Sunday 4 December 2016

Oxford University reveals sample admissions interview questions

Published 12/10/2015 | 11:26

Oxford University has released its annual sample of admissions questions
Oxford University has released its annual sample of admissions questions

Should there be a cap on bankers' bonuses? And can archaeology prove or disprove the Bible?

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These are the types of topics that would-be Oxford students could find themselves pondering at an interview to study at the famous university.

The institution has released its annual sample of questions as part of a continuing bid to demystify its admissions process, with Oxford's director of admissions Samina Khan stating that the interviews are mainly an "academic conversation" relating to the course the student has applied for.

Among this year's offerings - published just days before the deadline for students to submit an application to begin their studies next autumn - is a conundrum for would-be economics and management students on whether bankers deserve their pay and whether the government should take any action to limit how much they receive.

Interviewer Brian Bell of Lady Margaret Hall said: " A simple answer might be that since banks are generally private firms and workers are free to work where they wish, then the pay they receive is just the outcome of a competitive labour market.

"In this story, bankers earn a lot because they are very skilled and have rare talents. It is hard to see a reason for government intervention in this case - though on equity grounds one may want to have a progressive income tax system that redistributes some of this income.

"A good candidate would wonder why it is that seemingly equivalently talented people can get paid so much more in banking than in other occupations. Do we really believe that bankers are so much better than other workers in terms of skill?

"An alternative story is that the banking industry is not competitive and generates profits above what a competitive market would produce. This would then allow workers in that industry to share some of those profits and so earn much more. In this case, there is a role for government intervention - making the market more competitive.

"The key point about this question is trying to get candidates to think about the economics of pay rather than just whether they think it is fair or not."

Alison Salveson of Mansfield College said she may ask someone applying for Oriental Studies whether they think archaeology can prove or disprove the Bible.

"For this particular question I would be looking for an answer that showed the candidate could appreciate that the Bible was a collection of documents written and transmitted over several centuries, and containing important traditions that have a bearing on history, but that academic study of the Bible means that it has to be examined carefully to see when and where these traditions had come from and for what purpose they had been written," she said.

Potential biomedical science candidates could be asked about the link between sugar in the urine and diabetes.

"This question builds on general knowledge and material studied at school in biology and chemistry to assess how students approach a clinically-relevant problem, according to Robert Wilkins of St Edmund Hall.

"It's commonly known that diabetes is associated with sugar (glucose) in the urine; this question asks students to think about why this occurs.

"Students usually have learnt that the kidneys filter blood to remove waste products, such as urea, that must be eliminated from the body but many other useful substances which must not be lost - including glucose - are also filtered.

"Given that glucose is not normally found in the urine, students are asked to speculate as to how it can all be recovered as the urine passes through the kidney's tubules."

And future experimental psychologists could be find themselves asked what number they would choose between 0 and 100 if asked to take part in a game in which 100 people put £1 into a prize pot with the winnings going to the individual whose number is closest to two thirds of the average of all the numbers picked.

Nick Yeung, of University College, who posed the brainteaser said: "I like this as a question for experimental psychology because answering it brings in a range of skills relevant to the subject. Partly it involves numerical and analytical skills: the question implies that the answer will be 2/3 of some other number, but which one?"

He added: " The question also has a psychological angle in thinking about reasons for people's behaviour and choices: Will everyone put in the same effort? Will everyone be motivated to win?"

Dr Khan said: " 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.

"They are an academic conversation in a subject area between tutors and candidate, similar to the undergraduate tutorials which current Oxford students attend every week."

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