Mock Interviews for Cambridge Medicine Applicants
18-19 October 2014
Last month, MMI collaborated with Cambridge University Malaysia Society to organise mock interviews for Malaysia’s pre-university students who are applying to University of Cambridge. These mock interviews were conducted via online video calls on 18-19 October 2014. It was opened to the all applicants after they registered with CUMaS and provided proof that they were scheduled for an actual Cambridge admission interview for the 2015 intake. Our interviewers were made up of a team of dedicated medical students across all pre-clinical years, who volunteered themselves to conduct these sessions without asking for any return, knowing that ‘we were once on the receiving end, so it is only fit and right that we give back and help our fellow Malaysian juniors to cross this barrier of entry to Cambridge.’
Although it is not essential for applicants to have a mock interview, having the experience of this seemingly daunting, strange Cambridge-style interview would help the applicants build confidence and give them a rough idea of what the actual interview is really about. This is particularly important for international applicants who opt to be interviewed overseas (usually in pre-U colleges within the Klang Valley) because they need to give their best and be at the peak of their performance in their one and only, 30 minutes interview with an interviewer flown from Cambridge. It is, indeed, a very different (read: Different, not harder) interview process when compared to other UK medical schools, but it is not without its’ reasons.
Firstly, the admission interview for Cambridge Medicine is more science-based. There are not many questions on ethics or personal experience (if there is any). During the first 3 of the 6 years you will spend in Cambridge, you will be trained to be a scientist – this is the pre-clinical stage. The subjects we study are the same as other medical schools, but our syllabus is very different because the depth and breadth covered is much more than that required in the everyday-life of a doctor. This is because Cambridge is a very research-based academia, they will encourage you to delve deeper into the science behind every situation and encourage you to do your own research, even if you are training to be a doctor. Therefore, our mock interviewers have been tailored such that 80% of the interview time is allocated to asking science questions, as it would be in the actual interview. The questions asked ranged from ‘What is the function of a heart?’, ‘How to measure the volume of water in a person’s body?’ to some strange evolutionary questions. All interviewers gave the feedback that was expected - the interviewees could not give a full, correct answers to all questions. This is completely normal because applicants are not expected to know the actual, right answer to the questions asked as the questions may very well be what you will learn in the first 3 years here. However, you must abstain from saying ‘I don’t know’ for it is not an excuse (especially not during the interview)! This is a feedback from one of our interviewers, Marcus Sim, a third year medical student from Churchill College,
“You struggled a bit with the new unfamiliar concepts, which is understandable. Lots of people do because it isn’t easy dealing with something new. However, more often than not, the “something new” is related to something you have done before, so try to think how you could apply what you know to what you’re faced with. What was good was you didn’t look too nervous and managed to stay calm. You also avoided saying “I don’t know” or just keeping quiet which is brilliant. Even when you don’t know or aren’t sure, take a guess! They want to see how you think and the way you try to get an answer. Even if it’s a topic you are sure you do not have the background knowledge for (like the genetics question), maybe mention how you haven’t done it before but definitely take a guess afterwards. It doesn’t matter if it’s not a right guess because they will usually try to steer you in the right direction.”
Always, think outside the box and SHOW the interviewers your thought process. Verbalise them or draw them if you need to! Several mock interviewers also advised the applicants to bring pen and paper to the interview, just in case they need to draw to present their idea effectively.
That being said, what do you need to know for this interview Yes, you are not expected to know our syllabus, but you must show interest in Medicine, the course you applied for. Read up on subjects that interest you and definitely come prepared with whatever topics you have mentioned in your personal statement and SAQ form. You will be expected to express your enthusiasm and ideas on those topics. You are free to give new ideas if you want. However, the bare minimum that you need to know is, your A level and GCSE contents. You NEED to know the subjects you have been studying really well. It does not matter what you are studying (chemistry, biology, physics or mathematics), you need to know all that is covered in your school inside-out for the interview questions may very well be based on the basic principles you have learned. Not knowing your own syllabus will not give a good impression to the interviewer. Varun, a second year medical student from St John’s College mentioned that it is good to define the terms in the questions before answering because some interviewers may be very picky about definitions. This also helps to narrow down the scope that you need to cover when answering the question.
Next, Cambridge adopts a very different teaching approach in every course. During the interview, the first question you will be asked is probably ‘Why Cambridge?’, ‘Why Medicine?’ or ‘Why you?’ Why why why…do think about your motivation behind this application considerably before going to the interview. What is so different about Cambridge that would make your heart leap on the day you are successfully admitted? Do your research on the course and the collegiate system, show them you are making an informed choice, and not following the crowd just because ‘It’s Cambridge.’ One of our mock interviewers was not very impressed when the interviewee misunderstood the collegiate system, which showed that he may not have done his research as thoroughly. Because of the traditional and exceptionally intense way Medicine is taught here, this university and this course may not be the best fit for everyone. Some people may prefer a more problem-based, pragmatic approach; some may prefer huge amount of free time to participate in extracurricular activities apart from Medicine. So think carefully before making a decision on how you want to learn and to live for the next 5-6 years of your life. Also, Magdalene Ting, a third-year medical student from Trinity Hall College, also suggested that applicants should mention any relevant achievements or experience they have at this stage of interview to make themselves stand out from other applicants because there probably won’t be another suitable point to do this.
The third point is the same as any other interview you will have in your life – keep calm, be confident and show your enthusiasm. You are in the interview because you have made a choice to be there (hopefully no one forced you to be there!) and because they have seen your great potential on the papers so they want to meet you in person! Do not stress too much over this interview, because getting into the Cambridge is not all your can do in life and not getting into Cambridge does not mean it is the end. Take it as a priceless learning experience, because each of us who went through the interview agreed, we have indeed learned so much from that 30 minutes.
All the best for all the applicants out there! As for MMI, we hope to be able to publicise this event in a bigger scale next year to allow more Malaysian applicants to benefit from these first-hand experiences of our mock interviewers! Special thanks to Marcus Sim (Churchchill College), Magdalene Ting (Trinity Hall College), Justin Koh (Queen’s College) and Varun Nadkarni (St John’s College) for being our awesome interviewers!
by Christine Wong