40 Oxbridge interview questions

As this week’s theme is inequality I thought I would do something about those two venerable institutions – the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. There have been a lot of press features recently about the infamous Oxbridge Interview, famous for its obscure and often surreal questions that have terrorised students down the years. They are designed to see if you can think on your feet and as the saying goes: “When you walk into the interview, the fellow throws you a rugby ball. If you drop it or it hits you in the face, you are out, if you catch it, you are in, and if you drop kick it back, you get a scholarship.” I decided to look on the Internet to see if I could find some examples and here is my selection of forty of these questions:


1. Can a thermostat think? (Experimental Psychology, Oxford)

2. Compare these bottles of Tesco and Timotei shampoo? (Law, Oxford)

3.  Could there still be a second-coming if mankind had disappeared from the planet? (Theology, Cambridge)

4.   Describe this saucer to me as if I wasn’t in the room (Economics, Cambridge)

5.   Describe your school from an anthropological perspective (Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge)

6.   Do you believe that statues can move, and how might this belief be justified? (French and Spanish, Oxford)

7.   Do you think the Bavarian peasants of 1848 had an ideology? (History, Cambridge)

8.    Does a snail have a consciousness? (Experimental Psychology, Oxford)

9.    Here is a piece of bark, please talk about it. (Biological sciences, Oxford.)

10. How do you organise a successful revolution? (History, Oxford)

11. How many grains of sand are there in the world? (Physics, Oxford)

12.  How many monkeys would you use in an experiment? (Experimental Psychology, Oxford)

13. How small can you make a computer? (Engineering, Cambridge)

14. How would you market a rock band? (Economics and Management, Oxford)

15. How would you measure the weight of your own head? (Medicine, Cambridge)

16. How would you poison someone without the police finding out? (Medicine, Cambridge)

17. If a wife had expressed distaste for it previously, would her husband’s habit of putting marmalade in his egg at breakfast be grounds for divorce? (Law, Cambridge)

18. If I were a grapefruit, would I rather be seedless or non-seedless? (Medicine, Cambridge)

19. If it could take a form, what shape would the novel “To the Lighthouse become? (English, Oxford)

20. If my friend locks me in a room, and says I am free to come out whenever I like as long as I pay £5, is this a deprivation of liberty? (Law, Cambridge)

21. If there was an omnipotent god would he be able to create a stone that he couldn’t lift? (Classics, Oxford)

22. If you’re not in California, how do you know it exists? (PPE – Politics, Philosophy, and Economics, Oxford)

23. Instead of politicians, why don’t we let the managers of IKEA run the country (SPS – Social and Political Sciences, Cambridge)

24. Is ‘Taggart’ an accurate portrayal of Glasgow? (English, Oxford)

25. Is it morally wrong to attempt to climb a mountain? (Theology, Oxford)

26. Is the chair really there? (Philosophy, Cambridge

27. Is the moon made of cheese? (Vet Sciences, Cambridge)

28. Is Wittgenstein always right? (French and Philosophy, Oxford)

29. Put a monetary value on this teapot. (Philosophy, politics and economics, Oxford.)

30. Tell me about your life, from the beginning to what made you sit in that chair (Natural Sciences, Cambridge)

31. What colour is that notice board? (Mathematics and Philosophy, Oxford)

32.  What effect on the whole of society does someone crashing into a lamppost have? (Law, Oxford)

33. What happens if I drop an ant? (Physics, Oxford)

34. What would happen if you drilled through the Earth all the way to the other side and then jumped into the hole? (Engineering, Cambridge)

35. Why can’t you light a candle in a spaceship? (Physics, Oxford.)

36. Why is it a disadvantage for humans to have two legs? (Medicine, Cambridge)

37. Would I be justified in saying that only morons play sport? (Economics, Cambridge)

38. Would Ovid’s chat-up line work? (Classics, Oxford)

39. Would you rather be a novel or a poem? (English, Oxford)

40. Writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Discuss. (Music, Oxford)

5 Responses to 40 Oxbridge interview questions

  1. […] media week 21/12/08 By molivam42 Last week I did a piece about the Oxbridge interviews and this week The Times did a feature on how to answer the […]

  2. […] 2.      40 Oxbridge interview questions  366  […]

  3. […] did a piece last year about the Oxbridge interview and this week The Telegraph invited seven Oxbridge alumni to answer a typical interview question. […]

  4. Some very odd questions, they would definitely put me on the back foot! Nonetheless, very amusing!

  5. “Do you think the Bavarian peasants of 1848 had an ideology? (History, Cambridge) ” – this would only be asked of a candidate whose personal statement shows they’ve studied the period. I’m an Ox graduate and now work with a charity which gives interview practice to kids from schools that are under privileged, and I think your introduction is actually pretty accurate. The questions are normally designed to see ‘how’ a student thinks – so in this case, a good candidate would set out what they thought ‘ideology’ is, then why one might imagine the peasants had one (they revolted), then come to a conclusion.
    It’s not just “Yes.”
    Similar ideas behind all those that aren’t science.

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