Oxford University interview questions: Would you pass the test?

The University of Oxford has released a sample of interview questions – including what a rock looks like and how you listen to music – to help students who want to study at the top institution.

Among the list of questions are: “What can historians not find out about the past?”, “Is religion of value whether or not there is a God?” and “How can we estimate the mass of the atmosphere?”.

Prospective earth sciences students could be asked what a rock which is handed to them looks like, meanwhile chemistry candidates are asked to calculate how many different molecules can be made from six carbon atoms and 12 hydrogen atoms

In efforts to make the interview process more transparent, the prestigious university has released advice on how to answer the example questions just days after the deadline for applications closed.

Dr Samina Khan, director of admissions and outreach, said: “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.”

She added: “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”.

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

Laura Tunbridge, from St Catherine’s College, explained why a music candidate might be asked to explain the different ways they listen to music. “The question allows students to use their own musical experiences as a starting point for a broader and more abstract discussion about the different ways people consume music, the relationship between music and technology, and how music can define us socially,” she said.

She added: “I might also expect to discuss whether particular types of music suit being listened to in particular ways; whether listening on headphones changes the way you experience what’s going around you; and what makes some soundtracks better than others.”

Peter Groves, Worcester College, advised would-be theology and religion candidates how to explain the value of religion whether or not God exists.

He said: “This is a question we would hope any candidate for theology and religion would enjoy answering. It raises a number of issues for them to explore.

“What is our definition of religion, and how fluid is that definition? What do we mean by value, and how might it be measured? Are the effects of religion in the past as important as its consequences in the present?

“A candidate might also want to ask what we mean when we say ‘there is a God?’ Is affirming this statement enough, or should religious or theological enquiry be more specific – is talk of God in the abstract as helpful as discussion of particular religious ideas or texts?”

Candidates who successfully clear the first hurdle with their written application will be invited to interview in December.


published by Independent/Education news

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Elena Colquhoun, MSc, PGCE, ACIL,

Director Best Start Education, qualified teacher and examiner