Don’t try and learn everything about the entirety of Classics! I remember desperately trying to read as many books as possible when I was applying, but in the actual interview the tutors didn’t even ask me about everything that was in my PS. It’s more about the quality of your knowledge than the quantity, as well as your ability to think on your feet and analyse critically. This being said, do make sure you’re ready to talk about everything in your PS – you don’t want to be caught out having exaggerated your interest or experience.
If you’re handed unseen material (for me it was poems and archaeological evidence), don’t worry if you can’t think of anything that seems ‘intelligent’ right away, just say what comes to mind and if necessary the tutors will help you develop your initial thoughts; if the conversation about a particular source isn’t going anywhere, they’ll find something else to talk about and it doesn’t necessarily reflect poorly on you
If one of your points gets countered strongly by a tutor, don’t worry! They have much more experience than you, so you can’t expect to have formed perfect ideas when you haven’t even gone to university yet. The important thing to do in that situation is to stay calm, and either defend your point of view with good evidence or admit error and adjust your viewpoint accordingly.
For the philosophy interview, don’t worry about lack of philosophy experience, since this is the case for most people. Just work through the question or puzzle you’re presented with logically and calmly, and the interviewer will be patient with you and willing to help if you need it.
~ Clementine, 2nd year Classics I
Be prepared for a mostly maths-based couple of interviews. There will be some algorithmic questions (if you haven’t looked into computational complexity, it’s worth brushing up on the basics), but you should focus on how well you can solve a maths problem in front of someone. Get used to talking through ideas out loud. They want to see how you tackle it, and also help you, but they can only do that if you tell them what you’re thinking!
~ Freddie – 2nd Year CompSci
Show your thinking and relate it to what you know, even if that’s just A-Levels. The questions are supposed to be hard, but don’t be afraid to change your mind if you realise you’re wrong – explain why you’ve changed your mind and say what you’re thinking now. Just always explain what you’re thinking, because they want to see how you think. Tutors are people as well! They want to see if you’d be nice to teach, so smile and try to just enjoy talking about history, even though it’s totally normal to be nervous. If you don’t understand the question, don’t be afraid to ask them to make sure you understand entirely before answering, and say ‘give me a second to think about this’ if you need it!
At Worcester you will have two interviews and there will be no prerequired knowledge for these
One is likely to involve a case with some pre reading that you will get on the morning of the interview. Take your time with reading this and annotate the paper. Don’t panic as you won’t have long to go over the pre reading so make the most of this time by reading the whole piece thoroughly – don’t rush. Also, check both sides of the paper as often people miss information on the back!
You are also likely to receive situation-based question e.g. what should happen if X happens to Y. Take your time answering these questions and vocalise your thinking, again don’t panic and blurt out an answer! You’ll be expected to take time to think. Try and come up with a rule to show logic to your thinking.
Don’t be afraid to change your mind – If you do, show clear reasoning as to why you’ve changed your stance
You might be asked a few questions on your personal statement but these won’t make up the core of your interview
~ Shannon, 2nd year lawyer
Besides having a mock interview (if possible), don’t prepare too hard – they’re looking for how you think, not what you know.
Practise talking about maths like teaching a family member an A-Level topic – because they haven’t been taught it they’ll probably ask something you might not have thought of, which is a good way to practice thinking on your feet! In the interviews, think out loud – the tutors want to see how you think about approaching problems, so telling them what you’re thinking is a great way to do it – they’re not mind readers!
~ Maddy, 2nd year maths
The best way to prepare is to simply DO problems. As long as they’re difficult it doesn’t really matter which problems. Here are a few good sources of problems:
Not as scary as it sounds! The early assignments (1 – 15) don’t use any maths you don’t know and the questions are hard but accessible. The structure is that there’s a warm up and some preparatory problems, then a STEP question (from STEP 1 at the start). They are a good way to be introduced to lots of different little ‘tricks’ such as useful algebraic identities.
A brilliant book, with lots of problems (and solutions). Definitely a good one to take to the park and do a few problems.
Whilst not strictly university preparation, BMO papers are a great source of problems and attempting them are a great way to develop your problem solving:
It’s important to realise one doesn’t ‘read’ a maths book in the way you might read a novel. You will need to work through the ideas being discussed yourself with paper and pen. This means progress is slower but properly reading and understanding a single chapter is of more benefit than skimming the whole thing.
A really great book full of nice problems though it is pretty hardcore. You can buy it for £230 on Amazon or use this free pdf (link above).
These two are a little easier to get into:
First Step to Mathematical Olympiad Problems by Derek Allan Holton (ISBN: 9789814273879)
Second Step to Mathematical Olympiad Problems by Derek Allan Holton (ISBN: 9814327875)
If you love Geometry (who doesn’t?) you’ll love this: Euler: The Master of Us All by William Dunham (ISBN 0883853280)
This is quite fun (though more history of maths than maths): Journey Through Genius: The Great Theorems of Mathematics by William Dunham (ISBN 9780140147391)
~ Amrit, 2nd year mathematics
Philosophy and Psychology
Philosophy interviews can feel really intimidating, especially if you’re from a state school – it seems like everyone else has some complete historic knowledge of famous philosophers. Don’t worry! Again, just like for other subjects, they want to see how you handle new information, not how much knowledge you’ve already got stored up there. Just try and stay calm and listen carefully to the questions they ask.
~ Anna – 3rd year – Psychology Philosophy
Yep, I’d agree with Anna here! They want to find out how well you can move from the information that they give you in their question to some form of response. So, my main advice would be to say aloud your thought process. For example: ‘my first thought was X, but given Y, I have changed my mind and now think Z’ is a great response, much better than just ‘Z’.
~ Robbie – 3rd year – Psychology Philosophy
At Worcester, they usually run a joint Politics/Economics interview and then a Philosophy one, but this may not be the case for everyone (if you are pooled, for instance, you might have one big interview for all three).
You might be asked about things you talked about in your personal statement, particularly if you haven’t studied a subject before, so make sure you really have read everything you have talked about.
You are likely to be given some information about a concept or idea you haven’t come across before and then asked questions about it. Don’t panic, and remember you can ask for things to be repeated (it can be pretty hard to retain spoken information when you’re nervous!). Try and think carefully about what you are being asked and the assumptions you are making when you answer.
Because tutors want to know what you are like when you come across new concepts (given this is what you’ll be doing during your degree rather than rehashing what you already know) don’t worry if you don’t know very much philosophy/politics/economics.
Try and get used to doing more cerebral and less mathematical problems, and thinking about how you’d explain your thinking to someone else. This book has some excellent content, if technically written for engineers: Professor Povey’s Perplexing Problems: Pre-University Physics and Maths Puzzles with Solutions (ISBN 1780747756)
Fermi problems are a favourite of tutors. It’s all about trying to use easy numbers and getting to the right order of magnitude. https://www.edgalaxy.com/journal/2012/5/29/an-excellent-collection-of-fermi-problems-for-your-class.html
Another good source of more interview style problems: https://i-want-to-study-engineering.org