Ahead of their deadline for 2017 applications, the University of Oxford published a number of sample interview questions.
The aim is to dispel false rumours about the types of questions asked of applicants. It’s also to remove some of the fear surrounding stories of students having to answer trick questions or guess which chair they should sit in when they enter the interview room.
Oxford releases a selection of interview questions for candidates each year. The university’s education and outreach director, Samina Khan explained: “We know there are still lots of myths about the Oxford interview, so we put as much information as possible out there to allow students to see the reality of the process”.
The questions are designed to see how the student thinks and responds to new ideas, essentially how well they’ll fit into the academic world of Oxford.
Here’s a few for you to try:
Why do lions have manes?
Here’s a cactus. Tell me about it.
How do pirates divide their treasure?
A group of 7 pirates has 100 gold coins. They have to decide amongst themselves how to divide the treasure, but must abide by pirate rules:
So, what division should the most senior pirate suggest to the other six?
Economics and Management:
Do bankers deserve the pay they receive? And should government do something to limit how much they get?
How would you design a gravity dam for holding back water?
Tell me about [this literary work you have mentioned in your UCAS personal statement]
Imagine we had no records about the past at all, except everything to do with sport – how much of the past could we find out about?
Which person (or sort of person) in the past would you most like to interview, and why?
If the punishment for parking on double yellow lines were death, and therefore nobody did it, would that be a just and effective law?
Why do we have red blood cells?
Philosophy, Politics and Economics:
I’m having trouble with the meaning of three words: Lie, Deceive, Mislead. They seem to mean something a bit similar, but not exactly the same. Help me to sort them out from each other.
A ball, initially at rest, is pushed upwards by a constant force for a certain amount of time. Sketch the velocity of the ball as a function of time, from start to when it hits the ground.
Should interviews be used for selection?
Click on the questions to see the explanation from the tutors.
Although sugar (glucose) detected in urine is commonly associated with diabetes, the question is really asking students to think about why it occurs. Most biology students will already have learnt that the kidneys filter blood to remove waste products, but that several other substances including glucose are filtered at the same time.
Students need to think about how glucose is recovered as the urine passes through the kidney’s tubules.
The process involves reabsorption by a carrier protein that binds the glucose molecules and moves them out of the renal tubule and back into the blood. Prof Robert Wilkins, biomedical sciences tutor at St Edmund Hall says:
"Students should appreciate that, in binding glucose, the carrier will share properties with enzymes, about which they will have learned at school: the capacity to reabsorb glucose is finite because once all of the carriers are working maximally, no further glucose reabsorption can occur."
"A successful applicant will make the connection that an elevated level of glucose in the blood in diabetes leads to increased filtration of glucose by the kidneys and saturation of the carriers that perform the reabsorption, resulting in 'overspill' of glucose in the urine."
This is quite a fun one to try, and the results are quite surprising. Almost everyone expects the ruler to fall off one side as it becomes unbalanced by one of the fingers.
When you try it for yourself it's soon apparent that the ruler will stay balanced throughout. Not only this but both fingers will meet in the middle at the same time.
Prof Steve Collins, Engineering tutor at University College Oxford explains the question is not so much about the physical results as it is about the reasons why those results occur:
" We like to see how candidates react to what is usually an unexpected result, and then encourage them to repeat the experiment slowly. This helps them observe that the ruler slides over each finger in turn, starting with the finger that is furthest from the centre. With prompting to consider moments and friction, the candidate will come to the conclusion that moments mean that there is a larger force on the finger that is closest to the centre of the ruler."
Students would be expected to explain why both fingers reach the centre of the ruler at the same time.
Prof Collins goes on to say:
" We might then proceed with a quantitative analysis of forces and moments. We might even discuss the fact that the coefficient of static friction is higher than the coefficient of dynamic friction and therefore the 'moving' finger gets closer to the centre than the static finger before the finger starts to move over the other finger."
The fundamental question being asked is why some countries are rich and some countries poor? Of course there is no straight forward or singular answer here.
Prof Brian Bell, Philosophy, Politics & Economics (PPE) tutor at Lady Margaret Hall says:
"Candidates need to think about all the potential reasons why such income gaps exist. A good starting point is to think about whether the amount of capital and technology available to workers in different countries is the same and if not, why not?"
Workers in the US are much more productive as being at the technological frontier means they have access to the best technology. This raises the question of why don't poor countries buy the same technology and become as productive?
There may be several reasons, such as the country may not have enough funds to purchase the technology, or education levels might be too low to allow for the use of such technology.
Prof Bell expands:
"Good candidates should recognise that institutions matter a lot – respect for property rights and the rule of law appear to be pre-requisites for sustainable development. The trick is to think widely and not try and fit the answer to some lesson that has been learnt in school."
So how well did you do, and how well do you think you would have done in a real Oxford University interview?
Varsity Education’s courses help students prepare for Oxford and Cambridge University interviews so that answering questions like the ones above is no longer daunting.
Our Oxbridge preparation courses focus on expanding academic knowledge as well as mock interviews, mock exams and lectures from Oxbridge Fellows. Students are able to discuss their chosen subjects in a comfortable environment where they benefit from the unique Oxbridge style of one-on-one tutoring.
Apply for your place on one of our summer programmes today and increase your chances being accepted into an elite university.
For the full list of 2017 Oxford sample interview questions, click here.
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