Hardest Oxford Interview Questions and Answers
Oxbridge Application Specialists
Here, we present ten of the most challenging interview questions for Oxford applicants. More specific questions can be found in our Oxbridge Interview Question Bank.
Oxford Interview: Left-Field Questions
Is it more important to be respected or liked?
This is a nuanced question that doesn’t have one answer – rather it depends on what you understand of each word, and the situations that you consider to be most important. If you were to assume a leadership role in which you commanded a large number of people – for example, imagine a military leadership position – then being respected would be paramount. Without respect your orders would not be followed. Even if those that served under you did not like you, they could still respect you, and thus be safer and more efficient. Meanwhile in an everyday situation it’s more likely that being ‘liked’ would indicate that one is friendly and kind to others – meaning that this would be more important for closer situations or in situations outside of professional life.
When is it acceptable to lie?
We have a term for an acceptable lie – a white lie. We might lie to protect others, or to protect their feelings. For example, we could lie to save someone else from a dangerous situation – and few would debate that lying in such a position is acceptable. Equally, we could lie to save someone from feeling bad – perhaps we might wish to spare their feelings and let someone else tell them something, for example.
Does one have to be charitable to be a good person?
We’d first need to define charitable. Charitable means generous and willing to give to others. However, it does not necessarily mean that one has to actually give to charity specifically. Typically, we would see altruism as part of being a good person. However, we might argue that some don’t give generously, yet are still good people with a good impact – perhaps a scientist who devotes themselves to a project that benefits mankind with a singular focus, yet is not generous with either their money or time otherwise. We might also consider that one can be generous and charitable with things other than money – we might give knowledge, for example, and this could have just as powerful an impact.
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Oxford Interview: Situational Judgement
What would you do if another student revealed that they were selling drugs to finance their studies?
Here I would need to consider both sides of the equation – on the one hand drugs are illegal and therefore taking them cannot be condoned; additionally their impact can be very harmful. However, I would also want to think further about how they are funding their studies. Perhaps they could find a part-time job to help, or seek financial aid from the university. That said, selling drugs at university is a serious issue, and as such I would seek help from a tutor that I trusted to better understand how to proceed.
What would you do if you found that one of your college friends had been stealing regularly?
I’d first wish to speak to them and try to understand their motivation. This could be due to a simple desire to break the law, or a desire to steal expensive items otherwise unobtainable. Perhaps though it could be due to a lack of money. Either way, it would be worth speaking to them and seeking to learn more about the background before deciding on the exact course of action to take. No matter the nature of the thieving, I would request that they speak to a tutor about their actions – with the proviso that I would report them myself if they did not. I would check that this had been done to ensure rules were upheld.
How would you approach a situation in which you found that one of your friends was cyberbullying another student?
This would be inexcusable behaviour from my friend – a lack of respect towards someone else and their feelings. I would take my friend aside and explain to them the impact of their actions, and outline that they ought to apologise to the other student, and do so with sincerity. I would then encourage them to look into cyberbullying and its impact. If they failed to take positive action I would speak to a tutor about the situation.
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Oxford Interview: Ethics
What is the trolley problem? What would you do?
The trolley problem is a philosophical and ethical question in which one must decide whether to divert a trolley, or train, killing one person but saving five. This question is a battle between a utilitarian approach and a deontological one. If we take the utilitarian approach then the best action is the one that achieves the greatest good for the greatest number – which would involve taking a direct action to kill an individual. Meanwhile the deontological approach would assert that some actions are wrong despite their positive consequences. Personally I would tend toward the deontological approach, although of course this question doesn’t have a ‘correct’ answer.
Is pursuing happiness ethical?
This simply depends on one’s definition of ‘ethical.’ To pursue happiness would be hedonism – which is in and of itself a way of defining ethical actions. Hedonism asserts that an ethical action is one in which we maximise pleasure – the pursuit of happiness, or pleasure, is ‘good’. However, we must consider what ‘happiness’ is – which is another discussion. We might take the Epicurean view that pleasure is the absence of pain, for example – a simple approach which would contrast with what we typically think of as hedonism.
Is morality subjective or objective?
I would assert that morality is objective. Think about some particular actions that we would consider wrong – killing an innocent person for example. We would consider that action immoral, and we would expect any other reasonable person to. This is because it is a moral imperative – we know that it is wrong, without the law having to tell us that it is wrong. Here we see the difference between a moral and a rule that is society-dependent. However, we could counter this by taking a different example – like slavery – which would have been seen as entirely acceptable in a different society, but today is evidently seen as reprehensible. This blurs the lines and could fuel the debate that morality is subjective.
Could you commit an act of evil yet be seen as a good person?
One could easily be seen as good yet commit evil acts. Whilst some moral laws may be seen as objective, certain societies might idealise acts that are in reality evil. Many of the worst parts of history have been committed by a society that would have seen their actions as good – and would have seen those committing what we might consider evil acts as heroes, or at the very least as ‘good people.’ We need to consider the lens through which we see both good and evil.
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