The academia here is unparalleled. You will learn more in one year than some universities will teach you in two!
What do you enjoy the most about your course?
The variety of modules. In the first year of the course, we covered such a wide range of core material and there are so many options in the latter years of the course that I feel I can delve into any branch of mathematics that takes my interest. This year, I personally preferred the applied maths and statistics modules, so I will choose modules that relate to them next year.
How is your subject taught?
For your first year, you have one problem sheet per week per module to complete to the best of your ability. You have five modules at a time, so that means five problem sheets a week (terms last eight weeks). You manage your timetable according to your tutors’ deadlines. For each problem sheet, you watch the relevant lectures. Some people prefer to just read the lecture notes but I like to hear the lecturer talk through the material. You then spend a few hours attempting the problems.
“Don’t worry if you can’t answer every question. They are supposed to be hard!”
Don’t worry if you can’t answer every question. They are supposed to be hard! For each problem sheet, you have a tutorial in college with a tutor a few days later so that you can go through any content you didn’t understand and ask any extra questions you have and you can discuss things beyond the course if you like. Tutors also respond to emails throughout the week or lecturers have office hours if you’d like to ask for help.
At the end of each module, your tutors will set internal college tests called ‘collections’ to check your progress and at the end of the year, you will be examined on all your modules. First year content does not contribute to your final degree but you should do the best you can to give yourself a good ground knowledge upon which to build in the second year.
The second year will be very similar, with a slightly wider range of topics but still a lot of core, compulsory material. It is in the latter years of your course that you may have classes with students from other colleges. At this point you can pick modules in more specialised areas of maths. Also, you can switch to another similar course like Maths and Stats in your second year.
What made you decide to apply for Oxford and do you have any top tips on the application process?
The academia here is unparalleled. You will learn more in one year than some universities will teach you in two and you have access to the best brains in mathematics. There are big names in the maths department. In short, I applied to Oxford because it is the best university in the world!
Why not Cambridge? I preferred the application process for maths at Oxford. The MAT is based on less advanced content than the STEP, whereas the STEP you have more time to prepare to take the test, but you must prepare for it alongside your A levels and you only find out your results in the summer. I wanted to know whether I would get an offer sooner rather than later.
“My main tip for the application process is to focus on one thing at a time.”
My main tip for the application process is to focus on one thing at a time. First of all, focus on enhancing your personal statement by reading books and mathematical papers, attending lectures and doing independent maths projects. This process should be easy because hopefully you are naturally interested in maths and already have this kind of thing under your belt. Over the summer, you should be practising MAT past papers. Do as many questions as you can, marking them afterwards and checking solutions against mark schemes or with other people. This is the best way to prepare (for any exam) because you learn what your solutions should look like. Next, you can start thinking about your interview.
How did you prepare for your interview?
The interview will consist of one or two tutors asking you maths questions and seeing how you attack a problem. Different colleges will have a different style and difficulty of questions. The most important thing to do is think out loud. You have to speak your ideas so that interviewers know what your thinking process is. Even if you don’t have the final answer, they might sense whether you are on the right track and if you aren’t they will give you a hint to nudge you in the right direction. It is less about answering the question and more about how you respond to new types of maths and new ways of thinking.
“You have to speak your ideas so that interviewers know what your thinking process is.”
With the interview you must have your A level content nailed. Some questions you are given might involve A level skills. Then, the best preparation is to attempt interview style questions. You can find examples online or ask your teachers if they have any problems to give you. The more concepts and unusual maths you expose yourself to the better! STEP questions are quite useful for developing this kind of skill. Be prepared to sketch any graph thrown at you and make sure you can integrate!
Mock interviews can help you with nerves, so ask your school if they can help arrange one for you, perhaps with your maths teacher, a maths teacher who doesn’t usually teach you or with a maths teacher from another school. It doesn’t have to be a teacher, though. You can ask anyone you know to pose you challenging problems and assess how you approach them. Try to get someone who understands the questions themselves. Current Oxbridge students might be willing to help! Having had the experience of attempting an unseen problem in front of someone will help you overcome the fear of thinking on the spot and exposing your thought process out loud.
What advice do you have for prospective students interested in studying your subject?
Five problems sheets a week (with all the lectures, content-learning and tutorials that go with each one) is a lot to juggle, so make sure you learn to manage your time. Each of your tutors might give you tutorials at different times of the day and you have to fit mathematising, cooking and socialising into your day too. I structure my time by writing a list in my paper calendar of everything I want to get done that day. Physically ticking things off is really motivating and I can clearly see what I have got done and what I have left to do.
“Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, but do aim high and believe in yourself.”
Don’t forget to enjoy maths! Mathematics is fun. You might get bogged down trying to cram syllabus knowledge for exams or trying to speed through big, dry books for your personal statement. Remember that solving mathematical problems is a creative process that gets you to think outside the box and discovering new mathematical ideas is your own personal journey, so enjoy the learning curve.
Don’t think that you can’t make it to Oxford. It’s true, some of the students here are insane, untouchable geniuses but most are the same as you and everyone deserves to be here. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, but do aim high and believe in yourself.
What do you like the most about being an Orielensis?
I didn’t originally choose Oriel but – and don’t tell Somerville this – I am so glad now that I am here. The college has beautiful, traditional quads which really gives you the Oxford feel. The most useful thing is how central the college is, with the shops a five-minute walk away and the Rad Cam (the most popular rendezvous point in the city) just across the road.
The college is renowned for its rowing, which is great if you are really into rowing. It’s also great if you’re not really into rowing, because you can enjoy the victories of the winning boats second-hand (free rowing dinner when they win the summer races!). You can join the team even if you have never rowed in your life and you can row casually if you like, so not everyone has to wake up for 5am sessions. It is really fun and you get to do training and races with a friendly squad!
“I play badminton and there is also cricket, netball, football, basketball and anything else you can think of.”
The same can be said about all the college sports teams. I play badminton and there is also cricket, netball, football, basketball and anything else you can think of. Plus, we like a casual game of croquet in the summer!
One more thing I love is the college newspaper, The Poor Print. Your college mates can send articles and artwork of any style to the editors and you’ll see them published every two weeks! The most interesting submissions for me to read are the stories the porters tell about Oriel in the old days.