Physics Interviews

The best place to start is Oxford's official information on preparing for interviews. But after you've looked there, read on to hear some students talk about their Physics interviews.

As a physicist I personally found I was asked very few personal questions, and nothing about my personal statement; every question was either mathematical or physics. Examples of the physics questions were describing the path of a particle in electric and magnetic fields, or how many times a ball would bounce off the sides of a hole it fell into, or estimating how far a person could shoot an arrow. In general, I found that reaching a perfectly accurate answer was less important than using a sensible method, and describing how you were arriving at your answers. Examples of maths questions I had were to sketch the graph of x^sin(x), or to calculate what fraction of the earth's surface was visible to a satellite at a given height. Again, the process of answering was more important than the answer itself, and you don't need to be afraid to ask for help if you need to!

David, Worcester, student from 2014

One interview started with a brief question about my personal statement but the other two didn't. Most questions were mathematically based but phrased as a wordy question so you had to work out how to approach the question e.g. "why does x happen?" In another, I was asked to draw a graph of a given equation by looking at limits. Two were done sitting at tables, but my third was using the whiteboard for my workings.

Ellie, Oriel, student from 2012

I had three interviews - two at St Hugh's and one at University college, all on different days. The two interviews at St Hugh's weren't done in any particular order - some people had my second interview as their first. I had access to paper or a whiteboard for all questions, and I talked through my thought process/what I was writing down (helpful when I made silly errors like half integrating/half differentiating things because they could see I knew what I was doing). I also wrote things down for even very simple questions because I find things easier when they're down on paper.

Interview one

My first question was based on my personal statement. As I'd talked a lot about astronomy, they asked me to explain the phases of the moon.

I was then given the equation y = (lnx)/x and told to draw the graph. They indicated a point on the graph and told me to find it (it was a stationary point, so I had to differentiate the function). They asked which methods of integration I knew, and then told me to integrate the function.

I then had a question about a parachutist, starting by asking me what happens to the forces acting on a man jumping out of a plane and then what happens if he opens a parachute sometime after reaching terminal velocity. I had to sketch a graph of force against time and one of velocity against time, and was asked how they link together, and finally, how would this be different on the Moon.

For my final question in my first interview, I was told there is a piece of metal with fixed area A and it is used to make a can with height h and radius r. What are the dimensions of the can with maximum volume? I got as far as finding r in this question and then ran out of time. They talked through the rest of the question with me before I left.

Interview two

This interview started with around ten simple questions - what is 10.66 in standard form, what is 10^-9/10^-13, what is cos (pi/6). Then differentiate cosxsinxtanx and simplify your answer, sketch the gratch of y = 1/(x^5 - 1) + 1.

It then moved on to questions of a similar format to my first interview. A ball is dropped from a height H and bounces back to a height h. Find the coefficient of restitution - I hadn't heard of this so I asked them what it was, they defined it as the ratio of velocity after to velocity before.

What force is needed to hold an iron block of mass 500kg suspended from a 10m rope 10cm to the right?

I was given a diagram of a circuit showing 5 resistors of equal resistance set up in a combination of series and parallel and asked to find the current through a particular resistor.

My last question, which again I didn't complete, was about a man bungee jumping above a pit of crocodiles height h below with a rope of unknown spring constant k. How long can his rope be if he doesn't want to get eaten? They told me how the rest of the question would go before I left.

Interview three

This interview was a bit different to my first two, as it focused on one topic for the whole thing pretty much. They asked me what I'd covered in previous interviews and what I'd been studying in class recently (electric fields and magnetic fields) before starting with the interview questions.

I was first asked to write down Coulomb's law, and then given this situation: There's an axis with a fixed charge particle Q. A charge q moves along the axis, through particle Q. Draw a graph of the force on q against time.

There are now two charges Q on the axis, draw a new graph of force against time. While drawing this graph I kept saying the right thing, but drawing it incorrectly, which was a bit confusing, but the tutor just told me to try that bit again.

Finally, I had to write an equation for force on q at any point between the two Q charges.

Lauren, St Hugh's, student from 2015

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