Cambridge Asian and Middle Eastern Studies: Tips & Questions for Interview

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Want to know how to smash your Asian and Middle Eastern Studies interview at Cambridge? This article will help you prepare. It gives you all the top tips and unique student insights, including past interview questions!

Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Cambridge
Preparing for your Asian and Middle Eastern Studies interview at Cambridge may seem daunting at first, but this article contains key bits of advice to help guide you!

What is the Cambridge Asian and Middle Eastern Studies interview structure?

For me, both interviews lasted around 15-20 minutes. However, I found the time went incredibly quickly, and I barely even had time to say everything I had planned to.

Admissions tutors give the students their interview timetable a week in advance. Most interviewers consist of you and two interviewers – often a more senior tutor, and a more junior one.

Interviews take place in December. If your interview is online, make sure you have practised using the technology beforehand!

Cambridge interviews
Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Cambridge University interviews may be held virtually

Example Past Questions from Cambridge Asian and Middle Eastern Studies interviews

General questions:

  • Why do you want to study Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Cambridge?
  • Questions on why I talked about X in personal statement 
  • What is it about Asian and Middle Eastern Studies that most excites you?
  • What skills would make you suited to be a successful student at Cambridge?
  • Why this college?
  • Why Cambridge University?
  • Why do you want to study a very literature-based degree?
  • What can you contribute to college life?
  • Discussion on my EPQ topic (if done)
  • What did you do in your gap year?
  • Discussion of my future plans for study and career
  • Who is your favourite author? Which of their other works have you read?

Cambridge Asian and Middle Eastern Studies interview questions:

  • We spent some time on a grammar puzzle (in English) before talking about my personal statement. In my second interview we looked a text in the language I was studying in A-Level, whilst debating and discussing themes prevalent in the text
  • My second interview had a focus on Japanese (my branch of AMES), with discussions in English about my personal statement 
  • We briefly discussed language, and my learning of Chinese (which I was studying in A-Level), before a more general chat about visiting Japan and discussing bias in history.
  • I did not have to speak Arabic in any of my interviews! Instead, we discussed a couple of general language questions about grammar and syntax, and chatted about my plans for travel and motivations for applying to the course.
  • In my first interview, I was asked to read a passage they gave me and discuss it, before moving onto grammar-focused questions and ending on questions about things I mentioned in my personal statement. In my second interview, we focused more on my motivations for applying to the course and the essays I sent in – I think they were trying to assess my general thinking skills and whether I would be suited to the style of teaching at Cambridge.

Further Questions:

  • In my first interview we had a chat about my interests and my personal statement. The tutors then gave me some verbs in a made-up language and asked to conjugate them. In my second interview we also talked about my interests and extra-reading, as well as analysing and discussing a poem which I annotated.
  • In my subject interview, the tutors asked a lot of questions about my personal statement and about one of the books I had discussed. One of the first questions they asked me was “What books have you read since you wrote your personal statement?’, which I actually found quite surprising. 
  • Give me a brief case study of an area of Middle Eastern politics that has interested you?
  • How many cultures are grouped together under the label “China”?
  • The tutors asked me about why I chose to apply for Arabic and how my interest in the subject was initially sparked. They also asked me about my wider interests within history and Middle Eastern studies more broadly.
  • My initial statement in my personal statement was ‘Languages are empowering’ and they asked me what I meant by this and then to expand on it. I had mentioned one of my special historical interests as being the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and mentioned how knowledge of the Arabic language enhances one’s ability to understand the nature of the conflict. One of my interviewers then asked me whether I should also learn Hebrew in order to understand it more deeply. 
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    What happens on the day of my Cambridge Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Interview?

    My interview was in person so my experience might be a little different! On the day of my interview I arrived around one hour in advance and went to the Asian and Middle Eastern studies faculty for my first interview – this was for my ‘subject interview’. Following my first interview at the AMES Faculty, I had my second interview at King’s College in the afternoon. This was the ‘college interview’.

    During my application cycle, there were two interviews. Firstly, a subject interview, which focused mainly on reasons for applying to your chosen subject. Secondly, there was a college interview, focusing on your reasons to apply for both your chosen college and to Cambridge as a University more broadly. Out of the two, I personally found the college interview more challenging. However, this may vary based upon the individual. After both interviews I was free to look around the sites. Talking to current Cambridge students was a useful opportunity. 

    What do you have to bring to your Cambridge Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Interview?

    I would say wear whatever you feel most comfortable in! They care more about you and what you have to say than what you are wearing so do not worry. 

    I brought a bottle of water, pens and paper to the interview which I found helpful. 

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    When are Cambridge Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Interviews held?

    According to Cambridge University, interviews typically take place during the first three weeks of December. Most candidates are interviewed over a period of 2-3 days. However, if you get pooled for another round of interviews then this period could be even longer

    Tutors then make a decision based on the performance of the applications, and offers are typically sent out to candidates in mid January.

    What if my technology cuts out during the interview?

    Although very annoying, try to stay as calm as possible! Interviewers are understanding of the technical issues candidates may face, and have assured candidates that no one will be disadvantaged by technical issues, and to try to let the interviewers know as soon as possible.

    What are the Cambridge Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Interviewers like?

    My interviewers were very warm and reassuring. I unusually had the same interviewer present in both of my interviews, whilst the other interviewer was different in each. Despite the nerves of the day, I was at ease to a large extent thanks to the friendly demeanours of my interviewers. 

    The follow up questions formed perhaps the largest part of the interview, and some of the discussions that developed from them were quite lengthy. Most of my follow up questions were tailored to discussions that had developed upon discussing my personal statement, such as challenging my analysis of the causes of certain historical events. Mine were definitely very subject specific and had not been pre-prepared, as they were asked in response to statements I made spontaneously in the interview.

    I would say that AMES interviews in general are likely to be heavily specific to your areas of interest given that the department has a broad range of different subject areas. Having said this, it is crucial to ensure you have done wider reading in general.

    Overall, although I was initially nervous, it was a very positive experience. After 5 minutes I felt a lot more at ease, and the tutors seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say and my passion for the subject. In fact, it felt less like an interview and more like a conversation about a topic we were both interested in.

    Cambridge course study
    Students reading Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Cambridge will typically have 2 tutorials a week with 0-3 other students and a tutor

    Cambridge Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Interview tips

    Top Tips 1-5

    1.  Be sure to know every single aspect of your personal statement inside out. You do not know which aspect they will focus on so ensure that you have considered all angles and possibilities
    2. Make sure that you have done further reading beyond your personal statement you can reference during discussions, knowing your personal statement and its content alone will sadly not be sufficient.
    3. If you are unsure how to answer a question, don’t rush into it without thinking. Plan your answer in your head or even ask the interviewer for a few moments rather than rushing into an answer that is not well thought-through.
    4. Be sure to ask your interviewers a question or two, particularly about their own area of expertise. It shows you have done your own research and will show that you have genuine intrigue.
    5. Be calm and collected! Perhaps the most important thing is to remain calm and collected. Getting yourself worked-up will only make you worse. Of course it is natural to be nervous, but take each question as it comes and answer in your own time. A positive mind-set will be your best friend on the day.

    More Top Tips:

    1. Mock interviews help! Answering a question out loud to someone else is quite unusual and a very different skill to answering it in your head – practice, practice, practice!
    2. Show your passion for their subject! Your interviewer could be your tutor every week for the next three years – so make a good impression outside of academics: be engaged, enthusiastic and friendly!
    3. Get a good night’s rest before! Try not to cram at 1am, instead get a good night’s sleep to feel fresh for the interview
    4. Practice talking to other people about your ideas. It can be harder to put them into words than you might think, and you will build up confidence.. 
    5. Enjoy the experience! Being invited to an interview is an achievement in itself, and see this as an opportunity to discuss your interest with leading academics in the field!
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