How to stay organised in 2020

We’re half way through February, and exams are starting to creep closer.

We spoke to Tomos Mather, 18, from Y Felinheli in Gwynedd who is currently in sixth form at Ysgol Tryfan, who has a few tips and tricks on how to keep yourself on track and not get overwhelmed with school work.stay organised blog

Be tidy

If you’re anything like me, after Christmas your room and workspace area will be a mess, with piles of papers, books and folders everywhere. After your mock exams or at the start of a new year, spend an afternoon tidying and decluttering your workplace to reset and get ready for the rest of the year.

Plan ahead

Plan ahead and keep track of what needs to be done. I write down what I expect I need to complete. I find it motivating to know that I need to complete set tasks on a particular day. This also helps me keep up with what needs to be done and means I don’t fall behind on my work.

Keep a calendar

I keep major deadlines on a physical calendar. I find a countdown helps me stay motivated to achieve my goals.

One task at a time

When you’ve got a lot on your list, it’s tempting to start half a dozen things at once in order to finish them all in time, but it’s often more effective to start a task and complete it before getting onto the next one. Focusing on one thing at a time also helps increase the quality of your work.

Place of work

Finally, find a location that you work well in. Finding a place to work away from where you relax will help you keep your schoolwork and home life separate. This could be your desk, a place at the dinner table or a library. You’ll find it easier to concentrate, especially if you try not to use your phone here.

How the Seren Conference inspires me to strive for the best

Last December we were in celebratory mood in more ways than one as we hosted our 3rd annual Seren Conference at Cefn Lea Park in Newtown.

Welcoming 1,288 students from all over Wales, it was the biggest Seren Conference yet, with three days packed full of workshops, seminars, speakers, and practical sessions. Representatives from 34 leading universities across the UK, including Oxford and Cambridge, overseas universities, and teaching professionals from across Wales were showcasing the wealth of exciting undergraduate opportunities and academic pathways available to students after their A Levels.

The Seren Conference 2019 has been inspirational to the students that joined us. Heading home, they were buzzing about the possibilities ahead of them, what they can strive for, and what can be achieved as they get ready to embark on the next stage of their education journey.

Here’s just some of the feedback…

Seren Conference

Millie Hore, Year 12, Ysgol Penglais School

I attended the Seren Conference to see what opportunities are available and to be inspired on what my next steps could be.

The day delivered a vibrant atmosphere through various seminars and workshops full of information. Beforehand we were able to select which sessions to attend, which was great as it meant the schedule was tailored to each students’ interests.

At the sessions, information was given on engaging with student life and applying for university, as well as academic content. A variety of representatives from Russell Group Universities and US Summer School programmes were free to speak to us and enthusiastically answered all of our questions – it was great!

A personal favourite of mine was speaking to the US Summer School alumni, who eagerly shared their experiences from the previous year and sparked an interest in me to apply for similar opportunities. Also, the academic seminar on ‘Natural Science’ left me intrigued with a desire to find out more about this field of research as a potential university degree.

Coming away from the conference, it was clear that to strive to be the best we must embrace all opportunities available to us, regardless of the challenges they may pose. The bus journey home was filled with an eager buzz as we all read the literature and university prospectuses obtained from the day.

Reflecting on the conference, I would definitely encourage all future Seren students to attend this conference to enhance their knowledge and understanding of future career pathways.

Ilona Hoffmann, Year 12, Ysgol Penglais School

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Seren Conference! A highlight for me was having the opportunity to talk to Russell Group Universities face to face and to find out more about what they offer and how I can get involved.

The first session I chose to attend on the day was ‘Applying for bursaries and scholarships’. I found this really helpful and I learnt a lot about what is available to students my age and in my situation. It was also great to see how easy it is to apply!

 I also went to the ‘Studying in the USA’ session which was one of my favourite sessions. I’m very interested in studying abroad and this session really opened my eyes to the education system in the USA. Being able to hear from previous students who had attended the summer schools was very helpful as it gave me first-hand experience of what studying abroad is like.

 Another session I attended was on the ‘Creative Industries’ and I found it highly insightful! I am very keen to pursue a career in the performing arts so going to this session helped answer all my questions. Lastly, I attended the Philosophy session which helped me understand the full breadth of the subject and also included a talk from an American lecturer who was even more fascinating.

 Overall, I found the day very, very useful and it gave me a lot to think about for the future. Being able to hear from past Seren students was reassuring as many of them were also indecisive on what to pursue in the future, which gave me hope in knowing there is time to consider my options and that the perfect degree is out there for me!

New Summer School scholarship announced!

A new year brings the chance for new experiences, and that goes for the Seren Summer School programmes as well.

In 2020, four Seren students will have the chance to attend the University of Chicago Summer Session – a three-week programme which allows students to experience studying and living like a real Chicago student.

Four scholarships of $7,100 covering programme fees are available. These fees include tuition, accommodation, board, activities and health insurance. Students will be responsible for raising funds to cover the cost of flights, plus any additional spending money.*

The University of Chicago Summer Sessions is just one of the many Summer School experiences available to Seren students and it’s important that you choose to apply to the one which will benefit you the most.

Information on all Summer Schools can be found here and further information on the international opportunities is here, along with details of how to apply.

If you’ve always dreamed of going to the University of Chicago now is your chance to experience it!

The deadline for applying to the University of Chicago Summer Session is 22nd January 2020. Good luck with your application and let us know if you have any questions.

To read our blog on our other Summer Schools click here:

For more information, including deadlines and details of how to apply, click here:


*Additional funding is available for students most in need and is assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Balancing revision and fun over the holidays

The festive holidays are a great time to unwind from a busy term. So, when you find out you have to revise for exams in the new year it can become a challenge trying to give yourself a well-earned rest and keep on top of your work at the same time.

We spoke to Katie Thorpe, a 21-year-old who is in her third year studying History at Exeter University. She shares her top tips on how to balance revision and fun over the holidays.


Be organised

My first piece of advice is to make sure you are organised. At first, the amount of work you have to do can be very overwhelming but getting up early and splitting your revision will help break it up. Make a realistic timetable to ensure you don’t need to cram any last-minute revision. If you start revision early, you will reduce stress and improve your chances for your exams.

Plan your revision around Christmas activities by being sensible and realistic about how many social activities you want to go to. During the festive holiday, plans can change so remember to be flexible with your revision but also be strict enough to make sure you finish everything that needs to be done.

Stay focused

Create a quiet study area as this means you’re less likely to be disturbed and you can avoid distractions. It’s a good idea to leave your phone somewhere outside of your study area as having time off your phone will help you be more productive in the long-term.

When planning your revision, make sure you have short revision sessions with regular breaks and are constantly eating and drinking water as this will help you concentrate. Implementing a reward session such as treating yourself to a biscuit or some chocolate at the end of each topic will keep you going.

Prioritise and spend longer on things you don’t understand. If you’re struggling with a topic, then vary your revision techniques – try mind-maps and using past paper questions.

Stay motivated

It’s important to maintain a good work-life balance but that will only happen if you are organised and have mapped out a schedule. Knowing that you are out with friends in the evening should be motivation to get what you need done during the day.

Busy people get a lot done so stay motivated and pace yourself for the long haul. Give yourself targets to help you avoid doing all-nighters. If you work hard, it will pay off.

Take care of yourself

Get out of the house and have some fresh air. Simple things like going for a walk can help release stress and give you a clear head. It’s important to remember to rest, don’t overdo the revision or you risk wearing yourself out. If you’re feeling stuck, have a change of scenery, for example revising in a coffee shop or a library, as this can help boost your motivation, productivity and wellbeing.


Remember to have fun

Finally, don’t feel guilty! If you have a positive attitude throughout the holidays, including while doing your revision, it will help to make it more enjoyable.

You can also make your revision more fun by involving your friends or family e.g. using flashcards. Everyone around you wants you to do the best you can do, so don’t feel guilty asking for help.


The exam season doesn’t last long, and when it is finished, normal life can quickly resume.

Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Year!

2020 summer opportunities

The Christmas break is nearly upon us! But like busy elves, we’ve been busy preparing for 2020 and making sure there are plenty of incredible opportunities for our students. Some of the events we have taking place include:

  • International opportunities with Yale and Harvard
  • The return of the Seren-Jesus College Summer School at Oxford University
  • LEDLET Summer Scheme in London/Cardiff
  • Sutton Trust US Programme

Read on to find out what each entails.

International opportunities with Yale and Harvard

Over the past two years, 69 Seren pupils have received full scholarships to attend the Yale Young Global Scholars (YYGS) Program at Yale University and the Harvard Summer School Pre-College Program at Harvard University.

Building on this success, Seren is continuing its partnership with both institutions for the summer of 2020.

Up to 30 Year 12 Seren students will receive a full scholarship worth $6,300/student to attend the Yale Young Global Scholars (YYGS) Program. In addition to this, up to 20 Year 12 Seren students will receive a full scholarship worth $4,850/student to attend the Harvard Summer School Pre-College Program.

Full scholarships cover Yale Young Global Scholars and Harvard Summer School programme fees (including tuition, accommodation, board & health insurance), but do not cover flight costs. Additional sponsorship may be available to support those pupils most in need of further financial support.

To find out more about both opportunities and how to apply to each, please download the information pack linked to here: Seren International 2020 opportunities We recommend that you do so well in advance as the application process will take some time and require input from your school and parents/guardians.

In addition to this information pack, you are invited to join a live webinar for further advice and guidance on 20th or 23rd December. See the information pack for details of how to tune in.

You can also read several blogs about Seren students’ experiences at Yale and Harvard:

Seren – Jesus College Summer School, Oxford University

Jesus College, Oxford University, in collaboration with Seren, is proud to announce its fourth annual summer school.

Each year, Jesus College welcomes up to 75 students from across Wales to study and live like a real Oxford student. You’ll get to take part in lectures, seminars and the world-famous Oxford tutorial while sleeping and eating in the halls of the leading university.

This year, the theme is ‘Intelligence: Real and Artificial’ and will cover a range of subjects including:

  • The promise and peril of artificial intelligence
  • The neuroscience of intelligence
  • A modern history of the secret intelligence services
  • A history of genius in art and music
  • Forms of intelligence in plants

Applications will open in May/June 2020; keep an eye on our channels for more information.

LEDLET Summer Scheme in London and Cardiff

Especially for students interested in studying law at university level, the LEDLET summer scheme showcases the different professions available to law students and gives them the opportunity to experience what it really is that lawyers do.

For the first time this year, the scheme will be coming to Cardiff as well as London.

Applications close on 14 February, and you can find more information here:

The Sutton Trust US Programme

The Sutton Trust US Programme is designed to support students from state schools across the UK to explore US study and access leading universities. In the past eight years, they have helped more than 400 British students get places and funding at top US universities.

The programme includes two residentials in the UK before all students spend a week in the US staying on-campus at a leading US university and visiting a variety of other American universities. An optional second year of the programme gives students additional support to apply to US universities alongside their UCAS options.All costs are covered by the programme – including travel, food, accommodation, admissions test preparation and more.

To be eligible to apply, students must:

  • Currently be in Year 12
  • Attend, and have always attended, a state-funded school or college i.e. non-fee paying
  • Not hold US citizenship
  • Be from a low- or middle-income family (generally, this will mean a household earning £45,000 or less)
  • Be interested in US culture and higher education

To apply, and for more information, visit

The application deadline is 19 January 2020. However, we strongly advise you get started earlier, as the application form requires some thinking.


Seren Conference 2019: Thinking of becoming a doctor?

UCAS has recently announced that more people are choosing to study Medicine, with 670 students from Wales applying to study from next September – the highest number in five years.

British Medical Association Cymru Wales is sponsoring this year’s Seren Conference and will be giving students the chance to talk to them about how to get into medicine as well as leading the ‘Applying for Medical Professions’ session.

They’ve also written a guest blog for Seren students which explores the range of career options in the medical sector and what to think about when planning your application. Medical school isn’t just for students that aspire to be doctors, studying medicine can lead to a wide range of health-related careers.

Don’t forget to download the Conference app on the Apple Store here or get it on Google Play here.

So, you think you’d like to study medicine, but worry that it might not be for you? Students often think that they have to be straight A* students or have bags of work experience in a hospital or doctors’ surgery to land a place on their preferred medical course.

But medical schools look for more than just high grades; they want students who are dedicated and can relate to their patients. The same goes for work experience. Gone are the days where only people that aspire to be doctors study medicine, so admissions teams look for students with a range of different skills and experiences.

We’ve put together our top tips for those who want to study medicine at university, to put you in with the best chance of securing a place.

10 things to think about

  1. Plan – think about what you need to do to be an attractive applicant. Getting into medical school is not just about grades, it’s about showing you are an interesting individual who has the foundations of being a good doctor. Demonstrate that you can be a good listener, and are reliable, honest and trustworthy.
  2. Target work experience. Lots of people try to get work experience in nursing homes but it’s important to stand out from the crowd. Perhaps you’ve worked in a café managing difficult customers? Think outside of the box.
  3. Get involved – sports, voluntary work, clubs and projects at school or in your local community. This can help you stand out from the crowd as an individual who consistently goes above and beyond and gives you the opportunity to develop the skills mentioned in point one.
  4. Look at different courses – not all medical courses are the same. Some have no patient contact for the first two to three years (traditional course), whilst others include early contact (integrated course). Some universities offer an integrated Bachelor of Science degree. Which one is best for what you want to do?
  5. Take advice from others who have been to medical school or look at online forums and student satisfaction surveys.
  6. Think about where you might like to live. You may want to be close to or far from home. Some universities have a campus on the outside of a town, others are central. There may be financial considerations – cost of rent, transport etc. which will have an impact on where you choose to live.
  7. Have an insurance choice as your 5th option, e.g. Bachelor of Medical Sciences, or a science degree in a university which also offers medicine – you might be able to transfer if your university offers a transfer scheme and you meet their criteria. Or, you can consider applying for a postgraduate medical degree when you have completed your undergraduate course.
  8. Consider taster courses, such as medsix or medism. Most universities run taster courses for medicine, so have a look online and get a taste for what kind of course you’d like to do.
  9. Attend open days – get a feel for the university and the type of students that go there.
  10. Look at requirements and make sure you meet them.

The BMA is committed to providing medical students with essential support as they progress through their studies. We stand up for students studying across the UK both individually and collectively on a wide variety of issues. We lobby for improvements to medical education, student finance, future jobs and the future of the NHS.

If you are fortunate enough to gain a place to study medicine make sure you get ahead of the game by joining the BMA for free in your first year. As a member, students gain free additional study resources, guidance on dealing with key issues and access to our individual advisors. Come and meet us at the Seren national conference to learn more.

What is Seren? A guide for newcomers

You might have heard about Seren but with the initial excitement of the academic year starting to calm down, you might now find yourself wondering what it involves.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Seren, read on for some key information to get you up to speed.

Cabinet Secretary for Education Kirsty Williams at the 2018 Seren Conference

In 2014 Paul Murphy, Lord Murphy of Torfaen, noticed a drop in Welsh students being accepted into Oxford and Cambridge (Oxbridge). He found Welsh students had a 19.5% chance of getting into Oxbridge in comparison to 25% from the rest of the UK.

As a result, Seren was established. Designed to increase the numbers of Welsh teenagers getting into Oxbridge, Seren supports Wales’ brightest and best state school students in realising their potential.

Seren is a national network of hubs across Wales which provides opportunities, support and guidance to encourage students to strive to be the best they can be and apply for universities that may have previously appeared unattainable.

At the beginning of each academic year Seren invites the next cohort of students from years 12 and 13 to join one of its hubs with the hope of inspiring them to achieve their full potential.

There are 13 regional hubs across Wales: Flintshire & Wrexham, Swansea, Rhondda Cynon Taf & Merthyr Tydfil, Carmarthenshire & Pembrokeshire, Education Achievement Service Consortia, Cardiff, Neath Port Talbot, Conwy & Denbighshire, Anglesey & Gwynedd, Ceredigion, Vale of Glamorgan, Powys and Bridgend.

hubs map english

These hubs are led by a dedicated Seren coordinator who creates a calendar of activities, such as the annual Seren Conference, university residentials like Jesus College Summer School, workshops with leading university professors, subject specific events and advice and guidance workshops.

Seren has also formed partnerships with leading departments at the Welsh Universities, all making strides in their areas of academic specialism and supporting Seren students through workshops, masterclasses and events. These academic specialisms range from engineering at Swansea to international politics at Aberystwyth and dentistry at Cardiff University.

In June of this year statistics showed that the Seren programme is seeing great success, with more Welsh students being offered places at Oxford and Cambridge year on year.

Cambridge University made the highest number of offers this year to state-educated Welsh students, and applications from Welsh state-educated students to Oxford University have increased by 13% since 2016.

Take a look at what past and present Seren students had to say:

“I found out about the Jesus College Summer School at Oxford University on the Seren Facebook page and jumped at the chance to apply. I was amazed when I got offered a place and enjoyed every second of my week there. It gave me an insight into life at the university while also giving me a flavour of what the course would be like” – Darcy Holland studying History at Oxford University.

“Being part of Seren is an amazing experience – it provided me with opportunities I never would have dreamed of.” – Morgan Edwards studying A-Levels at Llantwit Major Secondary School.

“My hub coordinator provided me with a lot of guidance and support throughout the process of applying to uni – it made it so much easier!” – Charlotte Belton studying Maths at Durham University.

“Seren has helped me prepare for university through the tips and advice from various talks I have been to which were put on by Seren.” – Joe Lagorio Price studying Medicine at Cambridge University.

03.07.19 mh SEREN event Cardiff5

And make sure to follow our social channels to keep updated on all things Seren:

Facebook –

Twitter – @RhwydwaithSeren / @Seren_Network

Instagram – @RhwydwaithSeren / @serennetwork

Blog –

Top tips on surviving your first term at university from someone who has been there

Your first term at university can be nerve-wracking and with the excitement of fresher’s week over, the reality of studying at degree level can begin to set in.

We spoke to 20-year-old Maram Eghlileb, a second-year student studying Pharmacy (MPharm) at Cardiff University, who shared her experience of her first term at university with us.

Maram Eghlileb - top tips first term blog

Starting university can be a daunting thought for many people, including myself, but nonetheless so many people have experienced it and were able to ‘survive’ their first term!

Although I’m from Cardiff, just like many people that have moved here for university, I had to familiarise myself with the buildings and the city campus. I think this is one of the first things you should do when starting university as this helped ease the stress of getting lost or being late to my lectures, seminars or placements.

The thought of meeting new people and making friends can be intimidating, however, remembering that everyone is in the same boat and is feeling the exact same makes the process slightly easier. Simply smiling and saying hello can start a great conversation and possibly result in long-term friendships.

One of the greatest aspects of going to university is the fact that you will meet people from varying backgrounds, personalities and nationalities; which you will learn so much from. I can assure you that you will find a group of friends that will be your perfect match.

In addition to making friends in my year group, I found it really beneficial to socialise with people from outside my course. By joining societies and becoming an academic rep I met 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students that were incredibly welcoming and reassuring and offered great advice.

Before starting university, people will most likely advise you to throw yourself at as many things as possible, which I agree with to an extent. It’s great to sign up to societies that interest you and get involved in the university community but be reasonable with the number of societies you join. You don’t want to be feeling even more overwhelmed.

Keeping up with the workload is essential. As tempting as it may be to leave academic study until ‘later’, you risk putting yourself in a difficult situation. Keep up with your notes and write them up while you still remember the lectures rather than leaving them towards the end of the term. The first term will be a great time to figure out what style of revision at university best suits you.

With all this in mind, it’s important to enjoy yourself and to make the most of the opportunities university brings!

Top six reasons for teaching professionals to attend the Seren Conference

Hundreds of Year 12 students from across Wales will be travelling to Cefn Lea next month to take part in an exciting day of educational workshops and interactive sessions, intended to help them on their next steps towards university.

Cabinet Secretary for Education Kirsty Williams at the 2018 Seren Conference

But the Seren Conference, now in its fourth year, is not only an unmissable day for students: there is plenty on offer for teachers too. We are running a separate timetable with a choice of nine sessions, just for teaching professionals, all designed to provide relevant and useful information on how best to support more able and talented students.

Last year, 98% of teaching professionals rated the conference as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ and 88% reported they had benefitted professionally in terms of being able to support their most able students.  98% also said they were able to speak to representatives from leading universities, meaning they had up-to-the minute advice on how best to support their students in their application to university.

Here are six reasons why this year’s conference is a must-attend event the teaching calendar:

  • Peer to peer learning: selected sessions will be hosted by teaching professionals who will share learnings and best practice on topics including how to support students’ mental health and wellbeing in school and college and how to meet the needs of students living and learning in rural communities.
  • Meet representatives from universities: teachers will have the chance to speak to staff from the leading universities in Wales and the rest of the UK and ask them questions about the application and interview process.
  • Be in the know about financial support offered to Welsh students: for the first time at the Seren conference there will be dedicated sessions around student finance as well as one on bursaries and scholarships offered by leading universities in Wales, UK and overseas.
  • Find out how the new GCSEs prepare MAT learners for post-16 study: Qualifications Wales will run a dedicated, in-depth session on the new GCSEs, designed to help professionals working in the post-16 sector to identify areas that learners may need additional support in and what skills they can expect MAT learners to have developed through the new GCSE curriculum.
  • Pick up free CPD points: the conference is free to attend and attending sessions counts towards your CPD, helping you to boost your career.
  • A unique opportunity: the conference covers lots of ground in just one day. It’s a chance to take part in a busy, productive and inspiring day so prepare to leave armed with a range of strategies to take back to school or college.

Dr John Roe, director of Sixth Form at Radyr Comprehensive School in Cardiff has been to the conference for the past two years. He said: “There is such a fantastic range of opportunities available for both students and teachers.

“Teachers can choose from a menu of fantastic professional development opportunities including the sessions and workshops plus the chance to network with colleagues from across the educational sector in Wales and the UK.

“The mental health and wellbeing session is particularly relevant to me. Over the last few years, sixth form teams have been seeing an increasing number of students suffering from mental health issues. There’s no doubt that wellbeing needs to be at the heart of any sixth form provision.

“With so much curriculum change happening at Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4, I think it is really useful for sixth form teams to be able to understand the implications for post-16 learners and how best to support them, so the Qualifications Wales session is also one I am interested in. This is an exciting opportunity to learn directly from Qualifications Wales.

“I would say to teachers who are going this year, look at the programme well in advance and discuss with colleagues who are also attending the conference from their school which sessions they are interested in going to. With so many great sessions, it’s important that you plan in advance to make sure that someone from the school is able to attend all the sessions you feel are most relevant to your school or college.”

Amy Jones, progress leader from Ysgol Calon Cymru, will be attending the Seren Conference for the first time this year. She said: “I am most looking forward to the session on ‘Supporting Seren learners in rural environments’ as our school is situated in Mid Wales where we are challenged by low population and long travel distances.

“Maintaining Welsh medium provision in our area is difficult and recruitment of specialist staff is also problematic. Minimising the impact on student learning and achievement is crucial. I am hoping to take away some strategies to make sure that our students are not disadvantaged by their location.

“I am planning to speak to the universities. I also hope to raise the profile of Welsh Baccalaureate as it seems that more and more institutions are realising its value and including it in their offer. I spoke to a medical school just last week who are going to include it in their offer next year – they just hadn’t realised how valuable a qualification it is!

“Before going to the conference I will be making sure the students are aware of the programme so that they can maximise their Seren experience. I want them to consider what they want to find out and which seminars will benefit the most.”

If you haven’t already, please download the timetable here.

Seren Conference 2019 has gone mobile! Get the app on your mobile device now, for free.

Download on the App Store here.

Get it on Google Play here.

19th Nov

A guide to Oxford and Cambridge admissions

In this blog, Dr Matt Williams, (Access Fellow at Oxford) and, Sandy Mill (Schools Liaison Officer at Cambridge), provide their insights to help you stand out from the crowd in the highly competitive world of Oxbridge admissions.

Matt and Sandy will be running a session at the 2019 Seren Conference in December about ‘Making an Oxbridge application’.

Where should you start when thinking about Oxbridge admissions? 

Matt: How about we start at the finish?! What sort of people get places at Oxbridge and excel there? It’s all about academic ability and potential for us.

We’re not looking for students with a hugely impressive list of extra-curricular activities like DoE Gold or climbing Kilimanjaro. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of that stuff, we’re just not able to use it as a means of picking students.

We’re looking instead for a strong (but not necessarily perfect) set of grades and the potential to excel in small group tutorial teaching.

Sandy: It’s not about who is the “smartest” person either.

We do want intelligent students with very good grades, but most of all we are looking for those who are going to learn in the ways that we teach – particularly through the supervisions and tutorials.

We want people who are able to talk about the things that they are passionate about; open-minded individuals who are able to take new information on board and draw their own conclusions; students who are willing to question authority and push back the boundaries of what we know.

People who don’t take ‘I don’t know’ as the end of the story, but who regard that as a challenge to overcome.

Matt: So, we’re hunting for curious minds and people who don’t just parrot information but think for themselves.

How can students become more curious and independently minded?

Matt: People tend to assume Oxbridge students are born a certain way and that it’s impossible to attain that level of intellect otherwise. However, it’s all about curiosity and independent thinking and these qualities, at least in part, can be learnt.

Start with a question about the universe that is personally interesting and do some research on it. For example, how come some trees are so tall? How much does the internet weigh? Why does anyone care how I pronounce the word ‘scone’? — then hunt for answers.

Read books and academic articles, download podcasts, watch lectures and vlogs on YouTube, chat with teachers and friends.

What do you think the answer might be to your puzzle? If someone has a different answer, don’t necessarily abandon yours, work out why you disagree.

Don’t forget, at the outer limits, practically all of academia is guesswork. We don’t have definitive answers to many of the most interesting questions about the world or the wider universe.

Good guesswork is often the name of the game and Year 12 students need to build a bit of confidence in their guessing abilities.

What can you do to make a brilliant, stand-out application?

Sandy: I say this a lot, but quite simply go and geek out! Explore your subjects and engage with them as much as possible. It should be fun, interesting and a great excuse to find out more about the things that amaze, puzzle and stimulate your mind.

If you’re not sure what you’re into, explore different things that capture your interest and dive deeper to see if they are something you are truly passionate about.

Talk with other students about your interests and attend any sessions on application preparation to help you get all of the information you need to navigate applications effectively.

 Matt: The most important resources you need are time and energy.

Pursue a subject that gives you energy! That is, something you find so interesting that you are impelled to look further and deeper into.

How should you decide between subjects, or between Oxford and Cambridge?

Matt: Ask yourself What do you love studying? What could you read about on a day off and not be bored by it?

For me that’s always been politics. I could read and think about politics, even when I don’t have the energy to do anything else. Politics is such a hilarious and grubby soap opera, and it’s got me hooked. It’s like a box set that I can’t binge-watch because new episodes keep coming out!

A lot of students start by thinking about careers. That is sensible, but shouldn’t be the sole consideration. For instance, a lot of people say they want to be lawyers and so they will apply to study Law as a result. You don’t need to study Law as an undergrad to be a lawyer. You can convert from almost any degree (even medicine) to Law. And if you’ve done well as an undergrad at a top uni, law firms will pay for your conversion.

Choose a subject you’re motivated to study.

If you want to get into Oxbridge for Law for example, you need to be enthralled to the academic study of Law — jurisprudence, civil procedure, torts, human rights etc.

Some of you will be thinking of applying for subjects you’ve never formally studied before — such as medicine, biochemistry, or Arabic. Find out what a degree in those subjects entails, read some academic works produced by tutors and ask will it hold my interest for three years of study?

Sandy: Find the course that most suits you and lets you study things you are interested in.

Check the reading lists and modules for courses online. Just because two courses share the same name, doesn’t mean that they have the same content.

If you arrived at university to find the course didn’t have a module on your particular interest, you would be sorely disappointed to be spending all that time and money on a course that didn’t do what you wanted it to.

Matt: As for choosing between Oxford and Cambridge, the first and most important point to consider is whether they offer the right course for you.

There are some major differences in degree programmes between the two — for example, Oxford has courses like PPE, and Cambridge has Natural Sciences rather than individual courses in Physics, Chemistry and Biology. But there are also a lot of similarities — both have fairly similar Medicine degrees, for instance.

Dig deeper and find out what, if any, relevant differences there are. Trust your gut. Which city do you prefer, if you’ve had a chance to visit them?

Ignore the nonsense myths. Oxford is not the one for humanities and Cambridge the one for sciences. They each excel at both. It can be a personal preference.

How should you decide which college to apply for?

Matt: Don’t overthink it. At the end of the day, you’re getting a degree from Oxford or Cambridge that counts the same regardless of which college you pick.

The academic experience is practically identical at all colleges, even if the facilities differ a bit.

Look at accommodation options and whether they can house you for the whole degree; what financial support is available; what other facilities they have like sports fields, and music rooms.

It’s also worth noting that Oxford and Cambridge operate sophisticated pooling systems between colleges which means you won’t be any less likely to gain a place at Oxford or Cambridge if you apply to a popular college.

Colleges can share applications around to ensure we take the best, regardless of which college they picked.

Sandy: I absolutely agree with Matt.

Make a list of the things you would like from a college and check to see which ones meet the most of those criteria.

Visit some colleges and see which ones feel like they could be your home for the next three or more years.

You may not receive an offer from your first choice due to the pooling systems, so it’s important not to get your heart too set on one particular college, as you may end up being accepted by a different one.

How can you prepare and plan for admissions test?

Sandy: The first step is to download the relevant preparation materials online, and check if you have an assessment before the time of your interview.

For Cambridge, find this here:

Prepare for these tests like an exam – learning the structures of papers, revising knowledge and practicing skills set on the specifications, and by doing the practice papers we provide online.

The Cambridge assessments are designed not to be able to be coached for but are more about practicing relevant skills and ensuring that you have any required knowledge (especially in the sciences).

Use your preferred exam techniques, look at the types of questions you will face, timings that you will need to follow and the structures of the papers, to help you prepare.

Matt: I’ve made videos on admissions tests (and the TSA test in particular) on our YouTube channel.

These tests need a lot of practice. They are among the most important predictors of who gets in, and practice improves performance.

How can you prepare for your interview?

Sandy: To put it very simply, get used to talking about your subject.

Build in time for discussions with a teacher, parent or guardian who can help you go deeper into your understanding of your chosen field.

Matt: You can do most, if not all, interview prep on your own.

I have two techniques that work well in preparing for interviews —the toddler and the kitten techniques:

The toddler technique:

Look at problems and even everyday items as if you’ve never seen them before and question everything.

If I ask a student to analyse an American flag, they’ll likely start by stating it has fifty stars and thirteen stripes. That’s fine, but a toddler would look at an American flag as something entirely new to them and would ask lots of questions — Why is it that shape and those colours? What even is a ‘flag’? Why do the stars have five points? Why are the stars stuck in a box in one corner? 

The toddler technique can be used on anything. It ensures that you think about a problem for yourself not for somebody else.

The kitten technique:

Is all about tenaciously pulling at threads, like a kitten with a ball of wool!

You need to keep asking yourself ‘Why?’ in response to any statement.

Why does the American flag have red in it? Maybe because it looks like blood.

Why does it look like blood, and why would anyone want that on a flag?! Erm, because spilling blood is an important part of building nations.

 But why? And why is blood red anyway? And why use blood to symbolise sacrifice, why not something else?

These techniques encourage you to analyse more deeply and think for yourself.

Practice it on past interview questions (of which I have hundreds that I can email to you —

You can find out more about applying to and life at Oxford or Cambridge at the Seren Conference this December.