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Think you can get into Oxford? Try cracking these questions

The university has released a fresh set of questions from tutors who hold the interviews in order to soothe applicants’ nerves and throw more light on what is expected.

world Updated: Oct 22, 2017 17:10 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Oxford,Samina Khan,admissions
Christ Church college, a constituent institute of Oxford University.(Getty Images)

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It’s that time of the year when thousands of applicants hoping for an undergraduate place at the University of Oxford are preparing to face quirky or confrontational questions during the famed admission interview.

The university has released a fresh set of questions from tutors who hold the interviews in order to soothe applicants’ nerves and throw more light on what is expected — Oxford is reputed to be one of the toughest universities in the world to get into.

The interview challenges applicants to think on their feet — independently and laterally — and show an ability to apply theory.

“The interview is primarily an academic conversation based on a passage of text, a problem set or a series of technical discussions related to the course students have applied for,” Samina Khan, director of admissions and outreach at Oxford, said in a statement.

“No matter what kind of educational background or opportunities you have had, the interview should be an opportunity to present your interest and ability in your chosen subject, since they are not just about reciting what you already know.

“We know there are still misunderstandings about the Oxford interview, so we put as much information as possible out there to allow students to see the reality of the process” she said.

Tutors explained what is expected from the new set of sample questions. Applicants are pushed on how they respond to questions that may seem open-ended, but involve assumptions and knowledge of basic concepts.

For example, consider the question: Put these countries in order by their crude mortality (deaths per thousand of the population) — Bangladesh, Japan, South Africa, the UK.

Most people would place Bangladesh in the lead, but the correct answer is Japan.

Tutor Andrew King of Exeter College said: “Interviews for medicine aim to gauge candidates’ understanding of the science underpinning the study of medicine, as well as skills in scientific enquiry. This question invites candidates to think about a public health question and epidemiology that can be approached in many different ways, without necessarily knowing anything about specific mortality rates around the world.”

Consider another question: “Should it be illegal to run a red light in the middle of the night on an empty road?” There is no right or wrong answer to this question to an applicant for a law course, but tutor Jon Herring said it would be used to see how well candidates could justify their stance.

“The ability to think normatively is important to the study of law, so we are interested in what candidates think the law ought to be, but more important is their capacity to justify their position. This involves being able analyse concepts, critically appraise arguments and the reasoning behind a position, as well as to consider objections and to offer rebuttals to those objections,” he said.

An applicant for a modern languages course may be asked: What do we lose if we only read a foreign work of literature in translation?

Tutor Jane Hiddleston said: “This is a good question as it helps us to see how candidates think about both languages and literature. They might be able to tell us about the challenges of translation, about what sorts of things resist literal or straightforward translation from one language to another, and this would give us an indication of how aware they are of how languages work.”

According to Khan, tutors want to give applicants a chance to show their ability and potential, which means students will be encouraged to use their knowledge and apply their thinking to new problems, with tutors guiding the discussion to ensure students feel comfortable and confident.