Lateral thinking and critical analysis skills are vital in your application to Oxford or Cambridge. Your ability to discuss and analyse big issues will be central to your success in several aspects of the admissions process, including admissions tests and interviews. One of our Directors, Jane, has taken some real past interview questions and given you some ideas about how you can develop an answer. Remember that there is no one right or wrong answer, so don’t worry if you approached it differently!
Would you support the privatisation of the National Health Service? (Economics, Cambridge)
All you need to do here is clarify exactly what the NHS stands for and its role in British society, and then the question is a matter of defining the benefits of keeping the NHS state-owned as opposed to looking at privatisation, or privatisation of a part of the Service, as a viable option.
Although you may be familiar with arguments for and against privatisation, ensure that throughout this answer you are not remembering facts from your sixth form syllabus but engaging with the question asked which in this case focuses on a particular institution – the National Health Service. Just to stress this further, should your answer be different if you are discussing the potential privatisation of the railways or the postal service? The answer is certainly – yes.
What you might like to do with this question is structure your answer by looking at key areas in the NHS that would be affected by a move from it being state-run to privately-owned. You might begin with responsibility for budgets and think around that – should this be local or national, who should decide the criteria for spending and how would this process differ if the NHS was privatised?
Another area you might like to consider is whether changing the system to private from state would save money or increase costs – perhaps think of the short, medium and long term. Perhaps you could also discuss whether patient care would be better or worse if the reform is passed? Maybe you could finish with consideration of who has the right to make the decision about whether the NHS should be moved into private ownership? You’ll be amazed at how well you can answer such a question relying on common-sense and asking for factual information where necessary.
Why do wind turbines have three blades? (Engineering, Cambridge)
This question requires interviewees to consider a problem from different viewpoints and identify important factors. Additionally, it allows the interviewer to offer counter-arguments to the ‘correct’ solutions, thus testing the student’s scientific debating skills.
A good option here might be to start by looking at: a maximising factor – whether a high number of blades is preferable, to increase the surface area of the turbine – and a minimising factor – that the turbine is trying to extract energy from the air, so blades moving in slipstream (by definition, an area where there is little wind to affect the motion of the blade) will not be very effective at doing so. Each additional blade added to the turbine is less efficient at extracting energy than previous ones, so the most efficient option would be just one blade. Using examples could be a good option here. With this sort of question, the maths is perhaps too complicated to begin and you should realise this. What admissions tutors will be looking for is a strong understanding and application of physical principles to the topic in question.
Where does the state have the right to violate privacy? (Law, Oxford)
Taking the bottom-up approach here I am going to look at super-injunctions, which has been a hot topic in 2012. Using this as an example, I would first define what super-injunctions are. As far as I understand it, they are a powerful category of court order that prohibits someone from doing something. In the current cases they prevent the press publishing private information about the applicant. You would not need to demonstrate a technical knowledge of law but the general idea of what super-injunctions are and why they answer the question.
What makes an injunction ‘super’ is that publication of both the confidential private information about the applicant (this is the ‘injunction’ bit) as well as information on who has taken out the injunction (this is the ‘super’ bit) is prohibited.
You might like to consider, looking at this example, how this affects the right to privacy and the right to freedom of expression both in terms of the press and the individual. Is there a human rights issue here? Another issue to discuss might be whether a judge should be passing these sorts of laws and whether this has any implications for the role of the UK parliament in law-making.
Remember that Oxford and Cambridge Universities are looking to admit the best, not exclude the worst. If you apply for a course you are really excited to study and enjoy discussing, then this will be clear in your written work and at interview.