How to Answer Questions at Your Oxbridge Interview

Evelyn Pike
November 23rd 2023

Whether you’ve already been invited to interview or you’re still waiting to hear, if you have applied to Oxford or Cambridge, you are probably gearing up for the interviews, which begin in December.  

These prestigious universities, revered for their academic excellence, can be a daunting prospect for many aspiring students. But fear not – at William Clarence, London’s leading education consultancy, we offer expert Oxbridge interview training to help you excel and stand out.  

Dr Samina Khan, the Director of Admissions and Outreach at Oxford, emphasises that the interview is primarily an academic conversation. It is likely to revolve around a passage of text, an object, a problem set, or a series of questions related to your chosen course.  

The purpose is not to catch you off guard but to assess how you think about your subject and respond to new information or unfamiliar ideas. Read on to find out how you should approach your interview, as well as a list of example questions, in this article! 

Understanding the Purpose 

Interviews at Oxford and Cambridge are unlike any other experience for most students. The goal is not to recite what you already know, but to showcase your real ability and potential. The interview is an opportunity to demonstrate intellectual flexibility and the ability to apply your knowledge to new problems. 

Many interviews are akin to the undergraduate tutorials that current Oxbridge students attend weekly. They are designed to be challenging, encouraging candidates to use their knowledge and apply critical thinking to new situations. This academic conversation is a bridge between tutors and candidates and a chance for you to shine in your chosen subject. 

Debunking the Myth: Interviews are Not a Trap 

Prospective applicants often worry about being questioned by unfamiliar faces in an unfamiliar place. However, every question from tutors has a purpose. The aim is not to catch you out, but to understand how you think and respond to new ideas. Tutors are not interested in rote memorisation; they want to see your thought process in action. 

Interviews usually build on your academic background or touch on areas mentioned in your personal statement. For subjects like mathematics, expect logic problems. Interviewers might provide you with material to prompt discussion – a text, an item, or an image. The key is to start with obvious observations and build the discussion from there, rather than assuming hidden meanings or overly complicated answers. 

Demonstrating Intellectual Flexibility 

The core of a successful Oxbridge interview is showcasing intellectual flexibility. Tutors want to see your ability to engage with new ideas, think critically, and apply your knowledge creatively.  

If you encounter a question where you don't know the answer, it's better to make an educated guess than to stay silent. The interviewers are more interested in how you think than whether you land on a correct answer. 

Remember, the interview is an opportunity to shine and showcase your true potential. William Clarence, your trusted education consultancy, is here to support you in navigating this crucial step towards your academic future. Approach the interview as an exciting academic conversation, and let your intellectual prowess illuminate the room. 

Example Interview Questions 

Below are some interview questions you may be asked in your interview: 

Natural Sciences, Cambridge: 

  • Why is it a risk that there may be explosions in a flour mill? What stops these explosions from happening in a kitchen? 
  • If we can grow a carrot from a single carrot cell, why can’t we do the same with a human? 
  • What are the problems with the current taxonomy system? 

HSPS, (Human, Social and Political Sciences) Cambridge:  

  • How would you bring a population out of poverty? 
  • How would you eradicate gender inequalities in society? 
  • What makes us human? 

Law, Oxford and Cambridge: 

  • Where does honesty fit into Law? 
  • Define 'at fault'. 
  • How do you think the House of Lords should be reformed? 

Economics, Cambridge:  

  • Is it really possible to measure GDP?  
  • Why might rich countries grow slower than poorer ones? 
  • How would you determine the international market value of a new currency? 
  • Why might governments be worried about low producer competition? Under what conditions may they be beneficial? 

Engineering, Cambridge:  

  • Are bridges more stable on concrete or on soil – why?  
  • Derive the equation that links voltage, charge and capacitance? 
  • How do aeroplanes fly? Why can some fly upside down? 

PPE, Oxford: 

  • Differentiate between power and authority. 
  • Does the welfare state trap people into poverty? 
  • Distinguish between a society, a state and an economy? 

Economics & Management, Oxford: 

  • Would it be feasible to have an economy entirely based on the service sector? 
  • What is the point of privatisation? 
  • Does a balance of trade deficit matter? 

Oxbridge interview training with William Clarence  

If you would like support with your interview this year, including being provided with real interview questions and answers, mock interviews designed to mimic the real interview, and guidance on how to answer the most challenging questions with ease, book an appointment with one of our Oxbridge applications experts and we can get started immediately. 

If you are considering applying to Oxford or Cambridge next year, we advise that you speak with one of our Oxbridge entrance consultants today. The sooner we can begin preparation for this difficult application, the more likely you are to be invited to interview, and for your interview performance to secure you an offer.  

Get in touch with us today to get started today!