Knowledge of a banana may be the key to Oxbridge entry

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The Independent Online

It is probably the most important day of your life. Your mind is racing and your hands are trembling at the thought of the erudite questions you are about to be asked, which will determine your future education, career and indeed the rest of your life. Then a man leans forward towards you and says: "Tell me about a banana."

Welcome to the world of university interviewing, Oxbridge-style. The banana question has been unearthed by Rachel Spedding and Jane Welsh, the editors of a new book designed to help would-be Oxford and Cambridge students cope with the notoriously arduous admissions process.

Other examples include: "Why isn't this chair acting as a wave?"(Chemistry, Oxford). And: "Estimate the number of pebbles on Brighton Beach. If a pebble was given to each person would there be enough for the entire population?" (Natural sciences, Cambridge).

"The key thing to it," the editors write, "is that there is seldom a right answer. You do not need an encyclopaedic memory to answer Oxbridge questions successfully, nor do you have to be a genius in the making.

"Oxbridge interview questions are designed to get applicants thinking laterally and logically and test how they use their existing knowledge, ascertaining whether the applicant will thrive, learning in the intimate environment of the tutorial or supervision system and whether the tutor will enjoy teaching them for the next three or potentially more years."

And so on to the next question. "If you leave the fridge turned on in a thermally isolated room, what happens to the room?" (Physics, Oxford).

More than 4,000 students who were interviewed for Oxbridge places last year were also questioned by the authors of the book, which is fittingly titled, So you want to go to Oxbridge? Tell me about a banana.

The editors conclude by posing three questions: "Can you be trained for cracking the Oxford and Cambridge admissions process? Can you copy what those who have done it successfully did and expect the same [sic: similar] results? So does this mean there is nothing you can do to prepare yourself?" The answer to all three, they say, is no.