Oxford University gives insight into interview process

Alison Kershaw
Tuesday 04 October 2011 14:33 BST

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Louise Thomas

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Why do lions have manes? Would it matter if tigers became extinct? And why are both ladybirds and strawberries red?

These are just some of the interview questions faced by students hoping to win a place at Oxford University.

The prestigious institution has released a sample of the conundrums posed by tutors to give an insight into its interview process.

Prospective biological science students have been asked to discuss why it matters if tigers become extinct, while those hoping to read materials science have been asked to calculate how hot the air in a hot air balloon would need to be to lift an elephant.

The questions have been released just two weeks before the closing date for students to apply to Oxford.

Owen Lewis of Brasenose College suggested "why do lions have manes" as a question for biological science students.

"Some of the best interview questions do not have a "right" or a "wrong" answer, and can potentially lead off in all sorts of different directions," he said.

"Applicants might have picked up ideas about the function of a lion's mane from independent reading or from watching natural history documentaries. That's fine - but I'd follow up their response by asking how they would test their theory.

"When I've used this question in interviews I've had all sorts of innovative suggestions, including experiments where lions have their manes shaved to investigate whether this influences their chances with the opposite sex or helps them win fights over territory."

Professor Lewis also suggested: "Ladybirds are red. So are strawberries. Why?" and "would it matter if tigers became extinct?" as other questions.

Liora Lazarus of St Anne's College said law candidates have been asked: "If the punishment for parking on double yellow lines were death, and therefore nobody did it, would that be a just and effective law?"

And students hoping to read French at St Catherine's College have been faced with the question: "In a world where English is a global language, why learn French?"

Tutor Dr Stephen Goddard said: "I might use this question early in an interview in order to set the candidate thinking, and to elicit some idea of their motivation before moving on to more specific questions."

Mike Nicholson, director of undergraduate admissions at Oxford said the university's interviews are an "important but often misunderstood" part of the institution's admissions process.

He said that releasing sample questions helps to show students what the interviews are really like.

"The interviews are all about giving candidates the chance to show their real ability and potential - while this may sound intimidating, all it means is that candidates will be pushed to use their knowledge and apply their thinking to new problems in ways that will both challenge them and allow them to shine," he said.


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