As part of an event to demystify the famously tough interview process at the University of Oxford, the University have released a number of interview questions they use to test prospective students. The Oxbridge application process is famously difficult to navigate, and Oxford alone interviews in the region of 10,000 students every year for just 3,500 places.
Take a look at three sample interview questions below and, if you think you are ready to apply to Oxford, Cambridge, or one of the UK's other elite universities, the Oxbridge Service can help with full application support and interview practice. Arrange your free consultation with SI-UK London to learn more.
Sample Oxford Interview Questions
- Interviewer: Prof Steve Collins, engineering tutor, University College
Question: Place a 30cm ruler on top of one finger from each hand. What happens when you bring your fingers together?
Answer: “Almost everyone in this example will expect the ruler to topple off the side where the finger is closest to the centre of the ruler, because they expect this finger to reach the centre of the ruler first. They then complete the “experiment” and find both fingers reach the centre of the ruler at the same time and the ruler remains balanced on two fingers.
“We like to see how candidates react to what is usually an unexpected result and then encourage them to repeat the experiment slowly. With prompting to consider moments and friction, the candidate will come to the conclusion there is a larger force on the finger that is closest to the centre of the ruler.
“The candidate should then be able to explain why both fingers reach the centre of the rule at the same time as observed. We might even discuss the fact that the coefficient of static friction is higher than the coefficient of dynamic friction. Therefore the “moving” finger gets closer to the centre than the static finger before the finger starts to move over the other finger.”
Economics and Management
- Interviewer: Prof Brian Bell, economics tutor, Lady Margaret Hall
Question: Do Bankers deserve their high pay or should the government limit it?
Answer: “A simple answer might be that since banks are generally private firms and workers are free to work where they wish, then the pay they receive is just the outcome of a competitive labour market. In this story, bankers earn a lot because they are very skilled and have rare talents. It is hard to see a reason for government intervention in this case, though on equity grounds one may want to have a progressive income tax system that redistributes some of this income.
“A good candidate would wonder why seemingly equivalently talented people can get paid so much more in banking than in other occupations. Do we really believe bankers are so much better than other workers in terms of skill? The key point is for candidates to think about the economics of pay rather than just whether they think it is fair or not.”
- Interviewer: Prof Nick Yeung, experimental psychology tutor, University College
Question: Imagine 100 people all put £1 into a pot. Each person has to choose a number between 0 and 100. The prize goes to the person whose number is closest to 2/3 of the average of all of the numbers chosen. What number will you choose and why?
Answer: “Some people’s first guess is 2/3 of 100, i.e. 66 or 67, in which case I’d ask them what numbers everyone else would have to pick for them to win. In this case, everyone else would have to choose 100, which is unlikely. More often people first guess 2/3 of 50 (= 33), which seems intuitively more likely.
“At this point, and usually without prompting, the recursive nature of the solution becomes clear: If there is good reason for me to choose 33, then maybe everyone else will choose 33 too, in which case I should choose 2/3 of 33… but then everyone will think this and choose 2/3 of 33 too, so I should choose 2/3 of that number… and so on.
“The question also has a psychological angle in thinking about reasons for people’s behaviour and choices. Will everyone put in the same effort? Will everyone be motivated to win? We’re interested in seeing how people think through a problem, figure out what are the relevant factors and respond when new information is provided.”