Radcliffe Square in Oxford in the snow / Flickr (Simon Q)

University releases sample questions ahead of interviews in December to "demystify" the process

What makes a short story different from a novel? And is it easier to live in the sea or on land?

These are the types of conundrums that would-be Oxford students could find themselves pondering at an interview for the prestigious university.

The institution has released its annual sample of interview questions as part of its bid to demystify the admissions system.

The questions - which also include such brainteasers as which historical figure would you most like to interview and why? - come on the deadline day for students hoping to gain a place for next year to apply.

Among this year's offerings is a question for potential philosophy, politics and economics (PPE) students on the meaning of the words lie, deceive and mislead.

Dave Leal of Brasenose College who posed the question said: "Questions of this sort help us to test a candidate's capacity to draw nuanced distinctions between concepts, and to revise and challenge their own first moves in the light of different sentences containing the key words.

"Discussion may well lead into areas which could crop up during a degree in philosophy, including questions in ethics, the philosophy of mind and of language. It's not, though, a test of 'philosophical knowledge', and the content of the discussion begins from words which candidates should have a good familiarity with."

Martin Speight, a biological sciences tutor at St Anne's College said he may ask someone "Is it easier for organisms to live in their sea or on land?"

And Stephen Tuck from Pembroke College proposed asking budding historians who they would most like to interview from the past and why.

"The question is not so much about which person the candidate wants to meet, but what sort of issues the candidate wants to find out about (which can be quite revealing) and then working out the best way to do so," he said.

"'Meeting' Elizabeth I or Winston Churchill might be exciting, but if the candidate wants to find out about, say, their leadership style, they might be better off asking questions of a courtier or member of the war cabinet. Or if they wanted to find out what we don't know about any given period, they might want to interview people who didn't leave any written records."

Mike Nicholson, Oxford's director of undergraduate admissions said the university looks at GCSE results, aptitude test scores, references, personal statements and interview performance when deciding whether to admit a student, and that the interview can be the most daunting part for many candidates.

"Academic interviews will be an entirely new experience for most students, so we want to show students what they are really like so they aren't put off by what they might have heard," he said.

"Most interviews don't involve strange or irrelevant-sounding questions at all - they might include a logic problem to solve for a subject like maths, or a new text to read and discuss for English.

"They may start with familiar territory and then move into areas students have not studied before, introducing new material or ideas, and they are entirely academic in focus."