Cambridge Natural Sciences: Tips & Questions for Interview

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natural sciences cambridge interview questions

Before interview, candidates will have already undertaken preparation and taken the admissions test. Applicants should note that the NSAA has been superseded by the ESAT. This test forms part of the application decision and who is invited to interview.

This article guides applicants on how to best prepare for Cambridge Natural Sciences Interview, with guides on past Cambridge natural sciences interview questions, interview tips, mock examples and real experiences from students who have sat the Cambridge Natural Sciences Panel Interview.

This article has been made from a collection of accounts from Oxbridge applicants.

What is the Cambridge Natural Sciences Interview structure?

Most applicants to the Natural Sciences programme at Cambridge should expect two interviews. They will also be split between Biological and Physical Natural Sciences applicants – so the content of the interview will differ based on which of these categories candidates fall into, and what examination subjects they are pursuing. 

The interview structure will differ depending on the college they are interviewed at, so candidates should look at the college’s website to find their particular interview structure. Candidates will be informed of which college they are interviewing at ahead of time. For example, Emmanuel College Cambridge will send out some preparatory material for their Natural Sciences interview. For Biological applicants, they will send a list of topics in advance, asking candidates to select the one that interests them the most and be prepared to justify why this is the case within natural sciences Cambridge interview questions. Cambridge Biology Summer School could be very useful experience here. Physical applicants will be asked to select a general area (Physics or Chemistry) that they would prefer to be interviewed in. In contrast to this, at Homerton College candidates may be given material directly before their interviews, but no material well in advance.

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What are the Cambridge Natural Sciences interview dates?

The Natural Sciences interviews at Cambridge for 2025 entry will take place sometime in early to mid December 2024. The exact dates will depend on the college candidates are interviewed at. To find out the dates for the college, candidates can check the college’s website, where there will be further information. Specific dates will also be emailed to successful applicants in November.

Some interviews may take place virtually. Candidates will be informed of their personal interview situation if they are successful in gaining an interview. All UK-based applicants to Trinity College, Cambridge, will be interviewed in-person.

cambridge interview questions natural sciences

Cambridge Natural Sciences Interview Questions:

General Cambridge interview questions Natural Sciences:

  • What interests you about studying Natural Sciences at Cambridge?
  • Why have you applied to study Natural Sciences? 
  • What particular areas of Physics/Chemistry/Biology interest you?
  • Are there any particular modules in the Natural Sciences course that you would like to study if you were accepted?

Cambridge Natural Sciences interview questions – Physical

  • Coin flicking: You flick one coin at another. Can you describe, both qualitatively and using equations, what happens when you do this?
  • Questions asking you to sketch the graph of a function
  • Drawing sketches for rates of reactions (leading to a broader discussion on kinetics)
  • Boat: Here is a picture of a boat on the water. Can you identify and describe Archimedes’ principle? (Leading off of this, they may ask more theoretical questions.)
  • Questions looking at planetary orbits, asking you to derive some equations of circular motion
  • Bungee jumper: Draw a displacement-time and a velocity-time graph of a bungee jumper from their starting position.
  • Soup: We blow on soup to cool it down. Why do we do that?
  • pH: Can something have a negative pH value?
  • Glow stick: How do glow sticks work?
  • Flour mill explosions: Why is it a risk that there may be explosions in a flour mill? What stops these explosions from happening in a kitchen?
  • Question asking you to write down and explain an organic reaction that you’ve studied before
cambridge university natural sciences interview questions

Cambridge Natural Sciences interview questions – Biological:

  • Carrots: If we can grow a carrot from a single carrot cell, why can’t we do the same with a human?
  • Purple potatoes: How could I go about creating a new strain of purple potatoes?
  • Virus: Is it advantageous for a virus to kill its host?
  • Being a rat: Imagine you are a rat. What would be most important to you in life?
  • Showing a diagram of a drug trial and asking the candidate to explain it.
  • Questions involving discussing pictures of fossilised, extinct animals.
  • Some candidates were given diagrams just before the interview, with 15-30 minutes to look at it and prepare for questions on it. Once they entered the interview they were asked to explain what they saw, and were asked further questions.
  • Showing diagrams of unknown biological processes and see what you can explain from it
  • Maths questions: sketching functions, calculus, etc,.

Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, has uploaded two example interviews to their YouTube channel with Cambridge Natural Science interview questions, which is an extremely useful resource:

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Natural Science interview at Cambridge – Example One

Check out Cambridge interview questions Natural Sciences in this mock interview example from Sidney College

Natural Sciences interview at Cambridge – Example Two

Find more Cambridge Natural Sciences interview questions in this second mock interview from Sidney College

Insider Guides: Cambridge Natural Sciences Interview

What happens on the day of the Cambridge Natural Sciences interview? 

My interviews were in person. On the morning of my interview, I arrived at the college in Cambridge with some time to spare (about 15-30 minutes). There were student reps in and around the College, providing directions and answering any questions that the interviewees had. If your interview is online, you will be sent links to an online meeting for each interview ahead of time.

I had two Natural Sciences interviews. The first started 15 minutes later than scheduled, which is not uncommon. The interview finished at its scheduled time, so my interview was shorter than planned. After my first interview, I had a break for lunch, and my second interview took place around 2-3 hours later. This interview started and ended as scheduled. After the interview, I went straight home.

What do you have to bring to your Cambridge Natural Sciences interview?

I was not instructed to bring any stationary or equipment, but I brought along a clear pencil case with pens, pencils, rules, and my scientific calculator. All pens/pencils were provided in the interviews, and a calculator wasn’t required at all, since most of the questions were theoretical. If your interview is online, make sure you do have a pen and paper on hand!

I brought my A Level textbooks to refer to between my interviews, but this wasn’t necessary. It’s better to just focus on remaining calm before your interview – last minute revision/prep won’t help! 

I wore smart-casual clothing, similar to my sixth-form dress code. Other candidates were wearing everything from jeans to sweats to suits (we were told to wear whatever makes us feel comfortable).

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What is the interview setting and how long is it?

The first interview was in the office of one of my interviewers, who was a research Fellow in Physics at the College. It was a small-ish room up a narrow staircase, with some wooden chairs, desk, and sofa-type chairs. I did the interview sitting on the sofa-type chair, with the two interviewers facing me across the desk. The other interviewer was a PhD candidate at the College. It was a little bit crammed and stuffy. For my second interview, the room was quite grand and impressive. It was a large office belonging to the Admissions Tutor for Natural Sciences at the College. I was sat at a wooden chair with the two interviewers sat opposite me at the desk. Both interviewers were Fellows of the College and taught, lectured, and supervised extensively in Physics/Chemistry. 

Each of my interviews was scheduled to be around 30 minutes. Although as I said previously, my first interview was a bit shorter than it was originally scheduled to be.

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What are the Cambridge Natural Sciences interviewers like? 

The atmosphere of my first interview was quite hostile, and both interviewers were quite cold. The senior interviewer was a little blunt and rude, and ended the interview at the scheduled time even though we had started late. He seemed to get frustrated when I didn’t quite understand one of his questions. He asked all of the questions whilst the other interviewer took notes. After the interview I was naturally quite upset. 

I was even more nervous for my second interview, due to the bad experience I’d had in the first one. The atmosphere of my second interview was the complete antithesis. Both interviewers were friendly and welcoming, and seemed genuinely interested in me, what I had to say, and my ideas. I was clearly nervous and they both reassured me and made me feel more comfortable before the interview began. The rest of the interview was pleasant and I left beaming. 

Both interviews seemed to have a planned outline, though the second interview was more structured than the first. The first interview mostly consisted of just two questions, of which the second was cut short due to timings. The first question was a practical-based task and the conversation focused on that. The second question was a graph sketch question, so there weren’t too many follow-up questions associated with that. 

My second interview started with a casual conversation, where we discussed my interests, personal statement, and whether I’d thought about which modules I’d take if I were to be accepted. We then covered several different topics, each with a few specific questions, and some of these lead onto a wider based discussion. I only had one Chemistry question (the rest were Physics), because I specified that I wasn’t planning on taking Chemistry at Cambridge. 

What are the best tips for planning my trip for my Cambridge Natural Sciences interview?

I drove to the interview and back in one day. If your interview is in person and you are driving, be sure to give yourself extra time for traffic and to park, since parking during weekdays is notoriously difficult in Cambridge. If you are using public transport, allow yourself enough time to get from the station to the town centre, which is a 20 minute walk, or short bus ride. 

Wear whatever you feel most comfortable in, though I’d advise not wearing anything too casual like sweats/joggers or loungewear. Remember the College is also a working academic and professional environment.

Cambridge interview questions natural sciences

Are there any academic or challenging Cambridge Natural Science interview questions?

The two academic questions in my first Natural Sciences interview were focused on maths. These were to test my understanding of certain topics covered at A Level, and to test my critical thinking and my ability to work under pressure. They were separate questions on different topics. 

There were several questions in my second interview, all on different topics (mostly A Level physics, but one A Level chemistry). Each of the questions within each topic got increasingly difficult. The interviewers pressed me and encouraged me in order to challenge me to go further with the questions. When I didn’t know the answer to a question, I tried my best and gave it a go anyway, but was also given some guidance by the interviewers. 

Are there any personality, work experience or extracurricular-based Cambridge Natural Science interview questions

I didn’t have any formal work experience or extracurricular based questions in either of my Natural Sciences interviews. I also was not really asked about my Cambridge Natural Sciences personal statement. The second interviewer merely mentioned that he had skimmed over my statement. 

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Top Tips for the Cambridge Natural Sciences Interview

  1. Try to have a mock interview if you can. This can be done with anyone: a teacher, a parent, a sibling, a friend, or a 1-1 Natural Sciences interview tutor. It doesn’t even have to be an academic interview, it’s just to get you used to being interviewed under pressure. If you can do one with a teacher in that subject, even better. I had to be proactive and ask my physics teacher for a mock interview in advance.
  2. Arrive at your college/interview room in good time (if your interview is online, make sure you log in ahead of time). This gives you time to get your bearings and calm yourself down just before the interview starts.
  3. If you have any questions or worries, try to ask someone at the College! If the interview is in person, there will be undergraduate student reps on-site. If they are online, you will likely be given a number to contact if you have any queries. In my experience, everyone is happy to help.
  4. If you have multiple interviews, don’t try to cram in last minute revision or preparation between interviews unless you were instructed to do so. This won’t help and could make you feel even more nervous and anxious. 
  5. It’s a cliché, but do try to be authentic to yourself. The interviews are there to challenge you and gauge your academic potential, but also to get to know you. They want to find out if you’d be the ‘right fit’ for the College, they want to understand your motivations and ideas, and your attitude towards your subject/your studies and the College at large. 

Top Tips for the “Why Cambridge” Interview Question

  1. Of course everyone talks about the strong academic reputation of the University of Cambridge, and that is the main reason why I applied. I wanted to be academically challenged and explore the potential of my academic ability. 
  2. You should also think about why you want to study Natural Sciences in particular. I was drawn to the Natural Sciences course because of its great depth and variety, where I could study four subjects in my first year before narrowing down and specialising in a particular area. This gave me time and room to re-evaluate my academic interests, as well as my strengths. 
  3. You could also mention the appeal of the city itself. I also applied because I really liked Cambridge as a city, and had visited many times growing up. 

My favourite things about studying Natural Sciences at Cambridge University

I have recently graduated, but I enjoyed the social aspects of College the most, such as societies, dining together, and College events. It felt like a supportive and welcoming community, which made my transition from school to university a lot easier. I was daunted by the prospect of having to meet lots of new people really quickly, so I liked the Collegiate structure in that I could get to know my peers in a more organised way.

Don’t forget that the Natural Science interview is just one part of the admissions process. You can call one of our admissions team today to see how we can help you to prepare for Cambridge University natural sciences interview questions.

ESAT preparation for the admissions test is also important. Our past papers can help you to revise and become familiar with the format. Wherever you are in your natural sciences prep journey, good luck!

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