Application

 Cambridge

 Jesus

 Mathematics

 2007

 offer made

Applicant

 A-levels

 pre-qualification

 home

 United Kingdom

 Independent – selective

 yes (11 A*)

A-levels

(A at AS (298 UMS))

(A at AS (287 UMS); predicted A; gained NA at A2)

(A at AS (290 UMS); predicted A; gained NA at A2)

(A at AS (300 UMS); predicted A; gained NA at A2)

(A at AS (296 UMS); predicted A; gained NA at A2)

Advanced Extension Awards

(predicted NA; gained NA)

Cambridge STEP Maths

(predicted NA; gained NA)

(predicted NA; gained NA)

At the moment, not sure if I’ll take the physics AEA because it falls right between the two STEP exams.

Details about the offer

 conditional

B in Chemistry, A in Mathematics, A in Mathematics (Further), A in Physics, 1 in STEP II, 1 in STEP III

yes

yes

yes

 grades pending/unknown

Decisions about the application

Didn’t really plan to, but my school seemed to assume that because I was one of the “clever ones” I would naturally want to apply there. People asked “Where are you thinking of- Cambridge and where else?” so often that I started to think “why not?” Also my family seemed to get quite excited about the idea of having a daughter/grandaughter/niece at oxbridge.

Live 5 miles out of oxford so felt it wouldn’t really be leaving home (as did my parents, who were worried I’d be back constantly for washing/free meals). Cambridge has a better reputation for maths anyway.

Maths has always been my best (and therefore favourite) subject, so I had very little trouble picking my A levels (apart from politics, which is a seperate issue). However, I then realised I had very little choice as far as uni went so I picked maths because I couldn’t stand the thought of having to do physics or chemistry (they have practicals and things). Also, although this sounds a bit ridiculous written down, it’s as if I always had a feeling I would end up doing maths- my dad did it and so he always encouraged me when I was small to do maths puzzle books and stuff- so it didn’t feel unnatural or anything.

Chose it at random form a list of places to visit on the maths open day, wasn’t enthralled by it in the way that most people seem to be about Cambridge, but didn’t see anywhere else I liked better so I stuck with it.
Felt a bit guilty during the whole process tha if I got in it would probably be at the expense of someone who wanted to come much more than I did.

Preparation

yes

The help I got was fantastic- had an extra 1 hour lesson a week with the other two from my year applying for maths practising interview style questions and going over STEP papers. They’re both a lot cleverer than me so I felt a bit stupid at times but the experience of standing up and doing a problem in front of 3 other people was definitely useful. I also had a practice interview organised by the school careers department with an Oxford maths professor and a physics professor from Imperial, who asked questions and then gave me feedback. The fact that they were both used to doing interviews meant that it was really useful because it was fairly similar to my real one. Then my maths teacher dicided to use a lessson one week giving each of us a 20 min interview in which he just asked us to go through some maths problems. This didn’t go too well for me and consequently I had to have another go the next week, during which he pointed out everything I was doing wrong, which was incredibly embarrassing at the time but inmensely useful. Also, the weekend before my interview, I was babysitting for a physicist who had been giving practice interviews that week and started giving me maths problems to solve, one of which was very useful in my actual interview.

The practice interviews really are useful, but only if you prepare for them as if they are the real thing. It doesn’t matter how good your interview skills are if you can’t remember the formulae for circular motion or whatever the question is on. Revise all your AS work becuse this is probably what the interview questions will be based on- they don’t know how much of the A level course you will have studied. I think I made the mistake a couple of times in my interview of trying to do things the hard way when all the questions required was basic C1/C2 knowledge. Most interview questions involveapplying old knowlege in new ways so maths challenge/BMO questions are quite useful preparation for this. Trying out STEP questions can also be a good thing and Oxford admissions tests are good because they are theright standard and questions aren’t too long. But the best preparation is definitely practice so badger your school/teachers/family friends/anyone you know who is already at oxbridge to give your a sort of mock interview. Even if you just try to solve a problem in front of a few friends this can be useful as it gets you over the barrier of being embarrassed to say what you’re thinking (not sure if boys have this problem but most girls seem to).

Interview

no

no

no

No proper tests but I did have 30 min before my second interview to look over a problem which I then discussed at interview. Was slightly worried when I worked the answers out in about 15 min as somebody once told me that if you find a Cambridge interview easy, you’re not doing it very well.

First Interview (with two maths fellows: one who spoke, one who wrote):
At the time, felt fine about it. Actually after waiting for 3 hours in the Marshall room (JCR), I quite enjoyed it just because it was something to do. The interview went really quickly and I was worried about how few questions I answered and also some of the stupid things I’d said/done, including twice missing a incredibly obvious answer and doing things a much harder way. However, was reassured that I could see the notes one of them was writing and although I only dared take brief glances, I saw he first word was “excellent”. So all in all, went to bed feeling quite happy.
Second interview (with Dr Siklos, director of studies or some other important title):
Was quitely confident after the first interview had gone OK, and even more so after I’d seen the problem we were left to do beforehand and found I could actually do all of it, which I hadn’t been expecting. But when I got in, Dr Siklos gave me quite a hard time, questioning everything I said. I couldn’t tell if this was because he was trying to push me or because I was getting everything wrong, but it did stress me out more than I would have anticipated and I spent a particularly panicked 2 minutes trying to explain why a straight line crossed the graph y=sin x only in the twice in the range 0-pi/2 when all that was in my head was “because that’s what sin x looks like”. The only thing I could say was “because it bulges up a bit” which he repeated back to me in a slightly sarcastic way and then let me sweat for a few minutes before saying “I think the word you were looking for is convex”. He also asked me one question about Music of the Primes, which I’d put on my personal statement, because apparently everyone does. Annoyingly, I’ve read the book several times and still didn’t answer the question very well. Overall, didn’t enjoy that interview as much as the first.

All maths questions apart from one personal statement question in the second interview. Most questions on either properties of prime numbers, intergration of graph sketching, often involving a combination of the last two.

Was told several times not to reveal this sort of info, but here is a question I was asked in a practice interview which I found useful in my interview (interview question involved the same idea about divisibility by three):
Show that if x is a prime number greater than 3, x^2-1 is divisible by 24

skirt and jumper because it’s fairly smart (I don’t have anything really smart), comfortable, and warm (remember this is December). Had a pair of smart shoes to wear which made clicky noises when I walked that of course echoed around the entire college, would advise anyone who, like me, feels uncomfortable being heard by everyone to do what I did and take another pair of shoes to wear the rest of the time. Definitely wear something you feel comfortable in. I’m quite a shallow person but I always find wearing something i like and feel good in puts me in a positive frame of mind for that day, which you want to be in on interview day.

Impressions

Thought Jesus was quite grand looking untill I met up with my friend who was applying to St John’s and had a look around there- it’s huge and feels like a palace. Definitely prefer Jesus.

My room was twice the size of my bedroom at home, had loads of storage, a huge desk, coffee table, comfy chairs, bookcases, sink, mirror with light over it, windows all along one wall and loads of floor space left over. I was very impressed, but apparently these are the cheapest rooms and the others are all far better. Shower next door, seemed to be shared with only one other person although other corridors may not have had a shower so not sure, nearest toilet on the floor above, which was a bit of a pain. Room got quite cold in the middle of the night although I realised in the morening that the radiator was switched off so presumably this is not usually a problem.

Much like good school dinners only you get three times as much.Choice of two hot meals in the evening, and cereal/pastries for breakfast.

Didn’t speak to any other than in my interview.

Really friendly. Chatted to quite a few while hanging around for my interview (we were using their common room, so they came and went quite a lot) and they were all welcoming and took us to dinnerand sat with us even though it wasn’t their job. Students form different years and subjects all seemed to get on well.

Final stage

I tried not to think about it- focussed instead on enjoying Christmas and New Year. Stayed up watching films until the early hours of Jan 3rd to keep my mind off it and so that when I went to bed I went straight to sleep and woke up late next morning (would recommend this strategy- also used it for exam results in the past). Even so, post doesn’t get to us till almost lunchtime so I had an hour or so of worrying.

It wasn’t the most momentous occasion. I saw the postman coming and although I planned to take the letter away and open it in private, there was no one else near the front door so I opened it as soon as I picked it up. i was relatively happy when I saw I had an offer but didn’t run around the house screaming or anything. After all, I still have to make the ofer and 1,1 in STEP isn’t going to be easy. I’m glad I didn’t have to go throgh a big ceremonial opening in front of my whole family because that could have been awful. I think my dad is more pleased than I am (ever get the feeling your parents are living their lives again through you?). I think because I’d been trying not to get to excited in case I didn’t get in, I couldn’t get that excited that I had, but I think it’s probably best if getting into Cambridge isn’t your main reason for living your life.

Looking back

Not sure- now I’ve got an offer the temptation is to say yes, but I did wonder why I’d applied several times during November/December times. I never really had a burning desire to go and felt like filling in endless forms and having extra lessons and practice interviews and then having to go there for two days was all a bit too much effort given how unlikely I was to get in. But overall, I think I would apply again for the same reason I did last time, which is that if you don’t, you’ll always wonder if you could have done it.

Don’t make getting into Cambridge the most important thing in your life. It’s widely accepted that students elsewhere have way more fun. On a practical note, don’t arrive at the college too early because the waiting is by far the worst part. Treat the whole interview process as a few days off from school- nothing to worry about! ANd finally, silence is far from golden in an interview. Always say everything you think of, even if it’s “I suppose I could try doing this, but on second thoughts that wouldn’t work”. Chances are, something you say will be good and otherwise they’ll never know if you had any ideas or if you were thinking about the weather.