Oxbridge interview questions are the stuff of legend. And indeed some of them are legend – as in they didn’t happen. However many very, very bizarre Oxford and Cambridge interview questions have been asked. Can you tell the real ones from the myths?
As if applying to Oxbridge wasn’t tough enough, those who manage to make the interview round face a further hurdle; weird and wonderful lateral thinking questions, designed to see how the candidate’s mind works when facing a problem under pressure.
But with the internet filled with rumours about Oxbridge interviews, has our perception of just how bizarre they are become distorted? See if you can tell which of the following are genuine questions asked in Oxbridge interviews, and which are pure fiction.
- Why do many animals have stripes?
- Give me an example of a risk
- How do pirates divide their treasure?
- How do you spell Mboscodictiosaur?
- How would you poison someone without the police finding out?
- Roses are red violets are blue. Why?
- Would you rather be a seedless or “non-seedless” grapefruit?
- Who would win a fight between Batman and Superman?
- Do you think you’re clever?
- [Just silence – your interviewer says absolutely nothing to you when you enter the room, just continues to read the paper!]
- Would it matter if tigers became extinct?
- Is $4 for a gingerbread latte at Starbucks really fair trade?
1. Why do many animals have stripes?
This one was really asked to applicants to the biological sciences degree at Oxford University. The interviewer says there is no right answer, but he was looking for students to speculate on possible reasons.
2. Give me an example of a risk
This is one’s a myth, which is a shame. Because the rumour goes that a candidate wrote down ‘This.’ under the question and nothing else – and then got a place. Still you know what to do if you ever get this questions in an exam….if you’ve got the nerve!
3. How do pirates divide their treasure?
It might sound like the setup to dodgy cracker joke, but this one is also a genuine question, posed to would-be computer science undergraduates at Oxford. The full question includes a logical maths problem, designed to see if the student can take directions and break problems down into smaller sections.
4. How do you spell Mboscodictiosaur?
As important as spelling skills and may be to English students at Cambridge, or dinosaur knowledge to archeology students at Oxford, this question is actually from the sitcom Friends, during Ross’s interview for a research grant.
5. How would you poison someone without the police finding out?
There is no doubt this one is hard to answer without sounding like someone who has given the idea of being a serial killer a lot of thought, but it was really asked to medicine degree applicants at the University of Cambridge.
6. Roses are red violets are blue. Why?
No need to blush, your interviewer isn’t hitting on you, and actually, the question is totally fictional. However, biological science interviews at Oxford were asked: ‘Ladybirds are red. So are strawberries. Why?’. The interviewer says that because red can signal either ‘don’t eat me’ or ‘eat me’ to consumers, the question is about how applicants attempt to resolve paradox.
7. Would you rather be a seedless or “non-seedless” grapefruit?
It’s a question we’ve all asked ourselves many times when gracing the aisles of the supermarket, right? Well, probably not, actually. But this childish dilemma was really posed to medicine candidates at Cambridge university.
8. Who would win a fight between Batman and Superman?
A toughie, but I’m afraid your superhero knowledge won’t be enough to get you into Oxbridge – this one has never been asked in Cambridge or Oxford interviews (although one interviewee was asked this question at Stanford University).
9. Do you think you’re clever?
Surprising, confrontational and slightly rude, this one seems too surreal to have featured in a real interview. And yet, wannabe law students at the University of Cambridge have had to field this in the past. Objection!
10. [Just silence – your interviewer says absolutely nothing to you when you enter the room, just continues to read the paper!]
This may have happened, perhaps one or two of the older dons have fallen asleep once or twice waiting for a interview candidate to come to their room, or perhaps not heard them enter. However it isn’t true that this was an official interview question or tactic. The myth goes that one candidate after sitting there for a while took out a lighter and set fire to the newspaper that the interviewer was so absorbed in. And, yes, you’ve guessed it, they got a place.
11. Would it matter if tigers became extinct?
English students at Oxford have been asked this in the past, though the interview points out that expert knowledge of tigers is not what they are looking for: “Most applicants would instinctively answer ‘Yes…’, but it is the ‘because….’ that interests me, and can help to distinguish critical thinkers,” they say.
12. Is $4 for a gingerbread latte at Starbucks really fair trade?
It certainly doesn’t feel that way! This one isn’t a real question, but geography applicants at Cambridge might find themselves facing a similar one: Are fair trade bananas really fair? John Farndon take this question on in his book ‘So, you think you’re clever?’, and concludes, over a few hundred words, that they are – sort of!