Interview techniques

Tuesday 12th January 2021

We’ve just delivered a number of mock interviews to prospective Oxbridge candidates, and it seemed a timely reminder to think ahead to other potential interviews in the new year. Hopefully, you have a number of students who have applied for maths degrees or a course with a strong mathematical content. The following notes are intended to give these students some general advice and suggested reading.

The interview is just one part of the process and universities will have already considered GCSE results, predicted A level grades, the personal statement, teacher references, and potentially other background information on your school and postcode data. Other than studying as hard as possible, the personal statement and the interview are the elements that the student has control over.

The interview is likely to start with questions relating to ice-breakers, the personal statement or current affairs. Students should ensure that they re-read their personal statement and are prepared to answer any questions relating to the content; answering out loud to questions posed by a family member or friend can be good practise for this.

The interviewer is not expecting the student to have perfect mathematical knowledge or recall, but to have the ability to think through an unseen question and thus demonstrate their potential to learn at this higher level. Students should listen carefully, give themselves a moment to think and not be afraid to ask for clarification or help before answering. They shouldn’t worry about making a mistake and rather focus on keeping the conversation flowing by sharing their thoughts and any queries.

Although it would be impossible to list all potential interview questions, it may be worth considering a couple of examples and how they can be extended. Here are a couple of example questions:

  1. Can you prove that \(\sqrt{2}\) is irrational? Hence, prove that \(\sqrt{3}\) is also irrational.
  2. Sketch \(y=x^2\) and \(y=x^2\) together. Hence, can you sketch \(y=x^x\)?

Students should remember not to judge themselves too harshly if they find the interview nerve-racking. They may find the following articles interesting:

By Mike Baxter

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