Unlike the majority of tutors, I am a specialist. I teach history, and only history, and my focus is on working with students applying for entry to elite universities. I have been tutoring the Oxford HAT and Cambridge HAA (which – as of 2019 – is part of the broader AHAA) since 2008, and have built an unparalleled record in helping candidates to score highly in the admissions tests and then excel at interview.
More than 80% of my Oxbridge students pass the written entrance assessments and are invited to interview, and, across the two most recent admissions cycles, thirteen have been offered places by Oxford or Cambridge.
I read history at Peterhouse, Cambridge, received my PhD in 1990, and since then have published seven well-received books and worked as a contributing writer in history for Smithsonian Magazine. I have helped dozens of Keystone students to meet and surpass their goals – and, just as importantly, to think about history in new and deeper ways.
Since leaving Cambridge I have spent more than 30 years studying, writing about or teaching every period from the Roman Republic to the 1980s. For seven of those years, my day job was to commission books for Routledge's 'Macat Library' – 220 titles, to date, each contextualising, explaining and critiquing a seminal work in one of the humanities or social sciences that's frequently set to students at undergraduate level. I also have a daughter who gained entry to Westminster School and is now in her final year of reading history at Oxford. This means I have direct, current experience of Oxbridge entrance and the demands made of Oxbridge students. I combine all this with every tool required to research and write good history – not to mention an undimmed enthusiasm for my subject.
Age and experience play their part as well. With a Cambridge degree, a doctorate, and nearly four decades of serious history under my belt, I'm in the perfect position to offer practice interviews conducted by someone with the sort of mindset and gravitas of an Oxbridge don. Realistic preparation is key to success in this demanding and competitive arena, and I have a solid track record of providing exactly that.
My blog posts
20/09/2018: Preparing for the Cambridge History Admissions Assessment (HAA)
The Oxbridge admissions system demands more of its candidates than any equivalent system in the world, but it does so for a reason. It exists to unearth young historians who can do more than merely cope with the demands of studying one subject intensively for three years. It seeks out students who have the potential to learn, in every sense of that term.
I think that both universities do a fine job of finding these students, and I do not believe their system can be ‘gamed’. Given sufficient time, it is certainly possible to draw the best out of candidates, and help them to stand out among other equally talented and hardworking people. Ultimately, however, I do this by not by teaching ‘tricks and tips,’ but by helping my students to become better historians.
For many candidates, the process starts in early summer. I have developed a broad and varied guided reading programme that introduces students to the core questions of how history can be thought about and “done” that form the basis of many Oxbridge admissions interviews. The full programme comprises 30 carefully selected advanced readings, complete with exercises and questions; candidates typically take 8-12 of these with me, but are encouraged to explore others that interest them in their own time. Overall, these readings are designed to introduce them to new ways of thinking, and to some of the fresh worlds of history that exist outside the A-level/Pre-U/IB curricula – from global history to “history from below”. I’m especially proud of the testimonials I’ve received from students who’ve been excited and engaged by this part of the programme (below). As one parent wrote: “The school… has its limitations and cannot, and will not, go beyond a mentality of what I would describe as 'tick box teaching’. You have given her a taste of life beyond, and she has never been happier nor hungrier.''
When I teach the Oxford HAT and Cambridge AHAA, my focus is on opening a student's mind to the possibilities of what can be extracted from a text with the help of careful reading and historical imagination. I'm also very alive to how little time Oxford and Cambridge candidates have to work on their responses, and how pressured the whole assessment day can be – so I teach plenty of impactful strategies designed to make sure that candidates feel well equipped to tackle whatever it is that is thrown at them.
My interview preparation, finally, goes well beyond this. I teach candidates how to think analytically under pressure, and use further carefully-selected readings, backed up by specially-written exercises, to discuss key concepts and controversies. Overall, the aim is to help students change their whole way of thinking and show them how they can engage with history at the deeper level that Oxford and Cambridge will demand of them.
When teaching GCSE and A-level, my approach is rather different. I still think that history is by far the most fascinating of subjects – after all, it's the story of us – and I believe success in this field is a direct consequence of engagement. My unusual background – an historian with a PhD who has also spent years as a professional journalist and full-time author – means that I'm uniquely well-qualified to spot the compelling detail, the unusual fact, and use it to open up new vistas and new approaches to history. But I also have the experience and know-how to explain the techniques of evaluation, argument and reasoning that are so critical to success at school, and I put a lot of stress on the fundamentals: effective, thought-through source analysis and well-structured, well-evidenced essays and coursework.
What I do when I am not tutoring
My main hobby is writing on a wildly diverse range of historical topics for the Smithsonian Magazine, where I am a contributing writer in history. These have ranged all the way from Roman-era slave revolts to the “toshers” – sewer-hunters – of Victorian London, all via the merchant city-states of the Swahili coast and poisoning scares in early modern Italy. I also run an award-winning history blog at mikedashhistory.com, and am a senior contributor at AskHistorians, the world's biggest and busiest online public history forum. I lecture widely and occasionally consult for and speak on a variety of historical issues for radio and TV – everything from The Today Programme and NPR to The One Show.
''I can’t thank you enough for all of your support and guidance, it was most definitely the distinguishing factor that helped me to get an offer. All of your advice and tips for the AHAA, for the interview and approaching History in general were so useful and much more specific and practical than what I was being told at school. I truly could not have done it without you. Your teaching methods and advice work!'' (Successful Cambridge applicant)
"Mike is absolutely brilliant, I don’t have enough praise for him! Our daughter is very lucky to have him as a tutor." Mother of HAT student
"The first session was great! He is a fantastic historian, and also an amazing teacher. I’m really looking forward to our next meeting!" HAT student
''I think he did such a brilliant job. He is extremely committed and hard-working, as well as incredibly knowledgeable about the test itself and also history more generally. Absolutely no complaints on my end! Thank you so much for all your help on this. You guys definitely made a stressful process much more manageable.'' HAT student
"Mike was really good. He really helped my daughter with last minute preparation for the HAT and gave her confidence and great advice for the test. He also spoke to me on the phone and explained everything. We were very pleased with Mike and it was brilliant to have such expert help at such short notice." Parent of HAT Student
"Oxford sent me my admissions feedback a while ago. It includes my HAT score, which they say places me in “the top 20 of almost 2000 applicants” (!!! hey, Mike, you really fixed me up for that considering I came to you knowing nothing at all about the test!!! Very mind blown now). Please don't get tired of me saying this, but thank you so much for all you've done! I'm beyond excited to embark on this new chapter of life, and it would not have been possible without your guidance." Oxford candidate
"Beth has gained an enormous amount from her sessions with Mike, with impacts way beyond the Oxford application process. The sessions have both broadened and deepened her love for the subject, and also massively improved her ability to express herself in both written and verbal form. This has also reaped benefits in her A level studies, in English Lit as well as in history. Of course we are incredibly grateful to Mike for the support in the application process. The excellent materials and bespoke guidance no doubt enabled her to cope with the very complex HAT and to secure an interview. Mike’s confidence in Beth’s ability has also done wonders for her own self confidence." Mother of successful Oxford candidate from a state school background
“I have nothing but good things to say about Mike! He is an incredible tutor; he is of course very knowledgeable about history, but also very passionate about it, which really helps in terms of motivation. In terms of structuring our lessons, he is clever about how to approach material, identifying what content is the most important, sensing what needs work, etc. He is also incredibly dedicated, and wonderful at accommodating my crazy schedule, which is much appreciated! So, all-in-all he is amazing, and I am very happy I sought Keystone out and got placed with him. I can’t stress enough what a difference it made to my Oxbridge application, and more importantly how I view history generally.” Successful Oxford applicant
"I wanted to write to you earlier, but I thought I would wait until the result was out, as I was confident the news would be good. She was so well prepared by you. I had the chance to hear the last interview preparation she did with you when she was in Cambridge, as she was in the hotel room with me. You supported her so well then, made her comfortable and confident. Just what she needed. In the weeks before, you helped her with your amazing structured support. The texts you had assembled for practice were enormously helpful. She said again yesterday that you made all the difference. But you not only prepared her well for her interview and supported her with her written test. You gave her a skill for life. The way you taught her, being analytically structured and how to interview, will stay with her and be helpful for many years to come. We are so happy that this has worked out so well and we are so lucky to have come across you." Mother of applicant to Trinity College, Cambridge
"You are by far the best history teacher I have had, and have inspired me to delve deeper into interest areas. My writing skills have developed, and all our interview practice made the interviews an enjoyable process! I also want to thank you for helping me to build confidence – applying to Oxford is a daunting process, but I can't wait to read history at university!!" Successful Oxford candidate
''I got an offer from Cambridge! I wanted to email you to let you know how grateful I am for all your guidance and help. During the interview, I was concentrated, took copious amounts of notes, and made sure to keep my answers short and concise, all pointers I got from you, and all that I think were crucial to me getting in. However, I also want to thank you for changing the way I approach history, introducing me to a whole new level of historiography and really helping me advance to a new level of thinking. Needless to say, I do not believe I would have got a place without your patience, and your wisdom.'' Cambridge applicant
''As you remember, when we were first in contact, I was of the opinion that he should study politics and that historical studies are only a stage for politics. You and he have changed my mind. My son is looking for fascinating intellectual adventures, and I think he has already come to the conclusion that reading history can give him the access to this in full extent. Whatever life brings, I am very grateful to you for working with my son. Cooperation with you is the best decision I have made since he decided to apply to Oxford. I don't know if he will be a historian, but he will always ask questions and analyze the subject in the way you taught him. Sorry, my English is not good enough to express everything I think but I am sure that this hard work from him (and you) will bring something good.'' Mother of Oxbridge candidate from the EU
''Our heartfelt thanks and deep gratitude for all you did for Ben. Your calm, clear guidance together with your insightful, knowledgeable grip on history, inspired him and fortified his love of learning, discussion, and the pursuit of understanding. The time he spent with you was more valuable than you can imagine, and he enjoyed every minute. Thank you so much.'' Mother of grammar school boy receiving minimal school support with his university application who won a place at Cambridge, secured a double starred first, was the top-ranked history student in his year, and went on to full-ride postgraduate study at Harvard
''I would like to thank you VERY much for all the effort you have put into my son's preparation during the last few weeks, and for the quality of the material and advice you have offered him. Even if he does not succeed in this application, you have achieved an unprecedented level of transformation in his views, motivation and interests. While he has had some good teachers at school, in all these years he has not had someone who could truly inspire and motivate him to try to come close to what he can achieve. It is a rare gift. If one has not had a teacher or a tutor like you, it next to impossible to explain what it is like to have one. Working with you has changed his view about what learning can be – and, should he succeed, I believe that (thanks to you) the process will have been more important than the outcome.'' Father of HAT student
''Slowly sinking in at home that it is all going to be OK. What a roller coaster. He would not have done any of this without you - and in particular I am convinced that he must have performed really really well at the HAT and interview which was down to you. I do acknowledge your faith in him as well, when mine was certainly wavering a bit. One does wonder where he would have been without you, without me (and my wallet) and determination. But mostly I don't think he would be where he is without you. He is a lucky boy.'' Mother of Winchester student who gained an Oxford place at the second attempt, converting from Pre U to a full four-module medieval history A-level course, taught in five months, with additional Oxford HAT prep and interview practice
''I want to thank you for introducing me to the idea of studying history from below and to oral history. A couple of weeks ago I would honestly have said that my interest was all about leaders, government and state. You have opened my eyes to whole new worlds of history that I had no idea existed.'' EU student on the Oxbridge guided reading programme
''Soooooo, I just woke up to my unconditional offer from St. Hilda’s and I couldn’t be more thrilled!! I couldn’t have done it without you and I am so grateful for all your help and support. Thank you a billion times!'' Oxford candidate from a state school background
''I’d like to take the opportunity to say how much Isla has enjoyed her sessions with Mike this summer. They have really opened her mind to the huge breadth of academic possibility beyond the A-level syllabus, and she has left each session bursting with enthusiasm. The guided reading programme is really excellent, as are the HAT tools that Mike has developed and shared. In addition I really feel he has gone above and beyond in recommending and lending additional materials (including his own books), and putting Isla in touch with others who share her interests. The marking of test papers has been really detailed and constructive, so that our daughter has felt she has been able to learn effectively from it each time. She is on a positive trajectory. Whatever the final outcome, the programme has been a hugely rewarding experience for her and one which will undoubtedly make her a better historian.'' Mother of Oxford candidate
"I am really happy with Mike. He stood out from his profile as single-focused and best-qualified. We spoke and he was very straightforward. The result is that we are extremely happy with the process. He’s thorough and provided lots of additional material, and there’s no doubt Finn has learnt a lot, and most importantly has enjoyed it. It’s been a big step up for him, both in the work he’s doing and the serious way in which he’s been taught (the school is very relaxed). I always felt I could approach Mike about anything but simply didn’t need to – Finn felt in good hands. I would and will very happily recommend Mike for anyone following this path.” Mother of Oxbridge candidate
''Your preparation sessions had a deep impact on our son, although he is not yet really aware of it. It is reflected in his yearning for a deeper quality in the learning material he is exposed to. It has set a new standard for him in terms of what is interesting and challenging, and we thank you for that.'' Parents of Oxbridge candidate, looking back 12 months later
"Mike was very helpful to Courtney in the face of this unusual and unknown test. He gave her the scaffolding on which to build and the techniques to do the job." Mother of Cambridge AHAA candidate
''I achieved 113/120 in my A2 Cold War paper and I am heading off to Manchester in September. I would like to thank you for all of the help and advice you have given me in my essay technique and my knowledge of history. I'll be taking that forward with me to University. I would like to feel that I could contact you in the future.'' A-level retake pupil from Haberdasher's Aske's School for Girls
''Thought you would like to know that Ella handed in her first paper at Manchester, having written it using the techniques you taught her. Her work was copied and circulated to the entire class as an example of how it should be done.'' Father of the same student
''I just found out I got into Newnham for History & Politics!!! It’s midnight here in Malaysia but I couldn’t wait to share the news!! Thank you so much for all your help with the HAA and the interview! I genuinely don’t think I would have been able to go through the process without your help!! I am still in disbelief - this feels like a dream come true - thank you for helping me reach this goal!'' Cambridge candidate from the Malaysian school system
''In the brief time Hayley has spent with you, I can see how my little bud full of such potent strength has swollen, with your support. Thank you – the school is a cage and has its limitations and cannot, and will not, go beyond a mentality of what I would describe as ''tick box teaching”. You have given her a taste of life beyond and she has never been happier nor hungrier.'' Mother of Oxbridge candidate from a state school background
"Thank you so much for your help over this past couple of months. Getting an interview by itself was more than I could’ve expected and I owe a lot of that to you. And then, of course, your help with the interview practices themselves was amazing. I think I would’ve just cried had I gone to Oxford without the prep you gave me. So thank you!" Oxford candidate from a US background
''Jack has been offered by Brasenose!!!! I can't thank you enough – you are an absolute treasure and a star, thank you, thank you!'' Mother of HAT candidate from a state school background
''I just wanted to let you know I got my coursework back today and got 38/40. It was the highest overall mark in the year. I want to thank you for all your help with writing it. I really gained from your suggestions with regard to structure and expanding the scope of my answer.'' A-level student
''Many thanks for the help you have given my daughter, your sessions have made a huge difference to her confidence and learning strategies.'' Mother of Cheltenham Ladies' College girl
''Got home to find him bouncing off the walls like Tigger – he was that excited by the first session. What a turnaround! From being almost 'on the floor' to being more focused and clear on what needs to be done. His confidence is beginning to return. Happy to share with Mike that Alex thinks he is 'fantastic and brilliant.''' Mother of grammar school boy worried by patchy progress in his preparation for the Oxford HAT
''Apart from being the best historian she could have had as a tutor, you are also the most supportive and generous teacher. Helena feels very privileged being tutored by you.'' Mother of grammar school HAT candidate receiving inadequate support from her school
''Thank you for the lovely reassuring email – much appreciated. You were right that a tough interview was a good sign!!!! Naomi had some great news today – Pembroke have offered her a place to read History. Thank you so much for all your help and support.'' Mother of HAA candidate
''I want to say a huge thank you for your help – which went well above what I could have expected, with all the extra plans and tools you gave me. I have gained from this in historical insight, and in interpretation that was previously alien to me – I can see now that, until we started, my insight barely scratched the surface. So again THANK YOU! (CAPS not written in anger but in joy!) You could not have a more appreciative student.'' Oxbridge candidate who had been significantly disadvantaged during her school years
"Without you this would never be possible; apart from getting into Oxford, my genuine interest in and excitement with history would have probably never happened. The way I think now about history (and the world more generally, for that matter) is certainly much more developed than half a year back, and the credit goes to no one but you! Our work was a real change for me in terms of thinking as well as life goals. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have encountered such an intelligent and passionate a person as you. It has been a great pleasure and a true honour to learn from you – let me tell you, if I ever become an actual historian, it will mostly be your fault, so thank you once again!" Oxford candidate
"My thanks for bringing out the best in Natalie. She thoroughly enjoyed her time with you, you are a wonderful teacher, and we are all so delighted at the result today." Mother of successful Oxford candidate
''Just got my results - so thrilled across the board for everything. I thought I should let you know that I got 100% on the history exam. Thank you so much for teaching me. You made the world of difference, obviously.'' OCR A-level pupil at St Paul's Girls' School
''Thank you so much for all your help and support over the past year both for Cambridge and my retakes. There is absolutely no way that I would have been as prepared or confident within myself without you.'' Pupil at Colfe's who won a place at Newnham, Cambridge
''What an extraordinary lesson! It has opened a whole new world for me, to be honest.'' Hong Kong-based Oxford candidate responding to the starter ''Introduction to HAT'' session
"Many thanks for all of your help and advice for the interview stage – it really made a difference and I felt a lot more prepared. Most of the questions were very similar to the ones we practiced and I consciously made an effort to pause and structure my answers. I definitely would not have been as prepared or confident if it weren’t for your help." Successful Cambridge candidate
''Keystone's top tutor (history) is a published author and speaker who, in my book, should be running the country.'' Mother of Winchester boy tutored in Pre U history, in the London Magazine
''Clare received her A levels results today which were good enough to get her to Cambridge. Her civil rights course-work mark was 75/80 thanks to all your help. I know Clare really appreciated all the time you spent with her and we both want to thank you.'' Mother of South Hampstead High School girl
''68% in my IGCSE mock turned into 100% in the real exam!!! And I owe almost all of that to the intensive tuition we did in the run up in June. Covering everything from the Russian Revolution to the changing nature of warfare in the twentieth century in one two-and-a-half hour exam was a big ask and I could not have managed it without you.'' Pupil at Godolphin & Latymer
''We are delighted. We really felt you knew your stuff and you went far beyond the call of duty. Our daughter's result was the best we could have hoped for – she has made so much progress in the few months she was seeing you.'' Mother of Putney girl with learning difficulties who was forecast an E in IGCSE history, but achieved a B
"Thank you so much for all your guidance throughout the application process! Your teaching has broadened my historical perspective and understanding, and has opened up many new forms of historical enquiry. Our sessions have enabled me to think in new, exciting ways, which have made my history lessons at school seem restricting in comparison. Thanks to your help I know I have become a better historian." Oxbridge candidate from a state school background
''Thank you so much for all the help and guidance regarding my application to Oxford and the HAT. I just completed it today and I think it went reasonably well. Your advice and encouragement have really been invaluable! I really think I would not have been able to get this far in the application process without your help.'' Singaporean student who received no encouragement or support from his family or school for an application to read history at Oxford. Tutored pro bono – he secured a place at Harris Manchester
''We just wanted you to know that Bella has just received her IGCSE result for History - A* !!!!!! We are delighted and owe a lot of it to your fantastic tutoring.'' Mother of Cheltenham Ladies' College girl
''Our daughter has been coming back quite exuberant from her tutor sessions. Thank you for your excellent approach – we have been having interesting conversations in the evenings!'' Mother of student on the Oxbridge guided reading programme
"You have introduced Laura to a whole new approach to history and at the same time expanded her knowledge and enthusiasm for this subject. She has very much enjoyed her tutorials, and had it not been for your work, she would have been woefully underprepared for the Cambridge entrance application. Laura, hopefully, will go on to study history at a university and everything she has learnt with you will give her a wonderful start." Father of AHAA candidate
"Natasha received an offer from Oxford today - from her first choice college. Mike has been a truly fantastic teacher and really brought out the best in her." Mother of Oxford candidate
''Hi Mike, just to let you know I managed an A for my Russian A2 paper! I'm so pleased and thank you so much for your help.'' A-level pupil at Francis Holland
''I cannot thank you enough for all the help you have given me over the last few weeks with applications, and it all ended positively. I was offered a place!'' Girl applying for 16+ entrance to Westminster School
“The prompt and precise feedback is hugely appreciated. All of Niamh’s comments have been extremely complementary and enthusiastic about the work you are doing with her.” Father of Oxford candidate on an intensive combined guided reading and HAT course
''I found the first session with you extremely interesting! I loved hearing the interpretations that you find (which I miss) that are so cleverly inferred and I’m very much looking forward to getting better at this!'' HAT student from a school offering no support with Oxbridge entry
''Mike was fantastic. We joined Faith on her first Skype call with him and he is ideal.'' Mother of HAT student
"I got an offer from Oxford today! Thank you so much for all your help, wouldn’t have been able to do it without you. So so happy..." State school student who won a place at Keble
''Mike really went the extra mile which helped my daughter tremendously. He has been very flexible about what areas of history she wants to discuss and has been taking her on an amazing tour of the history of the world.'' Mother of gifted Year 10 student taking occasional history enrichment sessions
"I just wanted to say how thankful I am for everything you've done. I still can't believe that I got an interview. I even find myself enjoying history (maybe more so) when I'm prepping for supposedly stressful situations such as the HAT and the interview. It might be the adrenaline, but I'm just glad that I was able to learn so much. I could not have done this without you." HAT student with an international background
"Really happy to say that I have an offer from Oxford! Thank you for all your help - it really made a huge difference." State school student who won a place to read History & Politics at Hertford
"Whatever the outcome of the HAT, Jill has benefited immensely from your tutoring. She has acquired a set of analytical skills that she can continue to hone to perfection doing A-levels, a degree, and I believe at work too." Mother of Oxford candidate
"I got into Westminster! I am so so happy and couldn't have done it without your help. Thank you so much for teaching me and believing in me." Girl applying for 16+ entrance to Westminster School
"I just want to say a MASSIVE thank you for your help, guidance, resources and teaching! I am 100% sure that they have made my application much much stronger. My writing skills have developed, and I have thoroughly enjoyed discussing history with you." Oxford candidate from a state school background
"Mike is going to be fabulous for Teddy. We are both very pleased to have discovered him. He was absolutely able to pinpoint the improvements that Teddy can make and is very confident about being able to help him to, hopefully, get the grade that he needs. Thank you so much for your help and for having such a great tutor on your books!" Mother of A-level student
"What I found useful from our sessions: honestly, the dialogue we had just talking about history – I had been so used to just reading and thinking by myself that being able to talk concepts through with you, and challenge them, really changed the way I could answer questions in the interview. And most definitely discussing my written work, as I hadn't had the chance to debate in that way before/be challenged on certain points. Your pack of articles addressing historical concepts and questions (eg: studying gender in history, studying class, should we change our minds about history etc) was A LIFESAVER. Oh, and I took a note book and pen in! Only used it once but I was very glad to have it with me. A huge thank you, again, for your help – I genuinely really enjoyed our sessions and they helped so much. (I'm at risk of sounding too unctuous... but I will say that I most likely would have absolutely bombed the interview if it hadn't been for our prep and mock interviews – so THANK YOU!!)" Oxford candidate from a state school background
"Just received an offer from Mansfield! I am so excited! I can't thank you enough for all your help and expertise." State school candidate for Oxford
"I wanted show my gratitude for all you have done to help me grow as a historian :). I really cannot thank you enough. I truly enjoyed all the time we spent together. Seriously – you might be one of the best teachers I’ve ever had." Oxford candidate
"I am SO pleased that we discovered you! You have done wonders for Tom's history work during your sessions and, most importantly, you have inspired him again. How lovely it is to see him feeling confident again about his history ability." Mother of A-level candidate
''I was very pleased with the tuition. His school reports were predicting much poorer results.'' W.G., Notting Hill