Friday, 11 December 2009

Cambridge raverviews!

So, here's how they went.

First up was the subject-specific interview. This one had moments of awesome and moments of shoddy, but was generally okay. Once again I was surprised by the complete lack of personal statement questions - they began by reading through the main points ("so you've done C++ and python, made a few programs...") and then indirectly asked why I wasn't taking computing. It was posed as something like "Most candidates are normally doing A-level computing, but you don't seem to have done it at all; where does the background in computer science come from?" Thankfully I was prepared for this, and explained that it was something that greatly interested me and which I had mostly learned for fun in my free time. To answer the implied question of why I had no formal computing education I said something vague about the Standard Grade course not being particularly relevant to a degree (which is true), which is what I'd always intended to do (which is mostly true, although I wasn't very certain of what I wanted to do back then - I decided against Standard Grade computing on the grounds that I was already learning it myself). And then they asked about what sort of projects I've done, so I rattled off a big old list of things I've been doing recently. Hopefully it wasn't too disjointed and rambly.

And then came the technical questions.

Firstly, they got me to work out what a piece of code did, which was simple enough but took me a little while as there were a few off-throwing loops. They didn't appear to be too bothered by that though, and I think bonus points were gained on the second part of this one as I worked it out relatively speedily. They then got me to devise an algorithm (I don't think I can say what for), which I luckily managed to do rather quickly - they seemed fairly pleased by this one. I then had a proof by induction, which got off to a terrible start when I mistook the technique they asked me to use for a direct proof. And it went downhill from there. The less said the better, really. Not one of my finest moments. Moving onwards, this was followed up by a question about a finite state machine diagram, and I get the impression that several bonus points were gained when I mentioned that I had seen one before (based on the rather surprised reaction by which this was received). They asked me to add bits to it in order to add extra functions, and there was a bit of to-and-fro-ing here as I made a few mistakes at the beginning and then went about the last part of the question in what was apparently not the intended way. They said it was still correct though, so hopefully the question wasn't too much of a failure.

And that was that. Not too bad really; it could have gone far worse. It was certainly better than the Imperial interview anyway, although I hear that Cambridge interviews are much more important that Imperial interviews when it comes to selecting candidates (Imperial do a lot more pre-interview selection, and so those with interviews are fairly likely to get offers).

This first interview was closely followed by the TSA, or Thinking Skills Assessment. A glorified IQ test really, but with slightly harder questions and a large number of questions that are to do with identifying underlying assumptions, flaws or main conclusions in arguments. The one I did at Cambridge was actually a lot harder than the online practice one, and I ended up using the full hour and a half. I did however answer all but four questions with certainty which varied between definite (for most), and moderate (for about a fifth of them). Not a clue what my results were, and indeed I'll never be told; it'll make a contribution to my application in consummate secrecy. Ominous.

So, tired and mentally worn out as I was, I trudged on to the last event of the day: the Natural Sciences interview. This has to be taken as well because the Computer Science Tripos at Cambridge involves a Natural Sciences portion for the first year (which is rather awesome actually). However, I was slightly worried at the prospect of an interview on the topic as I've done minimal revision for such a thing. And "Natural Sciences" is so ill-defined it could well bring in work I did and forgot in first-year Biology.

Thankfully, however, it was just Physics with a bit of Maths. And IT WAS GLORIOUS! Glorious and victorious. The questions were almost all easy, and I steamed through about seven or eight in the twenty-minute interview. I made a few mistakes, but in general I managed to answer every question with all the speed and accuracy of a well-guided cruise missile. Yes, that's a mild exaggeration. However I do feel rather positive about this last interview, and so it was a nice way to end the (long and arduous) day.

So then I was off, on the six-hour train journey back to here, where I found an offer from Imperial awaiting me. I'm still dancing on the ceiling about that one. And it's making it considerably difficult to type.

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