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  • Writer's pictureKam Taj

3 Keys To CRUSHING Uni Interviews - Pt. 2

Updated: Jan 22, 2019

Feeling anxious about that university interview coming up? Don’t know what the interviewer is looking for? This 3-part blog series will give you exactly what you need to know to give you the best chance of receiving your university offer!

There are three key attributes that university interviewers look for when assessing candidates: ENTHUSIASM, APPROACH & TEACHABILITY (EAT).

Each attribute within the EAT Model (now I'm hungry...) will have a blog post dedicated to it, in which we’ll discuss why that attribute is important and what you can do to show your interviewer that you’ve got what they’re looking for!


In this post, we'll discuss the second attribute, APPROACH.

Interviewers want to understand how we think, how we discuss ideas related to our course, and how we process problems or concepts which you may be unfamiliar with.

For science subjects, they may want to observe the process by which we attempt to solve problems. For humanities subjects, they may want to observe how we analyse extracts and infer information from them. For both, they’re interested in how we draw on concepts we've learned beforehand to help us answer the question.

Structure (Humanities vs Sciences)

Our interviewers aren't expecting us to know everything about a subject, nor are they always looking for the right answer, especially in humanities subjects where interviews are based more around discussions and understanding different perspectives of an argument.

Because of this, interviewers are interested in the structure we use when we answer questions, as opposed to purely judging us on content which we may or may not be familiar with.

As a humanities student, there are several structural rules that we can follow.

First, we should always start with defining key terms in the question, or any words that are ambiguous and open to interpretation. For example, if the interviewer asks us, "do you think that education lies at the heart of development?", we should start by considering the definition of development that we want to use in answering this question (i.e. what is the definition of development, and are we considering it in an economic, social or political context when we answer this question).

The interviewer can then either accept your definition and prompt you to proceed, or may give you a specific definition of their own. Either way, you end up with greater clarity on the question.

Defining key terms also gives us control over the discussion points that we put across, as we can align them to the definition that we give, or are given.

Once we've defined our key terms, we should consider the structure of our discussion points.

For example, are we going to break it up into different factors that will each be considered, and then evaluated? Or are we going to consider the arguments for and against a specific point? Perhaps we should consider extreme cases on each side of the spectrum, before offering an opinion that rests somewhere in the middle?

For any discussion point we make, following the PEE essay structure (Point, Evidence, Explanation) will help us to deliver our answer in a structured way.

The more we practise this prior to our interview (e.g. creating questions out of articles, defining key terms, planning the structure we'd use and the points we'd give), the more automatic the process becomes.

With Sciences subjects, structure is normally less of an issue as there is normally a sequence of logical steps that we can follow to solve the problem. Nevertheless, one mistake many students make in interviews is not considering their assumptions prior to answering the question.

We need to remember to state our assumptions prior to answering any question. This is the equivalent to defining key terms in humanities subjects, as stating our assumptions essentially sets the parameters around which we're going to answer the question.

Again, the interviewer may prompt you to proceed based on the assumptions you've stated, or may define different assumptions for you to consider. Regardless of the accuracy of the assumptions you stated, they'll appreciate that you're considering the problem with a sound scientific approach.

As you go about resolving the problem, explain to the interviewer why you're choosing a particular method. Not only does this show that you can link what you've previously learned with the question they've asked, but it also enables them to understand the way that you're approaching the problem - and gives them the opportunity to steer you in the right direction if your method isn't the one they're looking for!

"Think Out Loud!"

When it comes to showing an interviewer our approach, everyone will have been told the standard advice to ‘think out loud’. This guidance has always been given because it is better to speak our thoughts so that the interviewer can understand our approach, compared to sitting in silence and eventually giving a one-word answer.

In general, this is very good advice. However, thinking out loud does have limits that we should be aware of!

For example, there may be times during an interview when we’re feeling slightly stuck, and if our thoughts were to be spoken aloud they would come across as incoherent babble! A steady stream of, “erm… uhh… er...I don’t know…hmm…uhh…”, isn't that appealing to any interviewer!

At these points, it may help to think silently about the problem or topic. It is perfectly appropriate to ask the interviewer for a moment to structure our thoughts so that we can share them in a clear and cohesive manner that they’ll be able to follow.

If we request this, most will likely respond with ‘absolutely’ – at which point we can silently think through the problem, possibly jot down some notes/calculations, and then explain them to the interviewer clearly and concisely.

However, some interviewers may reply with, ‘no, just tell me what you think’. Don’t worry - we haven't made a mistake, and this shouldn't cause us to get flustered or worried!

As time is short during an interview, interviewers often want to check that we’re approaching the question from the right direction instead of spending too much time thinking along the wrong path. So, do as they say and simply speak your thoughts, even if you’re initially unsure of them…

If you are on the right path, they’ll urge you to proceed.

If not, they’ll offer you a hint or an alternative method which you can then use to tackle the question. This isn’t going to count against you! In fact, not only does it give you an opportunity to show your enthusiasm as we discussed in the previous blog post, but it also allows you to show one of the most important traits that interviewers look for - TEACHABILITY - which we'll discuss in the next blog post!


That's it for approach, the 2nd key attribute of the EAT Model. In the final blog post, we'll cover the last - and most important - trait that interviewers look for: how teachable we are.

If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch by email or through social media (Facebook or Instagram). And if you really want to give yourself an edge for your upcoming university interviews (especially Oxbridge interviews), please get in touch about my custom interview-coaching packages.

Good luck with your interviews!


Kam Taj is a University of Cambridge graduate (Engineering Tripos, BA, MEng, 2011-15), ICF-Accredited performance coach, motivational speaker and author of 'The Ultimate Guide To Exam Success'. He runs training workshops at schools, universities and companies on personal & professional development, with a focus on performance improvement in their field of choice. When he's not running workshops or coaching private clients, you can find him playing tennis, hanging on gymnastic rings and making cheesy motivational Instagram posts.

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