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.
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.
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.
Morality 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.
To 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.
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.
Click 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.
Click 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.
Click 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.