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Preparing for Cambridge interview- resources/preparation?

  1. Sep 13, 2014 #1
    I'm a UK student who will be applying to the University of Cambridge (England). However, what would be the best preparation I could do for a physics interview if I am invited to one?
    So far. this is what I've come up with:

    -Doing Oxford admission PAT tests
    -Physics Olympiad questions
    -Past interview questions
    -Fermi problems
    -Graph sketching (resources?)
    -Possible books to read: Mad about physics, mad about modern physics, 200 puzzling physics problems, thinking physics (not sure which to start with)
    -i-want-to-study-engineering website

    Any other advice would be greatly appreciated (by the way, this is for undergraduate study)
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 13, 2014 #2


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    It is probably best to go through your A-Level material most as that will come up in the interview and the PAT. For the PAT, you should just go through as many tests as possible.

    Past interview questions aren't really too helpful because they are unreliable.
  4. Sep 13, 2014 #3
    So do you think doing the Oxford admission PAT questions would be more useful than doing the Physics Olympiad questions in preparation for a Cambridge interview?
  5. Sep 13, 2014 #4


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    I would say so because it would help you improve for the PAT too, and without the PAT you aren't getting an interview. But of course, if you have time and run out of PAT questions, it is beneficial to go through some IPhO questions.

    Hope you get accepted!
  6. Sep 13, 2014 #5
    Ah, thanks- although Cambridge don't ask for the PAT (only Oxford do ;) )
  7. Sep 13, 2014 #6


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    Yes, my mistake.

    In that case, I can't really say PAT problems are more useful. There really is no way to predict the type of problems they can ask. I'd suggest

    Most other questions you find online like in the student room may be fake. Also note that many people who are accepted into Cambridge don't do any preparation outside of reviewing their A-Levels.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  8. Sep 13, 2014 #7


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    I would say "Cambridge doesn't ask" and "only Oxford does"- but I bet this is another of those "collective noun" British-isms!
  9. Sep 13, 2014 #8


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    You need to understand the purpose of the Cambridge interview: they don't want to know if you can answer physics questions; what they want to know is whether you can think clearly. So whatever you know, they'll skip past it to things you don't know and ask you to show them how you think about them.

    If you want to go to Cambridge to study physics you probably like physics and already know enough to fit into their first year classes. So if you want to practice something, practice talking about physics problems you don't yet know how to solve. Practice talking about how you think about physics. Practice talking. Be enthusiastic and let your love for physics show.

    If you don't love physics, don't bother.
  10. Sep 14, 2014 #9


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    Really the best answer is: look at the website of the college in question and see what it says about the interview process.

    Unless you're applying for Maths with Physics, the Cambridge course is Natural Sciences and (until you can specialize) also covers chemistry and biology. It may be that a college will make an effort to have you interviewed by a physicist if you claim an interest in physics specifically in your personal statement, but be aware that you may find yourself interviewed by chemists or biologists.

    The purpose is to see if you will benefit from the Cambridge style of teaching, which combines lectures to large groups with supervisions consisting of a single academic and two students. Frequently the lecture just provides you with notes more closely tailored to the syllabus than any textbook, although you will be reading those as well. The supervision is where the real teaching takes place.

    The people interviewing you will almost certainly be your director of studies or will be supervising you in your first year, and they want to have a discussion about science with you, because a supervision is at heart a discussion about science motivated by the problems on the examples sheet or experiences with labs or what's happening in lectures.

    For the interview, the discussion may be motivated by your answers to a quiz sat before the interview, or problems sent to you to look at in advance of the interview, or you might be asked what you're doing in your classes at present. A list of what particular colleges do may be found here; you may well be asked to take the Thinking Skills Assessment (specimen tests can be obtained from the linked site). If your personal statement claims that you have an interest in some particular area of physics then you should be prepared to discuss that.

    You should also be prepared to answer questions such as "Why physics?", "Why physics at Cambridge?", "Why physics at Cambridge at this college?", and questions about any extra-curricular activities or interests you mentioned in your personal statement.
  11. Sep 14, 2014 #10


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    I recall Stephen Blundell saying that they don't ask general questions like "why did you choose physics" though, but maybe that only applies to Oxford.
  12. Sep 14, 2014 #11


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    Practice likely varies from college to college even within the same university; http://www.sid.cam.ac.uk/admiss/ugrad/applyinterviews.html [Broken] state that
    I have been able to locate an example of Trinity's Natural Sciences Interview Preparation Test, which may be found here. As to be expected, it covers chemistry, biology and mathematics in addition to physics.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
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