PPE 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, Politics and Economics interviews.

Anne-Marie Downes

The most important thing I learned during the interview was to give yourself time to think. Nobody minds if you say "I'm going to need a moment to think this through", as long as you don't stay silent for several minutes. It's better than what I kept catching myself doing: starting a sentence without having thought through to the conclusion. I didn't need any prior knowledge in any of my interviews except for things I'd mentioned in my application. Mostly, it was a theoretical situation which the interviewer talked me through, and then had me think through variants of the situation if we change the parameters. For instance, in the two Economics interviews I had, it was a game or a situation involving how to best use your money, in Politics it was the ramifications of a theoretical law, and in Philosophy it was how to behave in certain situations. Some of the questions were a bit strange, but I found myself really enjoying those, because your answer could be a little odd, too, which is fun. I hadn't practised for the interviews at all.

Anne-Marie, Worcester, student from 2015

Pick a number between 0 and 100. You win if you pick the number closest to two thirds of the average number picked. You and 1000 other contestants are given this information. What number do you pick?

Pablo, student from 2015

My interviews were in general a much more positive experience than I was expecting. Despite the scary stories of intimidating tutors who deliberately make you feel uncomfortable, everyone who interviewed me made me feel at ease and I genuinely enjoyed the experience. I never thought I'd actually get in, especially after my interviews, but despite that I felt they'd really helped develop me as a person and I'd learned a lot just by talking with experts about subjects I was fascinated by. If that was, as I expected, where my Oxford experience ended, it would've still been worth it. I had three interviews - one in each of three subjects studied in PPE.

For my Politics interview, I was asked about revolutions. I'd studied a lot of revolutions, particularly the Russian & French Revolutions in GCSE & A-Level History and mentioned them in my personal statement as a topic which interested me, so it was a topic I was comfortable with (though I don't really remember my answers - it was my first interview and I was still very on edge). At the end, I was given one of a selection of random problems: there were six patients all ill with a rare disease and only enough of the cure to treat one of them. To help me decide which one to treat, there was a brief description of each patient - one was a famous sports star, one a leading academic, one a single parent, one a convict, etc. - but I decided that this was a red herring, and that the proper thing to do was cure the one who had the best medical case for getting it - most likely to recover and live the longest or whatever - no matter their background.

For my philosophy interview I was first asked to explain a sentence from my personal statement, where I talked about how I had misunderstood the ethical theory utilitarianism. I basically explained that I had first encountered utilitarianism through the draconian poor laws of the nineteenth century and how it seemed to value efficiency above human lives. I found out that this was just one interpretation of utilitarianism, a theory which is really about maximising happiness, and this improved my overall view of the theory. I was then asked "How many people are in the room?" - I knew this question was coming (everyone else had been asked it too) and gave the smartarse answer: "I don't know, I might be dreaming, you might not be real, etc." This didn't really satisfy the tutor, who pressed me into trying to define knowledge, and prompted me to examine my answers, figure out why they were wrong, and improve them until I basically arrived at a justified true belief - the common definition. This was my least favourite interview, not because it was really bad, but because it was very challenging intellectually and the tutor had a very good poker face and didn't give my any indication of whether I was doing well or badly - so of course I assumed very badly.

For my Economics interview, I was caught off guard by the first question which was "Why do you want to study at Oxford?" I'd prepared an answer but no one else had bothered asking, they'd just gone straight into their topics, so I'd forgotten it. I was also unprepared by being asked to explain what the film Mean Girls was about, after they asked me what we'd gotten up to the night before. I was then given a game theory problem about two competing sandwich shops, their costs, customer bases, and asked to work out how they'd set their prices. While presented as a complex problem, once I'd written everything out on a sheet of paper it quickly boiled down to quite simple arithmetic (I'd been told to prepare for calculus so this was a big relief). Finally, I was given a chart showing the UK's debt, budget deficit, and trade deficit levels over the past few decades and asked to comment on them, and whether I thought that austerity was a good idea. I suggested that while reducing debt was important, harsh cuts could actually worsen budget and trade deficits through harming economic growth, and actually increase debt if done at the wrong time, and this seemed to satisfy them.

Laurens, St Hugh's, student from 2013

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