Practice makes perfect

Overseas-education | Crystal Wu 30 Mar 2021

This week, cambridge alumni Brian Ng is back on Student Globetrotters to share his wisdom on British university applications - after all, he did beat hundreds of applicants to get into the University of Cambridge.

One of the most prestigious universities in Britain, the University of Cambridge requires a minimum overall grade of 7.5 and at least seven for each subject for the IELTS.

This is higher than when Ng took the examination - back then, the requirements were only an overall 6.5.

"Because IELTS is definitely a lot easier than the DSE or IB or A-levels, Hong Kong students should have little problem getting a good score in the IELTS," said Ng.

Nonetheless, Ng still advises students to practice before taking the examination.

Something interesting that Ng points out is that English students tend to choose universities based on their grades instead of subjects, which is common among Hong Kong students.

"You want to choose a course that matches your interest and ability, or you are going to have a very difficult time ahead," he said.

"And you should bear in mind that learning a subject in university can be very different from learning it in high school."

Another crucial part of the application is the personal statement.

"There are a couple of things that you want to show. You want to show that you're enthusiastic and you're interested in the subject, and you want to show that you know a lot about the subject and you want to show that you have a lot of experience of verifying that you really like the subject."

He also reminds students to plan ahead and have all the necessary documents ready, as getting the documents may take time.

Unlike other universities in Britain, Oxbridge has an earlier application deadline of October.

By early December, Ng was asked to travel to Britain for an interview.

"On the day of my interview, I landed at London Heathrow airport and went straight to Cambridge. I would not recommend you to do the same, as you want to be well rested before the interview," he recalled.

His interview was divided into two parts and he was tested on maths and physics, as well as on chemistry. What made it more difficult was that he was asked to verbally explain his thoughts simultaneously.

The questions slowly got more challenging until finally he was unable to answer them.

"This turned out to be their plan all along. They tried to teach me how to solve the questions and they observed how I learned on the spot," Ng explained.

"That was followed by some additional questions requiring me to apply what I had just learned to new situations.

"My advice for anyone applying to Oxford and Cambridge is to really know your subject," he said, advising students to practice with advanced questions beforehand.

"Really explore your subject, explore your interests, and when you really know about your subject and know that it is right for you, you would definitely have the motivation and the means to go through whatever difficult process you will face."


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