Application

 Cambridge

 St John’s

 Natural Sciences (Biological)

 2009

 offer made

Applicant

 A-levels

 pre-qualification

 home

 Switzerland

 Independent – selective

 yes (9 A*,3 A)

A-levels

(A at AS)

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

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

(A at AS; predicted A; gained A at A2)

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

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

As am the first year for which they are available my predicted grades were all A* and I already had sufficient marks in Maths A level to gain an A*, when I certificate at the end of the summer, and so effectively knew that if they made an offer of one A* and some As and they did not specify the A* then I just needed to find the As.

Details about the offer

 conditional

A in Biology, A in Chemistry, A in Mathematics, A in Physics

I need A*AAA, from those four a levels, to get in.

yes

no

All the Unis I applied to were good but none of them were as good as Cambridge. I have an offer from Manchester which is very appealing but I might well have reapplied if I did not get an offer.

 grades pending/unknown

Decisions about the application

I am competitive and so push myself academically and having it as a goal meant I worked harder. It is also world famous and has a very high standard of research and excellent teaching quality.

I visited the towns and decided I would rather live in Cambridge than Oxford, the course is also broader and suited me better.

Broad start with specialisation later.

It’s reputation, it’s looks, it’s wealth and it’s location.

Preparation

yes

45 mins a week for Biology and Chemistry from after AS levels till the interviews. We did oxbridge style questions and covered areas which were interesting but off syllabus.

read around your subject, if you know a lot around the edges of the syllabus then you can come across as keen and self-motivated. By all means research your personal statement so you know a bit about what you mention (I mentioned a particular hormone and a disease and so I researched them in depth) but it isn’t the be all and end all. I had, including an oxbridge application interview prep day, about 8 mock interviews and none of them really helped. The purpose of your interview is to see how you think and to take you out of your depth – you cannot prepare for that. Get comfortable with discussing your interests aloud, find a subject that you are happy discussing for a while, read and expand your frame of reference but don’t think that a lot of preparation means you can be complacent on the day. KNOW YOUR AS COURSES BACK TO FRONT!

Interview

no

no

yes

There was an hour long test, quantitative biology and chemistry questions then an essay. It was all AS level stuff, you can check out www.nrich.com and look under biology.

I had one general interview where he asked the three standard questions
1)Why Cambridge?
2)Why this course?
3)Why this college?
think about them but do not learn answers – it is very obvious.
Also asked about what I knew about the application procedure and where I wanted to be in 10 years time. I also had to explain a quotation from a book that was in my personal statement – it was a bit pretentious and he thought I had written it myself. It was on a comfy sofa in a nice study – the purpose is to relax you and warm you up for the subsequent interviews.

the tone changed completely from the general to the subject ones – don’t be thrown. I you have a bad interview then don’t let it affect you. I was taken so far out of my depth in my first interview that I was floundering and had thought I had shot my chances to pieces. They want to see how you deal with new information and how easy it is to teach you. I walked out dejected and had to pick myself up for my final interview, don’t worry about what you can no longer change. I realised when I recanted my interview to my friends that I had actually learned quite a lot about something I had no previous knowledge of and that is what happens in tutorials so don’t second guess anything. If you get it wrong then correct yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for paper to write something down – I am quite visual so found I could explain something better with a diagram than with words.

started off by asking me about some summer work I had done to ease me into it
-what is PGD?
-how does PCR work?
then he asked me for an area of my AS bio that interested me, i said genetics when i meant DNA and the biochemical side of transcription etc. (prepare a topic you like but be prepared to answer questions you havent thought of. i.e. dont go in with a script but no knowledge. I had to design a cross breeding experiment for black and white mice.
-what is the phenotype of the first generation
-what is the phenotype of the second generation
-what happens if you got these results
etc
the point was that i devised an experiment and then was flexible with my opinions when my results were not as expected eg two strains of pure white mice were bred and after x generations they were all black, why? I had no idea so he led me to the answer that there are multiple stages to melanin production.
then other interviewer clicked a castanet and then told me to point to where it was with my eyes closed (he moved it around and clicked) I pointed to the right spots then had to work out how.
-how can your brain tell the difference? (i said volume or time delay)
-at what frequency might there be a problem with one of them? (i had no idea but eventually he led me to the idea that above a certain frequency the sound will diffract around my head and so the phase difference will be lost and so below that we use phase difference[timing] and above that we use volume – i was almost in tears after that as had no idea what i was doing but apparently wasn’t that wrong.