Are you clever enough to pass the Oxford interview questions?

These are the sample questions for each subject

Oxford interviews are notoriously difficult. There are many myths surrounding them and you’ll always hear about that one time a student got offered a place for walking out of his interview, all because the professor asked him: “What is courage?”

In reality, the interviews aren’t like that and the university isn’t looking to trick anyone either.

The questions are perceived to be tough as they won’t always have a right or wrong answer. The interviewers want to see how you think and aim to test your critical thinking skills.

Every year Oxford University releases sample questions to give candidates a taste of what their interviews will be like.

See if you’re actually clever enough to answer them:

Biological sciences

– Why do lions have manes?

– Would it matter if tigers became extinct?

– Ladybirds are red. So are strawberries. Why?

– Is it easier for organisms to live in the sea or on land?

– If you could save either the rainforests or the coral reefs, which would you choose?

– Here’s a cactus. Tell me about it.

Biomedical Sciences

– Why is sugar in your urine a good indicator that you might have diabetes?

– Why do a cat’s eyes appear to ‘glow’ in the dark?


– Why do you think Dido kills herself in Aeneid Book IV? Couldn’t she just have gone back to her old life?

Computer Science

– How do pirates divide their treasure?

A group of 7 pirates has 100 gold coins. They have to decide amongst themselves how to divide the treasure, but must abide by pirate rules:

The most senior pirate proposes the division.

All of the pirates (including the most senior) vote on the division. If half or more vote for the division, it stands. If less than half vote for it, they throw the most senior pirate overboard and start again.

The pirates are perfectly logical, and entirely ruthless (only caring about maximizing their own share of the gold).

So, what division should the most senior pirate suggest to the other six?

Economics and Management

– Do bankers deserve the pay they receive? Should government limit it?


– Rest a 30cm ruler on one finger from each hand at each end of the ruler. What happens when you bring your fingers together?

– How would you design a gravity dam for holding back water?

English Literature

– JK Rowling has just published a book for adults after the hugely successful Harry Potter series. In what ways do you think that writing for children is different to writing for adults?

– Why do you think an English student might be interested in the fact that Coronation Street has been running for 50 years?


– If I were to visit the area where you live, what would I be interested in?


– Is violence always political? Does ‘political’ mean something different in different contexts?

– What would a historian find interesting about the place where you live?

– Imagine we had no records about the past at all, except everything to do with sport – how much of the past could we find out about?

– Which person (or sort of person) in the past would you most like to interview, and why?


– Should it be illegal to run a red light in the middle of the night on an empty road?

– What does it mean for someone to ‘take’ another’s car?

– If the punishment for parking on double yellow lines were death, and therefore nobody did it, would that be a just and effective law?

Materials Science

– How hot does the air have to be in a hot air balloon if I wanted to use it to lift an elephant?


– How many ways are there to cover a 2 x n rectangular grid with 2 x 1 tiles?

– Imagine a ladder leaning against a vertical wall with its feet on the ground. The middle rung of the ladder has been painted a different colour on the side, so that we can see it when we look at the ladder from the side on. What shape does that middle rung trace out as the ladder falls to the floor?

Modern languages

– What do we lose if we only read a foreign work of literature in translation?

– What makes a novel or play ‘political’?

– Should poetry be difficult to understand?

– What is language?

– What makes a short story different from a novel?

– In a world where English is a global language, why learn French?


– Put the following countries in order of their crude mortality rate: Bangladesh, Japan, South Africa, UK.


– If you could invent a new musical instrument, what kind of sound would it make?

Oriental Studies

– Can archaeology ‘prove’ or ‘disprove’ the Bible?


– Why is income per head between 50 and 100 times larger in the United States than in countries such as Burundi and Malawi?

– When I was at school in the 1970s, there was talk of a pensions crisis that would one day hit. The talk persisted in the 1980s, and the 1990s – and then there was a pensions crisis, and little had been done politically to prepare us for it. Is there a fault with the British political system that means we can’t sensibly address serious medium and long-term problems when they are identified?

– I’m having trouble with the meaning of three words: Lie, Deceive, Mislead. They seem to mean something a bit similar, but not exactly the same. Help me to sort them out from each other.


– Reflect on individual responsibility and the morality of air travel.

– What exactly do you think is involved in blaming someone?


– A ball, initially at rest, is pushed upwards by a constant force for a certain amount of time. Sketch the velocity of the ball as a function of time, from start to when it hits the ground.


– A large study appears to show that older siblings consistently score higher than younger siblings on IQ tests. Why would this be?

– Imagine that 100 people each put £1 into a pot for a prize that will go to the winner of a simple game. Each person has to choose a number between 0 and 100. The prize goes to the person whose number is closest to 2/3 of the average of all of the numbers chosen. What number will you choose, and why?

– An experiment appears to suggest Welsh speakers are worse at remembering phone numbers than English speakers. Why?

– Why do human beings have two eyes?

– What is ‘normal’ for humans?

– Should interviews be used for selection?

Theology and Religion

– Is someone who risks their own life (and those of others) in extreme sports or endurance activities a hero or a fool?