Oxbridge Interview Technique Guide 1: General Interest Questions

What to Expect

Similar to the infamous problem-solving questions that Oxbridge applicants dread, these questions are designed to sort the average student from the exceptional. They aren’t designed to probe your knowledge of the sciences, your interest in Medicine, or your aptitude in critical thinking – rather, these questions are a chance for you to show your personality and just how well-rounded you are. This means well-rounded in an academic sense as much as it does in a non-academic and personal sense.

You should therefore expect very general questions. They ought to act as a chance for you and the tutor to engage on a range of issues, and for the tutor to feel that they have learnt about you as a person. Typically, they might focus on your knowledge of literature, the arts, or history as well as your knowledge of Medicine, or your ability to define and understand elements of your personality and your beliefs.

There are no wrong answers here, and the right answers will simply show a variety of reading and experience, and an ability to consider this learning and communicate it.

5 Example Questions

Who would you invite to a dinner if you could invite any two people from history?
Do you like ambiguity?
How would your friends describe you?
What are you reading at the moment?
How would you define courage?

Recommended Technique & Steps

In order to succeed in a ‘general interest’ type question, you should follow a simple series of steps:

i) Consider the goal of the question
ii) Consider personal learning or life experience that you might be able to bring to bear on the question
iii) Consider your general knowledge of history, literature, art, and the sciences to see what more you can add to the above
iv) Provide the tutor with a considered answer that shows a clear awareness of why the question is being asked, and brings in the learning from both ii) and iii) above.
v) Ensure that you pitch your answer in such a way that the tutor can engage further and that you show a willingness to engage further on the issue. 

Implemented Example: How would you define courage?

i) What is the goal of the question? → We need to define courage, and provide an expansive answer that shows our personality and understanding of the word and concept.
ii) We should consider tales or experience from our own life that could be relevant
iii) We should add additional depth to our answer with background knowledge
iv) Our answer should be compelling and combine the above elements. We should feel that the answer is succinct enough that it can act as a definition, whilst providing enough detail that the tutor can see our personality
v) We should then remain ready to engage further

Courage is synonymous with bravery. One who is courageous is willing to face adversity – that means facing dangerous situations and going into and through those situations. These are situations that will typically involve danger, or pain – be it in the most obvious sense or in a much more subtle or nuanced sense. An example of courage that stands out to me from my own life is seeing my best friend at school deal with their bulimia – this is far removed from a classic definition of bravery, but the duress that they were under at the time and the manner with which they dealt with the situation was bold and inspiring to me, and to others that faced similar problems at my school. We should also consider classic definitions of bravery; these are often laced with futility or desperation, being war-stories or involving adventure far removed from today’s world. In this context, I would consider something like the Charge of the Light Brigade as an example of old-fashioned courage; facing hopeless odds with bravery and determination. Courage can also involve standing up for one’s beliefs – be that the Suffragettes winning the vote for women or Mandela dismantling Apartheid in South Africa – and this definition is important too when considering Medicine, where we may need to defend our standpoint and ensure that logical and empathetic viewpoints are held to. I would consider that a doctor needs many forms of courage to succeed – and that this covers both some of the more old-fashioned and some of the more novel definitions of the word.

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