Can You Answer These Oxbridge Interview Questions?

June 17, 2021

Oxford and Cambridge are notorious for being amongst the most difficult universities to get into. Amongst their tricky process are the interview questions. These prestigious universities have highly competitive entry requirements. Once your initial application is accepted, the second stage is a face-to-face interview. Let’s just say, Oxbridge interview questions are riddled with absurdity. If you can answer them, you’re one step closer to success!

The following Oxbridge interview questions were compiled by NACE. So we’ve selected the weird and wacky ones for each subject. These are some of the hardest questions, so don’t be disheartened if you don’t get it right the first time. We’ll help you break down each one so that you can best prepare for your interview — or just add some spice to your dinner conversations. 

Music Interview Question: How would you describe what music is to an alien race?

This is a trick question. Many budding students stumble at the first block. Do you aliens speak the same language as you? Would they be telepathic? You don’t know. The word “describe” infers you need to communicate using words or a language.

Logically, no one explains what music is using words. You would show them a song or get the other person to listen to it — it’s the experience that counts.

Advice from tutors: combine knowledge areas.

Judging by what the experts say, music interviews are structured into many different parts. This could be reading or listening to a composition, or asking about specific aspects that the course covers. 

The main idea is to get an understanding of how you interpret a piece of music, your thoughts and how curious you are. You are expected to consider the relationship between music, philosophy and other relevant areas.

The correct answer: show and tell.

This is a music interview, they’re expecting you to demonstrate your knowledge about music. So what would be the best way to approach the question? This is a sophisticated game of charades. You need to consider the different genres of music, the history of composition and its development. 

Take into account if the aliens are hearing impaired. Maybe you would play the beat of a drum so they understand what rhythm and vibrations are. In essence, you’re describing how you would show and tell what music is to aliens. 

English Interview Question: Is the Bible a fictional work? Could it be called chick lit?

This type of question seems bizarre, but generally requires you to think more deeply about the intention, genre and popularity of the text. In English Oxbridge applications, there is less focus on giving a right or wrong answer, but more how you analyse and evaluate literature.

Advice from tutors: consider academic, religious and language points of view.

It’s recommended that you first draw upon the Bible, it’s inception and history. So consider the purpose of it and traditions born out of it. Remember that the Bible was a work that developed across centuries, unlike more modern day novels. Then begin to unpack what the term “chick-lit” is. Draw on the parallels between stories and contexts, then form an argument.

Sciences and Maths Question: If you were stuck on an Island, who/what would you pick to join you and why?

Another random question heard during Oxbridge applications that requires you to tap into a strategic and analytical mindset. Notice that you don’t have to choose a person who is alive, or a person at all. Whilst this might seem overwhelming, it actually gives you greater flexibility.

There are two parts to answer: the person, animal or object and why. So whatever you decide, you’ll need to justify this with specific examples, statistics and logical reasoning. Essentially, you want to combine your knowledge of biology, psychology, maths and economics.

Advice from tutors: think about biological challenges and statistical advantages.

Our experts advise you to think about the issues that arise living on land. Such as, support for the body, drought, the need for travel, finding food and how this all impacts our sensory and nervous systems. Once you’ve ascertained the challenges, think how you could overcome them. You’ll have to decide what makes the most mathematical sense and the impact of starvation (and other issues) on human psychology. 

The correct answer: survival of the fittest.

You’ll want to choose someone (or something) that gives you an advantage to survive. You might recall an object or animal that could help you hunt, for example. Consider something that would protect you rather than threaten you. Someone with knowledge about poisonous berries or deathly traps and prey would also be helpful. 

However, you don’t want to have to share your limited resources, as this could hinder your chances of survival. Or result in cannibalism. Then you need to realistically calculate if it is more efficient to have two people stuck on the island or one, and why. 

History Interview Question: If you could have dinner with anybody that has ever lived, who would it be and why?

This question doesn’t require a right answer. If anything, it’s a test of your curiosity and ability to think from a historical perspective. All historians will argue about what sources are more or less reliable. So this could be your chance to settle that debate and seek the truth. 

The person who choose to have dinner with might also reflect your personal interests. This is good for Oxbridge interviewers to learn a bit more about you. Either way, remember this is a double-barrelled question that requires you to choose someone and add your reasoning.

Advice from tutors: act like a true historian. 

This question is more about selecting the person which could reveal the most interesting answers to historical knowledge and debate. For example, meeting Anne Boleyn or political figures like Winston Churchill. This would give insight into both exciting people, but also the politics and societal issues of the time. 

It’s worthwhile considering the gaps in history and how we could fill them — if only we could speak to those who didn’t leave written records! Interviewers might also give candidates time to change or reconsider their first choice. This gives them a better chance to think more critically or as a true historian would.

Law Interview Question: Smith sees Jones walking towards the edge of a cliff. Smith knows Jones is blind, but doesn’t like him, so allows him to walk off the edge. Is this murder?

A disclaimer worth mentioning here is that this question is not a green-card to permit murder. However, it encourages you to think more deeply about the creation of law, moral dilemmas and philosophy of mind. For example, think about who the law benefits and why; consider the evolution of law and how we decide what is just or unjust. Also recall what you’ve learned about criminal law.

In essence, it is a theoretical question that draws on your understanding of criminology and psychology. So you are expected to go deeper than the surface level of answering whether the example is classified as murder or not. 

Advice from tutors: share knowledge on blame, moral theory and provide a critical analysis.

Application officers say that there’s not necessarily a correct answer, but how well-justified it is. After all, you are studying to become a lawyer — this requires the ability to bend the truth, eliminate or induce doubt. You’ll be required to analyse the implications of your answer too.

The experts suggest that you open your answer with a simple theory of murder, then progress it. Consider the scenario: the actions, the people, the outcome. It will require you to give an answer and a counter-answer. Therefore, you need to demonstrate an understanding of the overall issue, as well as the effects of any judgement or verdict.

Medicine Interview Question: If you were a grapefruit, would you rather be seedless or non-seedless?

Yes, this is genuinely a question that has been asked of a lot of medical students. There is a simple answer. However, if it comes out of the blue, it might put you off balance!

Advice from tutors: think about biological sciences and survival.

Some biological sciences professors will use this question to spark discussion. In fact, applicants should be very prepared to be asked about insects and fruit. This requires you to think about the basics. Interviewers are keen to see how you come to the right answer using logic and biological understanding. 

The correct answer: non-seedless, obviously.

If you reword the question, and change grapefruit to “strawberry” or “ladybird” this might help your decision process. For example, red can signal “danger” to most organisms; so it boils down to “yes, eat me” or “do not eat me”.

Therefore, seeds can be off-putting to prey, as usually this results in… bowel movements. More specifically, seeds can cause infertility or problems with reproduction. So to avoid being eaten (and increase your chances of survival), you want to be non-seedless.

Philosophy and Politics Question: Do you believe in free will? How far does it extend – to an oyster for example?

This type of Oxbridge interview question blends a lot of subjects together. What you are not doing is explaining why an oyster has free will. However, you do need to think about issues like animal rights, environmentalism and concepts in psychology and moral philosophy. 

Advice from tutors: consider all sides of the debate, philosophers and then come to a conclusion.

The best part about these questions is that there is no direct right or wrong answer. Actually, you are encouraged to keep an open mind so that you steer the conversation. It puts you in control, representing your own beliefs and thought-process. 

You will need to recall theories by different philosophers, what evidence there is for and against the claim and then come to your own conclusions. 

Geography Interview Question: If I were to visit the area where you live, what would I be interested in?

No, the interviewers don’t want you to take them to fancy restaurants or local tourist attractions. This is actually asking you to recall concepts that you’ve learned in A-Level geography and how it relates to your local area.

Advice from tutors:

This is quite a broad question, but really Oxbridge are interested in how to apply “geographical thinking” to the real world. Topics you could potentially discuss are: urbanisation, ethnic segregation or environmental management. 

By narrowing down this question to focus on the local area, it reduces any advantage by those who are well-travelled. So just reveal how curious you are about the world around you and why. This will show that you’re passionate about geographic concepts in more ways than just saying “I like geography”.

So, what are Oxbridge Interviewers looking for?

Not all Oxbridge interview questions will be this abstract. A lot of questions will be based on common knowledge and specific material you’ve learned throughout your school years. For example, you might have to draw on your studies in Biology A-Level or apply a formula to answer a maths question. 

Many questions do not have a “right or wrong” answer. These are ones that encourage you to think dynamically and justify your reasoning. However, the main focus is to test your academic knowledge, intelligence and passion for the course. They’re designed to explore how you arrange ideas, information and problem-solve to an excellent standard.

How do I apply to Oxbridge?

If after reading this you think you’ve tackled the Oxbridge interview questions well, then kudos! A reminder that the deadline for Oxbridge applications is October 15th — and as mentioned it’s highly competitive. So to ensure you get a place, you need to get ahead of the game. 

One way to do this is to use our free personal statement service. Worried about how to start or what to say? Not anymore. You can upload your personal statement to be reviewed by one of our UCAS experts. This will make sure you’re on the right track and give you insight into where to improve. 

Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

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Naida Allen

Naida is a witty wordsmith with a love for writing and reading. She is a Content Writer and Social Media Executive at Tutor House — the top UK provider of online and in-person tuition. She specialises in topics relating to mental & physical wellbeing and career advice.

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