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English University Interviews at Cambridge

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Interview Overview

You should expect anywhere between one to three interviews depending on which college you’ve applied to at Cambridge. In general, each interview will last for around half an hour – don’t expect them to be any more than 45 minutes. An interview is supposed to be akin to a tutorial, so it gives the tutor the chance to get to know you and have a productive discussion around the subject. The question that they’re asking themselves is – ‘is this someone that I’d want to teach?’

Admissions Statistics

Admissions for English might appear to not be too competitive at a first glance. In the latest admissions cycle information available on the Cambridge site, they list 730 applications for English, which resulted in 247 offers being made and this in turn to 232 students accepting. That’s a success rate of 31.8% – in other words, 1 in 3 of the applicants will get in. However, you must remember that the overall standard for English applications will be incredibly high, and as such being in that successful third is a true challenge. We should also consider a final statistic – which is that Cambridge interviews 75% of its applicants on average. That means that you’re very likely to be interviewed if you apply – but in turn that less than half of those interviewed will be offered a place. As such, interview performance is crucial.

Interview Key Dates

Interviews at Cambridge will typically take place throughout the first three weeks of December, with some taking place in early January as well. There may be some further interviews later in January after the principal interview period.

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Interview Format and Purpose

What do Cambridge look for at interview? According to the university’s site, the interview is formatted as a ‘challenging discussion’ around the course, which will include both relevant academic work (in other words, the English syllabus that you have covered) and further information that you provided in your personal statement. You should expect to be given prompts on some topics that you may not have encountered before to see how you deal with them – which might mean the introduction of new concepts, authors, or works. The interview purpose is broken down as:
– assessing the applicant’s academic potential
– assessing the applicant’s suitability for the course
– understanding whether the applicant can engage with new ideas
– checking that the applicant will engage well with the Cambridge teaching methodology
– providing an opportunity for the applicant to expand on what they’ve said in their personal statement, proving their interest in English
– providing an opportunity for the applicant to show their ability to think critically and independently

Additional Assessments

As well as an interview, you’ll have to sit the ELAT, or English Literature Admissions Test. The ELAT is a 90 minute exam, which you’ll have to sit whether you apply to Cambridge or Oxford. The ELAT structure is as follows: you’ll be provided with six passages. These will be short texts, and they can differ wildly in format. However, all will be on the same topic. As an example, you might get six passages on the concept of heroism – one a poem from the 1800s, one an extract from a novel from the 1900s, one part of a government report on the bravery of soldiers in a war, etc. There will often be a few works from well known authors mixed with passages that are from lesser known authors or simply a source that you wouldn’t see as ‘literary’ – like the aforementioned government report. You’ll need to choose two of the texts, and then write an essay that discusses them and the theme.

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