Beyond the MAT: top tips to ace your university maths interview

After sitting your MAT test and (fingers crossed) achieving a result you’re happy with, the next step in your university application will be the interview stage. This is often a very nerve-wracking experience for many applicants who aren’t sure what to expect. However, through plenty of practice and preparation, you can build your confidence and feel ready to take on the big day.

Here, Francis Hunt, Maths Enrichment Coordinator from the Further Maths Support Programme Wales – a Swansea University-based scheme designed to support learners interested in studying maths at higher levels – shares his top tips to prepare for your university maths interview.

Do your research

The internet is full of resources you can access to find out more about your chosen university. You may even come across forums or blogs that outline the interview process. Consider asking an existing student about their experience at the university so far, what their interview experience was like and any advice they can offer. By doing so, you can gain valuable insight into what the interview process is like and take this on board when preparing for the big day.

Understand what top universities are looking for

While pre-interview nerves are totally normal, having an idea of what admissions tutors will be looking for will help you to feel more prepared and calm.  Taking the time to understand the criteria your chosen university is looking for in a candidate will help you to practice answering questions that are likely to come up during the interview.

The main focus of interviews is to explore your academic potential, motivation and suitability for your chosen course. Questions are designed to assess your problem solving skills, intellectual flexibility, analytical reasoning and ability to assimilate new ideas and information. At the top of the list of desirable criteria for any potential learner is a strong level of ability and understanding when it comes to practicing maths. This doesn’t just mean being able to answer A level questions or memorising equations – you will need to demonstrate your ability to go beyond the curriculum and identify how the things you’ve learnt can be used in a wider context. At interview, you’ll often be asked questions to explore this, so try to push yourself not just to master maths techniques, but to really understand how they work, and ensure you’re able to apply them to a variety of different situations.  

Don’t forget your personal statement

While your mathematical ability is inevitably one of the biggest criteria in having a successful application, having a good personal statement is also important. A strong personal statement gives you a platform to demonstrate your passion for maths and highlight the things that make you stand out as an applicant.

Your personal statement can be a great conversation starter for your interview, so be ready for interviewers to ask you about details in your statement. If you mention that you’ve read a particular book, or have thoughts on a particular mathematical theory, be prepared to elaborate on this and explain its relevance to your understanding and interest in the subject.

Different universities have different approaches to interviews. For example, the University of Oxford and University of Cambridge have their own specific criteria. The University of Oxford’s Mathematical Institute has a dedicated page providing tips and advice on what to expect during your interview with them. Other universities may have similar resources specific to their own interview approach, so it’s a good idea to read up on these so that you know what to expect on the big day.

Show off your enthusiasm

University interviewers want to see that you are truly passionate and enthusiastic about maths as enthusiasm will be key to helping you push through and complete your course when things get tough. Try to be mathematically curious and display ways you’ve engaged with the subject outside of the classroom whether that’s by reading books or watching documentaries.

YouTube channels like Numberphile, Standup Maths and 3Blue1Brown all have a lot of good content on them, and I would also recommend any books by Ian Stewart as a good starting point. Many universities also have suggested reading lists you can look into.

Don’t worry if there are things you don’t fully understand, what’s important is that you show off your interest in maths by highlighting different ways you’ve gone above and beyond to find out more about the subject.

Make the most of available resources

To further supplement your university application and help you prepare for your interview prep, there are a number of online resources I would recommend visiting:

  • Further Maths Support Programme WalesWe’ve got plenty of information available to help you get ready for your maths admissions test and interview from a dedicated MAT preparation course to tips and general further maths tasters.
  • University of Oxford’s Mathematical Institute  – Here, you can find FAQs from prospective students, MAT test advice, past papers, syllabus information and helpful videos from university maths professors and so much more. These resources are great for learners wanting to study maths at any university, not just Oxford.
  • Seren MAT masterclass – If you’re looking to brush up on your skills in preparation for the MAT (or get cracking if you haven’t already!), make sure you give the MAT prep session a watch. Hosted in collaboration with Seren, the masterclass covers everything you need to know about the MAT, such as what to expect during the day of your test. You can access here: https://furthermaths.wales/intromat/

If you have any mathematical related questions that you can’t find the answers for in the usual places (friends, teachers, internet), you can contact the team at the Further Maths Support Programme in Wales by emailing: fmspwales@swansea.ac.uk.

Good luck!

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