Firstly, here is what Oxford say about interviews:
You'll be down in your college for 2-3 days for interview, so have a little fun and don't work too hard (or better still don't work).
Your interview time will consist of:
- Welcoming Talk
- Interviews at other colleges (maybe)
You may also have a small class with some undergraduates on a topic like game theory to give you a taster of Oxford.
The welcoming talk needs no further explanation so let's move to the next section.
Know what's on your course:
- course structure
Many people were asked about what they thought was on your course, and it doesn't reflect to well on you if you don't know. You don't need to know much about the individual topics, but know what topics are in the FIRST YEAR!
Anything that is on your personal statement - know well!
Some interviewers will not talk to you about personal statement things because they want to test you with new idea's. Others will want to make sure you really know what you said you knew and will ask you on your personal statement. It looks very bad if you say you read something and haven't! Read your personal statement before you go in.
Get some practise interviews - from teachers, family friends in academia, or current/graduated PPE students - there are plenty of us around willing to help (I've done several phone interviews for people).
2. Subject Preparation and Reading:
There is no required reading for the interviews, however there are some nice introductions to give one a feel for the topic, as well as some other general reading that is useful.
Read the paper, have a loose idea of what some of the more important words mean (make sure you could answer "What is Democracy/Politics/Oppresion/Tyranny ... etc?" ). A magazine/journal like New Statesman could also be helpful. You should know basic facts such as Leaders of the major economies (G8), the members of the EU and Euro, and a basic understanding of the British parliamentary system (all of this can be got from wikipedia); because of the breadth of even introductory politics, decent starter books are difficult, however:
* Jonathan Wolff - An Introduction to Political Philosophy (2006)
- Does what it says on the tin in easy understandable English.
* Machiavelli - The Prince (1532)
- This easy-to-read short book gives an introduction to international relations (At least the Realist point of view) by one of the most famous political thinkers.
* John Stuart Mill - Utilitarianism (1863)
- This relatively short book is probably the most famous text on the theory of Utilitarianism. Unlike some political philosophy this is a relatively readable book.
Know some of the broad idea's of who said what. They won't mark you down for not knowing, but knowing a little helps. A quick flick through a basic "intro to philosophy book" wouldn't harm your chances.
* Bertrand Russell - The Problems of Philosophy (1912)
- A decent introduction by one of the 20th Centuries's greatest philosophers. A focus on Epistemology (theory of knowledge)
* Thomas Nagel - What Does it All Mean? (2004)
- Another very good introduction to basic philosophy
* Simon Blackburn - Think (1999)
- An introduction into some major philosophical questions from God to justice
READ THE PAPER (broadsheet equivalent), buy that weeks "economist" magazine, or better yet, read the Economist regularly. They will almost certainly ask you about a current or recent issue, so have some understanding of issues such as globalisation, the environment among a host of others. The three books below all gives basic introductions to economics based in the world around us (rather than a ground-up theory book)
* Steven Lansburg - The Armchair Economist (2005)
* Tim Harford - The Undercover Economist (2007)
* Stephen Levitt - Freakonomics (2007)
Also, some blogs to read:
3. Going to Interview and how to dress:
ARRIVE ON TIME
BE ALERT AND AWAKE (no big booze up the night before)
How to dress:
"The best rule to follow is to wear whatever you feel comfortable in. Casual clothes are fine. Most tutors will not dress up for you, so it is not necessary to dress formally. Remember that you are not being assessed on your clothes or haircut! On the other hand, it is inadvisable to look deliberately scruffy; it is hardly an indication of your commitment to the whole process."
Wear what you feel comfortable in, I'd guess over half the people in Pembroke DIDN'T wear a suit, but chose to go for an informal attire. I personally wore jeans and a zippy jumper. Football Kit is NOT advised .... keep it reasonable.
The advantage of casual clothes is it can make the interview feel slightly less like an interrogation and more like a discussion to see if you are the right person for your subject in the college.
Some people like to relax with a pint before interviews, this is nto always a bad idea and can calm nerves, but i wouldn't buy any more than a pint (and leave an hour before drinking and talking) whatever you think your tolerance is! I might also mention that Hobgoblin ale is one of the best ales in the country.
Remember - dont' drink too much! A century of vodka shots is not only likely to mess up your interview, but may also kill you (unless your russian).
4. The Interview:
Politics: You may talk about Recent Issues, Political Theory or Course Structure. Try and show a little interest, try and move the conversation forward. Questions such as "What is Democracy?" is popular.
- Why don't modern democracies go to war with one another?
- What do you think of egalitarianism, are there any flaws in it?
- Why do we vote?
Philosophy: You may be asked on Philosophical Theory, you are unlikely to be be asked on particular philosophers unless you wrote about them in your personal statement. If you don't understand the questions - ASK! Also in philosophy you can ask your tutors rhetorical questions if it helps you answer. Moral philosophy is very popular in exams, there is often no right answer, as long as you make yourself clear and don't contradict yourself.
- A girl has a very painful disease that doesn't allow her to enjoy life. Her parents had known about that before she was born and decided to have her anyway. As a teenager she sues her parents saying that it would have been better if she had never been born. As the judge, what would you do?
- Three men are lined up from a village, one of them is a murderer. The leaders offer you choice, pick one to shoot or do nothing and allow another villager to shoot all three - what do you do?
- Are knowledge and belief the same?
- Do morals come from God? Would you torch a bag of kittens if God told you to?
Economics: You will probably be asked about a recent issue, answer intelligently. You may also be asked a maths/logic problem, think before answering.
- There is a game with two players, You may guess numbers between 1-100. The object is to guess half the opponents number. What do you guess?
- What happens to wages in a country when it opens up to international trade?
- How can health insurers attract low risk customers if they know they're low risk?
- Would you be better to invest in a jewellery shop or a pawn shop?
General Interview Advice:
1. Think before you speak, stop, have a minute of silence to yourself before replying .... obviously don't wait this long every question, but do think, stop for a few seconds before any question.
2. If you don't understand the question, ask them to clarify it for you.
3. They may ask you unanswerable questions, especially in moral philosophy or political theory. There may be no right answer, you can say your not sure yourself what answer you'd give.
4. Move the conversation along, if you see a link up with another topic, then talk about it. Still ensure you answer the original question.
5. Don't be arrogant. The interviewers aren't there to decide if your clever enough, they are there to decide whether they would like to teach you. No-one wants to teach a know-it-all
6. Give longer answers, quick, concise answers are great for the test, but will prolong the feel of the interview. They want a conversation which flows and has direction and they can only do that if you give them opportunities to ask linked questions. At the same time make sure your not just waffling on about nothing.
7. Remember that the interviewer is trying to help get the best out of you.
5. After Interview:
If you feel your interview went badly it often means they just grilled you harder, and can often help your chances of getting a place over someone who found their interview easy but wasn't really grilled.
Every person who got in for PPE at Pembroke (my college) in 2003 interviews, thought they'd messed up the interview. Anyone who said their interview went very well failed to get in..
Don't feel to hard done .... if the interview went badly then you have an excuse to go down the pub (not that you need an excuse), if it went well then you also have an excuse (this should read "After interview - Go down pub" ).
Some colleges will allow you the chance of re-doing your interview if you felt it went badly. I advise you against it, i very nearly did, as did many others because we all felt our interviews went badly, and we all got in. I know one person who did redo her interview and failed to get in. Unless you were actually so ill that you couldn't speak at the time i would advise you against it!
If your interview went well, don't go around saying how easy it was. Many people will feel their interview went very badly and the last thing they want to hear about was how well one individual did!
6. Urban Myths:
"There was an interview where the interviewer asked the student to surprise him, the student set the table on fire and got in!"
"A friend of a friend had an interview and when he got in the interviewer had his back to the student and they conducted the interview like that, and he got in!"
"My mother's best friend's imaginary friend bob's cousin, had an interview where he set a banana on the table, had the interview and when the interviewer asked him about the banana he said "now you'll remember me"!
These are urban myths, they will not happen, the interviewers are there to make your life easy, they want your full potential and they'll only get it in a normal interview.
Interviews at other colleges
You may get one. It doesn't reflect on how well you did, so just because you only got one interview doesn't mean your more or less likely to get in!
Have Fun In Oxford
I used the three days as an opportunity to get very drunk for a few days and had an absolutely great time (it was my 18th on the day i went up). Try out the pubs, if your lucky enough to have a college which keeps its bars open then have fun in that. Look around the city, look around the bar, whatever you do, have fun! However remember that you are there to attempt to gain a place at Oxford - have fun, but don't overdo it.
If you want to contact me
Please e-mail (I don't pick up PM's) - tom [dot] holder [at] pembroke [dot] oxon [dot] org [Avoiding spam]