Oxbridge Interview Technique Guide 5: Science Questions

What to Expect

Along with questions focusing on the university in general, the college to which you are applying, and your motivation for and understanding of Medicine, you will need to be prepared for questions on the sciences in general as well. This is in stark contrast to other universities in the UK, which will (almost) never ask such questions in interviews in this day and age.

You should expect questions primarily focused on Chemistry and Biology, although questions on Physics are also possible. Whilst the questions may overlap significantly with Medicine or even fall under the umbrella of Medicine, they may also fall entirely outside the remit of Medicine. You must therefore be prepared for this, and not be surprised if you are posed difficult questions that go deep into the A Level syllabus or venture outside of it entirely.

Questions are often rather abstract, and rely on a mixture of critical thinking and knowledge. The admissions tutors’ goal here is to see your potential as an Oxbridge student – do you have both a deep understanding of your subject and an ability to think on your feet? Alongside such questions, you might face much more routine questions; these have been known to include questions on the generation of action potentials, the function of the liver, the anatomy and functionality of the heart, or labelling anatomical diagrams (featuring either humans or animals).

5 Example Questions

Describe what happens when a neuron is excited and an action potential follows.
How can a specific animal tell the difference between spring and autumn?
What problems do fish face underwater?
How much of human behaviour is genetically determined?
How does a glow-stick work?

Recommended Technique & Steps

You should have prepared in great detail for the interview, and if you have secured an Oxbridge interview it is likely that your knowledge of the sciences will be very strong. Your task is therefore to filter through your knowledge, bring in additional knowledge that you have gained from additional reading, and then apply this knowledge.

i) Your first step should be to contextualise the question and try to consider what knowledge you can apply to it. Whilst it may seem obvious, ensure that you consider what subject area you are being asked about. Some questions can be very left-field and therefore might throw you entirely if you do not make a real effort to understand them.
ii) You should now try to apply your A Level knowledge to the question as far as you can. Do not be concerned if this knowledge barely impacts the question and leaves it largely unanswered.
iii) You next need to bring in any additional knowledge that you have gained from your general reading. Try to apply your wider knowledge as far as possible. You should be looking to advertise yourself as someone whose interest in science goes far beyond the typical syllabus.
iv) Use logic and common sense to develop an answer, filling in gaps in your knowledge with plausible theories as far as possible. Try to involve the admissions tutor who is interviewing you in this process. Avoid being dogmatic and show that you are open to new ideas and willing to consider new theories.

Implemented Example: How does a glow stick work?

There are two approaches here. Firstly, you might actually already know how a glow stick works in some detail – after all, it is a relatively well-known fact. If so, then you would explain it as follows.

Glow sticks emit light when the two chemicals inside them are mixed. They have an ampule within them that contains one solution – when the glow stick is bent, this ampoule shatters, bringing the solution within the ampoule into contact with the chemical in the rest of the stick. The reaction is usually catalysed by a base, typically sodium salicylate. The tube must be shaken after it is bent in order to thoroughly mix the solutions. There is typically also a suitable dye used. The chemical in the outer tube is typically diphenyl oxalate, (as well as the dye and catalyst) and the chemical in the glass vial is hydrogen peroxide.

The chemical reaction yields two moles of phenol and one mole peroxyacid ester, which decomposes spontaneously to carbon dioxide. This excites the dye, which in turn releases photons. The reaction therefore releases energy as light rather than heat.

If you do not know the answer, then you would explain as follows:

I am aware that a glow stick generates light when one applies a mechanical force to it and shatters part of it. I would therefore theorise that the glow stick contains one chemical in the ‘stick’ itself and perhaps another in a container within the stick. I assume that the inner container breaks when you flex the stick, and that as a result the two chemicals mix. I would assume that the two chemicals are highly reactive together. There must be a dye used as well as the stick is typically coloured. I would be interested in knowing how the reaction releases light rather than heat, and assume it is a result of the energy being released acting on the dye. 

Scroll to Top

Intensive BMAT Course

BMAT Timetable

The BMAT Course