Education & Family

Demystifying the Oxford interview process

Oxford University
Image caption The university wants to show applicants the type of questions they might face

Ever wondered why lions have manes or why strawberries are red?

If you want to get into Oxford University then you should probably start.

The university has released some of the thought-provoking questions faced by past candidates.

Straight from the tutors' mouths, the questions aim to get potential students to apply their thinking in new and interesting ways.

Candidates applying to biological sciences might be asked whether it matters if tigers become extinct.

Would-be law students might be asked to assess the justness of a law that punishes illegal parking with a death sentence.

Alternatively, those wanting to study materials science might be asked to calculate the temperature in a hot air balloon needed to lift an elephant.

'Park legally or die'

Steve Roberts, tutor at St Edmund Hall, says: "When I actually used this question in interviews, no-one actually got as far as an actual 'x degrees C' answer in the 10 minutes or so we allowed for it, nor did we expect them to.

"We use this sort of question to try to find how applicants think about problems, and how they might operate within a tutorial."

Those wanting to earn a place at one of England's most prestigious universities are judged on their predicted and attained A-level grades, teacher's reference, aptitude tests - and also by interview.

Mike Nicholson, director of undergraduate admissions at Oxford, said: "While the interview is only one part of the application process, for many students it is the part that makes them most anxious.

"We hope that seeing the questions will reassure students that tutors aren't trying to see how quickly students get the 'right' answer or demonstrate their specialist knowledge, but how they respond to new ideas."

He adds: "We know there are still lots of myths about the Oxford interview, so we put as much information out there for students to see behind the hype to the reality of the process."

The university website now features mock interviews online, video diaries made by admissions tutors during the interview process, and lots of example questions to help students.

'No trick questions'

Mr Nicholson says interviews are all about giving candidates the chance to show their real ability and potential.

"While this may sound intimidating, all it means is that candidates will be pushed to use their knowledge and apply their thinking to new problems in ways that will both challenge them and allow them to shine," he adds.

Liora Lazarus, interviewer for law at St Anne's College, posed the question: "If the punishment for parking on double yellow lines were death, and therefore nobody did it, would that be a just and effective law?"

She says: "Candidates are not meant to give a right or wrong answer to this question. They need to demonstrate that they have recognised the various issues that arise. The candidate who distinguishes between "just" and "effective" does best.

"A just law might not be effective, or vice-versa. The issues of how proportionate the punishment is to the crime refer to the justness of the law.

"The answer to its effectiveness is already in the question: 'and therefore nobody did it'."

Dr Stephen Goddard, an admissions tutor for French, says: "What we try to do in the interview is enable the candidate to perform to the best of their abilities.

"The object of the exercise isn't to trick them, but to give them the chance to show what we're really looking for, which is the ability to think cogently and intelligently."

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