Do you remember the last time you felt relaxed and went jolly after an examination? Happy, excited, overjoyed, free? I felt that way after my AS examinations – except that those feelings didn’t last very long. University applications came hurling at me and before I know it, I was checking entry requirements, keeping track of the deadlines, editing my personal statement and filling up loads of forms.
UCAS & The Personal Statement
The UCAS form is pretty simple. It is just an online form where you have to provide your personal details, qualifications etc. If your current pre-university college is not aiding you in filling up these forms, there is a step-by-step guide available online.
Now, for the most time-consuming part of the UCAS application- the personal statement! You would have heard that your personal statement should include both academic and non-academic related content. However, do remember that you are going to university to study, so your personal statement should be more about your chosen course than it is about your co-curricular activities.
For the academic side, I believe that it is extremely important to highlight your passion for your chosen subject. As a maths applicant, my personal statement includes the areas of mathematics that interest me most, the nature of the subject that I enjoy and how I feel about them.
Meanwhile, for the non-academic side, I include both mathematical and non-mathematical activities. Mathematical activities can be any mathematics competition you have participated in (eg: Euclid, OMK), your experience as a maths tutor or even your STEP preparation. For the non-mathematical ones, you can highlight how those activities help you develop values needed in a mathematician or how they help you grow as an individual. For instance,
“Apart from my studies, I play chess and have participated in district, state and national tournaments. In addition to the sophisticated structure and logic of the game, I enjoy playing chess because it has taught me how to plan strategies ahead, recognise patterns and analyse problems, all of which are vital skills in the art of problem solving.”
“I am also currently participating in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme which encourages me to thrive through discipline, motivation and determination.”
I also believe that a personal statement should sound like the writer. If you have a vast vocabulary, feel free to make use of your ability in your personal statement. But if you don’t, it would be best if you don’t push it. Using a new word found on the thesaurus can appear awkward if you are not familiar with its usage. I am not a good writer (and never was), so I kept my personal statement simple without those so-called ‘bombastic words’.
In early July, I started drafting my UCAS personal statement and (of course) since it is called ‘the first draft’, it was horrendous! To all future applicants, I would suggest you not to worry if you feel that what you have written is not well-structured, lacks content or is very juvenile compared to what the others have written. You can always get help from your experienced teachers, tutors and even professionals like MABECS. Don’t give up on your personal statement and polish it until you are happy and contented with it.
Cambridge Online Preliminary Application (COPA)
So, if you are applying to the University of Cambridge and would like to have your interview here in Malaysia, we are in the same boat again! However, that also means filling an extra form called the COPA. The first few parts of the COPA are very similar to that of the UCAS (We have to fill in our personal details, qualifications etc). Then there are spaces for an additional personal statement and some questionnaires. These questionnaires are optional so it’s up to you if you want to answer them. As for me, I filled in a few and left a few of them blank.
The invitation for a Cambridge interview usually knocks on your inbox approximately two weeks before your interview. It is entirely up to you how you want to prepare for the interview. I’ve heard stories of people pulling all-nighters and of people not preparing at all. Though they may seem extreme, some are successful candidates. As for me, I practiced some STEP questions, tried some BMO questions, kacau-ed teachers and seniors for help, get enough sleep and pooffff! Two weeks passed just like that.
The interviews were held in a 2-day period and the written test was held the day after. I was interviewed by Dr Stuart Martin from Magdalene College in Cambridge and the whole 30-minute interview felt like a tutorial. He started off by asking me a few informal questions such as “How do you find Further Maths?” This was presumably to break the ice and to make me more comfortable. And after more casual talk, we proceed to the more serious part where Dr. Martin asked me two questions, one on curve sketching and another on a puzzle.
Honestly, when the questions were presented to me, I had no immediate answer in my head. But I have heard beforehand that the interviewer is more interested in the way I think rather than the final answer. Dr. Martin guided me by giving me tips along the way and giving me some time to think on my own. I tried to voice out what I was thinking, asked some questions about some information he told me and after I finished answering the questions, my time was up.
Cambridge Written Test
The next day, I sat for a 2-hour maths test in Sunway College. There were two questions. Question 1 was made up of ten parts, all of which were short and consisted of various topics such as complex numbers, trigonometry, projectiles etc. The suggested time for question 1 was one hour and all candidates were required to try as many as they can. Question 2, on the other hand, had six longer parts and all candidates had to choose only two. Don’t worry if your school has not covered the Further Maths syllabus as most of the questions are very STEP-like and all can be answered without any Further Mathematics knowledge.
Wait for replies…
So, that basically sums up my Cambridge application process. Remember that all these may seem really tedious at first, but when you are done with everything and you look back, it is not that bad.
Thank you for reading my ramblings (I know how hard it is :/) and I wish all Malaysian applicants out there all the best in their application and may all of you gain admission into your dream universities.
Links which you may find useful:
- Step-by-step Guide to UCAS: http://www.ucas.com/how-it-all-works/undergraduate/filling-your-application
- Sixth Term Examination Paper (STEP): http://www.admissionstestingservice.org/for-test-takers/step/about-step/
- Past STEP papers: http://www.admissionstestingservice.org/for-test-takers/step/preparing-for-step/
Law Chiw Fern Jasmine is a half Penangnite-half Kedahan who received a conditional offer from the University of Cambridge to read Mathematics. She is sponsored by the Malaysian Public Service Department and is currently in love with food.