Cambridge Computer Science Interviews

Cambridge University is one of only a handful of UK universities that routinely interviews Computer Science applicants at undergraduate and postgraduate level. If you are invited for an interview with Cambridge, it’s important that you know what to expect and how to prepare, as your performance will affect whether or not you are made an offer.

There are many questions you could be asked in a Cambridge Computer Science interview and, while you can’t predict exactly what those questions will be, you can learn how best to prepare. This guide explains what an interview will look like for undergraduate and postgraduate applicants and includes example questions you could be asked so that you can maximise your chances of receiving an offer.

Undergraduate Computer Science interviews at Cambridge

Due to the competitiveness of the course, Cambridge interviews all undergraduate Computer Science applicants as part of the admissions process. The main focus of the interview will be to explore your academic potential, mathematical skills, and problem-solving ability. Your interviewers won’t be trying to catch you out, but they will be challenging you to think in new ways, apply your existing knowledge to unfamiliar problems, and solve those problems for yourself.

Are Cambridge Computer Science interviews online?

Most Computer Science applicants will be interviewed by their chosen Cambridge college online. Although you won’t necessarily meet your interviewers in-person, it is still vital that you make a strong first impression and perform well in your interview. You should therefore ensure that you take your online interviews somewhere you feel comfortable and that is quiet and has a good internet connection. This can be in a school or a home environment.

Cambridge’s mock Computer Science interview can give you an idea of the format and questions to expect.

How to prepare for an undergraduate Computer Science interview at Cambridge

1. Revise Maths content

Typically, Cambridge Computer Science interviews tend to be strictly academic and will focus mostly on mathematical questions. The problems and questions you will face will assume that you have knowledge of all topics you have covered so far in your Mathematics A level (or equivalent) or other relevant course, and in the TMUA (Test of Mathematics for University Admission) – the entrance test for Computer Science at Cambridge. Therefore, you should make sure that you have revised all of this content before your exam.

You could be presented with problems and asked questions on anything and, while it’s ok to admit that you don’t know something or are unable to get to an answer, you should at least be able to show your initial understanding of the topic. You will also need to talk through your thought process out loud as you answer the questions to allow your interviewer to get a sense of not only your understanding, but also your particular methods and ability to think logically.

If you don’t study Further Mathematics at A level, you should take particular care to expand your mathematical knowledge. 96% of successful applicants to Cambridge’s Computer Science course took Further Mathematics at A level (from 2017-2019), and you could face this level of content in your interview, even if you do not study Further Maths. Working with an expert Mathematics tutor can be of great help here.

2. Complete past TMUA tests

One helpful strategy that can help to solidify your mathematical abilities and prepare you for the style of questions you may face in your interview is to complete past TMUA papers. You may have already done this previously in preparation for sitting the TMUA – if so, you’ll already be familiar with the style of questions. However, going over them again, revisiting questions you may have gotten wrong, and reading your working out aloud are great ways of cementing that knowledge.

3. Expand your knowledge of Computer Science

If you are applying to study Computer Science at Cambridge, it will be assumed that you have a genuine interest in the subject as well as a certain level of knowledge on key topics. This can sometimes present a problem to students who have not studied Computer Science at A level (or equivalent), as they may not be as familiar with Computing concepts as those who have studied it previously.

In fact, while Computer Science A level is not an essential entry requirement, more than half (59%) of successful applicants between 2017-2019 took Computing at A level, so Cambridge certainly values it. If you have not studied Computing at A level, you should prioritise doing some wider reading and independent study and gaining some experience in programming or coding in your free time. This will give you a valuable advantage in your interview and help you stand out. Working with an expert Computer Science tutor can help you prioritise what to learn and how to prepare.

4. Practise with mock interviews

Mock interviews are one the best ways you can prepare for any interview. They allow you to put into practice the rest of your preparation – for example, you can practise answering questions on specific Computing and Maths topics, especially those mentioned in your application and those on the TMUA syllabus.

They also allow you to develop your interview skills and develop techniques that help you perform as well as possible. For example, you can practise maintaining calm and confident under pressure, listening carefully to questions and taking time to think rather than rushing into an answer, and talking through your thought process/workings out to interviewers.
Some schools offer mock interviews to students applying for universities like Cambridge.

However, many do not have the resources to offer this kind of support or have relevant expertise on Cambridge Computer Science admissions specifically. That is where a professional admissions tutor can be invaluable to your preparation. The Profs’ tutors have in-depth knowledge of the admissions process for Computer Science at Cambridge, including what they look for in candidates during interviews, and can provide mock interviews and other preparation strategies.

If you’re thinking of applying to Computer Science at Cambridge, read our helpful guide for further tips and information on the admissions process and acceptance rates.

How to Get Into Cambridge for Computer Science

Postgraduate Computer Science interviews at Cambridge

Applicants to Cambridge’s MPhil Advanced Computer Science course will be interviewed by one or two members of the department. These interviews are usually conducted via telephone and interviewers will be asking about and expanding on things you included in your application. They may ask you about specific projects or modules you completed during your undergraduate degree, particular interests you have, and your motivations for applying to study Advanced Computer Science.

When will MPhil Advanced Computer Science interviews take place?

Unlike undergraduate applications, postgraduate applications are considered in two cohorts. The first cohort are the applicants who apply before 1st December 2022; shortlisted applicants from this cohort may be interviewed in January 2023. If you don’t get an interview in January, you may still be waitlisted for an interview in the second phase in March or April 2023.

The second cohort of applicants are those who apply between 1st December and the February deadline. Shortlisted applicants from this cohort will be interested in March or April 2023, along with any waitlisted applicants from the first cohort.

How to prepare for an MPhil Advanced Computer Science interview at Cambridge

You don’t need to wait to be invited for an interview for MPhil Advanced Computer Science at Cambridge to start preparing. From our experience, students who begin preparing for their interview in advance benefit from more confidence, better subject knowledge, and a clearer understanding of how they can best succeed when it comes to attending their interview.

There are a number of things you can do to help prepare for a postgraduate interview for Advanced Computer Science:

1. Learn the most commonly asked questions

While it’s impossible to predict exactly what you will be asked in your postgraduate interview, learning the most commonly asked questions as part of your preparation can be of great help and give you an advantage over other applicants who do not know what to expect. Typically, postgraduate interview questions can be categorised into seven types:

  • ‘Describe yourself’ questions – Interviewers often lead with questions which require you to ‘describe yourself’ in some way. These types of questions are a good indicator of your overall strengths and interests, but also of your self awareness and ability to self-reflect and improve.
  • Academic experience questions – Some of the questions you might be asked in your interview could be based on the information you’ve provided in your personal statement and/or CV relating to your academic experience and achievements. Unsurprisingly, your interviewer will want to feel reassured that your academic ability is of a high enough standard to succeed at postgraduate level, so it’s important to answer these questions honestly and give examples where necessary.
  • University-specific questions – In your postgraduate interview, your university will want to find out more about why you chose them in particular – but it’s more than simply flattery they’re seeking. Your interviewer will want to see that you have done your research on your chosen university and course, and that you are motivated and driven to succeed.
  • Strengths, weaknesses and skills questions – When applying for a postgraduate degree, interviewers will want to go beyond your academic achievements and look at what transferable (and, if relevant, technical) skills you have that would make you well-suited to your chosen course. These types of questions are commonly known as ‘core competency’ questions and will usually infer the need for an example to support them so as to evidence the development or application of these skills.
  • Subject or industry-specific questions – Unlike in an undergraduate interview – where prior knowledge is not typically the focus of their assessment of you – postgraduate applicants are assumed to have existing, in-depth knowledge and experience in their subject area. Therefore, you will likely be asked more challenging or thought-provoking questions on your chosen degree subject and may be expected to engage in a detailed discussion or informal chat on a particular topic or issue.
  • Goal-related questions – Universities are looking for postgraduate students who have clear goals or, ideally, a career plan they are working towards. The clearer your goals, the more ambitious, driven and committed you will seem to your chosen university.
  • Interests/personality questions – As part of your postgraduate interview might include being asked some questions that relate to your personality, hobbies and interests. The goal of the interviewer here may simply be to get to know you better as a person. However, it could also be an opportunity for them to assess whether your interest in the subject area extends beyond a purely academic or professional setting and is a genuine commitment of yours.

2. Prepare examples

In any university-level interview, it’s not enough to declare your strengths and interests – you need to demonstrate them. Preparing plenty of examples of times when you have demonstrated this will help you to support, not just state, your claims.

Ensure you have examples that prove your academic ability, such as particularly high attainment in Maths modules and courses, course-related societies you’ve been a part of, or awards/challenges you’ve entered, as well as examples that demonstrate your soft skills, such as managing your time well.

3. Read extensively around your subject

If you’re applying to study at postgraduate level, you probably already have a pretty good understanding of your subject area. However, the aim of a postgraduate interview is to explore the depth and nuance of this understanding, as well as where your passions lie. Having a solid understanding of the wider discipline, including any recent news, landmark research in your chosen (or related) field/s, and important academics will allow you to have these higher-level discussions with your interviewers. Researching academics in Cambridge’s Computer Science department can give you a particular advantage, as you may end up talking to them directly as part of your interview.

4. Practise using mock interviews

Mock interviews are one the best ways you can prepare for any interview. They allow you to put into practice the rest of your preparation – for example, you can practise answering a range of questions (such as those above), giving examples of where you have demonstrated important skills, and showing that you are well-equipped for studying at postgraduate level, which is one of the most important traits interviewers will be looking for.

They also allow you to develop your interview skills and develop techniques that help you perform as well as possible. For example, you can practise maintaining calm and confident body language, making eye contact with your interviewer, and structuring your answers in a clear and concise way.

Mock interviews are an area of preparation where professional admissions tutors can prove invaluable. The Profs’ interview training tutors have in-depth knowledge of all interview types used for postgraduate interviews at Cambridge and can provide mock interviews, simulating the conditions you will face in the real thing, to help you develop the necessary skills and strategies for success. Reach out to our postgraduate admissions team to find out more.

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For more tips and examples of questions you are likely to encounter in a postgraduate interview, read our guide on some of the most common postgraduate interview questions. For more tips on preparing for a postgraduate interview, read our helpful preparation guide.

FAQs

What is the Cambridge Computer Science interview rate?

There are no statistics released by Cambridge on what percentage of Computer Science applicants get an interview. However, across all of its courses, around 75% of applicants receive interviews (around 3 in 4 candidates). In 2021/2022, the Cambridge Computer Science offer rate was 8.5%, meaning less than 1 in 10 applicants receive an offer.

What to study for Computer Science interview at Cambridge?

In order to best prepare for your Computer Science interview at Cambridge, you should revise all of the content covered so far in your Mathematics A level (or equivalent), Further Mathematics A level (if taken), Computing A level (if taken), and/or Physics A level (if taken).

If you have not studied Further Maths and/or Computing, you should still expand your knowledge in these areas, particularly learning the key content covered on these A level courses, as there will be topics that are likely to come up in your interview. Studying the syllabus of the TMUA (Test of Mathematics for University Admission) and practising with past papers is also recommended, as this will help you to familiarise yourself with the style of problems you may face in your interview.

What are some past Cambridge Computer Science interview questions?

While you will not be able to predict exactly what questions you will be asked in your Cambridge Computer Science interview, looking at examples and past questions can help you to prepare. Here are some examples of past Cambridge Computer Science interview questions:

  • Explain the difference between a database and a spreadsheet?
  • How do you achieve cyber security?
  • What is the difference between science and technology?
  • What is the efficiency of a binary search?