Could You Answer Oxford University's Notoriously Difficult Interview Questions?

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"Is it easier for organisms to live in the sea or on land?" "Would it matter if tigers became extinct?" "Why do humans have two eyes?" And finally, "Tell me about a banana."

The interview questions for prospective students at Oxford University have a reputation for being difficult and, well, just a little bit weird. But to secure a spot at one of the most prestigious and highly-ranked universities in the world, you have to prove you're a flexible and original thinker.

"We want to see someone thinking for themselves, being willing to tackle a challenging question," explained a French tutor, on the university's website. "It’s really important for candidates to understand that ‘tackling’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘solving’: it’ll be about applying skills that you already have to a new scenario, text, or problem, so we want to see how you set about it."

The questions might seem utterly random but they usually have at least some relevance to the subject being interviewed for. So someone applying for a Computer Science BA might be asked, "How do pirates divide their treasure?" A History student, "Imagine we had no records about the past at all, except everything to do with sport – how much of the past could we find out about?" and so on. 

In preparation for the 2018 application deadline (October 15), the university has released a new batch of sample questions, giving wannabe Oxford students the chance to practice before the interviews in December. 

"[I]nterviews will be an entirely new experience for most students, and we know many prospective applicants are already worried about being in an unfamiliar place and being questioned by people they have not met – so to help students to become familiar with the type of questions they might get asked we release these real examples," said Dr Samina Khan, Director of Admissions and Outreach at Oxford.  

"We want to underscore that every question asked by our tutors has a purpose, and that purpose is to assess how students think about their subject and respond to new information or unfamiliar ideas."

So, how do you think you'd do? Remember, there are no "right" or "wrong" answers – it's all about how you work through the question. 

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