My mock interview had prepared me a little but not enough for my real interview. At times it was as brutal as all the myths.
I went up the night before and met a couple of other interviewees which was quite awkward initially but I actually found it calmed me a little as they all felt nervous and we wondered as a group what was in store. I also quite liked it as we got to see the college and talk to some of the students who had stayed to help out on a real one to one basis.
The next morning more people slowly started to arrive and before breakfast I checked when my first interview was. I was then taken into the library and presented with my own essay that I had submitted weeks before. I was given a theme and asked to reevaluate my essay with this theme in mind. My essay was about the Cold War and what was the greatest turning point and my theme was 'Elite'. I had 30 mins. I was gobsmacked. I didn't really know what they wanted me to look for but I began to scribble away furiously.
When my time was up I was taken to a small room and I found myself sat opposite two lecturers. They were very friendly but it did nothing to abate my nerves. One started off by asking me what I was reading at the moment and we briefly discussed why I had chosen my book and what I did and didn't like about it. They also asked my rather abruptly how I accessed books which at the time I thought a bit of a funny question but after later reflection and listening to other people's answers, I realised what they wanted to know was whether I could use a library. As one of the boys found out, saying "I dunno my teacher gives me books" was not the best answer he could've given.
After that the second interviewer took over and asked me about my essay and what I had identified in terms of the word 'Elite'. As it turned out I had gone on completely the wrong track. I began to talk about the idea of elite ideologies which seemed to surprise the interviewers who asked me to qualify and explain what I meant by that- I wasn't sure, I was sort of making it up as I went along. What they had thought I might pick up was that I had analysed the turning points of the Cold War from the very elite perspective of Presidents and world leaders. I felt like an idiot. It had been staring at me in the face! They didn't seem to mind however and we discussed what I had come up with. I made sure to always say what I was thinking out loud and when I felt I had made a mistake I corrected myself and showed growth of thought. When they played the Devil's advocate I stood my ground with my opinion generally but did alter it slightly when they presented me with a new idea or a view I hadn't considered. They were very quick and noted immediately when I contradicted myself and asked me why. They were quite probing and they really challenged me. Textbook in a way. I was absolutely exhausted but I thought that all in all the first interview went well.
At lunch those of us who had already been interviewed discussed it and the answers we'd given and how we found the interviewers which was very reassuring generally and I found that we all got on quite well and had much to talk about. The high point for me was when all the interviewees as we waited, played a game of chess split into two teams. The game got very heated and whilst it does sound very nerdy indeed, I felt that we all came together as a friendly bunch and I really could envisage myself spending three years with some of the people I met.
The second interview the next day was worse. Much worse.
I was taken to the library again and asked to evaluate a very long source, about 6 pages in 20 minutes or so. I wasn't given a question or a theme, just told to analyse it. Before I knew what was happening my time was up and I was sat across from two new interviewers. The first thing they said was "we won't shake your hand, just come and sit down" which sounds like a small thing but really threw me and I felt quite offended. "What's wrong with my hands?!" I thought in a panic. I was then asked to lay the source out in front of me and they began to ask me questions such as what information could I extract about the author. My first couple of attempts were met with cries of "no no no what information can you gain about the author's background not his views!" I felt terrified. I thought I was answering their question. Eventually I must've given the kind of answer they were looking for as they then moved on. The source was about a revolution and parliament turning on the king and gave a fairly conflicted set of views in relation to the democratic crisis they were describing. It was quite a challenging source to say the least. All my answers to their questions seemed to be wrong and many of the responses were quite negative, or at least not particularly encouraging: "Why would you think that?", "Where does it say that", "how/why have you reached that conclusion". At least twice I felt quite tearful but tried to keep calm. At the end they asked me about what I was doing now, since I had already finished my A levels, I told them I had enrolled in an art course for the year as I waited for jaw surgery. This was met with absolute disgust by one of the interviewer-the "Bad Cop" and I suddenly feared that my final answer would totally jeapordise any progress I may have made. They then thanked me kindly and showed me the way out.
After I left I went back to my room and cried. Not sniffled. Sobbed. I thought I had totally blown any chance of a place and rang my parents to say so. I was utterly crushed. My parents however were much more positive and asked me to go though the interview and together we picked out some of the more positive features. It was some comfort. At dinner that evening though I found out that everybody had found the second interview equally as distressing and there was a sombre mood across the dining hall. Well, all apart from one boy who had actually recognised the source and knew what it was on about; its author, origins, everything. I remember thinking that he would definitely get a place - he even knew what the source was! A fourth year obviously saw my worried expression and lent over to me and said not to worry, he seemed too cocky and the interviewers would see that too, the fact that knew what the source was meant nothing. And I really found that conversation comforting because the fourth year had been there and done that so he knew.
The third day was the most painful in a way. I didn't have any other interviews but everyone had to spend the entire day waiting for the possibility of one. Lots of people did have interviews elsewhere and many new people arrived for interviews at St Benet's but I did not and it was so boring! All I could do was sit and ruminate on my interviews and whether I'd done enough. Eventually we were allowed to go home and I worried and fretted from then until I got an email formally offering me a place about a month or so later- I obviously had done enough.