Posts tagged How To Get In
Am I Right For Oxford?

Am I clever enough? Will everyone be cleverer than me? Will the tutors like me?


These are the questions I asked myself over and over again. There is no doubt about it Oxford can seem intimidating.
The stunning architecture, Harry Potter-esque dining halls and world expert tutors are enough to make most prospective applicants feel daunted.
Being nervous is normal but being so stressed that you can’t get your words out in the interview room and burst into floods of tears isn’t the best sign. As much as the interviews are used to test your knowledge, they are also a great way of showing how you react under pressure. They are designed to reflect a mini-tutorial which once at Oxford you will have on aweekly basis. So if you can’t cope with the interview, it’s unlikely you’ll cope with the workload and pressure once you start Oxford.
If you think you can deal with the pressure then ask yourself the next lot of questions:

  • Am I committed to working hard?
  • Do I have the grades?
  • Can I motivate myself to meet deadlines without a teacher pushing me?
  • Am I open to new ideas?
  • Does the tutorial system appeal to me?
  • Am I good at exams?
  • Am I passionate about my subject?
  • Does ‘Oxford Life’ appeal to me?

If you can answer YES to most of these then you really have nothing to lose!

Top Tips

  • Look around Oxford or research it online to see whether the University appeals to you.
  • Research your course, to check you will be happy studying it in minute detail for the next 3-4 years.
  • Self-analyse- ask yourself whether you truly believe you have the qualities to get you through an Oxford degree.
  • Discuss your subject with everyone and anyone who will listen and get them to ask you questions– this is a great way to practice staying calm under pressure.
  • Stop comparing yourself to everyone else – this is difficult but focus on the qualities you have.
  • Don’t pretend to be what you think the tutors are looking for, be true to yourself.
  • BELIEVE – if you really want something you have to believe you can get it and that belief, along with hard work, can go a very long way.


Tutorials – a weekly meeting with your tutor to discuss your week’s work. The tutorial system makes Oxford different from other University. You can’t hide in the back of a lecture theatre, the spotlight is on you!

Matilda is a student and blogger at Oxford. She writes about the application process and student life in her blog and on instagram @thatoxfordgirl!

ThatOxfordGirl, 29 Dec 2016

How to ace Oxbridge interviews: insider’s tips

There is one component more dreaded than all other in the application process to some of the English universities: the Oxbridge interviews. While there are some very good reasons to be nervous, interviews are in reality a quite pleasant shadow of the mythical and terror-inducing experiences often talked about. That being said, it’s gooto know a thing or two about them. In this guide, we will go through what can be expected from an interview at Oxbridge, and how to best approach them. First we’ll have a look at some of basic things to know about interviews, and what they’re about. After this we’ll discuss some things to keep in mind to perform at your very best.

What are interviews?

First things first; what are we talking about? Interviews are a component of the application process to some universities in the UK, Oxford and Cambridge specifically. (It is beyond the author’s knowledge whether they are practices by any other institutions, and whether they would be similar. This guide focuses on interviews at Oxbridge). If invited to an interview, you will receive the invitation a few weeks before they take place, but you might not be given much notice (~10 days is not uncommon). Some international students are given the option to perform the interview via videolink if they are unable to attend, though we recommend to attend in person if at all possible. You will then be invited to stay in the college which summoned you for a few days, during which the interviews take place.

What is the format of an interview in Oxbridge? Unfortunately there is no single response. It depends on subject, college and what your interviewer feels like doing. In general, however, a candidate has 2-4 interviews during her stay, each being 15-30 minutes long, with one or more professors attending. The interview is meant to be very similar to a tutorial, which is the personal teaching sessions which are considered unique to Oxbridge. The interview consists largely of the professors asking questions within the subject, allowing you to respond, and then asking you to elaborate on some aspect. When answering questions you will experience a queasy feeling of being stupid, thinking all your responses are wrong. Don’t worry however, all candidates share this fear, and most likely you’ll be doing better than you think.

What is it like?

To paint a more concrete picture I will give a quick account of my own interviews. I applied to Philosophy, Politics and Economics, and had one interviews of 15 minutes in each of the topics. In my philosophy interview I was asked about how philosophy relates to economics and politics, answering something about morality which didn’t particularly seem to impress my interviewer. I was then given a problem to judge whether certain propositions where implied by others (if X then Y; X is the case, is Y the case?). Other candidates were asked ‘do you know that your suitcase is currently in your room’? While thinking about the problem my interviewer told me I had 15 seconds to respond, whereby I panicked and blurted out answers, to which she said ‘ok, now you have to go’.

The day after I had interviews in politics and economics. In the politics interview I was asked to look at some statistics and explain what they indicated. After this we discussed democracy, and some of its problems. In my economics interview I was amongst other things asked about the value of gold, and whether one should smelt gold coins and sell the raw material if the value of gold increased or decreased in different ways relative to the monetary value of the coin. To each of my responses my interviewer looked sharply at me with a blank expression and slowly said ‘ok’, with a terrifying effect. These examples are mine, and experiences vary immensely between colleges, interviewers and candidates.

Some candidates might be invited to attend interviews at other colleges. When this happens, applicants usually cannot help but speculate in the reasons behind such invitations, which is rarely of any use. This is because the reasons vary a lot, from the feared I’m-not-good-enough-for-the college-I-applied-to-so-they-want-to-ship-me-over-somewhere-else, to logistics due to some professor who really wanted to get home early to watch football. Therefore, better not to speculate and spend one’s time worrying about better things.

What are they looking for?

So far so good, but now to what you’re really reading this post for: what are the interviewers looking for in candidates? The simple answer is that they are looking for academic potential. Unlike the typical American university, Oxbridge doesn’t care if you’re active or lazy, timid or sociable; they care only about how well you would do in the field you’re applying to. In an interview a professor is trying to figure out whether they could make you flourish as a student of their field, and your job is to convince them that you have the potential and desire to do so. If there is anything you need to know about interviews it’s this, all that follows are just effective ways to do this.

Before progressing to some advice on how you’ll be able to project your awesomeness, let’s consider an interview from the perspective of a professor. Firstly, professors have lives, in which they partly live like most of us but also do research and sometimes take time to explain to undergraduates why they’re wrong. Once a year they set all that aside to conduct interviews and find new students to join the institution. The reason this is good to remember is this: every time you start speculating in what the true intention of your interviewer is (Is this a trick question?; I think I missed her hint to change topic; Oh my god, why is he staring at me like that?), remember that the truth is that they simply have better things to do than to plot elaborate schemes of how to question you. What they really want is to effectively understand your potential, and try to figure out whether they would want you as a student.

How can you convince them that you’re their ideal student?

It is difficult to give any clear cut responses, but some general advice can be given.

Make sure you respond to the questions being asked. It’s very easy to turn a question in a way that allows you to answer it in a way you know well, or might have prepared in advance. This will only frustrate the interviewer, who wants to find your potential to understand new concepts, not hear what you already know. Therefore, though it’s a bit scarier, it’s a lot better to listen to the question being asked, take some time to think and really engage with it on the spot.

Be nice and demonstrate your enthusiasm. Your interviewer will effectively be choosing her students for three years to come, and will prefer someone they tolerate. The best way not to annoy professors is by being humble, and listen and think about what they’re saying. A very good practice is to seriously consider counterarguments to your position in their strongest form. Furthermore, professors like engaged students. If you are able to effectively show your interest in the topic, this will likely make a better impression than if you were to only show an aptness but indifference to it. This brings us to the last point.

Enjoy the experience. It’s very easy to get bogged down in strategies of how to approach an interview and purport yourself in them. Like a date, the best way to make an interview worse than it could have been is by thinking too much about how you’re doing. Instead, take the occasion for what it is: a chat about some field of mutual interest between two people, namely you and the interviewer. If you can think of an interview as nothing more than a chance at an interesting conversation, you’re well on your way to be accepted.

Wrapping up

Let’s review some of the points we’ve brought up here:

  • Interviews are components of the application process to Oxford and Cambridge
  • Interviewers aim to discover your capacity and enthusiasm for the subject you’re applying for
  • Focus on the topic and questions being asked, don’t worry about any hidden intentions from your interviewers
  • Be humble and demonstrate your enthusiasm
  • Enjoy the experience

In the end there’s only one other thing that needs remarking. If you’re invited to an interview, that means you have the personal capacity to be accepted, otherwise you wouldn’t have been invited. So don’t worry and enjoy the interview experience, because you can feel confident that you’re good enough to be there.


Below you will find a quick FAQ of some of the questions which haven’t been handled in the guide above:

Q: How much should I prepare for my interview?

This depends, and the recommendation varies with subjects. Some subjects don’t allow for much preparation that you could have use of in an interview. I recommend to prepare enough that you (1) you feel confident in your subject and (2) you are ‘in the mindset’ when you enter your interview. For a topic like Mathematics, or Economics, it’s definitely advantageous to have all the base concepts clearly in your mind so you don’t have to infer the definition of calculus in your interview. For others, like English or Philosophy, there isn’t too much preparation you can do, and the risk of preparing too much is that you’ll have a bunch of clever responses you really want to mention though they don’t necessarily fit the question. This might ruin your interview. Therefore, the best thing is to prepare so that you have all the basic knowledge in the subject necessary to think on our feet and tackle any question thrown at you.

Q: How should I dress for my interview?

Many candidates worry about this. The truth is that it really doesn’t matter. The reason is not (only) the immense tolerance of the professors, but rather – as mentioned above – that they have so many better things to think about than your sense of style. The only recommendation I would give is not to give them a reason to think about it either. In other words, don’t dress in a way that might make them distracted from what you’re saying (e.g. military outfit, Pikachu outfit or underwear are less recommended). In my interviews I wore trousers with a jacket, while my friend who has just flown in from a hitchhike in Uzbekistan wore sandy jeans with big holes in them, and we both got in.


Paul De Font-Roux, 18 May 2016

Deconstructing the Personal Statement

DisclaimerThis is meant as an illustration of what a personal statement could look like as well as a few do’s and dont’s to consider in the process. This is by no means an exhaustive or authoritative account of writing the personal statement. For your own sake, please don’t copy this statement and don’t recycle phrases you like. UCAS use software to check for plagiarism and do it well: A BBC article from 2007(!) reveals that many applicants try to cheat and are easily caught.

I have thought about the concept of “freedom” for some time now and studied it up close via the triumvirate of philosophy, politics and economics.

There are many ways to start a statement. Usually, you want to avoid the clichés:

  • Opening with a quote (interestingly, Oscar Wilde is apparently the most quoted person in these statements)
  • “I have always been fascinated with X” (which is almost surely false – I have never seen a toddler fascinated with mechanical engineering)

This example is quite innocent. It could be more bold. It also mentions philosophy, politics, and economics, which makes it a lot harder to apply to similar degrees at other universities (e.g. philosophy and economics), but this is more a matter of preference than style.

For instance, I attended a Quran lesson out of interest and became involved in a discussion with the Imam about “free will”. Having read Simon Blackburn’s “Think” and Nigel Warburton’s “Philosophy: The Classics”, I knew philosophy offered many interpretations of the nature of the mind and, in particular, I remembered the Locke vs. Leibniz dispute on Cartesian Dualism. According to the Imam, however, “God alone knows our destiny”. In other words: We suffer from the delusion that our will is free, when really it is not. Although his “argument” was only a conclusion, I found it intriguing nevertheless. Chaos theory stipulates that any complex iterative model is no better than a wild guess. Given the intricacy of the human brain, free will may just be illusory, albeit persuasive. Could the Imam be right, I wonder?

In the first paragraph, this example jumps straight to discussing an aspect of their interest in this subject. That’s a key point throughout the statement: You want to demonstrate your interest rather than just state it. It’s the difference between saying “I have always been fascinated with mechanical engineering” to telling a story about how you once took apart a car engine, because you were curious.

This paragraph does not use too many “big words”, although words like “intruiging” stick out (on the other hand, it’s role in this sentence could be defended). If you can find a simpler word, use it. The tutors who read the statement are not impressed with flowery language.

Philosophical inquiries did not, however, satisfy my desire to comprehend the concept of freedom. Therefore, I began to look at freedom as a type of currency: something to be stored, borrowed and traded. Reflecting on my wider readings from this perspective, I discovered that, for instance, Orwell’s “1984” exemplifies communism where freedom is centralized and only parcelled out to the population in small, equal amounts. Hobbes’ “Leviathan” warns of anarchy and the “state of nature” in which, ironically, the pursuit for total freedom would deplenish our “freedom purse” entirely. In “The Undercover Economist”, Tim Harford analyses Cameroon, a country in which income distribution is highly skewed. I realised that increasing the freedom of the wealthiest – economically, politically or socially – would not serve the interest of the greater good. Nor would it noticeably impact the aggregate freedom of the country, because income follows a Pareto distribution, rather than a Gaussian distribution. All of this tell me that freedom is multifaceted, slippery and heavily contextual. Yet, I hope to model it as a currency and subject it to the rigours of mathematics.

A criticism of this paragraph is the tendency to name-drop as many titles as possible (in this case: Orwell, Hobbes, and Harford). As mentioned before, you want to demonstrate your knowledge and drawing on material you’ve studied outside school is excellent for this purpose. As a rule of thumb, you want to mention at least two items. This could be books, article, podcasts, TED talks, movies, or documentaries. This paragraph could do better by focusing more on each item and mentioning fewer.

During a case study of Enron in English class, I discovered Malcolm Gladwell’s article “Open Secrets”. It made think about how lack of transparency and imperfect markets limit the freedom of the many, who are then left out or disadvantaged. From Enron to Lehman Brothers, I enjoyed reading Michael Lewis’ “The Big Short” and watching “The Inside Job” by Charles Ferguson. They opened my eyes to the prospect of bad incentives and overly complex financial schemes conspiring to derail the economy. This led me to write my Specialised Study Project on the reliability of economic models. Writing this paper intensified my interests, specifically the application of mathematics in economics, but it also made me consider the links between economics, politics and mathematics. The processes of researching for my paper, reading books in my spare time and reflecting on my findings supplemented each other. Likewise, I have also realised that philosophy, politics and economics not only overlap, but also fuel one another.

This paragraph also suffers from name-dropping too much. It also uses the verb “intensified” which is heavily over-used (of course, not as much as “passionate”), so try to refrain from this.

The latter half of the paragraph comes of a bit too much as “telling” rather than “showing”.

In my gap year, I have been given the unique opportunity to work full-time in [a large bank] and experience first-hand the world of banking. In my spare time, I own and run a micro-business. I have always managed to find time for leisure activities as I consider myself an efficient time manager. As such I feel well-equipped for university studies and would feel privileged to be able to devote all my time to the subjects about which I truly care: politics, economics and philosophy.

This is the final paragraph which is meant to wrap up and perhaps add some information about the extra-curricular activities of the applicant. As a general rule, admissions officers only care about your academic potential (unlike US universities), so any extra-curricular activities you add will have to support this, which is usually done by saying that doing X has improved your time-management skills. Aim to use maximum 20% of the statement should on extra-curricular activities and a minimum of 80% on demonstrating your academic interests.

Marcus Henglein, 03 Jun 2016

How to write a convincing Personal Statement (UK)

The personal statement is the part of the UCAS application that many prospective students find most nerve-wracking. It’s just a brief introduction of yourself and your interests. Follow the steps in this guide and you’ll be well on your way to success.

Does it even matter?

Will the universities even read it, or is just a trivial UCAS requirement that people stress unnecessarily about? Our experience is that some universities, such as Oxford and Cambridge, place an emphasis on the pre-interview tests and use the personal statement primarily as an inspiration for interview questions. Universities that rely on fewer inputs may place a greater emphasis on the statement, because it helps to signal your interest in the subject and your command of English.


Don’t leave the personal statement to the last minute. In his book “On Writing”, Stephen King recommends budding authors to leave their manuscript in a drawer for at least six weeks before they edit it.

“With six weeks’ worth of recuperation time, you’ll also be able to see any glaring holes in the plot or character development. And listen–if you spot a few of these big holes, you are forbidden to feel depressed about them or to beat up on yourself. Screw-ups happen to the best of us.”

Six weeks is a bit excessive for something as short as a one-page reflection on your interests, but we recommend that you allow yourself enough time to let the statement sit in your drawer for about two weeks before having a second look. With the deadline for Oxford, Cambridge, medicine, and veterinary medicine on the 15th of October, aim to have the first draft done before the 1st of October.

From the other point of view, don’t start your statement too early. You’ll end up going through 20 drafts with minor differences that no one but you will appreciate. If you live by Parkinson’s Law, you’ll recall that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”: If you have two weeks to complete an assignment, you’ll manage in two weeks. If it’s due tonight, then by some mystical force of nature, you’ll get it done in a matter of hours. The point is not to leave the statement for the last minute, but to realise that you can produce a high-quality statement in a short period time through the power – and fear – of the clear and imminent of deadline.


Before you start writing, get a blank piece of paper to flesh out some ideas as to what you want to include in your statement. The UCAS “mindmap” can be a good place to start, although with the minor edit that work history is not relevant for the academically focused universities, so don’t worry about it, unless it has some relevance to the subject you’re applying for.

In particular, focus on the material you’ve studied outside school that’s relevant to the course you’re applying for: Books, articles, documentaries, and the like. If you’re wondering “what kind of books?”, don’t think it has to be heavy-duty academic textbooks. If you’re applying for economics, don’t list Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” but something simple and inviting that you’ve enjoyed: Tim Harford’s “The Undercover Economist”, Levitt & Dubner’s “Freakonomics”, or an article you read in the Economist. Don’t judge too much in this process: Just dump everything onto the paper.


Start with a strong opening sentence. No cliches like “I’ve always wanted to study biochemistry” (no, you haven’t), a quotes like “Stephen Hawking once said ‘Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.'”, or a sweeping statement like “Philosophy is the study of choice” (it isn’t)

In the first paragraph, explain your interest in the subject. Maybe you’ve studied physics for most of your secondary education and only recently acquired an interest in English literature?

Then, as soon as it makes sense in your statement, start providing evidence for your interest. You’ll often hear the advice “Show, don’t tell” and it’s worth being repeated many times. It’s the difference between walking up to someone on the street and telling them “I am a rock star” versus showing up on a stage with a guitar and actually being a rock star — only one will truly impress.

Don’t say that you’ve read a book by Bernanke or Krugman and that you liked it or that it resonated with you. Point to specific arguments that you liked or disagreed with: “Krugman argues that X, which I found curious because I read in the Economist that Y, which made me think that … “, implicitly showing that you care about these issues and can think in those terms.

You’re also welcome to draw on specific examples from your school work, as long as you can show that it’s something you’ve given extra thought.

As a rule of thumb, you want to provide a minimum of two examples of your interest in the course. It’s okay to put down clicheed examples — the pop books you’ll find in an airport — as long as you include some original thoughts in your commentary.

Aim to keep at least 80% of the statement focused on the academic aspects and no more than 20% on so-called extracurricular activities. The 20% would, ideally, show that you have skills that are indirectly useful for studying, such as good time mangement skills.

Finish strong, but don’t feel the need to wrap up (“In summary, I’ve read X, Y, and Z”)

Tips and tricks

  • The statement can only be 4000 characters or 47 lines of text (including spaces and blank lines). This is roughly 600 words long, so keep the content relevant and the style short and simple.
  • Don’t copy from other’s statements. UCAS uses plagiariasm software and can be quite diabolical in turning down applications based on this. A 2011 Telegraph article shows, with some humour, why you really would want to keep it original.
  • Avoid big and fancy words: Put your statement through the Hemingway web app and force yourself to write as minimalistically as possible.
  • Don’t write anything cringy. No deeply personal stories — keep it relevant

Further reading

Marcus Henglein, 18 May 2016

How to study for your English Certificate

If you are a non-native speaker and are planning on applying to a University in the UK or US, you will most likely have to submit a language certification as part of your application.

 TOEFL, IELTS, CAE, CPE, they are all quite similar: They consist of a set of standardised questions and tasks that you have to complete, so regardless of which exam you take. It goes without saying that you need a good level of English, but here are a few tips to help you prepare:

  1. Start early
    Give yourself the time to prepare well. Start with a practice test to see where you stand and which areas you need to work on most.
  2. Practice
    There is no secret recipe for doing well in these exams. After doing a number of past exams and exercises in books, you will start to recognise that there are only a handful types of questions and you will become familiar with the way they are phrased. This is crucial. I worked through my entire book and did every exercise, checked it and took notes of words or idioms I was unfamiliar with.
  3. Master time management
    You have a limited amount of time to complete all the exercises, so whenever you practice do it under exam conditions. That means timing yourself, strictly not using your phone or computer to look something up and learn to find around things that you just cannot remember.
  4. Go above and beyond
    Learning a language is a lengthy process, you will need to invest a lot of time into it, but it should be fun! Reading helps tremendously, you can also listen to audiobooks or the news to soak up the intonation and come to grips with accents. The internet is your friend.

Don’t worry if that sounds stressful, many people have done it before and if you are well organised and practice, get exposure and keep your head cool during the exam, you should not have to worry.

Good luck!

Hannah Niese, 02 Mar 2017

English language requirements: IELTS, TOEFL, CAE or CPE, which one to take?

Prepare your English for university

Naturally, all universities in the English-speaking world expect their candidates to have an excellent level of English. But please don’t freak out – this doesn’t mean you need to write and speak like a native, especially if you never really had a chance to have English as your language of instruction at school at any stage.

This article doesn’t discuss language requirements for GCSEs, International Baccalaureate (IB), or European Baccalaureate (EB). All these diplomas are not language certificates per se and are usually fully taught in English. For instance, if you studied at a British school or did an IB programme for at least 2 years prior to the start date of your university course, you wouldn’t be obliged to sit language certificates. In order to be sure about your language waiver, you should always double check specific language requirements on your chosen university’s website.

This article will give you a brief overview of the most popular language testing systems available: IELTS, TOEFL (in its online and paper forms), and Cambridge English exams (CAE and CPE). We also prepared a table of minimal requirements for English at the best universities in the UK and some study tips.



By and large, it is the most popular standardised test of English. IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System and is jointly run by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia, and Cambridge English Language Assessment. There are two main types of IELTS: Academic and General Training. For those who apply for higher education the IELTS Academic exam is a must.

Format: IELTS is very straightforward. Total time is less than less than 4 hours. You sit in four main language parts: listening (4 recordings in 30 min), reading (40 questions in 60 min), writing (2 tasks in 60 min), and speaking (11-14 min with an examiner). In contrast to TOEFL, the speaking part is conducted face-to-face with a certified examiner.

Scoring: IELTS results are reported on a 9-band scale with 1 (which literally means no user of language) to 9 (an expert user of language, an equivalent of the C2 level).

Results: IELTS guarantees the evaluation within 13 days. You can view the results online.

Our advice: Please set up the exam dates in advance so you don’t miss a chance to sit the exam before or during the summer prior to the start of your course. We’d suggest not leaving it to the last minute. What if you missed your condition and have no other time to re-sit the exam?

Being a natural selection for students applying to UK universities, it is very likely you can enrol for the IELTS certificate with a local branch of British Council in your country. They organise IELTS examination dates a couple of times per year (depending on the branch).

For more details consult the IELTS website.


TOEFL is offered as an internet-based test (TOEFL IBT) taken in numerous centres all around the globe. It stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. It is a trademark exam of a private non-profit from the US: Educational Testing Service (ETS).

Format: The exam takes approx. 4 hours and consists of 4 components (reading, listening, speaking, writing). During the whole test you only interact with a computer; you read and hear texts and respond to multiple-choice questions. In the speaking part, your voice is recorded and sent to a marker. There is also a paper version of the same test but the internet-based test is far more popular among students.

Scoring: Each of the 4 components is graded with up to 30 points. The total number of points is – Sherlock Holmes found it out for us – 120!

Results: It takes several weeks after the test for the results to arrive.

Our advice: TOEFL is more popular amongst those applying to the US colleges. EF, a company that specialises in language courses all around the globe, points out that TOEFL is a more logical option for students who want to pursue their studies in the US or Canada.

For more details consult the TOEFL website.



Both exams are organised by Cambridge English Language Assessment (formerly known as the University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations). The Certificate in Advanced English (CAE) is set at a high C1-C2 level (=IELTS 6.5-8.0). The Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE) is the most advanced exam and is ranked at C2 (well above the TOEFL scale and equivalent to IELTS >8.0). In contrast to many other certificates, the Cambridge certificates do not expire.

Format: The tests are structured in a similar way to IELTS and TOEFL: writing, listening, speaking, and reading, though an important aspect of these certificates is the use of English and a focus on grammar. The first (reading and use of English) and second parts (writing) take 1h 30 minutes each, listening lasts 40min, and speaking 15min. Interestingly, the updated speaking test is taken face to face, with 2 candidates and 2 examiners to make sure the conversation measures a natural ability of communicating in English.

Scoring: The scale illustrates performance across a wide range of language ability. In CAE and CPE, scoring between 200-210 refers to a grade A (C2 level). A candidate whose score is between 193 and 199 receives a grade B. A grade C (which is still considered as Level C1) is given to scores between 180 and 192.

Results: The statement is released online, approximately 4-6 weeks after the paper-based exam and 2-3 weeks for computer-based exams.

Our advice: Both tests are very well recognised and, unlike others, do not expire which makes them particularly prestigious qualifications. But you should rethink sitting these tests in case you don’t plan to apply for the UK, as these exams really require a lot of preparation of your side. Also, unless you feel very confident in your English (and we’re talking about close-to-native skills), you should not take CPE without serious preparation.


Minimum requirements at UK universities

We’ve gone through language requirements of the most competitive universities in the UK. The table below summarises the minimum requirements for non-native speakers of English. Please consult the chosen department as some courses might slightly differ. For instance, we expect that language requirements for studying English Literature or History are higher than Engineering.


Other universities might have similar or lower expectations. For your convenience we’ve attached the links to language requirements at some selected universities:

Michal Ratynski, 02 Mar 2017

When to start university applications

The most frequent question we get when doing workshops for high schoolers is: ‘when do I have to start working on my university application?’ The easy answer to this question is 3-6 months before the deadline. That’s approximately the time it takes to get an overview of the admissions process, find out what universities are looking for, write your personal essays/statements, prepare for tests, get references, etc. The right answer, however, is that thinking about this question as a matter of number of months is the wrong mindset.

It is definitely possible to “play” the admissions system; sign-up for a gazillion extra curricular activities if you are applying in the US, or play the ‘grades game’ to impress your high school teachers if you are applying to UK universities. Most students at the top universities have done this to some extent, but the fact remains that the best way to maximise your chances of getting into your dream universities is to dedicate time and effort to your academic passions.

Although there are many tedious aspects of university applications, the process becomes significantly easier if it follows naturally from being passionate about what you want to study. If you like maths, then don’t restrict yourself to textbooks. If you are interested in studying literature, then read (a lot of) books. It sounds almost banal, but the single most important element in your university application is to be truly curious and dedicated to becoming better at what you want to study.
What we’re getting at here is that creating a successful application to a top university does not consist (merely) of a set of robotic motions. It is about dedicating your time to becoming an applicant worthy of attending a top university – whether this means becoming really good at some extra curricular activity or being insightful about the subject you’re applying for. It also helps if you can find the school you really want to attend and start reading about the quirky, fun aspects of life there: personally, this made me extra motivated to spend that extra hour fine-tuning my personal statement. None of this starts some arbitrary number of months before the deadline, it starts as soon as you discover your passions.

What does this mean for you if you don’t know exactly what you want to study? If you’re 1-2 years away from applying, there’s a significant chance that you’re not quite sure yet. Don’t panic – but know that the best you thing you can do then is to start finding out. The best way to do find out what you really enjoy is to dive deep into the subjects that seem the most interesting. Watch TED Talks, read outside your school curriculum, find inspiration in your preferred university’s ‘pre-reading list’ for that course. Plunge into different subjects, be aware of how much you enjoy it. Follow the trails you find most interesting. Once you start reading something that your teacher doesn’t care if you read or not, it will be much clearer if you enjoy it or not. If you can’t focus for the length of a TED talk, there’s a good chance you won’t enjoy spending thousands of hours on it during university. If you really aren’t sure, US colleges may the be better choice for you because that way you don’t have to choose a major straight away.

If you do know what you want to study, get started. Work hard, but ensure you don’t burn out – many good students do nowadays. Spend your spare time in ways you truly enjoy but also make an attractive candidate. Have fun and don’t get too caught up in the “game” of admissions, where you try to model yourself to fit an admissions officer’s ideal candidate. If you are the type who brings psychology books on the Summer vacation with your parents, you will soon discover that this passion is what will really distinguish yourself from the other applicants.

Steven Yew, 18 May 2016