Application

 Cambridge

 Trinity

 Natural Sciences (Physical)

 2001

 offer made

Applicant

 A-levels

 pre-qualification

 EU

 Czech Republic

 Grammar School

 yes

A-levels

(NA at AS)

(NA at AS)

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

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

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

Advanced Extension Awards

(predicted NA; gained NA)

English as a Foreign Language – IELTS (9.0), CAE (A)

Details about the offer

 conditional

A in Mathematics

I already had AAA at the time of the application

yes

Cambridge – firm. UCL (unconditional) – insurance.

yes

yes

UCL

 offer met

Decisions about the application

The perceived quality of tuition, the job prospects for graduates, the tutorial system and my love for Cambridge were the main reasons.

I studied English at a language school in Cambridge for a month when I was 15. I then returned to the town to sit my A-level examinations and fell in love with the place, got to know Cambridge quite well and made friends there.It was therefore a natural choice for me, having spent a very limited amount of time elsewhere in Britain.
I also think that Cambridge has a better reputation for the sciences than Oxford.

Natural Sciences (Physical)

Trinity – By recommendation. I also read about Trinity’s excellent reputation in science and maths. (The Trinity prospectus says that 29 Nobel prize winners in science and economics studied or taught at the college, plus the likes of Isaac Newton). It’s also very large (the largest college in Cambridge) and I feel that I’d have a better chance of making friends there than at a smaller college.

Preparation

yes

I arranged 3 practice interviews at the college where I took my exams. The interviewers were very encouraging and helpful. My Physics correspondence tutor wrote the UCAS and Cambridge references for me.

The Forms: Ask a few people e.g. friends, relatives, tutors, to read through the forms, especially the personal statements, and encourage them to put forward suggestions about how your application form could be improved.

The interview(s): Read around your subject, even though in the end much of your extra work might seem superfluous. You could get some ideas about interesting books from the Cambridge University website (www.cam.ac.uk) – there is a Preliminary Reading List in the Natural Sciences section (you don´t have to read any of the books, of course, but they might be of some help). Most people who apply for nat-sci read the magazine New Scientist (and possibly Scientific American). You might get The Biological Sciences Review and/or The Physical Sciences Review from your library. At my mock interview I was advised to familiarise myself with the structure of the course I was applying to read .
Revise the basic principles in your A-level subjects. Apart from that there isn’t much you can do. They don’t lie in the prospectuses, etc., when they say that they want to see how you can think on your feet – that’s exactly what my interview was like.

Interview

no

no

no

I had one interview with two members of the Natural Sciences staff, one a chemist, the other a physicist.

the general part of the interview
The physicist remarked ‘so you’ve come from Prague, haven’t you?’ ‘Yes, that’s right.’ ‘So when did you arrive?’ ‘ummmm on the 24th [the interview was on December 4] ‘Oh that’s a long time ago. Have you been having a look around?’ ‘eerrrrmmm actually I had some practice interviews last week… whooooppppsss I shouldn’t have told you that ‘ [laughter] a couple of questions about the practice interviews.
I was asked how I was managing to study full-time at one school and do a correspondence course in parallel with that. I mumbled something to the effect that I liked my subjects.
I mentioned (in my personal statement) that I liked reading the New Scientist magazine, so I was asked to talk about a recent article I had read. I chose to talk about the evolution of vitamins as organic molecules indispensable for organisms.
Another point in my personal statement: I like collecting interesting English words, so the chemist wanted to hear an example, and I reeled off my favourite floccinaucinihilipilification, with the meaning and etymology.
The academic part of the interview:
part 1 (conducted by the chemist): I was given the first and last elements of period 2 and was asked to fill in the rest of the period. I then had to choose 2 elements from period 2 and describe the bonding between them. I chose lithium and fluorine. Discussion about the electrostatic forces holding a crystal of lithium fluoride together. The inverse square law. Calculate the force of attraction between the lithium cation and the 6 neighbouring fluoride anions (the interviewer had a diagram of the lattice at the ready) assuming that the distance between the ions is 1 unit. What other forces are involved (attraction between the lithium ion and the fluoride ions further away). The intramolecular bonding in carbon monoxide and dioxide. (dot-and-cross diagrams). The principle of the greenhouse effect. Why isn’t nitrogen a greenhouse gas? Why is the radiation reflected from the earth of a lower frequency than the incoming radiation from the sun? Definition of pH. When you have a concentration of H+ ions of 0.01, what is the pH? Dilute 1000 times. what’s the pH now? Dilute 1000 times again. What’s the pH now?
part 2 (physicist’s turn): I was given 3 graphs of displacement against time (a straight-line graph with zero gradient, a straight-line graph with a non-zero gradient, a sine wave) and I was expected to draw the velocity against displacement graphs.
part 3 (physics): I was asked if I knew anything about relativity. When I said that very little, the physicist said that we were going to derive a relationship for the mass of a body and its velocity (the mass increases with velocity, and would become infinite at the speed of light – I knew that at least). I had to draw the graph of mass against velocity (asymptote at the speed of light). Using the fact that the mass is m (rest mass) at zero velocity and infinite at the speed of light, I had to try to work out an equation incorporating the rest mass of the body, the speed at which the object is travelling and the speed of light. Then the interviewer said that there was a coefficient , alpha, in the equation whose approximate value at low velocities we would estimate (the denominator in the equation is raised to a power of alpha). Applying binomial expansion to the denominator (I got help, I hadn´t covered the general binomial expansion yet) and neglecting the terms in higher powers I got a relationship. After further manipulation and using the relationship E= mc^2 + 1/2 mv^2 for the total energy of a body moving at velocity v, I managed to work out the value of alpha. I was guided through the whole procedure, so I probably sound more intelligent than I actually am!!! I was so happy when I got the right answer that I blurted out ‘can I keep it?’ [meaning the piece of paper I’d been writing on] The physicist replied that I’d have to keep it in my head, which, amazingly, I have, to an extent.
That was it really!

see above I’d like to make a few points about the interview. 1) I made quite a few completely idiotic mistakes. 2) The interviewers were not at all intimidating, had a sense of humour and guided me through the whole process. 3) I really enjoyed the experience. 4) The interviewers didn’t focus on the areas of academic interest I had declared in my personal statement, certainly not in the academic part of the interview. I later talked to the person who was interviewed after me and she got practically identical questions to mine, apart from the relativity one. 5) The questions were not too difficult but the nerves and the fact that I had two Cambridge scientists scrutinising my thought processes probably didn’t greatly improve my performance! So the moral of the story is to keep calm.

A suit. my parents were convinced that I could only get into Cambridge in a suit. With hindsight I’d never do it again, as I am not used to wearing suits. And the terrible high-heeled shoes made my ankles hurt. Ouch!

Impressions

I’ve only seen Trinity really. It’s lovely and easy to get lost in.

Excellent

The interviewers were friendly and nice, with a sense of humour. I didn’t have much time to think about the interviewers during the interview – I was too busy making a total idiot of myself. 🙂

All the Trinity people I have met so far have been kind and personable.

Final stage

I was relieved and happy.

Looking back

Yes, I enjoyed the experience very much and would love to study at Trinity. Also, the interview was funny. 🙂

Try to be special, unique. With so many excellent applicants trying to get in, it’s important to stand out. Try to become comfortable and confident talking to educated adults (a useful skill for the interviews).