Philosophy and Modern Languages Interviews

The best place to start is Oxford's official information on preparing for interviews. But after you've looked there, read on to hear some students talk about their Philosophy and Modern Languages interviews.


In the philosophy interview, I was asked to explain and break down Meno's paradox (as formulated by Socrates), never having encountered it before. (You can find it explained on the internet.) I deduced the fallacy in the argument just from going through it using examples and definitions with the tutor.

I was also asked to explain how I felt that my veganism influenced how I thought about morality and ethics. Then, how to possibly quantify the relationship of gendered articles and gender specific words with sexism in any given culture. These were all questions that stemmed directly from my personal statement. We didn't speak much about the reading I had put down, she just noted that I had read a lot!

In Spanish, I was asked to critique a piece of poetry in English - none of the candidates guessed right as to what it's meaning was, but my exploration of it was sufficient enough I suppose! We also had some basic translation and discussion. Having lived in Spain during a gap year, I was very comfortable and would definitely recommend traveling, watching Spanish-language films and talking to people in Spanish as many other candidates seemed really thrown off by that aspect of the interview!

Miriam, Somerville, student from 2015
Dannie Green

I had two interviews: the first for French and the second for Philosophy.

For my French interview, I was asked to read through a poem ("Le Dormeur du Val" by Rimbaud) for half an hour beforehand, and I chose to quickly look up the new vocabulary in the dictionary. It was a good idea to check the vocab as I was later asked to translate the poem! Being quite mathematical, my instinct was to find the most frequently occurring themes and images running through the poem, and I quickly invented a key to keep track of these (I noted the key by the side of the poem). The interview itself began with the focus on the poem; the three tutors asked me questions about my reaction to the text, the first of which concerned what I thought was happening in the poem itself. The conversation which ensued was very natural, with each new thing we discussed linked to the previous subject matter, and even though the questions did become increasingly challenging I was not aware of this until afterwards when I looked back on what happened. Since I was applying for French and Philosophy, some of the questions took a philosophical turn later on, particularly when we came to my personal statement. Despite having written a bunch of stuff about my extra reading and studying, the question which I was asked actually picked up on the fact that I said that that French is a 'beautiful' language: "So Danielle, do you think that beauty is an adequate criterion for judging whether or not we should learn French?" followed by, "Which Philosophers would agree with your opinion?" In truth, I found the whole interview to be brilliant fun - the tutors seem genuinely interested in hearing what I had to say and I felt privileged to have a proper go at answering even the toughest questions.

My Philsophy interview was just as great an experience - there was no preparation for this one, but we managed to enter a fairly complex debate about ethics at the later stages. This was a result of my response to the philosophy though-experiment proposed to me, which presented a problem like this... 'A potential mother goes to the doctors' surgery, and is told that she can choose to have her baby either this winter or next summer. If she has the baby this winter, the baby will live a very happy life but will only live to the age of 20. If she has the baby next summer, the baby's life will be fairly happy again, but he will live until the age of 80. Which should she choose?'

I said that it wasn't up to the mother to decide and that she should pick at random because I could see that if she chose one or the other of the babies there would be lots of problems involving value. I made this decision reasonably quickly but still had time to think - there was no need to rush! My answer led us to talk about absolutism, and one of my interviewers asked if I could think of a potential situation in which some action might be seen as 'wrong anyway' even if it made people happy or well. I said the first thing which popped into my head: I work in a bakery, and at the end of the day we put all of the stale bread out the back ready to throw away. If someone stole this bread to feed themselves because they were starving, some might maintain that this action is wrong because "stealing" is an always wrong no matter what.

Overall, I think that the most important piece of advice in terms of interviews is to enjoy yourself - you don't need to stay in your room revising, as you'll never guess exactly what will come up. Plus, tutors want to see your brain in action, not picking out rehearsed answers! It's much better to relax by meeting other candidates and current students (and, you know, visiting the ice cream parlour G&D's or Ben's Cookies if you happen to be passing by).

Dannie, St John's, student from 2015

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