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Oxford releases sample interview questions

The University of Oxford has released a sample selection of questions that give students valuable insight into how they should prepare for an interview at the coveted university.


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The questions show how the university wants to get an impression of how a potential future student thinks and responds to new ideas. Most questions don’t afford more than general ability and several answers may be correct. The test leaves some room for opinion and interpretation and answers should show how eloquent students are and reflect on their academic intellect as well as future potential.

The following questions are designed for all different sorts of subjects and not only business and economic topics but they still show how the university aims to foster thinking outside of the box. Apart from offering sample questions, tutors have also provided possible answers on the university’s website.

Sample question 1: Should there be a cap on bankers’ bonuses?  

“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.”

Sample question 2: Which person (or sort of person) in the past would you most like to interview, and why?  

“Candidates know that this is not a right/wrong type question. The question is not so much about which person the candidate wants to meet, but what sort of issues the candidate wants to find out about (which can be quite revealing) and then working out the best way to do so. 'Meeting' Elizabeth I or Winston Churchill might be exciting, but if the candidate wants to find out about, say, their leadership style, they might be better off asking questions of a courtier or member of the war cabinet. Or if they wanted to find out what we don't know about any given period, they might want to interview people who didn't leave any written records. Sometimes we might encourage the candidate to think through whether the person they selected would be willing or able to reveal the information they sought (and we allow plenty of time for the candidate to change the issue they want to find out about, and reconsider their choice of person).”

Apart from giving away questions, the university also recommends how to specifically prepare for interviews at the business school. These are Oxford’s tips:

  • Think about some basic questions that may be asked at the beginning of an interview and how you might answer them. For example, tutors may ask why you have chosen this particular subject, and why you want to study it at Oxford.
  • Read widely around your chosen subject, including newspaper articles, websites, journals, magazines and other publications.
  • Take a critical view of ideas and arguments that you encounter at school or college, or in the media – think about all sides of any debate.
  • Be prepared to show some background knowledge of the subject, if you are applying for a course not normally studied at school or college, such as Medicine, Law, Biochemistry or Oriental Studies. However, you will not be expected to have a detailed understanding of specific or technical topics. For example, you may be asked what role your subject plays in society.
  • Re-read your personal statement, and any written work that you have submitted, thinking about how you might expand on what you wrote.
  • Organise a practice interview for yourself. This could be with a teacher or someone else who is familiar with your subject, but preferably not someone you know very well. This will help you to get some more experience of talking about yourself and your work in an unfamiliar environment.
  • Remind yourself of the selection criteria for your chosen subject (you can find this on the relevant course page).

Find full reports here:
Sample interview questions
Oxford interview questions explained


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