Oxbridge Personal Statement Advice

Really strong personal statements begin with a real sentiment, rather than something you think the admissions tutors will want to hear.

Finally, your middle section is your content. Fill it with the very best wider reading and projects that you’ve done that are relevant to the subject you want to study.

This has to be the academic section and crucially it has to demonstrate work you’ve done outside of your A level or IB syllabus.

Bullet these things and then look at how you might link them thematically.

3. Bad personal statements try to make a mini essay out of each subject they bring up in order to try to demonstrate knowledge of the text or idea.

Good personal statements on the other hand bring up an idea about the course that is a reason you have engaged with it, and then uses the reading as examples to back this up.

Check your personal statement – you cannot sum up a complex academic idea in a sentence so check it doesn’t look as though you’ve tried to do this. Instead, demonstrate your interest in that idea, but referencing the reading you’ve done in it. Then expect to follow this up if you have an interview.

4. Your personal statement should name-drop texts or topics that you feel comfortable about. It is vital to think of those texts and topics as a doorway to a network of further wider reading.

Check out the bibliographies or the journals and articles referenced in the book on your personal statement, and read some of those. This way, when you go into your interview, you have a wealth of material to draw from as a foundation so that you are not caught short when trying to answer a question using an example.

5. The admissions tests are very similar to interviews in that they are designed to test how you respond to difficult problems you haven’t seen before. They are about analysis rather than factual knowledge. Think about this.

Avoid doing reams of unstructured preparation because good sense and planning are more important.

Ask yourself whether you should practise analysing language/pieces in the newspaper/numeracy.

Practice is invaluable, particularly with exams like the LNAT or the TSA, where large sections of reading and/or multiple choice can be difficult to fit into the time.

6. Top tips for the tests: BMAT essay – they are looking for structure, logic and detail.

When you’re a doctor you will need these skills when writing patient notes so these are crucial abilities to demonstrate in the exam.

PAT & MAT test – ensure you have looked forward to the whole of your A level syllabus before the exam.

TSA – this tests problem solving and critical thinking. Your maths needs to be on point, so revise all your formulas.

For critical thinking, read lots of newspaper articles to practice comprehension.

One of the main challenges you will come up against is the timing. 50 questions in 90 minutes averages out at around 1m 48 per question so speed is of the essence.

If you are better at either problem solving or critical thinking, do these questions first in case you run out of time.

LNAT – another test on comprehension and critical responses to articles, so again, read up on newspaper articles to ensure you are practising these techniques.

HAT – This exam tests your responses to sources out of their context so practise looking at as many of these as you can.

ELAT – Be careful not to just analyse two texts. You’ll need to focus on the comparing and contrasting element: how are your chosen texts the same, how are they different?

7. Practice early and often for your interview they are an alien phenomenon to most young students.

You don't want the process itself to baffle you, even if the questions do!

8. Know how to use examples. Bringing in examples shows your interests and wider reading but it also, more importantly, cements an argument and demonstrates your ability to draw ideas from substance.

Build up a bank of examples, to which you can confidently refer. There is no need to try to predict exactly what will come up in interview.

In many cases, the most interesting candidates will apply whatever it is that they know about in a clever way to an strange question - a skill which is useful even through your Oxbridge final exams.

Compare and contrast.

Yes - it sounds very GCSE, but interesting ideas are naturally born this way.

9. Roll with the punches. Despite the myths, it is extremely rare for an admissions tutor to try to make your life difficult.

They want to see what you can do and will usually try to make you feel at ease in order to demonstrate it.

However, that doesn't mean that things won't get hard in the interview. Try not to be phased when things don't feel like they're going your way.

Tutors will often push you further than they think you can go in order to try to draw as much out of you as possible.

So even when you don't know the answer, try to enjoy it.

If you don’t know what the interviewer is asking you to do don't be afraid to ask for clarification!

Better to take time to understand the question properly and then give a strong answer, than to blunder on blindly hoping for the best.

10. Finally, if you are applying to Oxbridge then you have been successful in your academic career at school so far and have been achieving the top grades, which is brilliant.

Remember this and remember to have confidence in yourself throughout the process so that the admissions tutors will have confidence in you also.

Take charge of your application, trust your instincts, and make sure you are fully prepared at all stages so you have no regrets.

Rachel Spedding is executive director of Oxbridge Applications and co-author of the bestselling book, “So You Want To Go To Oxbridge? Tell me about a banana...”

Your personal statement is your chance to give the Admissions Tutors at the universities that you are applying to a chance to meet the real you, to demonstrate your interest in the course, show what you would bring to the faculty and the university and convince the admissions tutors to offer you a place. You have limited space to express yourself, only 4000 characters or 37 lines in the UCAS box (whichever you reach first) which translates as just over a page of typed A4 – so every sentence in your personal statement will need to pull its weight. Bear in mind that you can only write one personal statement for all of your university choices, so make sure that you are tailoring your statement as much as possible to each of the courses you are applying to – otherwise your tutors might doubt your commitment to their university and course. One thing’s for certain: you won’t come up with a polished personal statement overnight.  It will take many drafts, a lot of editing and a few late-night flashes of inspiration – and it will all be worth it when those university offers start rolling in. To help you get started, we’ve got a few useful tips to point you in the right direction.

What should you include?

Although it’s called a personal statement, the idea is not just to give the Admissions Tutors a potted history of your life to date. You need to be expressing your academic self, your interest in the subject you are applying for and your achievements in that area. Your personal statement is a good place to write about any subject-related work experience you have done, any courses of lectures that you have attended which have advanced your knowledge and will demonstrate that your interest extends beyond the classroom and any books or articles that you have read. Make sure that you are not just listing the things that you have done, try to show what your reading and experiences have taught your and how they have developed your interest and understanding of your subject. You should mention your extra-curricular achievements as well, but the amount of space that you dedicate to this section should depend on the university to which you are applying: if you are applying to Oxford, Cambridge or Imperial, you should keep your extra-curricular activities to a minimum as these universities are focused primarily on your academic achievements.  If you’re applying to a university such as Loughborough, which may be looking at the contribution that you will make to the university as a whole as well as the faculty, then you can dedicate a bit more space to your achievements outside of your subject.

How do you start?

There are about a million ways of starting your personal statement, and there is no one correct way to begin: some people start with a quote which encapsulates their interest, others with an anecdote that explains where their curiosity for their subject stems from. Your opening should set the tone for the rest of the personal statement – showing your enthusiasm and interest in your subject, and introducing the Admissions Tutor to your personality. Don’t ever feel like you need to pretend to be someone else in your personal statement – just make sure you are your academic self.  Speak as you would to your headteacher – clearly, maturely, but retaining a sense of who you are.

How do you finish?

Almost as hard as starting is finishing! Your final paragraph doesn’t have to be long, just enough to round off your statement and reiterate your interest and dedication for your subject.  Watch out that you don’t come across as too arrogant or self-assured here, it can be easy after almost 4000 characters of own-trumpet blowing to get a little carried away!

Is there anything to avoid?

Your personal statement is your space to sell your own subject interest. You haven’t got much room, so make sure that you’re not repeating anything that the Admissions Tutors could find out somewhere else on your UCAS form – you don’t need to list your A-levels or GCSE grades, for example, as these go into the form in a different section. You should aim to be really positive in your personal statement. This is not the place to attempt to explain a lower predicted grade due to a disagreement with a teacher or the fact that you needed to miss school for an extended period of time due to illness.  If there is something in this vein that you feel the Admissions Tutors need to know, ask the teacher writing your reference whether he or she could include this in the reference section of the UCAS form. It’s far better for your teacher to bring this to the Admissions Tutor’s attention and it means you don’t waste space trying to explain yourself – instead you can just dazzle the university with your interests and achievements.

Final advice

It may not be the most exciting activity and after days, weeks and even months of drafting, summoning up the motivation might be a challenge, but proof-reading your personal statement is absolutely essential! You know that feeling you get when you spot a typo in an article, no matter how insignificant, it lowers your opinion of the content of the piece and the author. Admissions Tutors are likely to be sticklers for accuracy, so make sure you get your teachers, friends and parents to proof-read it a couple of times.  One tip we’ve got is to being with the last sentence and work your way through your personal statement backwards, it keeps you focusing on the individual sentence and not the full statement. Best of luck with your personal statement! Look on it as a challenge, but also a very important opportunity to talk about a fascinating subject – you!


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