Are your kids Oxbridge material?

Do you have an Oxbridge mind?


Thursday, 16 October 2008 The


Students hoping for a place at Oxford and Cambridge universities are being asked a series of bizarre questions as academics attempt to choose between students achieving almost uniformly high scores at A-level.

The academic skills of two students may be separated only by the width of a cigarette paper, so the two highest-ranked universities in the UK have turned to trying to discover whether applicants are capable of thinking outside of their own subject disciplines and can construct an argument out of thin air and native wit.


Some of those questions have now been released by Oxbridge Applications, an indepepent education consultancy which helps coach students in the application process.

How would you get on? Below are some of the questions apparently asked by the universities which should be answered in around 100 words. Click on them and give us your answer, and read the answers Independent writers gave when we put them to the test. Have a go and find out whether Dreaming Spires or Perspiring Dreams await.

If my friend locks me in a room, and says I am free to come out whenever I like so long as I pay £5, is this a deprivation of liberty? (Law, Cambridge)

Why is there salt in the sea? (Biochemistry, Oxford)

Instead of politicians, why don’t we let the managers of IKEA run the country? (Social and Political Sciences, Cambridge)

Would you rather be a novel or a poem? (English, Oxford)

Why is it a disadvantage for humans to have two legs? (Medicine, Cambridge)

Describe this mug to me, imagining that I am an alien on the other end of the telephone? (Social and Political Sciences, Cambridge)

Is it morally wrong to attempt to climb a mountain? (Theology, Oxford)

Can history stop the next war? (History, Cambridge)

How would you poison someone without the police finding out? (Medicine, Cambridge)

How many monkeys would you use in an experiment? (Experimental Psychology, Oxford)

Would you rather be a seedless or “non-seedless” grapefruit? (Medicine, Cambridge)

What would you do if I were a magpie? (Natural Sciences, Cambridge)

Do you think you’re clever? (Law, Cambridge)

you Oxbridge material? Here’s how you can tell…


By Sarah Cassidy, Education Correspondent
Friday, 13 October 2006

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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