i‑Learner Education Centre

Steps to Success » University Applications

Learning How to Think for an Interview

Succeeding at a university interview is all about getting the correct answer, right? Wrong. Many students have the misconception that doing well at an interview means responding correctly to the interviewers’ questions. However, spending three years on a College admissions panel at the University of Oxford showed me that tutors are much more interested in how you think, rather than how much you know. They’re looking for students who can consider a problem or an unseen text and think critically through the task, even if they give the wrong answer at the end. This is because at university you’ll be faced with endless new material and knowledge, which you’ll need to absorb, address and question. Tutors not only select students who can handle this amount of learning, but also those who are interesting and can produce robust arguments.

So how do you acquire these skills? Fundamentally, you’ll need to train yourself to think out loud, question what you learn, and take risks. If you’re working on a science or maths problem, for example, talk through the task with a friend and explain how you’d get to your final answer. If you’re reading a current affairs article, find counter-arguments and articulate them out loud. If literature or history are more interesting to you, find some new material and try to work out what the writer is communicating and how. Practise as much as possible explaining your position to a friend and ask them to challenge your argument. At this stage, it doesn’t matter too much who is right – the key thing is to argue, ‘show your working’, and support your points with evidence. Don’t be afraid of taking risks or even being creative! At the end of the day, tutors want fun and curious students, not robots!