Oxford University posts sample questions for admission interviews

In an effort to ease interview worries, the prestigious University of Oxford has published a set of hypothetical questions that could come up for discussion at some of their course interviews. The sample questions were released ahead of the application deadline this Thursday.

Many of U.K.’s future undergraduates who are preparing their applications for admissions into top academic institutions hope to get an interview with The University of Oxford, one of the best worldwide, on par with Harvard and Yale. If candidates manage to pass Oxford’s first application hurdle, they will most likely have to undergo an examination or send in a piece of written work, before an interview is even offered.

The coveted interview with Oxford not only shows that the candidate has evinced the university’s interest, but also decides the fate of the student as to whether he gets admission into such a respected institution.

More than 24,000 interviews for over 10,000 applicants are conducted by the University for around two weeks in December. In 2014, only 3,200 got in, a mere fraction of the over 17, 400 people that had applied. If a student is lucky enough to obtain an interview, he shouldn’t expect to be asked the typical questions found in a textbook.

“We hope that seeing some of the less obvious questions will reassure prospective applicants that tutors simply want to see how students think and respond to new ideas – we are not interested in catching students out,” Dr Samina Khan, director of admissions and outreach at Oxford said.

“They are an academic conversation in a subject area between tutors and candidate, similar to the undergraduate tutorials which current Oxford students attend every week. It can incorporate a written passage, object, a problem or a number of questions, which acts as “material to prompt discussion,” she added.

“It is often best to start responding by making very obvious observations and build up discussion from there, rather than assuming that there is a hidden meaning or a highly complicated answer you have to jump to immediately,” she advised.

“We want to underscore that every question asked by our tutors has a purpose, and that purpose is to assess how students think about their subject and respond to new information or unfamiliar ideas.”

“Interviews are not about reciting what you already know – they are designed to give candidates a chance to show their real ability and potential, which means candidates will be encouraged to use their knowledge and apply their thinking to new problems in ways that will both challenge them and allow them to shine.”

The basic reason behind releasing these questions is to dispel the “myths” surrounding a typical Oxford interview and highlight the reality of the process.

Some of sample questions include:

  • What makes a novel or a play political ?
  • Why do older siblings do better on IQ tests than their younger counterparts ?
  • What exactly do you think is involved in blaming someone ?
  • Do Bankers deserve the pay they receive? And should government do something to limit how much they get?
  • Why is sugar in your urine a good indicator that you might have diabetes ?
  • Place a 30cm ruler on top of one finger from each hand. What happens when you bring your fingers together ?
  • Can archaeology ‘prove’ or ‘disprove’ the Bible ?
  • Why is income per head between 50 and 100 times larger in the United States than in countries such as Burundi and Malawi ?

“Interviews will be an entirely new experience for most students, and we know many prospective applicants are already worried about being in an unfamiliar place and being questioned by people they have not met – so to help students to become familiar with the type of questions they might get asked we release these real examples,” said Dr Samina.

“No matter what kind of educational background or opportunities you have had, the interview should be an opportunity to show off your interest and ability in your chosen subject, since they are not about reciting what you already know,” she said.

Her advice to prospective students is to start responding by making very obvious observations and build up discussion from there.

“Solving the problem quickly is less important than showing how you use information and analysis to get there. We know there are still misunderstandings about the Oxford interview, so we put as much information as possible out there to allow students to see the reality of the process,” she said.

Oxford also released a video explaining how the interview for some of its most competitive courses work, ranging from mock interviews online to video diaries made by admissions tutors during the interview process, and lots of example questions to help students.

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