Oxbridge Interview Technique Guide 2: Critical Thinking Questions

What to Expect

These are perhaps the most well-known of the Oxbridge interview questions. They are designed to be almost impossible to predict (although there will be some that are favourites of admissions tutors and therefore reused) and instead rely on your ability to use logic and reasoning.

Whilst these questions are supposedly becoming less common, you should still expect them to feature to some degree. Oxbridge places a huge emphasis on students’ ability to think laterally, and on their innate academic and intellectual ability.

You should not expect the questions to focus only on Medicine, nor should you expect that they won’t involve any medical knowledge at all – you are likely to find that some medical and scientific knowledge will need to be combined with your logical and common sense approaches.

Do not be thrown these questions – you will be expected and encouraged to discuss them with the admissions tutor, so you would do well to see them as an opportunity to present a rational process and to then work on this with the tutor (as you would in a tutorial at Oxbridge).

5 Example Questions

How would you find out the weight of all the blood in a living person?
What percentage of the world’s water is contained in a cow?
Why are big, fierce animals so rare?
How would you go about learning 50 new words a day?
What would an alien species most need to know in order to take over our planet?

Recommended Technique & Steps

There can be no one technique that will work perfectly for all questions of this type. However, you might divide them (roughly) into ‘calculation questions’ and ‘logic questions.’

Calculation questions should be approached through:
i) Defining what must be calculated
ii) Providing an estimate that you can use for each part of the calculation
iii) Providing the rationale for this estimation
iv) Working through the calculation or describing to the admissions tutor how you would go about doing this

Logic questions might be approached as follows:
i) Defining the question and its requirements
ii) Presenting a structure through which you can answer
iii) Populating or filling-in this structure with information – either knowledge or theories 

Implemented Example: What would an alien species most need to know in order to take over our planet?

This is a logic-type question: there is no calculation to be done. We should therefore take the approach of defining the question, then presenting a structure through which we might answer, then finally we will populate this structure with relevant information as far as we can.

To define the question, we need to consider what ‘taking over’ the planet might consist of, as well as what sort of things a species might ‘need’ to know. It would be safe to assume that the species is unlikely to be able to take over the entire planet without some form of human resistance – i.e. that it cannot take over the entire planet diplomatically. Taking over the planet is therefore likely to be an exercise of war, to some extent at least. ‘Need to know’ information I would define as hazards that are likely to get in the way of the species.

I would then structure the species’ knowledge needs as follows:
i) Human hazards
ii) General hazards
iii) Other information

Into the first category, I would highlight that the species needs to be aware that we have nuclear weapons. I doubt an interplanetary species would be concerned by the rest of the human arsenal of weaponry, but would assume that nuclear weapons could be a concern even for very advanced theoretical alien species. The species would need to be aware that humans might act irrationally or without logic in defence of the planet.

Into the second category, the species would need to know that there are a vast number of circulating diseases that the invading species might have no immunity to – the issue that of course fells the invading species in HG Wells’ War of the Worlds. It would also need to be aware of the pressure on our planet, and the makeup of our atmosphere – both of which may be different to their own. It might also need to be aware of the temperature and levels of UV, as these too could be radically different to levels in their homeland.

Considering other information, I would expect the species to need to know that humans are the most advanced species on the planet, and that we are land-based.

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