Are you Oxbridge material? Here's how you can tell...

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The Independent Online

Why don't we just have one ear in the middle of our face? What percentage of the world's water is contained in a cow? Of all 19th-century politicians, who was most like Tony Blair? If you could attempt an answer to any of these questions then you might want to consider applying to study at Oxford or Cambridge.

The questions were faced by some of the 1,200 students who entered the notoriously rigorous Oxbridge interview process last year. A survey, conducted by Oxbridge Applications, a company that coaches applicants for interviews at Oxford and Cambridge, suggests the universities' reputation for asking unusual questions is alive and well.

With nearly 29,000 students competing for 6,500 places every year competition for places at Oxford and Cambridge is intense.

Other questions reported by the students in the survey included:

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

Are you cool? (Philosophy, politics and economics, Oxford.)

At what point is a person "dead"? (Medicine, Cambridge.)

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

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

The findings were published as this year's deadline for applicants for Oxford and Cambridge approaches. Candidates who want to join either university next autumn must apply by Sunday. James Uffindell, the founder of Oxbridge Applications, which charges students £120 to draft their application form and £850 for an interview preparation weekend in a hotel, said: "The interview process at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge is notoriously eccentric, but this should not put would-be candidates off.

"Our survey also showed that of the candidates who were asked odd questions, just as many were offered places as those who weren't.

"With the increase in the numbers of students excelling at A-levels, the Oxbridge interviews are one way of finding out who really cuts the mustard."

But a spokeswoman for Oxford University said that the survey was simply an attempt by the company to advertise its services by perpetuating outdated myths about the universities. "Applicants should be aware that it might be in the interest of commercial companies to create the impression that the admissions interview at Oxford colleges is 'eccentric'. This is not the case. The aim of the interview is to assess each candidate's ability and potential on an individual basis," she said.

"What our admissions tutors are looking for is how well candidates can explain what they know, and whether they can apply their knowledge to a new problem or argue their position."

A Cambridge spokesman said: "There's no need to have special training for Cambridge interviews. Indeed, applicants who are 'over-rehearsed' tend to come across less well than students who are natural and spontaneous."

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