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How to get into Oxford, according to Oxford

Reuters/Eddie Keogh
The hallowed grounds.
  • Amy X. Wang
By Amy X. Wang


Published This article is more than 2 years old.

No one would expect that the interview process at an elite school like Oxford would be easy. But the UK university, currently number one in the world by one closely watched ranking, is notorious for asking its applicants especially intimidating questions—a practice some have deemed inherently unfair.

Attempting to dispel “misunderstandings” and better “allow students to see the reality of the process,” Oxford this week released a set of sample interview questions posed by tutors who meet with prospective students. They are as follows:

Subject of applicant’s interestQuestion
Modern languagesWhat makes a novel or play “political”?
MedicineAbout 1 in 4 deaths in the UK is due to some form of cancer, yet in the Philippines the figure is only around 1 in 10. What factors might underlie this difference?
Philosophy, Politics, EconomicsWhat exactly do you think is involved in blaming someone?
MathsImagine a ladder leaning against a vertical wall with its feet on the ground. The middle rung of the ladder has been painted a different colour on the side, so that we can see it when we look at the ladder from the side on. What shape does that middle rung trace out as the ladder falls to the floor?

According to the tutors, as well as Oxford’s admissions director Samina Khan, the questions try to probe applicants’ willingness to engage in intellectual discussion, and there is not necessarily a correct answer to any of them. Tutors look for students’ ability to carry in-depth, one-on-one academic conversations, much as they would at Oxford.

“Candidates will be encouraged to use their knowledge and apply their thinking to new problems—with tutors guiding the discussion to ensure students feel comfortable and confident,” Khan said in a press release.

Yet building up that confidence is certainly easier said than done. Following Oxford’s announcement, The Telegraph asked its readers whether Oxford’s release of sample questions helps demystify its admissions process: Out of roughly 2,300 voters in the two-option poll, most said yes, but 38% responded, “Not really; it’s still terrifying.”

Nevertheless, Oxford’s questions appear fairly benign when compared to the kinds of questions asked at some of India’s most elite universities—which reportedly include, “Tell us how to make octopus soup in 30 seconds,” “What is the absolute truth?” and “Prove that one equals two.”

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