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The beginning of December is when ambitious students are called to be interviewed by Oxbridge colleges and so, from the end of November, I spent much of my time criss-crossing the East Midlands to give mock interviews to maths and engineering candidates.

The purpose of sitting mock interviews is to give students a taste of the experience they are likely to meet in an Oxbridge interview. I have built up a lot of experience of preparing students for applying to Oxbridge in maths, engineering and physics. I draw also from my own experience of sitting a Cambridge interview and from talking to a lot of contacts at the UKMT, some of whom interview candidates themselves.

Conducting a mock interview is a delicate balancing act. The questions must be challenging enough to make the exercise meaningful, but candidates should leave the interview feeling more confident. So, I focus on giving the students plenty of support and encourage them to express their thoughts verbally and listen carefully to hints given by the interviewers.

Here are a couple of the questions we discussed:

  • There is a pile of 128 coins on a table. One of the coins is double-headed – that is, it always shows heads when flipped – but the other 127 are fair. My friend, Herbie, chooses one of the coins at random and, without showing me which coin he has chosen, he flips the coin seven times, and each time the coin lands heads. What is the probability that the coin Herbie has chosen is the biased one?
  • Five horses race. If dead heats are possible, how many possible results are there?

By Chris Luke

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