How To Get Into The World's Top University: Oxford Reveals Its Interview Questions


Tom Hale

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

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The campus at the University of Oxford - Note: the rest of the UK isn't this pretty. Alexey Fedorenko/Shutterstock

The University of Oxford is consistently voted one of the world’s best academic institutions (this year finally knocking Caltech off the top spot), with alumni including Tim Berners-Lee, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, Oscar Wilde, JRR Tolkien, Dr Seuss, and Rowan Atkinson, aka Mr Bean, to name but a few.

With such a daunting reputation, the university has attempted to “demystify” its intimidating interviewing process – they interview around 10,000 applicants for just 3,500 spaces – by revealing some of its questions.


And they might not be what you would imagine. Instead of asking questions that require specific knowledge or factual information, they tend to be more abstract and open to reveal how the interviewee thinks.

“No matter what kind of educational background or opportunities you have had, the interview should be an opportunity to show off your interest and ability in your chosen subject,” Dr Samina Khan, Director of Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach explained in a statement.

If you want to see how to successfully tackle the questions and impress the interviewer, or just see how you would potentially do, head over to the University of Oxford website where the university's professors give some hints about what they are looking for in a good answer.

For now, test yourself on some of these questions. 


What makes a novel or play "political"?

This is a question posed to prospective Modern Language (French) students.

About 1 in 4 deaths in the UK is due to some form of cancer, yet in the Philippines the figure is only around 1 in 10. What factors might underlie this difference?

This question is posed to prospective Medical students by interviewer Chris Norbury of Queen's College.


Imagine a ladder leaning against a vertical wall with its feet on the ground. The middle rung of the ladder has been painted a different colour on the side, so that we can see it when we look at the ladder from the side on. What shape does that middle rung trace out as the ladder falls to the floor?

This question is posed to prospective Mathematics students by interviewer Rebecca Cotton-Barratt of Christ Church college.

What exactly do you think is involved in blaming someone?

One for prospective Politics, Philosophy, and Economics (PPE) students by interviewer Ian Phillips of St Anne's College.


A large study appears to show that older siblings consistently score higher than younger siblings on IQ tests. Why would this be?

Prospective Experimental Psychology students could expect a question like this by interviewer Kate Watkins, St Anne's College.


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