A Coffee Enthusiast’s Application to Oxford for Physics

Oxford JX

Applying to Oxford for Physics (Not my Dad’s)

If you’re reading this, you just might possibly be considering the thought of maybe perhaps APPLYING FOR PHYSICS at Oxford.

Do it.

My dad (whose physics application advice is also on this website) and I are the only Malaysian physicists here and we’d love for you all to join the *cough* fun.

Brian’s Journey to Oxford (Part 1)

Brian’s Journey to Oxford (Part 2)

No. He’s not my real dad.

I’ll have more information concerning my interview than anything else, because that’s the most memorable part, and dad’s article sums up all the good tips for everything else already.

Here we go!



I honestly cannot remember much from my sitting of the PAT.  Nevertheless, my checklist for preparing for it was along the lines of:

[] Read through the PAT Syllabus ( https://www2.physics.ox.ac.uk/study-here/undergraduates/applications/physics-aptitude-test-pat/pat-syllabus ) and note down any topics which your Sixth Form course has not covered

[] Read through AS-level and IGCSE physics

[] Brief research of eclipses and astronomy (which my A-level studies did not cover)

[] ALL the past year PAT papers from http://www.physicsandmathstutor.com/pat/ . This here website is your new best friend. Don’t forget to check with its model answers

[] A few servings BPho (British Physics Olympiad, not the Vietnamese noodle soup) from http://www.physics.ox.ac.uk/olympiad/PastPapers.html#BPhOP1 . Again, these have marking schemes and, as dad said, they do in fact resemble the PAT questions

When it gets to the PAT, keep calm and just show them what you know! Very few people can complete every single question with confidence. I remember blanking out for a few math concepts I had not used for months but give everything a good shot and cross your fingers for…



Hehe. I remember getting my interview email in the middle of Lumut’s jungles covered in soil and sweat on my teacher’s iPad. I was in the middle of KTJ’s Outward Bound School trip for Sixth-Form students and frustrated that books were forbidden during the course. Good times…

I had two interviews over Skype: the first with Oriel and the second with Pembroke (obviously, the Pembrokian tutors who interviewed me and are now tutoring me are nicer 🙂 )

The link to the interview questions and solutions are at the end of this paragraph. I urge you to not look at the answers and instead give the questions a worthy go before checking your attempt with my answers.

JX Physics Interview and Solutions

Preparing for the interview

  1. Do lots of Fermi Problems
  2. Do lots of Puzzles
  3. Chill
  4. Drink coffee
  5. Read and practice from the following list

Book recommendations: These are just some books that I read or read excerpts from that were very interesting or helpful to the interview.

Jearl Walker – The Flying Circus of Physics

This book, although incredibly elusive, is a treasure trove of physics brainteasers with awesome explanations.

Conservation of Momentum blog


Lots of physics interview questions and puzzles.

Richard Feynman – QED ; 6 easy pieces ; Tips on Physics ; Surely You’re Joking Mr Feynman

Great look at an unconventional perspective of physics. The last book isn’t really about physics but it’s the only biography I have ever enjoyed reading.

George Gamow – Mr Tompkins in Paperback

A pretty fun exploration of physics you should be interested in. You can find these (legally) free online.

Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate About the Nature of Reality – Manjit Kumar

A nice historical overview of modern physics.


All in all, I hope you have a great time applying for and studying Physics (if you’re here not for the physics, good luck with whatever you’re doing anyway!). I hope the advice here helps. I know it’s short, but it’s so that you have more time to practice which is what will really matter.

All the best! Hi Mum and dad (Oxford and in real life)!


Jiaxen Lau, full time physicist, coffee connoisseur, photographer, videographer, fashionista, poet, cryptoanalyst, is currently reading Physics in Pembroke College, Oxford University. Indeed, he may have forgotten lunch but he will never forget about coffee. Make no mistake, this man is not a Victorian dandy but, with certainty, a Victorian gentleman who, as rumour has it, seems to have a girlfriend. Shame on him if that’s true, he’s supposed to love physics and coffee and only physics and coffee.


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