Preparing for a Maths Interview at Cambridge University
If you would like some extra support when preparing for your Cambridge Interview and want to increase your chances of a strong performance, I offer one-to-one Cambridge Interview Preparation and Mock Interviews. Please see my page One-to-One Tuition for more information.
Since you’re reading this now, I’m assuming you’ve just received an invitation to interview at Cambridge for Maths or Maths with Physics. You probably feel a mixture of excitement and perhaps underlying worry since this is the next hurdle before receiving an offer and some questions you may be asking yourself are:
- What preparation should I be doing?
- What do I wear?
- What should I do the day or morning before?
In this article, I’m going to answer these and many more, whilst highlighting key tips and advice I have amassed from my own and others interview experiences.
What should I do to prepare?
Practice STEP questions
Practising STEP questions is a great way to prepare for interview because they are most similar to the style of questions you may be asked at interview; they get you applying known maths in unknown contexts, they are less structured and are more challenging than standard A-Level questions. But…you should practise speaking out loud as you do each question:
- What steps are you doing?
- Why are you doing that particular approach?
- What other methods did you consider and why didn’t you choose them?
It will feel strange at first, however, it will stand you in good stead for the interview; your interviewers need to know what you’re thinking so they can guide you if necessary or pose some more challenging questions to stretch you further. Thus, you will feel more comfortable if you’re accustomed to this, and it will improve how you communicate your mathematical ideas in the interview, hence improving your overall performance.
You can find all STEP 2 and STEP 3 questions with mark schemes and examiner’s comments on my STEP Questions and Solutions Database.
Practise Specimen Interview Assessments
The following may not apply to all students who receive an invite to interview, but at some colleges, you will be required to sit an ‘at-interview assessment’ which are often about an hour long but will of course vary depending on your college. For these, make use of online resources such as specimen tests which are on the college websites, and try doing them under timed conditions so that you mimic the experience at interview as closely as possible. This will help reduce the uncertainty and worry on the day since you will have had some practise beforehand. Some of these specimen tests don’t have solutions available on the website, however, the Student Room has solutions to several of these. (For example, here is the link to the Trinity College Specimen Test Solutions).
Look over your Personal Statement
Another good thing to do is to brush up on your personal statement. However, don’t prioritise this over the previous paragraphs. In Cambridge Maths Interviews, they are rarely interested in the content of your personal statement, but more so in your mathematical ability. Sometimes they may ask a brief question about it to ease you into the interview and to make you feel more relaxed, but sometimes they may not mention it at all.
Nearer the time of your interview, you should try and arrange a mock interview. It is a great way to mimic the entire experience, work on the nerves you may get on the day and to practise how you present yourself in the situation. It will let you put into practise some of your preparation, allowing you to see what has been effective and what hasn’t, and the feedback you receive will be invaluable for improving your performance in the real interview.
What do I wear?
The next big question is ‘What do I wear?’. There is a common misconception that for a Cambridge Interview, you need to wear formal attire such as a suit, but this couldn’t be more wrong. You should wear what YOU feel most comfortable in, whether that be a suit or casual clothing. The interview itself can be a daunting experience, and you don’t want to feel more nervous because of your clothing. To give you an example, I wore jeans, a nice jumper and trainers to my interview, and I still received an offer. They are not interested in what you wear but how you think, and what you decide to wear on the day will have no real impact on their decision to give you an offer.
What should I do the previous day and morning before?
Don’t spend too much time prepping the day before. Decide on a cut off point, that is, a time after which you will relax. Too much prep the day before is likely to cause more panic and stress and is unlikely to do any real help, since the most effective preparation comes from the long-term practise you’ve been doing.
Get a good night’s sleep
Make sure you have a good night’s sleep – force yourself to have an early night if necessary, but you want to be well-rested and on the ball for your interview the following day.
Set an alarm
Set your alarm in the morning such that you have plenty of time before the interview. This will prevent any stress from rushing as well as factoring in time in case you get lost on the way to your interview.
You should aim to have something for breakfast, whether it is something as small as a piece of fruit or something more substantial. Anything is better than nothing since it will give you energy for the interview and will improve your performance.
Other concerns that most have about their interview
Where to go on the day of the interview
For many students invited to interview, staying the night before in the college is a common occurrence and often there is the worry of not knowing where to go once you arrive. Many colleges will give detailed instructions for the interview day in advance, and almost always you will go to the Porter’s Lodge first. You can find the Porter’s Lodge for any college on google maps. The porters at every Cambridge College are helpful and happy to help, so if during your time there, you don’t know where to go for your interview or if you have any concerns, then they are the best place to go to. There will be lots of signposts around the college on the day of the interview and you can always ask anyone in the college for help or directions if needed.
Another worry which students often have surrounds the question ‘Do I shake their hand?’. Often in the interview, the interviewer will initiate the handshake, so if you’re nervous, then wait for them to extend a hand. But if they don’t, then it is fine not to initiate it yourself, they don’t expect you to shake their hand, unless you personally want to.
Hopefully this article has shed some light on any worries or concerns you may have about your interview day. If you feel you would like some extra support, I offer one-to-one Cambridge Interview Preparation/ Mock Interviews. For more information, please see my page One-to-One Tuition.
Best of luck with your interview!