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Oxbridge medicine

The Oxbridge myth

Oxford and Cambridge Universities have long had an aura of being an ancient, inaccessible, elitist system. Often candidates are put off by the perception that this is an impenetrable barrier to all but the brightest students.

The college system

Both Oxford and Cambridge were founded over 800 years ago and have a similar collegiate system with international reputations of academic excellence. Due to their similarities and competition, candidates are only allowed to apply for either Cambridge or Oxford, but not both.

  • Accommodation: One of the benefits is that some colleges offer accommodation for all six years of medical school, wither in college, or in college-owned properties around town.
  • Dining: Either in formal halls (wearing gowns and silver service) or in the dining hall in a more informal setting, you can be sure not to go hungry!
  • Clubs and societies: Each college will often have their own sports teams, as well as an University wide team. Many societies are duplicated from college to university.
  • Resources: Each college have different levels of support and funding alongside differing qualities of gym facilities and food quality!
  • Support: Pastoral care is given by fellows and college tutors, who will be there to help support your needs through medical school.

The Oxbridge course structure

  • Years 1 – 2: Pre-clinical stage
    These years are based on core sciences that are relevant to medicine such as anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, neurobiology, pathology, pharmacology, medical ethics.
  • Year 3: BA degree
    The Cambridge Tripos system allows great flexibility in doing a wide range of subjects for their 3rd year (including languages and computing!) encompassing research project in some subjects. In Oxford there are a more limited number of options that can be done. Your BA degree will be based on end-of-year exams and will be awarded a 1st, 2:1, 2:2 or 3rd class degree.
  • Application
    After the third year, Oxbridge students submit another application to get into clinical school. No matter which institution they started the course at, they can apply to study in Cambridge, Oxford, and any one of the medical schools in London. Not everyone gets their first choice, but everyone is guaranteed a place in the system.
  • Years 4 – 6: Clinical stage
    Purely clinical based with communication skills and going into wards to shadow doctors.

Teaching modality and assessments

  • Lectures: The majority of your teaching will be done in a lecture hall delivering core material, with the entire year group in the hall
  • Practicals: Such as anatomy dissection, or physiology experiment practicals. Done in smaller groups.
  • Tutorials/supervisions: These are sessions held with the supervisors (often lecturers or graduates), up to four per week for an hour each time. Each session may involve analysing a core problem, resulting in a deeper understanding of core materials. Homework in the form of essays or set problems are also marked. The time commitment is significant (often students work 5-8 hours to prepare for each hour of supervision), and sometimes the supervision is 1:2 ratio, leading to sometimes very intense learning environments where there is nowhere to hide!

Oxbridge interviews

Almost all the stories you hear of the Oxbridge interview are incorrect. You will be typically invited to interview in December based on the strength of your BMAT and UCAS application. There are usually two interviews:

  • Science interview
  • Non-science interview

Though sometimes they could give you two science-based interviews, or a mixed interview with both science and non-science questions.

Are there lists of questions that Oxbridge interviewers like to ask?

Each Oxbridge interview is different and unscripted. The interviewers are considering how the candidate will fit in with their college system, and how it would be to supervise and conduct tutorials with them if accepted. This means that the interviewers would like to engage the student in a grounded discussion, approaching scientific problems and seeing how the students solve problems, rather than looking for factual answers.

Because of this, the interviewer will often start with a common question that they ask all candidates e.g. “What is a disease?”, then depending on the student’s answers will begin to focus on certain aspects, “You mentioned genetic diseases, tell me about them.” Depending on how the student answers, the interviewer will then hone in and focus on certain diseases.

This Socratic method of discussion allows the interviewer to see how students react to new information, process questions and see their thinking process in action.

However, practising such lists of previous questions can prepare the candidate to think and fashion their answers coherently. Therefore, we definitely see benefit in students looking at previous real-life answers given by previous interviewees, to see how it plays out in real-life.