A set of sample interview questions covering a range of subjects has been released by Oxford University this week. They come with detailed commentary from tutors who have interviewing experience. The University has been releasing batches of interview questions periodically for at least the last eight years, in the hope of making the application process clearer.
“Oxford strives to be as open and transparent as possible about its admission process, and we are acutely aware that the interview in particular can be a source of anxiety for applicants – particularly those from schools that don’t have much experience preparing candidates for the Oxford a n d Cambridge application process”, said Samina Khan, Director of Admissions and Outreach at Oxford.
“We therefore aim to demystify the process as much as possible, by providing information about what to expect (and what not to worry about) at interview.”
Khan also described the way in which the burgeoning private tutoring system is driving increased transparency. “It might be worth noting that part of the impetus for releasing questions came because we were concerned about commercial tutoring companies who were doing the same thing – releasing ‘nightmare Oxbridge interview questions’ in order to drum up business by suggesting that we had a vested interest in keeping our process secret and that only by paying money to commercial companies would students stand a chance of getting in. Nothing could be further from the truth, and we took the decision to proactively release not just example questions but, crucially, explanations of what tutors are looking for in the answer discussions to put applicants at ease and reassure them that we want them to have as much information and be as prepared as possible.”
Questions were released for PPE, Maths, Experimental Psychology, Medicine and Modern Foreign Languages. Students can expect to be asked ‘What makes a novel or play political?’ (MFL), ‘What exactly do you think is involved in blaming someone?’ (PPE) and ‘A large study appears to show that older siblings consistently score higher than younger siblings on IQ tests. Why would this be?’ (Psychology).
The release of interview questions is not the only way the Outreach Office has been striving to make the admissions process more accessible. Mock interviews and video diaries made by admissions tutors are some of the other ways the university is trying to make the most dreaded part of the application process less opaque.
Yet some within the university have suggested there is a limited amount that it can do. Dr Ian Phillips, who interviews potential undergraduates for Oxford PPE and who donated the PPE sample question, said that it was easy to blame those in charge of admissions for the dominance of trained private school applicants, but often other societal problems meant that their ability to help was limited. Interviewers need to “find out who the talented people are and try and set aside the contextual factors that might mask that from us”, he said.
“All we are asking them to do is to just bring themselves and their natural abilities and just have a chat with us.”