Hi, this is Christopher Lim Zi Kai from the land of agriculture, Kedah! I’m born in 1994 and am currently 20 years old now. After graduating from SMJK Sin Min with 9 A+,
2A in 2011, I was awarded a bursary offer to pursue Cambridge A-Levels in Taylor’s College Subang Jaya. My subject combination was Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Further Mathematics.
However, my life was not as smooth as the life of other scholars you may come across before. In 2012, I was selected to attend the second batch of National Service. During that period, I was involved in an accident which resulted a brachial plexus injury. For your information, it is a nerve injury which causes the loss of feeling and control of my right hand, which happens to be my dominant hand. Back then, I was told by doctors that they had never seen this case before and none of the doctors dared to guarantee that I would make a full recovery
After countless sessions of physiological exercises and treatments from traditional doctors all over Malaysia, my hand managed to recover fully after 1 year. Then, the time for university applications came. Initially, I was reluctant to include the famous Oxbridge universities in my application. However, thanks to a classmate persuading me that I should never give up before trying, I decided to include University of Oxford as part of my UCAS application for Chemical Engineering.
Hence, if you are still feeling doubtful whether to apply to University of Oxford, please do not hesitate any longer. If someone with long-term physical injury like me can go through all the challenges, there is no reason why you don’t stand a chance of being offered a place to study in the university of your choice. Take ACTION now to enter your DREAM university!
What was included in the application process?
As a summary for those of you who are interested to apply to any engineering subjects in University of Oxford, here’s what’s included in the application process:
- a) UCAS application
- b) Physics Aptitude Test (PAT)
- c) Interview Session (may be one or two session depending on your subject and college you apply to)
What did I include in my personal statement?
Here’s a list of the points I included in my personal statement:
- a) How I develop my passion for chemical engineering;
- b) Why I choose chemical engineering;
- c) Awards in various Mathematics Competitions;
- d) My experience of brachial plexus injury;
- e) My future vision of being a chemical engineer and how can I contribute back to society
- f) Strength of my character;
- g) Activities which I participated in and what I learnt from them, such as what had I learnt from being the Treasurer of Taylor’s College Toastmaster Club, President of Computer Club in SMJK Sin Min, etc; and
- h) Why I want to study in the UK.
PAT and Me
This test consists of 2 sections, which is Maths followed by Physics. Unlike A-Levels, there are no mark schemes available online for the past year questions. At the same time, although the questions can still be solved using A-Level knowledge, the solutions can be quite lengthy.
So, I started off by practicing the specimen paper. Initially, I got a false impression that PAT was quite easy as the level of difficulty of the specimen paper was almost similar to what we learned in A-Levels. However, when I started doing the actual past year papers, I was in a shock to find how tricky the questions could be! The solutions will require you to use the knowledge you learn from Cambridge A-Levels (refer to the syllabus section in the link below for more info) and manipulate some equations or linking theories between a few chapters in order to solve them.
I found out that I was quite comfortable with the standard of Maths question as I had practiced solving questions from Australian Mathematics Competition and Euclid Mathematic Competition before (Yup, I had no experience solving Mathematics Olympiad questions at all) and the questions were more or less on a similar level. The only difference was that NO CALCULATOR is allowed during the test (which made life more difficult)!
However, the Physics part was relatively tougher as I did not have much experience in attempting problem-solving questions. In addition, the Physics section can be further split into 2 parts, the objective questions and the long structured questions. At the same time, my lecturer had not finished certain topics from the A2 syllabus. Hence, a lot of self-study was needed in this aspect in order to achieve the level to solve the questions.
Hence, every time after I completed a past year paper, I would find my classmate who was also practicing the paper, and we cross-checked our answers. If either one of our answers did not tally with the other, we engaged ourselves in an intellectual discussion on how to solve the problem. If we failed to come to a consensus, we engaged our lecturer to discuss and find the solution.
Refer to this link for more information about PAT: https://www2.physics.ox.ac.uk/studyhere/undergraduates/applications/physics-aptitude-test-pat
The Moment I Had Been Dreading: The Interview
Surprisingly, a month after PAT, I was invited to an individual Skype interview with two professors from the University of Oxford, one who was responsible for asking me Maths questions and another who was responsible for asking me Physics questions. Personally, I wasn’t expecting to get that far, that’s why I was quite worried about the interview as I did not even have the experience of a mock interview. Nevertheless, I just surfed online and read through how previous candidates performed in the interview. Also, I applied some tips which I got from a senior, which was “Think Out Aloud” – saying out what you are thinking consistently so the professors can understand how you process information and how to help you out when you are stuck.
The interview started off with a maths question. The professor asked me to sketch the function, y= sin (ex). Initially, my reaction was “Oh no, I’m so gonna fail this”; however I just smiled and sketched the shape of a sine function and exponential function next to each other and continue to stare at the paper (Oh ya, you have to prepare your own papers and stationery beforehand). After 2 minutes of silence, the professor asked me if I would like any advice. I accepted his advice and he asked me to analyse the graph from 3 aspects, when x<0, x=0, and x>0. Hence, I followed his advice by substituting x=0 into the equation and managed to get the y- intercept, which was sine 1 radian. Similar to the PAT test, no calculator is allowed during the interview, so I had to convert 1 rad to degrees, using the value of pi divided by 180. The professor then asked me to round off the value to 60 and hence that’s how I obtained the approximate value of the y-intercept, which was 0.866.
After that, I went on to analyse the case where x<0. So, all the values of ex is now smaller than 1 radian. Hence, I know that all the solutions would be positive as they all lie on the first quadrant. The smaller the value of x, the closer the line will be approaching zero from the positive side (Further Maths student should be able to understand what I am saying). On the other hand, for x>0, since the value of ex increases exponentially, the period of the sine function will decreases as x increases. Put together all 3 parts of the graph and you will get:
My next question was all about the interpretation of data from a “Stress versus Strain” graph. Attached is an almost-the-same graph which they showed me:
I was asked about the gradient of the graphs, Young Modulus, and identifying which object belongs to which category. The most interesting thing that I will like to point out is the professor related an item which I wrote in my personal statement, “Thera Band” to the graph. Hence, make sure that you know what you are writing in your personal statement before you go for your interview. Because this definitely proves that the professors have read your personal statement before interviewing you!
Moreover, after I finished answering this question. I was asked 2 personal questions.
1) Why do you want to study Chemical Engineering, apart from what you have written in your personal statement?
2) Why do you want to study in UK?
In conclusion, rather than calling it an interview, it is more of a stimulation of the actual tutorial system in the University of Oxford. The only reason why I can remember the questions is because I really have learnt from the interview. Personally, I felt that the purpose of the interview was not for them to eliminate students’ applications, but to find potential students who they like to teach for the next 4 years. If they find you teachable, you definitely have a high chance of succeeding the interview!
The interview is definitely something worth experiencing in your lifetime and you will certainly learn something from it!
Here’s a link that tells you further on how the admission tutors select potential students: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-29222233
Christopher Lim is a dynamic young adult who is pursuing Engineering Science- Chemical Engineering in University of Oxford under JPA scholarship. Being a fan of self- development courses and books, you will find him attending seminars after seminars especially during weekends. He is also the co-author of the book “Gen Y : Code of Success”.