The Student Room Group

Oxford interviews - based on knowledge?

Hi, I was having a discussion with a group of my friends (some accepted to Oxford this year, others not) and we were discussing the extent to which the interviews mostly center around knowledge, as opposed to 'potential' or aptitude (even those these factors do play a significant role). I had an interview for law where I had to apply the principles of contract law to a theoretical scenario, only problem was, contract law wasn't a field of law which I had come across in my reading which would've put me at an obvious disadvantage to someone who had - somewhat proving that although they explicitly say they're not testing for knowledge; in a way they really are. Successful and non-successful interviewees (especially for law), I was wondering what your thoughts on this would be?
Original post by AlexStricklin12
Hi, I was having a discussion with a group of my friends (some accepted to Oxford this year, others not) and we were discussing the extent to which the interviews mostly center around knowledge, as opposed to 'potential' or aptitude (even those these factors do play a significant role). I had an interview for law where I had to apply the principles of contract law to a theoretical scenario, only problem was, contract law wasn't a field of law which I had come across in my reading which would've put me at an obvious disadvantage to someone who had - somewhat proving that although they explicitly say they're not testing for knowledge; in a way they really are. Successful and non-successful interviewees (especially for law), I was wondering what your thoughts on this would be?

Oh it’s not so much a test of how much you know. What interviewers are interested in is how well you can apply what you know (however much that is) when you are in an unfamiliar situation. That’s what indicates whether you’ll excel in the tutorials at Oxford.

In my interviews for chemistry (I was successful this time round, but unsuccessful the year before), I noticed that some of the questions would revolve around problem solving and seeing whether you could solve unfamiliar post-A level problems using A level knowledge. It didn’t involve an assessment of how well you know post-A level material.
(edited 1 year ago)
Original post by AlexStricklin12
Hi, I was having a discussion with a group of my friends (some accepted to Oxford this year, others not) and we were discussing the extent to which the interviews mostly center around knowledge, as opposed to 'potential' or aptitude (even those these factors do play a significant role). I had an interview for law where I had to apply the principles of contract law to a theoretical scenario, only problem was, contract law wasn't a field of law which I had come across in my reading which would've put me at an obvious disadvantage to someone who had - somewhat proving that although they explicitly say they're not testing for knowledge; in a way they really are. Successful and non-successful interviewees (especially for law), I was wondering what your thoughts on this would be?

I've spoken to a few tutors about this - if you knew everything before your degree, you wouldn't need to do the degree. They're trying to see how you can adapt to unfamiliar material, and how you approach problems. My history interview involved talking about a source I hadn't seen before. The tutor asked if I knew what a specific term meant, I said no, and he just explained it to me and asked me to apply it to the source. He didn't expect me to know it, he just wanted to see how I would apply an unfamiliar concept to an unfamiliar source.
I'm no lawyer/law student, but I doubt many people your age would have read (or at least, read and properly understood) about contract law. Many law applicants don't study Law A Level (in fact, I believe it's somewhat discouraged, isn't it, to study it at A Level because it's not representative of what/how one studies Oxford law?). I imagine even if someone was aware of contract law, that the interviewers would have chosen contract law because it would be obvious from how people answer, as to who already knows a bit about it and who didn't - and the interviewers would factor that into how they view the applicant.

Like others here have suggested, the idea would have been to see how you think on your feet/deal with new information which you have little knowledge about. As the poster above says, if you knew most things/everything beforehand, there'd be no point of you studying for the degree!

In my case at least, I was accepted for an Oxford place (over lots of candidates who were far more knowledgeable/had better cultural capital than me) purely based on potential. I knew jack **** about Western classical music at the interview and it probably showed, but they could see the raw potential :biggrin:
Original post by AlexStricklin12
Hi, I was having a discussion with a group of my friends (some accepted to Oxford this year, others not) and we were discussing the extent to which the interviews mostly center around knowledge, as opposed to 'potential' or aptitude (even those these factors do play a significant role). I had an interview for law where I had to apply the principles of contract law to a theoretical scenario, only problem was, contract law wasn't a field of law which I had come across in my reading which would've put me at an obvious disadvantage to someone who had - somewhat proving that although they explicitly say they're not testing for knowledge; in a way they really are. Successful and non-successful interviewees (especially for law), I was wondering what your thoughts on this would be?

I'm a former Law student.

Not sure what format your college had for interviews, but my college had applicants read case extracts, and one of them was on contract law. We were asked some questions about the case (e.g. who did the judges decide in favour of? Why did they decide in favour of X?), and given various fact patterns to apply the legal principles in said case (e.g. I offer to buy your car for $X. You counter-offer to sell it for $Y. Is there a contract? Why or why not?). The tutors then modify the fact patterns to see if candidates can problem solve (e.g. I offer to buy your car for $X. You say you'll think about it. Two hours later you slip a note under my door saying "I agree to sell you my car for $X").

I didn't actually have to know anything about that particular case or even general contract law principles - in fact I had zero substantive legal knowledge when I interviewed and I had not read any of the cases I was interviewed on previously (I had to do three interviews because I bombed my second one, and the cases were from three completely different areas of law). The substantive knowledge itself can be taught (or self-learnt), so the tutors are mostly interested to see how quickly one can absorb and apply information. Everything that I needed to know to answer the questions could be found in the case extract itself, and it was just a question of understanding and applying. This is intended to be an approximation of a tutorial, where you will be presented with new information/ views and forced to reconsider/ refine/ defend your stance continually.

Original post by The_Lonely_Goatherd
I'm no lawyer/law student, but I doubt many people your age would have read (or at least, read and properly understood) about contract law. Many law applicants don't study Law A Level (in fact, I believe it's somewhat discouraged, isn't it, to study it at A Level because it's not representative of what/how one studies Oxford law?). I imagine even if someone was aware of contract law, that the interviewers would have chosen contract law because it would be obvious from how people answer, as to who already knows a bit about it and who didn't - and the interviewers would factor that into how they view the applicant.

Like others here have suggested, the idea would have been to see how you think on your feet/deal with new information which you have little knowledge about. As the poster above says, if you knew most things/everything beforehand, there'd be no point of you studying for the degree!

This is pretty spot on - I actually asked my tutors about this years ago and they are very careful to select areas of law which are more accessible and intelligible to laymen for interviews. Contract law makes sense in an interview setting to me because it's something that most people can relate to and the basics are fairly straightforward (as compared to something like Trusts, which I found to be mind-bogglingly hard at times).
Reply 5
I had my technical interview the other day, for a master programme offered by the Physics/Maths department at Oxford.
Same, I was expecting an interview that would test my ability/potential to learn and study complex/new problems. Instead, they gave me two very basic textbook-type questions that in my opinion are high-school level at best. I was so shocked that I couldn’t quite mouth an answer on the first one, and somehow managed to answer the second one (poorly). Most likely I won’t receive an offer, but this was a horrifying experience which contradicts to everything that I’ve read/heard about interviews at Oxford. Ugh.



Original post by AlexStricklin12
Hi, I was having a discussion with a group of my friends (some accepted to Oxford this year, others not) and we were discussing the extent to which the interviews mostly center around knowledge, as opposed to 'potential' or aptitude (even those these factors do play a significant role). I had an interview for law where I had to apply the principles of contract law to a theoretical scenario, only problem was, contract law wasn't a field of law which I had come across in my reading which would've put me at an obvious disadvantage to someone who had - somewhat proving that although they explicitly say they're not testing for knowledge; in a way they really are. Successful and non-successful interviewees (especially for law), I was wondering what your thoughts on this would be?

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