Can You Charm Your Way into Oxbridge? – IELTS Academic Reading Passage

It s Oxbridge season again, and thousands of applicants are anxiously waiting to be called to interview. Independent schools will be putting the final polish on candidates who may well have already had a year’s intensive preparation. Candidates, if they are lucky, might get a five-minute mock interview with one of their teachers. At the Cotswold School, in Bourton-on-the-Water, a Gloucestershire comprehensive, it’s a different story. Here, the eight Oxbridge candidates, all boys, are being given intensive social grooming courtesy of Rachel Holland, a former independent-school maths teacher and housemistress, who has clipped along in her high heels and smart, pink linen two-piece to give them a morning’s tuition in the lost arts of sitting, standing, walking, making small talk, dressing well, and handing round canapés. It might sound the sort of thing that would have sceptical teenagers lolling in their chairs and rolling their eyes skywards, but Rachel Holland is warm, engaging, funny, and direct. People, she tells the boys bluntly, always judge others within a few seconds of meeting them, which is why first impressions are so vital.

Step by step she takes the group through a good “meet and greet” how to smile, make eye contact, and give a firm handshake. Lolling in chairs is a no-no, she says, even when you’re waiting outside an interview room. “And don’t sit with your legs really far apart, either.” How do you enter an interview room? Rachel Holland demonstrates, miming closing the door quietly behind her, smiling warmly, walking confidently across the carper, and shaking each interviewer’s hand as she says her name. Then the boys do it, over and over again “head up, don’t rush it, turn and sit down, but remember, don’t sit down until you’re invited to. Imagine your interviewers have had a bad day. You need to brighten it up for them. You need to announce to them that you’re here. What you’re saying when you come in like this is: ‘Here I am, I’m so-and-so, and I’m really pleased to see you. Pay attention to me. I want my place, and you should give it to me!’”

Rachel Holland set up Rachel Holland Associates to teach social skills after realising the popularity of the workshops she devised for the pupils of Millfield, the school where she was working. Her courses range from a three-hour workshop on basic manners for 7- to 10-year-olds, to a one-term course for school leavers on etiquette and life skills, which covers all aspens of modern life including how to walk in high heels, accept a compliment, write a thank-yon letter, and know when not to use a mobile phone, “livery child, no matter what their background, needs to he given social skills,” she says. ’Everyone needs to know how to he polite and well mannered.”

Once upon a time teaching these things was considered a parents’ job, but today’s parents, she says, are often as confused as their offspring. “They ask me, ‘What should my child wear to interview?’ Then I get lots of questions about eating. Young people say ‘If there’s lots of cutlery, what should I do?’ They find the idea of, say, eating, a meal with a future employer very intimidating. I think social skills need to be taught as a proper subject in schools, not an add-on, although it helps that I’m coming in from outside and am not their maths or physics teacher.” So far, she has taken her new company into four independent schools and has now come to the Cotswold School to try out her skills in the state sector by working with this small Oxbridge group, and running a larger workshop for 11-year-olds.

The headmistress, Ann Holland, came across her work through a family connection – Rachel Holland is her husband’s niece and thought: “If they’re doing this, why shouldn’t my children have some of it, too?” Neither she, nor the boys, think for a minute that knowing how to hand round canapés is the key to getting into Oxbridge. Nevertheless, the effect of the workshop is astonishing. Over the course of the morning, the candidates are transformed from amiable, lounging schoolboys into young men with palpable presence who both charm and command your attention. Holland, watching the action, straightens her back in her chair. “This is really, really practical stuff. I only wish someone had told me all this when I was young.”

The boys, who come from a wide span of social backgrounds, soak up the non-stop stream of tips, ask lots of questions, and haw fun swaggering up and down to music, trying to inject more confidence and authority into the way they walk. However, they find learning how to make small talk in twos, and then threes, a tricky business. “It’s hard work,” agrees Rachel Holland. “You’ve got to store some questions in your head. You’ve got to fake it. You’ve got to look relaxed and confident. And remember the most important thing smile!” After a break, she turns to clothes. The boys are told to buy the best quality they can afford, to know their measurements – a tape measure is whipped out, and they are all measured for sleeve length and neck sice – and “always to try and buy a suit with vents at the back. It allows you to move. It really makes a difference.” They are told when people wear evening dress, what “smart casual” consists of, and how “come as you are” invitations tend not to mean what they say.

“When would you wear a morning suit?” Rachel Holland asks them. “In the morning?” they volunteer, hopefully. Aspects of the workshop, like knowing when to wear a top hat, are clearly not relevant to their young lives, but they like being told what’s what and. during a break, wax enthusiastic. Alex Green, 17, who is applying to read geography at Cambridge, says the morning has boosted his confidence. “I feel more assured of myself. I feel I know how to control myself in an interview. The little things about things like posture are really helpful.” “It’s really like acting. It’s gelling your image across,” says Alex Bexon, 17, another geographer, who is applying to Oxford.

Questions 27-30
For each question, only ONE of the choices is correct.

27. Rachel Holland’s advice does not include how to
A pass exams
B eat correctly.
C talk about non-academic subjects.

28. Rachel Holland believes parents don’t teach many things to their children because they
A have so little time.
B don’t know how to do such things.
C haven’t been well educated.

29. Making small talk well involves
A remembering what people say.
B walking correctly.
C asking questions.

30. Alex Green says he feels
A more confident.
B healthier.
C more energetic.

Questions 31-35
Complete the following sentences using NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS from the text for each gap.

Rachel Holland used to teach (31)…………………..

The boys are taught to say their names as they (32)…………………

One of Rachel’s courses involves teaching (33)………………… younger children.

Cotswold School is a (34)…………………

Rachel teaches the boys how to put more (35)…………………….into their walking.

Questions 36-40
Do the following statements agree with the information given in Reading Passage 3? In boxes 36 — 40 on your answer sheet, write

TRUE if the statement agrees with the information
FALSE if the statement contradicts the information
NOT GIVEN If there is no information on this

36. All of the Oxbridge candidates at Cotswold School are receiving coaching from Rachel Holland.
37. Some of Rachel’s courses include tips on writing.
38. Rachel thinks her job would be more difficult if she was teaching the boys.
39. The skills Rachel teaches are the key to getting an Oxbridge place.
40. The boys are not interested in things that are not relevant to them.