 

Conclusion

And remember – don’t panic! Although it can be tempting, when faced with an impossible-looking problem and a row of Oxford or Cambridge tutors, to throw your hands in the air and panic, remember that the questions are meant to push you. The tutors aren’t looking to see you fail – they want to see your best, and they especially want to see how you do encountering something unfamiliar.

For more idea of what to expect, why not take a look at our example Oxbridge Engineering interview? We’ve also got a guide to what to expect from Oxbridge Engineering interviews, which should ease your nerves.

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