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It is true that personal statements and predicted grades are important to get to the interview stage. The best way to shine in your personal statement is to show that you are interested in the subject. Try to take part in activities that are related to your subject, e.g. short work experiences, open lectures, attending talks or even just reading a book about your subject. However, make sure you do not simply list these in your personal statement. Try to integrate them into a point that you are trying to make (such as "Having read about ... I was intrigued by ... in [course]"). Once you have passed this stage, the interview and any assessment they ask you to take will try to see how you think. Even if you don't know the answer, say your thinking process out loud/write it down. Even if you cannot find the answer, the fact that you have shown your thinking and that you are able to provide different possible solutions will show that you do not give up and you keep trying! The most important thing in an interview is not to get demotivated. If you do not know the answer to a question, show your curiosity and try to learn from the experience by asking them questions and using their answers to try and move forward with the original question they have asked you.
They really love looking at your references, and a sense of adversity that you overcame in any way. Talk about personal challenges in your personal statement, it will go a long way!
For Oxbridge in particular, it is indeed your grades and how you perform in the entrance tests in comparison to other students that allow you to progress to the interview stage. Thereafter, the interviews are designed to showcase how you think and approach problems. It would be normal that you do not know the exact answer for many of the questions they ask you; you are, in the end, applying to university to gain unknown knowledge! The professors are most interested to see if you are "teachable" material; as Oxbridge operates with a tutorial system, the professors also want to see if you're someone that they are willing to have hour-long conversations with. They do not want someone boring and purely academic, but someone dynamic and stimulating. So, always voice out your thinking process to demonstrate how you reach your conclusion; it is not the answer that matters, but how you got there. If you carry this mindset into your interviews, you will be more prepared and maximise your chances of admission.
For Oxbridge, your best bet will be to have stellar grades. That is typically the main criterion used when selecting people for interviews. If you do get an invitation for an interview - congratulations. While you can’t be fully prepared for an Oxbridge interview, that’s also the charm of such interviews, because you are expected to not know things. Make sure you know what you’re supposed to know, and try reading up recent developments in your field of interest in the 2 weeks before your interview. Stay calm, so that your mind stays sharp to the puzzles that the interviewers are going to pose to you. They are assessing how fast you’re able to assimilate new information and use it to solve problems, and how receptive you are to learning new things. For the admissions test, there is significant weightage as that’s the only standardised grading the uni has to discriminate students taking different exam qualifications. Make sure you practice for it, up to a month in advance.
On the other side of things, Oxford and Cambridge couldn’t care less about what you’re like as a person. They are only interested in your academic ability
Top class universities are looking for students who go above and beyond academic achievement. They want students who: 1) Are active members of their communities (for example, their school or local community) 2) Have developed teamwork and/or leadership qualities through extracurricular and sporting activities 3) Show curiosity and interest in current and global affairs 4) Actively seek out and embrace these opportunities 5) Demonstrate commitment to these activities alongside their academic studies (showing excellent time management skills and the ability to prioritise) Good luck!
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