Learn to Program a Computer

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Should your child learn to code?

By 2030, an estimated 400-800 million jobs will be lost to automation. Therefore, the next few years will see a growing demand for people who can create and maintain the machines that will take over the workplace. Over the last few years, there has been a growing interest in coding both in schools and in the workplace. As a result, learning to code is becoming increasingly accessible for all ages, so in this first blog I will explain why I think it is worthwhile for young people to learn to code.

  • Coding allows young people to develop a better understanding of how the devices around them work. Coding is the language that devices use to communicate with one another, so by learning it you learn not only how to speak to devices in this language, but also gain an understanding of how they operate and how the processes we take for granted occur. This clearer understanding allows young people to ask, “how could I make this better?”, which encourages them to take initiative and be proactive.

  • Today, children often start using technology from a young age, which results in them growing up with an intuitive understanding of how to manipulate devices to their needs. However, they are limited by the capability of the programs they are using. Coding lifts this restriction by giving them the tools to come up with their own programs to solve their own problems. Coming up with your own solution to a problem (where there are likely multiple correct ways to go about it) kindles creativity, which is a powerful skill to have, especially as it is often lacking from other STEM-related subjects in schools.

  • The process of coding is one of constant improvement. One begins with their first draft of a program, which will often fail to run the first time it is executed. To fix this, one learns how to systematically comb through the code line by line to find the problem and correct it. This is a very effective way of learning the language (making small mistakes repeatedly until you find a working solution) and it teaches persistence, as you have a clear goal which you are struggling towards and are repeatedly attempting to build a working solution.

To conclude, coding builds a deeper understanding of the inner workings of devices (which allows young people to be proactive and ask how they could improve them), creativity through working on open-ended problems, and persistence from repeatedly struggling towards a goal by making small mistakes until the correct answer is reached.

— James Roper, Maths and Computer Specialist, james.roper@oxfordtutors.com

Performance Coaching

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Reaching for the stars: How Performance Coaching can release your inner strengths

Performance coaching A level GCSE tutoring 11+ 13+ Oxbridge Success

Performance Coaching is an evidence-based approach which uses concrete techniques to help optimise academic performance and increase confidence. It uses elements of mindfulness and positive psychology to develop a constructive inner voice and develop personal strengths to reach academic goals.

Our Performance Coach, Pepita, writes of her experience:

My greatest reward as a psychologist is helping students remove what is standing in their way of performing to their very best and helping them reach their full potential! As a coach, I see a lot of students who experience psychological barriers and frequent unhelpful thoughts that play havoc with their confidence, motivation and performance and reduce their self-belief and grades as a result. Not too long ago I Skype-coached a student who was just about to do his GCSEs who came to me with terrible anxiety that prevented him from sleeping the night before an exam, experiencing stomach pain, going shaky, feeling faint, sweating, and unable to eat breakfast, leading him, and his performance into a vicious circle.

After three online sessions where we worked on his inner coach, utilising his key strengths, visualisation, affirmative thinking and stress release techniques he sat his exams with confidence, focus and courage. This really shows the power of our mindsets and how important mindsets are. I was incredibly proud when I heard the news from his parents late Aug that their son had got all 9s and 8s in his exams! That is my true reward. Because I know that this 16-year-old boy has a new earned mindset that will improve his confidence, courage and success, not just in exams, but for life!

To learn more about Performance Coaching, please see our website here.

10 Top Tips for Applying to Oxbridge

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Choose your Course 

Choose a subject you’re truly passionate about. Investigate the courses at both Oxford and Cambridge so you know how they differ and the specifics of each. Each university offers different subjects and combinations of subjects. For example, Cambridge offers a broad Natural Sciences course which is great for those who like Science but are unsure exactly what to study, while at Oxford you would need to choose between Chemistry and Physics. You may be able to combine a second subject with History, Philosophy or Classics, for example — with the advantage that an unusual course should be less over-subscribed.


Check the Entrance Requirements

Find out what grades you’ll need for your chosen course. If you don’t have the required predicted grades at A level/IB, it’s unlikely you’ll be considered for interview. 


Attend a Subject Open Day 

Look on the university websites for Subject Open Days at Oxford or Cambridge and sign up! These are invaluable as they give you an idea of what it would be like to study your subject at university, as well as something to talk about in your Personal Statement or at interview.


Visit a few Colleges 

You can also attend College Open Days at both Oxford and Cambridge. These give an insight into what to expect at different colleges in terms of location, accommodation, catering and the feel of the college. If you can’t visit, take a look at their website, request an alternative prospectus (which is written by the students) as these can provide useful insight. For a real inside view of what it could be like to study there – take a look at Vlogs from students past and present, some examples are Joe Binder and Jake Wright


Make yourself attractive  

Start brainstorming! Think of all the open days, courses and events you’ve attended; think of all the books you’ve read, all the interesting articles you’ve perused and write them all down. If you’re lacking in areas, now is the time to do something about that. Look for local events near you, look at Oxbridge reading lists and browse the internet for interesting content and ideas; TED talks are a great place to start.  


Write your Personal Statement

Your Personal Statement should be at least two thirds academic — why you’re passionate about your subject and how you show it — and no more than one third about yourself and your extra-curricular activities and interests. Don’t be too modest; you need to show off about yourself and your achievements. Think hard about why you have chosen the course and subject and make sure to communicate this. Remember that anything written in your Personal Statement may be asked about at interview so don’t write about books you haven’t read, but do write about those you have read and talks you have attended.


Complete your UCAS Application 

Your UCAS application needs to be submitted in early October. It includes your Personal Statement and an academic reference from your school.  You may apply to either Cambridge or Oxford (not both), and then to up to four other choices in the UK (only three for Medicine). Think carefully about your insurance choices — make sure you have at least one course with slightly lower entrance requirements than what you’re predicted. Oxbridge is by no means a sure thing so having back-up universities that you would actually like to attend is very important. Visit the universities if you can and investigate your chosen courses carefully.


Prepare for your Admissions Test

There are different Admissions Tests depending on which course and university you’re applying to. Some are more content-based such as the UKCAT or BMAT for Medicine, and others are more thinking-based such as the TSA for many courses at Oxford and Cambridge. Make sure you are well-prepared: work through past papers and consult a subject specialist if you need help.


Interview Practice

Preparing for the interview is extremely important as it’s a vital part of the Oxbridge application process. If you have the required grades and a good Personal Statement, then it is generally your interview that seals the deal. The interview follows a tutorial-style format whereby tutors/fellows from the college you’re being interviewed at will talk to you about your subject. You need to be knowledgeable and articulate and your passion needs to come through. It is extremely beneficial to have had some interview practice before you face the real thing. 


Know Your Dates! 

You don’t want to miss a deadline and have all your hard work go to waste! Keep a careful eye on the official websites and be give yourself plenty of time to prepare.
Oxford Tutors can connect you with an Oxford or Cambridge graduate mentor: an experienced expert who will guide you through the admissions process. 

Demystifying the 11+

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11+ pre-test common entrance exam admissions scholarship

The 11+ Common Pre-Test refers to the set of online, multiple-choice tests set for the Independent Schools Examinations Board (ISEB). They are taken when a pupil is in Year 6 or 7, at a computer, and are adaptive, getting harder as students show that they have mastered a topic. This two-and-a-half hour exam includes Maths, English Non-Verbal and Verbal reasoning, and is for entrance into independent schools such as St Edward’s School and Radley College.

For more information see the ISEB website here.

The 11+ Entrance Test is different for each school, so it is best to visit their individual websites to check for specific entrance requirements. Usually, they will include Maths, English, Non-Verbal and Verbal reasoning. Having sat the test, successful candidates are then invited for an interview. This is the case for schools such as St Helen and St Katharine School, Magdalen College School and Oxford High School.

Oxford Tutors is running an 11+ and ISEB Common Pre-Test Preparation Course in north Oxford during October half term. We have highly experienced teachers who are well-versed in preparing children for these exams, who can assess your child and give them individual guidance on how to improve their performance through practice and gain confidence.

If you have any questions or would like to book a place, please click here or call 01865 655660. We would be happy to help!

— Laura Nall, 11+ Specialist, laura@oxfordtutors.com

A few 11+ taster questions to whet your appetite:

Verbal reasoning

Give TWO words of FIVE or more letters that can be made out of the letters in the word SUBJUNCTIVE. You can use a letter as often as it appears in the word and may use the letters in any order (e.g. CUBES).


Here are some patterns made from tiles:

11+ Maths Common Entrance
  • How many grey tiles are there in the 8th pattern?

  • There is a pattern number with 40 white tiles. Which pattern number is it?

Sleep: the key ingredient

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Unlocking Student Success: the Key Ingredient

A new era in education has arrived: students of all ages are experiencing the effects of ever-increasing academic pressure. More frequent assessment, chasing ‘target’ grades, added competition for university places, and a highly competitive employment market are just a few of the demands placed upon young people.
Students must also shoulder the experience of their wider school life, and the world facing students beyond the school gate or the front door of home. It is a complex world, a difficult world and it is widely documented just how difficult students can find this living experience.
What does the added pressure mean? Quite often the answer is long-term steady disengagement with the education process, reduced performance and outcomes, and deteriorating well-being. As a result, educators are constantly looking for ways to appease these experiences by exploring ‘new’ teaching methods, offering ‘support classes’ or increasing teaching contact time. Perhaps the real solution is something more obvious and presents itself right in front of our own eyes … or behind closed eyes?
Sleep is more important than you think. While we know the all humans need sleep to keep us healthy, happy and functioning at our best, too often we get far too little of it and spend our lives compromising it. Sleep for students is especially important, as in general, they have busy days at school, run around with friends, attending ‘extra’ classes or activities, doing their homework, or keeping up with their social lives. By the end of the day, their body needs a break. Sleep allows children’s bodies to rest up in preparation for tackling the next day. It is also worth understanding that a lack of sleep does not just leave energy stores low, but even one night of poor sleep can trigger a negative hormonal response such as elevating cortisol, the stress hormone. We should perhaps view our bodies like a car; the ‘petrol tank’ is full at the beginning of the day and empty by the end of the day, so refuelling every night is essential for proper development and optimal day-to-day functioning.
A child’s brain needs sleep so that he or she can:
  • remember what he/she learns
  • pay attention and concentrate
  • solve problems and think of new ideas
A child’s body needs sleep so that:
  • his / her muscles, bones and skin can grow and develop
  • his / her muscles, skin and other parts can rejuvenate and heal
  • his / her body can stay healthy and fight sickness

Understanding Sleep Cycles

STAGE 1 & 2    You fall asleep but are not yet in a deep sleep.
STAGE 3    You are in a deep sleep.  Your breathing and heart rate slow down and your body is still.
STAGE 4    Your brain is active and you dream. Your eyes move beneath your eyelids known as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. This sleep cycle is repeated 5 or 6 times during the night.

How can you promote a ‘sleep optimal’ routine?

  • Ensure that your child goes to bed at the same time every night, this helps his / her body get into a routine.
  • Ensure that your child follows a bedtime routine that is calming, such as taking a warm bath or reading and avoid activities that will stimulate the senses.
  • Limit your child’s intake of foods and drinks that contain caffeine. These include some sodas and other common drinks, like ice tea.
  • Do not allow your child to have a TV in his / her room. Research shows that kids who have one in their rooms sleep less. If you have a TV, turn it off when it’s time to sleep.
  • Don’t allow your kids to watch scary TV shows or movies close to bedtime. For obvious reasons, these types of movies can make it difficult to fall asleep.
  • Ensure that beds are for sleeping — not for doing homework, reading, playing games, or talking on the phone. That way, they will train their bodies to associate their bed with sleep.
Sleep exam techniques Oxford Tutors revision skills
Andy Dalgleish (andy.dalgleish@oxfordtutors.com) is an experienced teacher of Geography and an accomplished sportsman. 

Applying to university in the US: The SAT

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First, some useful vocabulary …

College: Equivalent to University in the UK.
GPA: Grade Point Average (The GPA is calculated by taking the number of grade points a student earned in a given period of time of middle school through college).
SAT: Scholastic Aptitude Test- used by colleges as a predictor of first-year GPA at college.
ACT: American College Testing Program- an alternative to the SAT.


What is the SAT?

The SAT is one of two standardised college admissions tests used by US colleges/universities. The other is the ACT which is also used by US colleges. The SAT is run by the college board who also run the AP (advanced placements), taken by students in US high school instead of A-Levels. It was thought in the early 1900s that the SAT was a good predictor of grades achieved in the first year of university and therefore was a popular tool used by colleges.
The SAT measures key skills such as reading comprehension, computational ability, and clarity of expression. Your SAT score must be submitted alongside your College application and can account for up to 50% of the admission decision. While some exceptions remain, such as liberal arts colleges that may de-prioritise the SAT or the maths sections within it, the SAT score remains the single most pivotal factor in most applications for American colleges.


What are the SAT requirements by colleges?

All US colleges running four-year courses accept the SAT and most will require either the SAT or the ACT. Increasingly however colleges are becoming more flexible with policies so do ensure you check requirements with the college you’re applying to. Any international students looking to apply to the US will need to sit the SAT or ACT.


What does the SAT consist of?

There are 10 sections in the SAT:
  • An essay
  • Two reading sections
  • Two maths sections
  • One writing section
  • One experimental section
  • One 20-minute reading section
  • One 20-minute maths section
  • One 10-minute writing section
Sections 1-5 are each 20 minutes long and sections 2-5 are presented in a random order.
The test is mostly multiple choice, apart from the essay at the start and 10 grid-in questions in one of the 25-minute math sections.


How is the SAT scored?

The maximum possible score that can be obtained on the SAT is 1600. This number is then converted into a scaled score through equating. It is slightly unclear how this process works however it means that a score of 650 in maths on one test will always correspond to a 650 in maths on another test even if one test contains easier questions.
The average SAT score year on year is around 1500 however what counts as a good score will really depend on the college you’re applying to. For example, the 75thpercentile for Ivy League universities lies at 1560-1600. That said, if you are aiming for Ivy League, your application alongside your SAT will need to be really strong.


How can you prepare for the SAT?

You most certainly should prepare for the SAT, if only to get the feel of the test. There are many ways to prepare for the SAT. These include preparation books, private courses and having a private tutor. A few questions answered correctly or incorrectly can mean the difference between obtaining that sought-after place at college or not.
Part of the role as a tutor is not only to prepare a student in terms of familiarity with strategies, exam content and study skills but to give them the capacity to feel confident, prepared and grounded which both lowers stress and improves functionality. Confidence and a knowledge of the style of question asked have as much to do with boosting one’s scores as critical reading skills and advanced algebra skills. Hence a good tutor will not only teach the exam but will also teach the student how to feel both prepared and at ease.
A good tutor knows, not only the skills assessed, but also the strategies involved in applying those skills. A basic example is that the penultimate problem in most math sections is the hardest (a crafty tactic to trick students into spending too much time on it). In actual fact, finishing the equally-weighted final problem can be a more prudent strategy. A good tutor also identifies where and how a student will move forward most efficiently. Each Student needs a unique plan of how to approach the exam. A good tutor will teach differently for each student.


How many times should you take the test?

This will depend on the College’s admissions process. Some colleges will take a student’s best score and some an average of all tests taken. In both cases it will be beneficial to take the test many times. Some colleges split scores where they compile the student’s best scores in each section of the exam, regardless of date taken. Some colleges weight each section differently as well. It may also be beneficial for international students to ask the college whether they have any particular approach towards these student’s test scores that may differ from the way they assess native student’s scores. Preparation and familiarity are the best way to be successful, and so taking the exam a few times may well be the best course of action.


What sort of student excels in the SAT?

Students who do well are those who are consistent in preparing over a long period of time. Also, students who are willing to apply test strategies that are effective even when they contrast what is learned in school; students willing to work on weaknesses as well as strengths; and finally, students responding to challenges with increased efforts and determination rather than believing that they have plateaued.
Mitch Artman is an experienced Princeton-trained SAT tutor (mitch.artman@oxfordtutors.com)

Applying for Law? Your guide to the LNAT

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Whether you’ve been preparing for it for the past few months, or have read the horror stories on the Student Room forums, if you’re doing the LNAT, you’re serious about studying Law.  
So what is the LNAT? How do you prepare for it?  
The National Admissions Test for Law (LNAT) is a Law entrance exam required by some of the top universities in the UK (including Oxford, Kings, UCL, Durham and Birmingham).


Things to Know First

1 — You can’t study for it   The LNAT is not a test about Law, it is a test about your ability as a law student. Given that Law is not a subject usually studied in school, nor is it linked to other subjects (in the way that, for example, Engineering is rooted in Physics), the LNAT doesn’t test you on the UK legal system. What it does test is your ability to interpret texts and write nuanced essays on controversial issues.  
2 — It is meant to be hard   If you’ve done your research, you’ve probably seen people write online about how they’ve achieved anywhere from 19-30/42. The truth is that the LNAT is an inherently difficult test, with the national average reported at 20/42 and successful Oxbridge applicants averaging at 26/42. So don’t get stressed if you don’t get top marks in your practice tests — you’re not supposed to!  


Section A:  Multiple-Choice  

The multiple-choice section is the biggest part of the exam and the one which gives students the most difficult time. Tasked with reading 12 texts on anything from Philosophy to Science, you are given a set of 42 questions to answer in 95 minutes.  
Given the variety of texts, this is not a test of pre-existing knowledge, but of your ability to interpret and answer questions on the specific text.  (What is the writer’s main argument?  Why does she put a certain word in quotation marks? What is the writer trying to say when he uses X metaphor?)  


Here’s a useful formula for tackling each multiple-choice question:
1 — Question   What is the question asking? This is extremely important as many students trip on the subtle words used in the question. The reader may be able to infer a difference between the writer’s personal view and the views expressed in the text. Focus on the actual words used: some of the questions will have specific word in bold type to add extra emphasis, so keep a look out for these.  
2 — Context   Make sure you read the entire text before beginning to answer the questions. Even though some questions refer to specific paragraphs of the text, it is important to a sense of the text as a whole so that you don’t miss the point of a question.  Having a firm understanding of the context will help you answer questions on a writer’s choice of quotation marks or his use of certain word pairings.
3 — Answer   Given that it’s multiple-choice, no distinction is made between choosing an answer which is totally wrong and one which is close to the correct answer. Thus, while a process-of-elimination approach will help to narrow the options, you must learn to justify your answer using evidence in the text, as a lawyer does when presenting arguments in court. When you go about answering questions, reassure yourself that your answer is correct by looking for sentences in the text which support your answer rather than going on a ‘gut feeling’. (Statistics also show that if you do go with your gut-feeling, more than 50% of the time your first choice is the correct answer, so don’t overthink a question either!) 
4 — Timing   Remember that you are under strict timed conditions. When you get stuck on a question (as we all inevitably do), don’t spend too much time worrying over it. The cost-benefit analysis shows that losing one point on this difficult question is worth the extra 5 or 6 you can make by saving time and skipping over it. Spend an average of 2.5 minutes on each question. If you get stuck on one, move on and come back to it later when you’ve answered all the other questions.  
IMPORTANT NOTE: The multiple-choice section is 95 minutes long, so even if you finish the section early, do not go directly to the essay section as the time you’ve saved does not roll over to the essay section.  


Section B: Essay 

The essay section is not marked by the LNAT. Your essay is sent to each university’s Admissions Officer for independent review, so in some respects this section is more important than the multiple-choice section.  
You will be presented with a set of 3 essay questions on a variety of topics (i.e. human cloning, censorship, doping, voting). You have 40 minutes to choose one and provide an answer. What all these have in common is that they are fairly controversial issues, with no clear answer — so avoid providing a one-sided essay. To help prepare yourself, be sure to stay up to date on current affairs!  
In choosing an essay question, make sure that you have a fair level of knowledge on the issue itself for a balanced answer i.e. know both sides of the debate. Also be sure to have an understanding of the question itself and what it is asking you to do.
Take 5 minutes to plan your essay: this will help avoid the trap of writing out half your essay only to realise that you misunderstood the question or have a better way of answering it, which may lead you to starting from scratch or making a confusing/awkward U-turn in the middle of your arguments.  


My tips for tackling the essay question:
1 — Semantics   Focus on the wording of the question. What words are used and why have they been chosen? A recent essay question “cheating can be justified” found students ignoring the word justified completely and instead writing an essay on how cheating can be excused in certain circumstances.  
2 — Clashing Arguments   In every essay topic there is a specific issue in the debate which both parties disagree (for example, on abortion: the status of the foetus). A great essay will directly deal with these points of clash rather than choose arguments and counter-arguments that have nothing to do with another.  
3 — The Strong-Arm   Once you have presented these clashes, the key is to justify why your argument outweighs the counter-argument. Think of yourself as a judge: when you write your essay you must represent both sides of the debate, and then assert why you believe one argument is stronger than the other.  
4 — Fit Paragraphs   An issue with LNAT essays is that students tend to bloat their paragraphs by taking excessive time to develop one point. While this may add more refinement and power to that point, it is important to understand that in the 40 minutes you have to write your essay you should prioritise providing a balanced analysis on 2-3 issues of clash. That means your points have to be lean, cutting down on unnecessary words or sentences. Useful tool to help you do this will be using the PEEL (Point, Explanation, Evidence, Link) structure which you may have been taught in school. 


One of the most important things to remember when doing the LNAT is DO NOT STRESS. Stress is the #1 exam killer. So long as you practice using the free LNAT practice papers on the official LNAT website and follow these tips, there is no reason why you should worry. The LNAT isn’t the be-all or end-all, it is just one component of your university application. Prepare well and do your best, and your skills will be reflected on the test.  
To find out more about the LNAT or for specific advice or LNAT tutoring, you’re most welcome to book a session with one of our experts.  
Max is reading Law at St Anne’s College, Oxford (max.herberg@oxfordtutors.com)

My Oxbridge Story

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My name is Ayesha and I’m a first year Medic at Jesus College, Oxford. I’m a second generation Brit of Asian heritage and was born and raised in Lancashire, applying to Oxford from a state school and Sixth Form college, in a small town in the North of England. 
Before I applied to Oxford, I had two main concerns: 
1 — I wouldn’t be good enough to be accepted
2 — My background would make being offered a place more difficult
If you share these apprehensions, I hope I can convince you that they shouldn’t be overriding concerns. 


My Story

I never grew up dreaming of studying at the Dreaming Spires and only considered applying to Oxford two weeks before the deadline!  It wasn’t because I wasn’t interested in the University and the medical degree they offered, but more because I was afraid to apply and be rejected.
For many people who apply here, failure isn’t something they are familiar with!
If the idea of attending the best university in the world, to study arguably the most competitive degree wasn’t daunting enough, applying from a high school which had never before had a successful Oxbridge applicant made it that much tougher.  I was also aware of the big North/South divide, coming from an ethnic minority background and wearing a headscarf made it seem like there was just too many hoops to jump through.  I was very concerned that the calibre of student Oxford expect would be beyond my capabilities and I would struggle to keep up with the rest of my year. 
The list of reasons not to apply just kept growing! 
I knew if I didn’t give it a shot I’d always wonder what could have been.  And so my journey to Oxford started. 


Addressing concerns

The truth was it doesn’t matter where you are from, your accent, background, religion or race;  if your application and interviews show you’re good enough, Oxford will welcome you!  The diversity of the student body is only ever improving and worrying about fitting in should not be the reason not to apply.  With over 23,000 students and 38 colleges finding people who share your interests/beliefs is not so difficult. 
The plethora of societies available to join ensures you’re always meeting new people, united by a common interest.  Some societies even help prospective students with their applications and interview practise, so it’s worth checking out their websites or dropping them an email to see if they can help you. 
The competitiveness of the process can be overwhelming and can make you doubt yourself, but more than anything I found that at interviews and open days other applicants were just as friendly and nervous as I was.  I always tried not to view the other applicants as competition, instead just focusing on myself, and how I could give the most accurate (and flattering of course) reflection of me.   
Ultimately, try to enjoy the experience, and if it becomes stressful, take a step back and remember why you first started.  
Ayesha is a first year Medical student at Jesus College, Oxford. She may be contacted via info@oxfordtutors.com

What makes an exceptional Oxbridge candidate?

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It would be too easy to say that there is one single answer to the question ‘What makes an exceptional Oxbridge candidate?’  There are, however, a number of achievements and qualities that will improve your chances of being viewed as a strong contender in the fierce competition for a place at either Oxford or Cambridge.

1 — Qualifications

Throughout the admissions process, Oxbridge tutors are looking for intelligent, broad-minded and academically talented individuals. Academic achievement is at the heart of the Oxbridge decision-making process.


Generally, you will need to have at least 6 A*s at GCSE and many candidates will have more. The tutors will however, view your results in the context of your school. That is to say, if no one in your year at school achieved above a B at GCSE and you achieved 2 A*s, you may well still be viewed as a strong candidate. Both Oxford and Cambridge state that achievements gained post-16, e.g. A-Levels, are a better predictor of academic success at university than pre-16 qualifications e.g. GCSEs. Therefore, they are much less concerned with your GCSE grades than with your higher-level qualifications. If you feel you have not performed as well as you could have in your GCSEs due to extenuating circumstances; the universities will generally take this into account as well.

A-Levels, IB and other qualifications

In order to present as a great candidate for Oxford or Cambridge, you will need excellent grades in whichever qualification you have taken post-16. On their website, Oxford state that you will need between AAA and A*A*A* at A-Level, depending on your course. The Cambridge website indicates that between A*AA and A*A*A* is needed. This is something to think about if you are not certain you can achieve higher than AAA.
If you are taking the IB, a score of at least 38, including core points is required for Oxford with 766 at higher level. For Cambridge, the typical requirement is a total score of at least 40 including core points, and 776 at higher level. It has been known for Cambridge to make offers of 42 points with 777 at higher level, particularly for the sciences and maths. This is something to consider when choosing between the two as Oxford rarely make such high demands.
With regards to alternative qualifications, both universities have extensive sections on their websites, outlining exactly what they expect in terms of grades (find the link below). If you are unsure about what is required, you should always email the head of admissions to check that you have the required subjects/grades to apply. Try and obtain in writing, requirements that are not stated on the website, as this can be used as evidence later if you are rejected based on your subject choices alone.
Specific subject requirements vary considerably between the two universities and between courses, and further information can be found on the Oxford and Cambridge websites.

Making the choice between three or four+ A-Levels

Whether to do three, four or even more A-Levels is a completely personal choice. Some students will not wish to restrict themselves to three A-Levels and will naturally want to do four or more; whereas some students will feel they are unable to make the required grades doing more than three. There are a range of other personal reasons which may influence the choice. In terms of requirements by Oxbridge, there is no formal requirement to take more than three A-Levels although many candidates will. During a talk to parents, it was stated that, at certain colleges, the average number taken is 3.4 A-Levels. My advice would be to do what suits you best. There is no point in a student pushing themselves to do more than they can handle, burning out and not achieving as well as they could. On the other hand, many of the best candidates take three or more so, if a student can cope with more than three A-Levels and do well, then four or more may be a good option. It gives students the opportunity to take a whole extra subject that bit further and may give them more to talk about at interview.

2 — The Admissions Tests

Many colleges and many subjects at both Oxford and Cambridge now require you to sit admissions tests. These are additional tests, which you arrange through your school or a test centre, that aim to test your knowledge of concepts, your critical thinking or both. Each test be explained on its own website where you can find more information, as well as past papers which are crucial for practice before the real test. Look out for our blog about admissions tests coming soon. In the mean time you can go to the relevant website (Oxford or Cambridge) and check if you need to take an additional test and if so, which one.
Examples include:
  • Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA) — required by Oxford for a number of subjects including Psychology, Chemistry and Geography
  • National Admissions Test for Law (LNAT) — required by many universities for applicants reading Law
  • Medical College Admissions Test (UKCAT and BMAT) — required by many universities for applicants reading Medicine

3 — Other qualities

In a way, it is easier to outline the qualifications required by the universities than the qualities required. Although varied, the academic requirements are fairly standard, and you can be reasonably confident that if you have the required grades then you at least have a chance at interview. In this section, I will aim to pull together all the information I have received in my time as a student and tutor and try to elucidate some of the qualities that tutors at Oxbridge are looking for.

Genuine interest in your subject

This is a crucial requirement when applying to Oxbridge. Time and time again I hear that tutors can easily identify when a student is not really that interested in their subject. At a recent talk, it was stated that students need ‘a real, genuine and heartfelt interest in their subject’. It is vital therefore, that you pick the right subject for you in the first place (look out for our blog on ‘choosing the right subject’ coming soon) as it is very difficult to fake interest at interview. That said, if you have picked the right subject then you should naturally come across as interested!
It is also important to boost your knowledge by reading widely around your subject. Both universities will have a reading list for each course and you should use this to guide your reading. Pick books you really like the sound of and make sure you read them before the interview! Take inspiration from the reading list to find your own books. For example, if there is a book on molecular biology which interests you- find more information on that subject by yourself. This will show initiative and will help you come across as knowledgeable and engaged in your subject at interview. Having said that, don’t try to mention your reading at every opportunity as this may come across as forced. The reading should help you naturally chat about interesting topics and subjects which is exactly what the interviewers are looking for!

Evidence of critical thinking

It is true that the best Oxbridge candidates have often read widely around their chosen subject and have put a lot of effort into finding out more about subjects that interest them. However, tutors at Oxbridge are looking for more than just the ability to read and regurgitate information. They are looking for critical thinking. This somewhat broad quality is what sets apart good candidates from great ones. Broadly, being able to think critically means that you are able to objectively analyse and evaluate an argument, theory or statement in order to form your own judgement. Whenever you read information, be that in a textbook, in an academic journal, in a newspaper or online, you should not only be taking the information in, but also processing it, evaluating it and coming to your own conclusions about it.
This may include but is not limited to:
  •  Identifying different arguments based around a topic or issue
  • Evaluating an argument or statement in order to identify its strengths and weaknesses
  • Using the above to form a reasoned and evidenced argument of your own.

Being able to express yourself

Even if you are able to embody the qualities above, none of that is of use if you are unable to articulate these to the interviewer. I have met many students who, on paper, look like exceptional candidates- they have evidence of wide reading, of a real interest in their subject and have taken the initiative to discover more about topics that interest them. However, when I talk to them and ask them about some of these interests, they are unable to open up and to talk intelligently about them. Some people will naturally be excellent articulators, and some won’t. Therefore, it is really important, even if you think you are very good at talking articulately, that you practice. Practice can come in many forms. It could be talking to your family about topics that interest you, practising getting a discussion going, forming your own arguments and providing reasons and evidence for them. It could also mean talking about some of the topics that interest you with a teacher at school. Teachers are generally very knowledgeable about their subject and may well agree to have a conversation with you in which you can practice talking intelligently. The best kind of practice however is to arrange a practice interview with someone who knows the interview process inside and out. Email info@oxfordtutors.com to find out more about how we can help.
The question of what makes an exceptional Oxbridge candidate has an elusive answer however the above gives you some guidance as to what Oxbridge are looking for. The links below will guide you to more useful pages which will get you started on the road to Oxbridge.
Kitty graduated from Jesus College, Oxford in 2017 (kitty@oxfordtutors.com)


AdmissionsGCSE/A-Level (and more) requirements | Reading lists


Admissions | GCSE/A-Level (and more) requirements
Reading lists:  Colleges and Subjects have their own reading list pages. Find them by searching online for the subject/college along with Cambridge. For example, the reading list for subjects at King’s College, Cambridge may be found here.

Choosing a College

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Oxbridge mentor choosing a college
When it comes to choosing a college, research is key. Many students pick a college based on its fame, popularity or simply the name. A friend of mine chose Exeter because she had once been to the city of Exeter and thought it was beautiful! There’s nothing wrong with choosing a college on the name alone; but is it really the best way to decide where you’re going to be spending the next 3 or 4 years of your life!?
I have come up with a number of features that I believe you should consider when choosing your college.


People will tell you that it doesn’t matter how wealthy your college is or that you shouldn’t choose a college based on its provisions. In my opinion you are missing out if you don’t consider what your college will provide for you. For example, if you’re a keen sports player, some colleges will offer you money towards your equipment, kit and travel to competitions. Other colleges on the other hand, may offer nothing. This could mean the difference between you not being able to afford to play your favourite sport and being able to compete in Varsity matches.


It is also important to consider whether your chosen college offers you accommodation for the duration of your degree. Oxford’s rental market for students is infamously treacherous and images you may have seen of students camping outside estate agents to bag the best properties are entirely accurate. Speaking to a friend, he said ‘of course I’ll be camping outside, I would never get a decent house otherwise’. If the college’s website doesn’t give this information, email the accommodation office and find out: their details will be on the website.


Location is more important than you might think. If you’re a keen sportsperson, bear in mind that Iffley Sports Centre, where you will most likely have practices, is slightly south of the centre of Oxford. This means if you choose a college such as St Hugh’s you will find yourself cycling 20 minutes, possibly at 6:30am, to get to practice. Have a look to see where important locations to you are in Oxford and search for colleges nearby. It could save you a lot of time in the long-run when you arrive.
Ask anyone at Oxford and they will tell you that whichever college you end up in you will love and that is true. However, why not boost your chances of being able to make the most out of your experience at Oxford and use these guidelines to make an informed choice!
Kitty graduated from Jesus College, Oxford in 2017 (kitty@oxfordtutors.com)
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