Downing Outreach Blog

The Cambridge Interview

20 Oct 2018 | Jess Lister | Interviews

Please note: All decision letters for 2019 and 2020 applicants will be sent via email on the 14th January. You will not receive any communication before this date.


Application Feedback: Your academic referee may request feedback about your application before the deadline of 31 January 2019 by emailing and including your full name, the subject you applied for and your UCAS ID.  If such a request is received, we will send this before the end of April 2019.  Please note that no feedback letters will be sent before 27 February 2019.


“Who gets an interview?”

We aim to interview as many applicants as possible – last year we interviewed over 80% of total applicants. You usually need to meet the following conditions:

  • Choice of A-Levels satisfied subject-specific entry requirements
  • A-Level grades meet, or are predicted to meet, the standard conditional offer (A*A*A for science, A*AA for arts, 40-41 in IB)
  • Meeting any additional requirements (ie. for medicine and veterinary medicine as outlined on the relevant subject webpages )

No application is automatically rejected- each one is assessed by an admissions officer and an admissions tutor to take into consideration any extenuating circumstances.

“How will the admissions assessment affect my application?”

The assessments aren’t pass/fail tests – your performance in any required written assessment won’t be considered in isolation, but taken into account alongside the other elements of your application.

More information:

“When will the interviews be held?”

Interviews will take place at Downing College between the 27th November to the 15th December. Dates for each subject will be released shortly.

If you are unable to make one or more of the interview dates please email Kate Flint ( as soon as possible 

“When will I find out about my interview date?” 

We aim to inform all applicants 2 weeks before their scheduled interview date.

“What should I expect on the day?”

Most applicants will have 2 interviews, lasting 20-30 minutes, as well as any at interview tests and assessments. The interviews are likely to involve discussions on:

  • Recent academic work
  • Your personal statement, and any wider reading or wider experience mentioned
  • Visible issues related to the subject in the wider world
  • New scenarios in which to apply existing knowledge
  • Scientific problems, graphs or data (if/where relevant)

The ‘interview’ is more of a discussion ,where you will have to think through a number of problems. It’s worth remembering that there are no hidden agendas or trick questions. The interviewers are also not looking for a smooth or polished performance- confidence is not the same thing as competence. It is okay to ask questions, or ask for things to be repeated. The interviews will also be predominantly academic and subject-focused

“What does Cambridge look for at interview?”

  • Enthusiasm for your chosen subject
  • Motivation, commitment, and good organisation
  • The ability to handle new, complex, and challenging ideas
  • The ability to use existing knowledge in unfamiliar situations
  • The ability to experiment with new ideas, and see connections between different but related situations
  • Professional and/or interpersonal skills (where appropriate, ie. medicine applicants)

The video below is a series of sample interviews, done by recent undergraduates. You can find other examples on youtube by searching for ‘Cambridge mock interview’

“How can I prepare?”

  • Continue to read around your subject, and keep up to date with any relevant developments in the news or online
  • Use the resources page to find subject specific information, reading lists, podcasts and videos.
  • Develop your own opinions and interpretations about the things you read
  • Practice talking out loud about your subject. The University of Oxford’s sample interview questions can be a good starting point for discussions or mock interviews
  • Look back over all the information you have already submitted. It can help to create a checklist of any topics or resources you have mentioned in your personal statements, submitted written work, or SAQ, as any of these could be brought up at interview
  • Check out the Downing College ‘Meet the Interviewer’ series, where academic staff answer FAQs about subject interviews
  • Practice any pre-interview or at interview tests
  • There is more information on the following pages: ‘What do interviews involve’ and ‘How should I prepare’ 

The video below gives a comprehensive guide on how to prepare on the day



Jess Lister

Former history student at Emmanuel College, and Downing College Schools Liaison Officer My role involves organising outreach work primarily in the South West, advising both students and teachers in all things related to Cambridge and Higher Education more generally