The Journey to an Oxbridge or Russell Group University.


From Year 8 to admissions, here’s a guide to what your child’s journey may look like if they want to attend an Oxbridge or Russell Group University.

Your child should:

Year 8/9

Choose their GCSEs / N5s wisely, choosing subjects they are very strong at, thoroughly enjoy and have a connection with their future studies and career.

Year 11

Ruthlessly pass their GCSEs / N5s. Choose their A Levels / Scottish Highers/IBs wisely. At this stage they must have decided which degree courses or subject areas they are likely to pursue and what pre-requisite subjects they need to be accepted. Remember the key priority is to pick ‘facilitating subjects’ as much as possible.

Year 12

Get some relevant work experience linked to their chosen subject area, if possible. Participate in extra-curricular and if possible, campaign for a leadership position, to help decorate their Oxbridge / Russell Group application. Get their admission test preparation underway. Start drafting their personal statement and addressing any areas of weakness. If they are doing their AS Level exams or Scottish Highers, make sure they give them their best shot. If not, they still need to excel in their Year 12 Mocks / End of Year Exams.

Year 13

Complete the UCAS Application, check the deadline (usually in October). We can never over-emphasise the importance of getting the personal statement right – make sure its spot-on. Admissions tests are usually taken between October and November, so make sure they are fully prepared. (Warning – they can be super-challenging – so heavy preparation is extremely recommended).

Interviews are usually in December and January – again, thorough preparation is essential. Offers are usually made in January. May/June is the exam season – the ultimate crunch time! Some courses such as Cambridge Maths degrees sit their STEP admissions test around this time as well. Before they know it, it’s summer – Results season and starting Uni is just around the corne

Being accepted at Oxford or Cambridge or a Russell Group university is notoriously challenging. Things to consider before including Oxford or Cambridge or a Russell Group university on your UCAS application university choices:
1. Your child must have excellent GCSE / N5 grades under their belt.
2. They must have a strong set of AS or A Level / Scottish Advanced Higher / IB grades or predicted grades to demonstrate their exceptional academic abilities. They are generally expected to be on course to achieve AAA or 39-42 IB points (776 at Higher Level) as a bare minimum to stand a chance.
3. Make sure their personal statement is unique – demonstrating their exceptional academic abilities and potentials, their true passion for the chosen subject, as well as curiosity, critical reflection, a growth mindset, intriguing extra-curricular achievements and a well-rounded personality.
4. They must ace the admissions tests. A strong admissions test score gives them a chance to be considered for interview.
5. They must excel in the interview to get the final part of the jigsaw puzzle in place – a high interview score will only come through a lot of practice.


Year 8/9 UCAS Personal Statement Tips

With only 4000 characters (around 500 – 600 words), every sentence must remind the admissions tutors of your child’s abilities, potential, motivation, passion and enthusiasm. For each sentence they write, they should ask themselves: “Does this clearly demonstrate to the admissions tutors why they should enrol me on this course?”

Tip 1: Start preparation early
Given the October deadline, applicants are encouraged to start drafting their personal statement in Year 12 or over the summer holidays before starting Year 13.

Tip 2: Emphasis on academic stamina
Your child should prove their academic excellence and commitment in their subject through mentioning or critiquing:

  • subject-relevant books, journals or digital publications they have read,
  • essays/blogs/portfolios/websites/programming languages / research they have carried out,

And in addition, include details of:

  • their EPQ (Extended Project Qualification) essay
  • team or individual competitions they have participated in,
  • prizes or awards they have won,
  • relevant lectures/webinars/online courses/summer school they have attended or watched,
  • work experience projects/assignments they have undertaken
  • what kept them intellectually active during any gap-year/year-out
  • documentaries / podcasts they have watched or listened to

Tip 3: Demonstrate an understanding of university learning style
Your child should be ready to demonstrate to the admissions tutors that they understand the difference between Year 13 (A Levels / Scottish Highers/ IBs) and University. They must prove that they fully appreciate the depth, rigour, self-directed independent learning and challenging style of assessment at a top university.

Tip 4: Give examples and reference to extra-curriculars in context
Ensure your child includes detailed examples, putting them into context, and try to link them to the subject they are applying for. Illustrate in detail how their specific personal experiences and accomplishments link with their relevant personal traits, for instance passion, motivation, leadership ability, self-discipline and perseverance.

Tip 5: Practice, practice, practice
Use Oxbridge and Russell Group preparation websites or attend courses such as:

Admissions Test Tips

Most Oxbridge and some Russell Group degree courses use a specific Admission Test, which in most case is tailored and relevant to the subject.

Tip 1: Start preparation early
Most successful candidates start preparing for admissions tests around May/June, as soon as they are done with Year 12 Mocks / AS Exams.

Tip 2: Identify the relevant Admission Test
Once your child knows the universities and courses they wish to apply for, they should find out which Admissions Tests they require.

Style of questions could include the following:
1. What is a number? What is your favourite number and why?
2. Do you think a robot needs comfort if unwell?
3. What are you expecting to get out of this degree?
4. What have you been researching on recently?
5. Do you thinking smoking should be banned and why?

Popular Admissions Tests used by Oxbridge and Russell Group Universities:

  • STEP (Sixth Term Examination Paper) – Maths, Computing, Engineering and Economics courses
  • MAT (Mathematics Admissions Test) – Maths and Computing related courses
  • TMUA (Test of Mathematics for University Admissions) – Maths and Computing courses
  • CTMUA (Cambridge Test of Mathematics for University Admissions) – Maths and Computing courses
  • CSAT (Computer Science Admissions Test) – Computing courses
  • PAT (Physics Aptitude Test) – Physics, Engineering and Material Science courses
  • ENGAA (Engineering Admissions Assessment) – Engineering courses
  • NSAA (Natural Sciences Admissions Assessment) – Natural Science (Physics, Chemistry & Biology) courses
  • ECAA (Economics Admissions Assessment) – Economics courses
  • TSA (Thinking Skills Assessment) – Politics, Philosophy, Economics, Management and History courses

Tip 3: Make full use of past papers
They can begin by going through the content and when they start feeling comfortable, try attempting past papers, if possible, under timed conditions to fine-tune their exam technique. They should use this opportunity to practice time management by allocating time to each section and sticking to those time allocations. If they have time, consider practicing questions from other admissions tests too.

  • If they are struggling with a multiple-choice question and are running out of time, there is no harm in taking a guess. Try to eliminate giving answers that are clearly wrong.
  • For essay-type subjects, it’s recommended to practice critical thinking, formulating arguments and writing convincing essays.

Interview Tips

Interviews are usually the next step for candidates with the required admission test scores. Most interviews are around 30 minutes, typically conducted by two or three subject tutors.

The purpose of interviews is not necessarily to catch your child out. They want to ensure they are resilient and can cope with the academic intensity of this level of study, their analytical and logical judgements and how agile and adaptable they are to new complex challenges being thrown at them.

It’s usually not the accuracy of their response that matters most – it’s their approach and way of thinking that is important – so encourage your child to share their thoughts and reasoning so tutors can assess what their learning and communication style is.

Tip 1: Planning is key
Make the necessary travel and accommodation preparations. Some universities like Oxford may require your child to stay for 2-3 nights, so do bear that in mind in your planning.

Tip 2: Check if there is an ‘at-interview’ test
Some universities, such as Cambridge, may want you to sit an admissions test on the interview day. Confirm this and if so, be fully prepared.

Tip 3: Research on the type of questions usually asked

Your child should:

  • Prepare thoroughly with a friend or relative.
  • Thoroughly review their A Level / Scottish Higher / IB content as it may form the basis of some of the interview questions
  • Read widely on the subject.

Be aware that:

  • Some universities mix general and subject specific interviews.
  • Some interviews start with the standard, ‘Why this subject?’ question. Always be ready to answer this one.

With most interviews being more subject specific it is unlikely to have many questions based on your child’s personal statement, unless the admission tutors find something intriguing or that requires clarification.

Some questions can be very technical. Your child will definitely find it useful to carry out research on the style of questions specific to the course and university they are applying to. Some course interviews present a problem sheet to attempt prior to the test, then the interview will focus on your child’s approach to answering this.

The key to success throughout is in the preparation. It starts very early on in your child’s academic career at school, and this should of course be supplemented by extra-curricular pursuits to build a well-rounded candidate, ready for the challenges and rewards of attending Oxbridge or Russell Group Universities.