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The 'Oxford 2017 Challenge'

At The Mirfield Free Grammar and Sixth Form we encourage students to aim high and to achieve the best that they can in order to stand out in the crowd and to provide themselves with the brightest future possible.

37 Year 10 students were tasked with completing 'The Oxford 2017 Challenge'. This involved taking part in fact-finding missions designed to raise students’ awareness of next step opportunities and to demonstrate that with the right attitude, academic achievements, a questioning mindset so they demonstrate they can ‘think hard’ and have a passion for continuous learning, attending Oxford University and other Russell Group Universities, is within their reach.

When we arrived, the students were given a tour of Worcester College by students who are currently studying at the university. They toured us around the beautiful grounds, sports facilities, food courts and halls of residence. The application process was explained and the interview they had experienced was shared; it was like a mini tutorial, which is designed to assess academic abilities and, most importantly, academic potential. They also explained that tutors are looking for self-motivation and enthusiasm for your subject. They want to know that they can work with students to continue to develop their ability to think.

Whilst on the ‘Oxford Challenge 2017’, students also had the opportunity to visit The Ashmolean Museum, Pitt Rivers Museum and the Bodleian Library. They also experienced a lecture delivered by Computer Science PHD students which showed how new technology and research is being utilised to help solve cyber-crime.

Questions posed over the two days:

One question posed was: ‘what will I be asked at interview’?

Interview questions are designed to not necessarily show what you know but how you think, so you will need to have an open and enquiring mind. They explained that you will probably be asked to tackle an unfamiliar problem as many questions are designed to test your ability to apply logic and reason to an idea you may never have encountered before.  For example, depending on what is relevant for the course you are applying for, you may be given a piece of text, a poem, a graph, or an object, and then asked to answer questions and comment on it. As the students explained, the questions may seem difficult but you are not to worry; many of the topics you will cover do not have simple 'right' or 'wrong' answers. The interviewers are not trying to catch you out, but to stretch you in order to assess your potential, your ability to think outside the box and think flexibly, whilst also showing a passion for your subject area.

Tutors also want to find out more about your commitment to your chosen course and your ability to think independently, so you may be given the opportunity to talk about your wider reading around the subject and to demonstrate your interest and ability to engage with new ideas beyond your school syllabus.

Another question posed: ‘How could we start to prepare NOW for success at the interviews’?

Read widely around the subjects you are most interested in. This includes subject specific books, newspaper articles, websites, journals, magazines and other articles. Ask your subject staff for their recommendations and start your wider reading now around the subjects you have a passion for. Whilst on the ‘Oxford Challenge 2017’, students had the opportunity to visit Blackwell’s bookshop which is famed for having the largest single room devoted to book sales in Europe – an amazing 3 miles of shelves filled with books from a diverse range of subject areas and other fiction and non-fiction texts.

Take a critical view of arguments and ideas you encounter at school in lessons or in the media - think about all sides of any debate.

* Deliver presentations in lessons, tutorials, at the School Council or in assemblies so you develop your communication skills and confidence to speak in front of both small and larger groups. Developing your ability to communicate with clarity and confidence is a lifelong skill that will also support you in your future careers. 

*Nurture high learning potential – develop your real learning experiences and wider knowledge by visiting places of specific interest to your subjects or future aspirations eg Art Galleries, Museums, Theatres and Sporting events.

Evening experience: 

After the evening meal at ‘Giraffe’ where some of the discussions around the table had included the election process, films and books, students experienced the ‘Bill Spectre Spectacular’ which is an historical Ghost Walk around the town centre.

If you would like to find out more about Oxford University, the courses offered, interview questions and the experiences students have, including video clips, then visit their website ox.ac.uk and go to the undergraduate section.