Application

 Oxford

 Lady Margaret Hall

 Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE)

 2009

 offer made

Applicant

 International Baccalaureate

 pre-qualification

 overseas

 Hong Kong

 Independent – non-selective

 yes (9 A*)

International Baccalaureate

( predicted 7; gained NA)

( predicted 7; gained NA)

( predicted 7; gained NA)

( predicted 3; gained NA)

( predicted 7; gained NA)

( predicted 7; gained NA)

For IB, I also took SL World Politics (school-based syllabus), predicted 7.

Details about the offer

 conditional

40 points, including bonus points, with 6s and 7s in Higher Level subjects

yes

N/A

 grades pending/unknown

Decisions about the application

I felt Oxford is the best choice for PPE and that I’d benefit from the tutorial system.

I’d visited both and preferred Cambridge (as a town), but it’s Oxford that offers PPE.

I didn’t put much thought into it, to be honest, but from looking through college websites, I liked LMH’s grounds, absence of tourists and friendly atmosphere.

Preparation

yes

mock interviews, checking our personal statements

Thinking back, if I had done no mock interviews and read nothing about my subject but my interviews would have gone more or less the same. So don’t stress. But reading is good anyway, and for mock interviews, it’s helpful to have someone who will thoroughly question your answers.

Interview

yes

Oxford TSA – very little preparation is needed or even available. (From what I heard from other applicants, the essay questions for international and home students were different.)

On the multiple choice part, I felt I’d done much worse than in practice papers, especially on maths. I also didn’t finish my essay because of the time limit, but I guess everyone’s in the same boat. I don’t have my results yet though.

no

no

I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I’d be, especially after talking to other applicants who were all friendly and encouraging. However, I thought my interviews went badly as I had the constant impression that the tutors didn’t like what I was saying, and occasionally ended up fumbling or saying ‘I don’t know’ when put on the spot. I tried to think aloud though, which helped as the tutors sometimes guided me to better answers based on my previous ones.

It’s true that preparation hardly helps – I wasn’t asked about any specific current affairs, although the Politics tutors would often ask me to give examples (though only on a topic I’d mentioned on my personal statement and so should know about anyway). I take Philosophy but this didn’t stop me from stumbling through the interview; similarly, the applicants who have taken Economics said that it did not help them in interview at all.

The tutors tended to ask me follow-up questions that exposed contradictions or tensions in my argument. I tried to recognise and reconcile them as best as I could, shifting my position a bit.

I had a few idiotic moments but the tutors didn’t make a big deal out of it. I got a GCSE-level maths question wrong in my Economics interview, which was embarrassing, but the tutor just said ‘I like your reasoning’ and guided me from there. Similarly, there were parts in some of my interviews where I was talking about a concept but didn’t have the terminology for it and the tutors would fill it in.

There was a game theory question in my Economics interview which had quite complicated rules. I initially wanted to panic because it felt like I’d not have any answer at all, but blurted out possible lines of reasoning and so the tutors (eventually) guided me to a correct answer.

– The Politics interview questions came from my personal statement and branched out to linked, more general issues.
– For Economics, I was given problems on fixed costs, game theory, and probability.
– For Philosophy, they gave me a sheet of arguments and asked if each was valid/true. Then a discussion about free will and morality.

I dressed smart-casual, thinking I’d feel most comfortable that way (not too casual but not overdressed). It doesn’t matter though.

Impressions

I only visited LMH. LMH’s buildings aren’t old and grand like those of some older colleges – I thought this made it less intimidating but still beautiful. I enjoyed the grounds and view of the river, although I’m sure winter’s not the best time to see them. Everyone seemed very friendly.

The toilet/shower facilities in my building were communal but there were a decent number and worked really well (For some reason I tend to have bad experiences with plumbing in the UK).

I’m used to Asian food which biases my judgment, but I thought it wasn’t bad.

During interview, they generally didn’t make much deliberate effort to be friendly, jumping straight into academic questions (which is fair enough). Some were very friendly and tended to guide me towards better answers, while others would frown or even laugh at my answers. Both tutors seemed to behave quite similarly, and in the same way to every candidate, so I imagine they ‘put on an act’ for interviews.

They were really friendly and helpful. It calmed me down a lot to chat to them while they were taking me to the interview rooms.

Final stage

I was surprised as I thought my interviews hadn’t gone well enough. Relieved, because of the very nervous wait – and of course really excited.

Looking back

Yes – I would still have enjoyed the interview experience (except for the flights) even if I had been rejected.

– At the interview, forget everything else and just do your best. I got a lot of advice from family and friends but if I’d thought about it I would have become more nervous. Similarly, the more you think about your interviews afterwards the worse they seem, so try not to.
– Stop and think before answering questions (I sometimes forgot to)
– If you don’t know how to answer a question, admit it, but offer a possible line of reasoning towards an answer.
– Take clear positions – then be prepared to defend or shift them if the tutors make them seem untenable later on.
– Read around your subject, particularly what’s on your personal statement (some LMH applicants had to admit they hadn’t read a book mentioned on theirs). There won’t be much time to do this by the time you get your interview invite though.
– I think it’s helpful to socialise with other applicants between interviews