Europe needs swagger

Oxford University publishes entry interview questions


As most of the U.K.'s future undergraduates work away at perfecting their applications, one academic institution is turning up the heat, by revealing what questions could be asked if they manage to secure a coveted interview.

The University of Oxford has published a set of sample questions that could be up for discussion at some of their course interviews. The hypothetical questions were released ahead of the application deadline this Thursday. A date considerably earlier than other U.K. universities, who finishing accepting on January 15th 2016.

Students walk past the Radcliffe Camera building in Oxford city centre as Oxford University commences its academic year on October 8, 2009 in Oxford, England.
Oli Scarff | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Oxford University is one of the most prestigious educational institutions worldwide, matching the levels of Harvard and Yale. If candidates manage to pass Oxford's first application hurdle, they will most likely have to undergo an examination or send in a piece of written work, before the interview stage is even offered.

However, if prospective students are lucky enough to obtain an interview, they shouldn't expect to be asked questions that could easily be found in a textbook.

If you're an economics student, you may be asked something along the lines of "Do Bankers deserve the pay they receive?", while those hoping to study Oriental Studies could be asked if "archaeology proves or disproves the Bible."

During the two-week December period when interviews takes place, the university conducts more than 24,000 interviews for over 10,000 applicants. In 2014, over 17,400 people applied for an undergraduate place, however only a fraction got in – 3,200.

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An interview at Oxford not only demonstrates that the candidate has perked the university's interest, but also determines whether their future lies inside the walls of such a respected institution.

The interview could be comparable to an "academic conversation" Dr Samina Khan, director of admissions and outreach at Oxford describes, adding that it can incorporate a written passage, object, a problem or a number of questions, which acts as "material to prompt discussion."

"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."

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"We hope that seeing some of the less obvious questions will reassure prospective applicants that tutors simply want to see how students think and respond to new ideas – we are not interested in catching students out," Dr Khan said.

A fundamental reason behind releasing these questions is to dispel the "myths" surrounding a typical Oxford interview, and highlight the reality of the process.

"Interviews are not about reciting what you already know – they are designed to give candidates a chance to show their real ability and potential, which means candidates will be encouraged to use their knowledge and apply their thinking to new problems in ways that will both challenge them and allow them to shine."

Oxford University's published list of sample interview questions

For Economics and Management
Q: Do Bankers deserve the pay they receive? And should government do something to limit how much they get?

For Biomedical Sciences
Q: Why is sugar in your urine a good indicator that you might have diabetes?

For Engineering
Q: Place a 30cm ruler on top of one finger from each hand. What happens when you bring your fingers together?

For Oriental Studies
Q: Can archaeology 'prove' or 'disprove' the Bible?

For Philosophy, Politics and Economics
Q: Why is income per head between 50 and 100 times larger in the United States than in countries such as Burundi and Malawi?

For Experimental Psychology
Q: Imagine that 100 people all put £1 into a pot for a prize that will go to the winner of a simple game. 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?

By CNBC's Alexandra Gibbs, follow her on Twitter @AlexGibbsy.