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‘What should I expect at my Oxbridge interview?’ ‘How will I feel?’

For any student considering applying to Oxford or Cambridge, the best way to prepare for the interview stage is to practice as much as possible. Our Interactive Exercise Manual helps you do just that. It allows you to feel like you’re at at interview by following a few simple steps. 

Click on the button to the right to download your copy of this helpful resource. 

For mock interview practice with Oxbridge-graduate tutors, who have experienced the real interview process, book a place on an Interview Preparation Day or a Skype™ Mock Interview Package.

1. Ask them to explain something to you. Performing well at interview is dependent upon how an applicant responds to a question, and how they can communicate their ideas. Familiarising your son or daughter with this style of questioning will help them when it comes to the real thing.

2. Tell them not to worry about their clothes. An incredibly common worry students have is about their clothes on the day of the interview. Admissions tutors care about the calibre of the applicant and their intellect – not their fashion choices. Wear clothing you feel comfortable and confident in.

3. Ask them about their Personal Statement. Previously, we surveyed over 600 applicants to Oxbridge and found that 58% were asked about their Personal Statement. Preparing your son or daughter for questions on their statement will get them used to expanding upon themes and topics that are likely to be questioned at interview.

4. Help them to build an examples bank. So many students at interview falter when they are faced with an unfamiliar question; while a Medicine applicant being asked why they want to be doctor might answer with finesse and a repertoire of examples, if they are asked which disease is most worthy of being cured, they might falter. Encouraging your son or daughter to collate examples so they can apply their knowledge even to unfamiliar questions will aid them in their preparation.

5. Make sure they know not to worry about “pooling. Every year, parents and students ring us, panicked because they have received an invitation to an extra interview at a different college. However, there are a myriad of reasons for receiving an extra interview: it may be an inter-college moderation process to monitor the quality of interviewees across the university, or even that a tutor wishes the student to receive an interview with a subject-specialist at another college. We advise all our students and their parents to assume nothing. Encourage your son or daughter not to fret over any extra interviews, and instead see them as a further opportunity to prove themselves.

1. Psychology, Philosophy and Linguistics

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2. Theology

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3. Biomedical Sciences

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4. Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

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5. Classics

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6. Engineering

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7. Engineering

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8. English & Modern Languages

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9. English

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10. Geography

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11. Human, Social and Political Sciences

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12. Law

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 13. Law

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14. Law with Law Studies in Europe

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15. Mathematics

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16. Medicine

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17. Natural Sciences (B)

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18. Natural Sciences (P)

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19. Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE)

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 20. Archaeology & Anthropology

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The Oxford and Cambridge interviews are notorious for having academically challenging and rigorous questions. To demystify the process, we’ve compiled 30 real past interview questions to give you an insight into the questions you may be asked.

1. Classical Archaeology & Ancient History

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2. Biological Sciences

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3. Chemistry

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4. Classics

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5. Earth Sciences

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6. Economics

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7. Economics

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8. Economics

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9. Engineering

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10. Engineering

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11. English

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12. English

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13. English

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14. Geography

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15. Geography

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16. Geography

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17. History

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18. History & Modern Languages

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19. Human Sciences

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20. Human, Social and Political Sciences

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21. Medicine

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22. Medicine

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23. Modern & Medieval Languages

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24. Music

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25. Natural Sciences (B)

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26. Natural Sciences (P)

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27. Philosophy & Theology

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28. Physics & Philosophy 

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29. Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE)

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30. Psychology, Philosophy and Linguistics

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Fellows-studyMorality could be understood as the attempt to overcome the divide between self and other: to find some common aspect of our humanity that is a more important motivating factor than the entirely subjective pursuit of our animal desires.

Since ancient times, Western philosophy has tended to locate this common ground in ‘reason’. In the Meno, Socrates demonstrates how our conceptual rational capacity is innate and shared, by showing how an uneducated slave boy ‘knows’ complex geometry. For Kant, we are duty-bound to obey the demands placed on us by this ‘a priori rational’ capacity. Since reason is the same at all times and for all people, so morality too should be universal.

However, it is problematic to assert that rationality can somehow be separated from all the other aspects of human experience. Our cognitive capacity develops according to external stimulus. Emile Durkheim, grandfather of sociology, observed that religion, as the first human attempt to systematically explain away the world, was ‘the root of science’. Modern developmental psychology proposes that children are not less intelligent than adults, they simply think differently. How we think depends on what we have to ‘think with’. ‘Rationality’ is perhaps better understood as ‘having good reasons for one’s beliefs and actions’ (Audi, 1997, 1998, 2001; Keefer, 1996; Moshman, 1990b, 1994; Nozick, 1993; Rescher,) A ‘rational’ morality then, could be seen as the quest for coherence, for a logical integration of all the diverse parts of our experience as human beings, individually and collectively.

Any attempt to integrate the non-rational aspects of our experience into a rational whole must be formulated in language that encompasses both the rational and the non-rational. Religious approaches to morality are realist absolute injunctions, communicated through the non-realist language of ritual, symbol and mythology. In Christianity, the absolute objective divine command or ‘word’ is the rational integrating principle, communicated through stories and symbols that acknowledge the diversity, subjectivity and emotion of ordinary human experience.

At the heart of Christian ethics is the exemplary narrative of the Jesus story, and the command to ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself’. The non-realist use of language in the narrative form allows for the communication of multiple messages: it expresses the nature of the relationship between man and God, and it provides an example of how to live best in an imperfect world. The explicit teachings of Jesus, drawing on the Hebrew ‘law and the prophets’, provide absolute realist injunctions that inform the interpretation of the emotional content of the narrative. Taken together, both modes of communication provide principles for action based on compassion (literally ‘suffering with’). Compassion is commanded at the same time as it is realized, since the Christ narrative acknowledges the difficulty of acting well in an imperfect world.

Religion provides us with a moral vocabulary that connects with the emotional and the non-rational aspect of human experience: the language of empathy.

I propose that the most appropriate way in which to overcome the divide between self and other is not through pure ‘rationality’, which is mistakenly understood an objective arbiter of human experience, distinct from but somehow binding on it. 

Reading is a crucial part of any Philosophy application. For tailored readings lists for your Oxbridge application, and a full strategy on preparing between now and your interviews, meet one of our Senior Consultants for a Private Consultation. Also, check out our Reading Rooms in our online resources for more suggestions.

Getting started

Widget PC 5To help get you thinking about your Oxbridge interview, we’ve put together some subject-specific questions to get that brain of yours really thinking. Oxbridge tutors want to see genuine, academic ability and talent. At first, it can seem that the questions they have asked are rather odd.

While undoubtedly at first glance they seem bizarre (especially compared to your normal school exams), you have to remember to set them in context of the course to which you are applying.

The questions have been designed so that Admissions Tutors can see how you think and how you engage with your subject outside of your school syllabus. They want to see how you approach a question, and then how you structure your response, and in turn, how you then draw on examples and your existing knowledge, to back up your argument or point of view.  

No two interviews are ever the same, so there’s no point learning answers by wrote – use these real past Oxbridge interview questions as a warm up to get you engaging with your subject.

Don’t forget to check out our subject reading rooms to help you build a base of knowledge to draw upon if asked these tricky questions.

Humanities & the Arts

Helmets squareArchaeology

  • How does studying History link with Archaeology?
  • What is the role of archaeologists and museums?

Archaeology & Anthropology

  • How would you explain human culture to an alien visiting earth?
  • If you had £500,000 to find out more about the origins of language, how would you spend it?
  • If you were an anthropologist what aspects of British society would you study?

Architecture

  • What is the importance of light in architecture?
  • What is your favourite building?
  • If you are looking at a piece of architecture inspired by Bauhaus today, would you say it looks German?
  • Do you think increase in housing prices is the biggest problem we have in the architecture world today

Asian & Middle Eastern/Oriental Studies

  • Give me a brief case study of an area of Middle Eastern politics that has interested you.
  • How many cultures are grouped together under the label ‘China’?
  • What is your favourite dictionary?
  • In what way was the siting of the Chinese capital, Beijing, strategic?
  • What can we learn from Pompeian excavations as to the quality of their life, especially their dietary habits?

History

  • Do you think that all of History is a History of Thought?
  • Would History be worth studying if it didn’t repeat itself?
  • Is popularity a useful word when assessing historical figures?
  • What do you think of when you hear the word ‘nostalgia’?
  • How can one define a revolution?
  • When was the English monarchy at its strongest?
  • Why is it OK for one country to intervene in another?
  • Who writes History?
  • Is History moving away from the study of great men to that of ordinary people?
  • Do you think the government should spend money preserving historical sites?
  • How would you research illiterate medieval craftsmen?
  • What is the difference between History and memory?
  • What is the value of testimony?
  • Could you say that the UN is a modern day form of imperialism? 

History of Art

  • Discuss restoration and conservation. Are they good or bad?
  • What is your opinion on the Turner Prize and Brit Art?
  • How does art reflect its society?
  • What work of art would you most like to own?
  • What would you do if you were put in charge of tourism in the Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence?
  • What do you think about patrons?
  • What makes a photograph art?
  • Have you been to any exhibitions recently?

Music

  • How is music related to free will?
  • How do you think the current economic climate will affect music?
  • What would your desert island disc be?
  • How are Vivaldi’s ritornellos different to Bach’s ritornellos?
  • Why is there a lack of female conductors?
  • How can music affect bodily functions?
  • Ralph Vaughan Williams claimed to be writing music for the people in the time of World War I, yet the only people able to afford to hear his music were the rich upper classes. Do you think he was really writing the music he claimed to?
  • Do you think that the way the ontological argument in Philosophy attempts to prove the existence of God can be used to prove things in music?
  • In what way can music be described as a dialect?

Philosophy

  • Is it a matter of fact or knowledge that time travels in only one direction?
  • How do you know I exist?

Theology

  • What is the best reason you can think of for believing in God? Do you think this course could be persuasive on the matter?
  • How valuable do you think the Bible is to us today?
  • In the light of the war on terror do you think that we should torture terrorists in order to gain information that could help save other people’s lives?
  • Do you think the Holy Spirit is a woman?
  • Theresa May said recently that her personal Christian faith influences how she acts towards public policy – is this a good or bad thing

Literature & Languages

pexels-photo (6)Classics

  • Why do you think Ancient History is important?
  • How civilised was the Roman world?
  • When would you start a book about the history of England?
  • What is the difference between a debate and a philosophical conversation
  • If you were reading Virgil’s Aeneid in translation, would you be reading the work of Virgil or of another author?
  • If I you could turn this room into the British Museum, what items would you put in it to convey the importance of the Classical Worlds?
  • How do you think we should we translate Homer’s language, which is a mixture of dialects and old and new forms?
  • How does Medea relate to issues within modern feminism?
  • If I were to tell you that ‘Romeo and Juliet’ wasn’t written by Shakespeare, what would your response be?

English

  • If you found a scrap of paper outside college with your favourite author’s work on it, who’d it be and how can you tell?
  • Can a carrot be considered a theatrical fruit, if it is used as a prop during a play?
  • Do you think the ending of The Mill On The Floss is poor?
  • What is your favourite book of all time?
  • Would you rather be a novel or a poem?
  • Have you read a piece of literary criticism that you didn’t agree with?
  • Does the gender of an author automatically impact on the content of their writing?  .
  • What is it about mystery novels that is appealing to the reader? 
  • The author Kazuo Ishiguro is considered ‘boring’. Would you disagree with this?

English Literature and Language

  • Does the gender of an author automatically impact on the content of their writing?
  • What is it about mystery novels that you think is so appealing to the reader?
  • The author Kazuo Ishiguro is considered ‘boring’. Would you disagree with this
  • How is dialogue used effectively in literature?
  • Why is symbolism so effective in creating meaning?
  • What aspects of characterisation do you think are significant to a reader?
  • Do you think the positions of artist and writer are similar when creating a female character?

Modern and Medieval Languages

  • Should we study the swear words of any foreign language we study?
  • Why do you want to study a very literature-based degree?
  • What is the link between art and reality?
  • Do you think we ought to take literature as a sociological study of society, when you consider that most great authors are considered to have social difficulties?
  • What do you think Voltaire meant by ‘Il faut cultiver notre jardin’?
  • What are the differences between Spain and Latin America?
  • How does Le Monde differ from English broadsheets?
  • Is there such a thing as an immoral book?
  • Do you agree with Edith Grossman?
  • Do you believe that technology could ever be better at translating than humans?
  • What is an agglutinating language?
  • Is language different from communication?
  • What do you know about Spanish rhyme?
  • Do you follow any current events related to your subject?
  • If language was a city, what buildings would it have and what would they represent?
  • What inefficiencies are there in the French language?
  • What makes French and English different?

Philosophy, Psychology, Linguistics

  • If you could plan an experiment what would you do it on?
  • If you could clone yourself, would you?
  • Why have literacy rates have improved in the UK over the last 10 years?
  • What makes an argument good?

Linguistics

  • How do you define linguistics to your friends?
  • Define language and define grammar.

Social & Political Sciences

law squareEconomics

  • Summarise Economics in one word
  • What’s the difference between a correlation and a cause and effect relationship?
  • Should governments subsidise agriculture?
  • What are the consequences of changing interest rates?
  • What is the point of privatisation?
  • What is a monopoly? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
  • What is the mathematical rationale behind risk-taking decisions?
  • In some countries, national happiness is used as an indicator alongside or in place of GDP, is this a good idea?

Economics and Management

  • If a petrol station on a road is equal distant from two towns, where should the next petrol station be built?
  • Consider a production line. What could be done to help the worker to get away from the routine?
  • How big should Google be allowed to get before it is broken up?
  • Why do Rolls-Royce build cars by hand, and Toyota by machine?
  • What is the basis of performance related pay?
  • What is the biggest problem facing CEOs?
  • Why does Uber have low profit margin?
  • What is the difference between a manager and a leader?
  • You have £100 and have to divide it with one other person. This person must accept your offer or both of you get nothing. How would you do this?
  • What stops us from always making rational decisions?
  • Is perfect information possible?
  • How should we decide how much CEOs get paid?

Geography

  • Explain cliff formation after looking at a photograph. How can computers aid geographers in understanding such processes?
  • How does drama relate to geography?
  • Why do you think Bavaria has the lowest breastfeeding rate in Germany?
  • Are there any articles you’ve read in the paper recently that are relevant to physical geography?
  • How does Geography relate to A Midsummer Night’s Dream?
  • Explain the Human Geography that you saw as travelling here today.
  • Should we distinguish between refugees and economic migrants?
  • What would happen to the world if humans suddenly became extinct?
  • How does geography relate to the area you live in?
  • Does the weather outside refute or strengthen Donald Trump’s climate argument?
  • If you won the lottery, what would you research for your dissertation? Outline your process.
  • What is the geography of this bauble?
  • What part of the A-level Geography course would you change?
  • What is the definition of freedom?
  • What is the point of hypothetical situations?
  • What affects GDP?

Land Economy

  • How did the Romans help the UK become more technologically advanced than other countries?
  • What kind of transport policy could be implemented in Cambridge?
  • Why is traffic so bad in cities and what would you do about it?
  • Why are wages higher in London?
  • Tell me about the north south divide. What effects does out-migration have on an area?
  • How would you solve the problems of cars and housing in the city

Law

  • Describe ‘respect for the freedom of conscience.’
  • Should judges have a legislative role?
  • What do you think the uses of traffic lights are?
  • If A gave B £100 thinking it was a loan and B accepted the money thinking it was a gift, should he have to give it back?
  • Smith sees Jones walking towards the edge of a cliff. Smith knows Jones is blind, but doesn’t like him, so allows him to walk off the edge. Is this murder?
  • What have you read in the papers recently that relates to international law?
  • What is the difference between intention and foresight?
  • Should negligence be a criminal offense?
  • Should political campaigns should be made legally enforceable?
  • Is driving a human right?
  • Would an international world court be efficient?
  • If you were to make your own constitution what three laws would you include?
  • How does social media affect the legal system?
  • Is education always beneficiary to society?

Politics (for PPE and HSPS)

  • Does the welfare state trap people into poverty?
  • Distinguish between a society, a state and an economy.
  • If I made you leader of the world, which three things would you find hardest to get everyone to agree on?
  • Would you legalise all drugs?
  • Instead of politicians, why don’t we let the managers of IKEA run the country?
  • Differentiate between power and authority.
  • Why do we need government?
  • How can a country be increasing in ‘democraticness’ yet simultaneously decreasing in human rights measurement?
  • Defend Donald Trump to a Muslim woman and a gay man.
  • Why do people become radicalised?
  • What is the most powerful country in the world and why?
  • What will future historians and archaeologists use when looking back at the current migrant crisis?
  • Is the class system still relevant?
  • What is beneficial about value-free data?
  • Do you feel that Africa is still colonised in modern day society?
  • How do you define a belief?

Education

  • What is education for?
  • Should we rely on charity or state support for the poor?

Physical, Chemical & Mathematical Sciences

Blue DNA Helix squareBiochemistry

  • How does DNA fingerprinting work? What is its use?
  • Why are there so many steps in the cascade of reactions?

Chemistry

  • Why does the boiling point of water rise as salt is dissolved in it?
  • What makes drugs physiologically active?
  • Explain the bonding in benzene.
  • Define acid. Explain why acid chloride doesn’t form a delocalised system.

Computer Science

  • Tell me about binary searches and their efficiency.
  • Algebraic references with respect to summation formulae and proofs by induction.
  • What is pi? What is life? What is infinity? What is the link between 0.5! and pi?

Earth Sciences

  • What is the true mass of all the water on the earth?
  • Suggest a list of conditions necessary to sustain life on Earth.
  • What do you believe would be the major differences on Earth if,
    a) no atmosphere had ever formed?
    b) there was no water?
    c) plate tectonics did not exist?
  • How do mountains originate?

Engineering

  • Show the forces acting on a ladder.
  • Why do sausages split length-ways, rather than around the circumference?
  • What are the fundamental differences between Engineering and Physics?
  • If I am in a room with 5 people and guess all their birthdays, what is the probability of getting (only) one correct?
  • Talk about a light bulb.
  • How does a tippy top work?
  • Find the sum of an infinite geometric series
  • How can scanners detect colours?
  • What is the optimum angle to throw a projectile for maximum range?
  • How can scanners detect colours?

Materials Sciences

  • What does carbon look like?
  • What can we determine from the moment of electrons from this picture from an electron microscope?
  • Calculate the energy released if a hand warmer is exposed to air (using enthalpy calculations) and write an equation for the reaction that takes place when it is exposed to air.
  • What do you think a window ledge is made out of?

Mathematics

  • A body with mass ‘m’ is falling towards earth with speed v. It has a drag force equal to kv. Set up a differential equation and solve it for v.
  • How many 0s has 30 factorial?
  • If X is odd prove X squared – 1 is always a multiple of 8
  • Draw the graph of y= (x-3)(x-2) / (x 2)(x-1)
  • What do you think is beautiful in maths?
  • Prove Fermat’s Little Theorem.
  • Is this chair blue? – (Maths and Philosophy)
  • Calculate how many surjections/bijections there are between sets of m and n elements.
  • How many corners would a four dimensional cube have? How many edges and faces?
  • Here is a function expressed in an unusual way: f(x+y)=f(x)f(y). Can you think of any function that satisfies this?
  • Which number is bigger: 23333 vs 32222?

Physics

  • Why don’t fish freeze?
  • How many of these pebbles would it take to fill a car?
  • How high can I go up a mountain on just a Mars bar?
  • Does the snow falling on top of a train have an effect on its velocity?
  • Estimate the amount of rubber deposited on UK streets by cars in a year.
  • Guess the relationship between a particles wavelength and momentum (de Broglie).
  • What is the period of an object orbiting inside a galaxy of uniform density?
  • Estimate the number of atoms in the sun

Physical Natural Sciences

  • We are in this room. What would the total volume of a liquid be if we took all the air from the room and turned into a liquid?
  • There is a massive snow ball, with a skier on top of it. You give it a very small nudge (negligible). There is no friction between the skier and the snow ball.
  • Calculate the position at which the skier would leave the snow ball. Now imagine you were on the moon, what would this position be?
  • Draw the graph of an enzyme-substrate complex for rate against concentration. What factors affect the rate of enzyme action?

 

Medical & Biological Sciences

pexels-photo-256262Biological Sciences

  • How could you test if a bird never landed?
  • How many monkeys would you use in an experiment?
  • Why is there a higher probability of being killed by an asteroid collision than by a heart attack?
  • What are the arguments for preserving biodiversity?
  • Do animals lie?
  • Why do animals decide to colonise areas?
  • What is your favourite biological molecule? 
  • How do animals measure distances travelled?

Biological Natural Sciences

  • How does the immune system recognise invading pathogens as foreign cells?
  • Write down an organic reaction you have studied at school and explain its mechanism.
  • If a brain was placed in front of you, how would you describe it?
  • How many atoms are there in a Brussels sprout?
  • What makes a material hard?
  • How would you measure pH of a solution if I told you how many hydrogen ions there were in it?
  • What is the equation for the motion of a pendulum?
  • How does depressing a piano key make a sound?
  • Considering the size of the brain, why isn’t an elephant more intelligent than a human?
  • How could you adapt a bacteria living at 37 degrees to live at 120 degrees?

Human Sciences

  • Why can’t humans live forever?
  • Comment on a population pyramid.
  • Is shopping the new religion?
  • How could you tell how long a disease has been prevalent in an area?

Medicine

  • What makes a good doctor?
  • Do you think that all doctors should have a disability in order to empathise with their patients?
  • If you were in charge of the nation’s health at the time of an outbreak of an unknown virus, what would you do?
  • How would you determine whether leukaemia patients have contracted the disease because of a nearby nuclear power station?
  • What would life be like without enzymes?
  • What is the normal level of potassium? What is it used for? How does it move in and out of cells?
  • If I were a grapefruit, would I rather be seedless or non-seedless?
  • How does l-dopa affect neurotransmitters?
  • What is the difference between Dementia and Alzheimer’s
  • How does HIV treatment work?

Psychology

  • How would you design a scientific experiment to show that a certain substance is addictive?
  • How does the colour of this room affect your mood?
  • How would I test the difference between butter and ‘Utterly Butterly’?
  • Do animals think?
  • How would you decide who to give a liver to?
  • What are the pros and cons of screening for diseases?
  • Why is cannibalism seen as something negative in our society?

Veterinary Medicine

  • Why do dogs behave badly?
  • Would you prefer a large or small animal practice?
  • How have vets lives changed in the last 30 years?
  • Why, in Britain, is their less chance of tumours forming in cats?
  • What happens to the gas in a cow’s rumen?

 

So you want to go to Oxbridge? Tell me about a banana… is the compendium of applying to Oxbridge. Packed full of over a decade’s research and up-to-date advice on how to prepare, Tell me about a banana draws on the experiences of thousands of successful Oxbridge graduates and how they would approach the application process if they had to do it all over again.

Download the book here.

If you would like to buy a paper copy of the book you can get it in the post for £12.99.

Order the book in hardcopy.

 

 

 

 

Biological sciences- model questions and answersClick the link to the right to investigate some questions from interviews in Biological Sciences and Medicine that have been asked in the past at Oxford or Cambridge. Have a go… how would you approach them?

We asked one of our top tutors and biomedical experts to answer them using the kind of knowledge that is expected at Sixth Form level. In this resource, it is important to remember that the answers written out are not the answer, but a good way of beginning to approach interview questions. In many cases the Admissions Tutors would help you reach conclusions like the ones our expert comes to. The key is always to think aloud. 

Politics Philosophy Economics Interview QuestionsClick the link to the right to investigate some questions from interviews in Politics, Philosophy and Economics that have been asked in the past at Oxford or Cambridge. Have a go… how would you approach them?

We asked one of our top tutors and PPE experts to answer them using the kind of knowledge that is expected at sixth-form level. In this resource, it is important to remember that the answers written out are not the answer, but a good way of beginning to approach interview questions. In many cases the Admissions Tutors would help you reach conclusions like the ones our expert comes to. The key is always to think aloud. 

Maths- model questions and answersClick the link to the right to investigate some questions from interviews in Maths or Hard Sciences like Physics that have been asked in the past at Oxford or Cambridge. Have a go… how would you approach them?

We asked one of our top tutors and Maths experts to answer them using the kind of knowledge that is expected at Sixth Form level. In this resource, it is important to remember in many cases the Admissions Tutors would help you reach conclusions like the ones our expert comes to. The key is always to think aloud. 

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