Cambridge Interview Experience - Natural Sciences (Physical)

Arica Chan, Cambridge, Natural Sciences 2011-2015
4 Jun 2015

How was the interviews like?

Early December 2010, I was waiting for a physics interview outside the interviewer's room, feeling nervous and cold, especially the corridor did not have enough heating. As I was trying to take a deep breath and tell myself to calm down, I heard the door opened. A tall woman came out, smiled and invited me in. My first interview began. There were two people in the room. I did some searching before and knew that the tall woman would be my director of studies if I got in and she was a lecturer in physics and the other man was one of the supervisor in Materials. They both smiled warmly and I felt more calm.

They did not start with the "standard" questions like "why do you want to study this subject" etc. Instead, they asked me things I wrote in my personal statement. I mentioned a project about superconductivity that I had done at school because I wanted them to ask me about some topics that I could prepare and I was happy that they did. I did not write any books that I read in the personal statement as I knew that if I mentioned any books in the personal statement, I might be expected to thoroughly understand all the materials in the book and I did not want to risk to meet an interviewer who would be more familiar to the book than I would. "Be specific but not too specific " was my strategy. She started with some basic concepts about superconductivity which I prepared and could answer quite confidently but she did not ask too much. Now, I think that she did not ask too much because the topic is usually a third or fourth year topic and it is quite difficult to ask anymore that is not too difficult for a A-level student.

The next question was a maths question. He asked me to solve a recurring expression. It was something like an easy question in Maths Olympiad, not anything we would do at school but once you know the little trick, it was extremely simple. At first I had no idea how to answer that question, so I tried to see if it could form a series but I found that it did not. I asked for a hint and after a little hint, I suddenly realised how to solve the problem and said "Oh, it is so easy now..." and they laughed. The interview finished with some other physics topics that I learned at school, more difficult than that in the textbook but they would always guide me.

The second interview was a chemistry one. Again, the interviewers asked directly some academic questions. This interview was a bit more scary than the first one since one interviewer was supporting her head with the palm, looking annoyed and the other one was quiet. They asked me questions about bonding in a dimer and some organic reactions. I had already expected they would ask some questions that I did not know the answer, so I did not feel too nervous when I did not know the answer. Again, they guided me all the way so I did not feel too bad for not knowing the answer.

Feeling after the interview and tips for prospective students?

To be honest, I felt I was quite lucky in both interviews because there were no questions that I had no idea of how to approach, even though sometimes I gave the wrong method. I found that they usually started with questions that I should be able to answer from the things I learnt at school so I did not regret for revising harder than even for exams! If anyone was asking me for tips for interviews, I would say that even you do not know the answer, say something, but sensibly of course, even if it is wrong. After you have tired but still cannot think of the correct direction, asking for hint is completely fine!

Good luck to people who will be having an interview and I hope that you could enjoy the process!