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Oxford and Cambridge

There is no doubt that successful candidates win through a highly competitive and challenging process through effective preparation and being willing to extend and deepen their subject knowledge and awareness well beyond the A Level curriculum. Independent schools that have a strong track record of getting their students into the top universities of Oxford and Cambridge (Oxbridge) put a lot of effort into doing so with a variety of additional preparation to support their students and, if we are to compete with them we have to attempt to match them.

With a view to this we have identified a range of resources on the sixth form enrichment area of the VLE under a dedicated Oxbridge section. This provides subject specific wider reading lists suggested by the universities, sample interview questions and suggested programmes from the excellent In Our Time archive from BBC Radio 4 to begin to address broader philosophical and current questions which are relevant to each subject area. We strongly recommend that prospective applicants undertake some of the wider reading and listening, especially after the mock examinations and over the six week summer break in order to give students the time to absorb some of the ideas and material that will range
beyond familiar territory.

While this presents an academic challenge that will take sixth form students out of their comfort zone, it should also provide an insight into the possibilities and rewards offered in studying their chosen subject area to a much higher level.

  • Beginning in June in year 12 and continuing when we return in September, we organise further sessions where applicants can get together in groups and with relevant specialist members of staff, Oxbridge graduates who attended Aston and other experts in their field in order to further facilitate their preparation for university-based written tests and interviews.
  • Once the UCAS process begins in earnest after the mock examination in June, there is a specific Oxbridge focus and several Oxbridge graduates who were at Aston, as well as recent applicants from year 13, are invited to share their experience of the process with our potential year 12 applicants.
  • The school has evolved a notably effective UCAS programme over several years and the Oxbridge applicants who need to submit their applications by October 15 receive excellent support from their form tutors, Mr Tamber and Mr Amann in making a strong application, including a convincing and well-written UCAS personal statement.
  • Following several weeks of independent wider reading and preparation for written tests in a range of subjects, the focus intensifies in September, where regular sessions around related subjects take place. This supports wider reading and deeper reflection and discussion ranging beyond
    A Level.
  • Finally we focus on interview preparation and practice interviews are arranged for those who have successfully negotiated the preliminary written tests with a range of well qualified individuals who have Oxbridge backgrounds and who the boys will not be familiar with. These take place in November, shortly before the interviews themselves in December, either in or outside school depending on the circumstances.

Once interviews have taken place we ask for detailed feedback from the boys on the questions they were asked and on their experience of the preparation process as a whole in order to allow us to continue to fine tune and improve the process as we go forward. While it is of course gratifying to get students places at Oxbridge, it is not the be all and end all. The broader academic value of the preparation process, which has helped large numbers of Aston's old boys to go on to a range of top universities and achieve notable success in academia and other fields should be seen as worthwhile in and of itself.