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Oxford PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) Students and Applicants

*Last Updated - 19th August 2010*
* Your Guide to PPE at Oxford University *
Everything you wanted to know about PPE but were afraid to ask

1. Should You Apply?
2. The PPE course
3. Personal Statements and PPE Test
4. Interviews
5. Disclaimer and Final Notes
6. PPE 1st Year Reading List
7. My Personal Statement

1. Should You Apply

First, here is what Oxford say about the PPE Course

What is PPE?
PPE brings together some of the most important approaches to understanding the social and human world around us, developing skills useful for a whole range of future careers and activities.
Studying philosophy, you will develop analytical rigour and the ability to criticise and reason logically, and be able to apply these skills to questions concerning how we acquire knowledge or how we make ethical judgements.

The study of politics will acquaint you with the institutions that make crucial decisions which govern our lives as members of nations, states and other political groupings. You will also learn how to evaluate the choices which political systems must regularly make, and about the processes that maintain or change those systems.

An appreciation of economics and the general workings of the economy has become increasingly necessary to make sense of governmental policy-making, the conduct of businesses and the enormous changes in economic systems occurring throughout the world. Economics focuses both on individual units and on the aggregate behaviour of groups, societies and international markets.

Does this sound interesting? If not turn around now - This may be one of Oxford University's most prolific courses, with some fo the best job prospects in the country (Many Prime Ministers have had PPE) BUT do not do it unless you are truly interested. Those who do the course for the job prospects tend to hate it, and through hating it tend to come out with a substandard degree. This course will take up a large portion of three years of your life so make sure you know what it's all about before you apply.

Why PPE in Oxford?
Oxford University's PPE course is generally thought to be superior to that of other universities offering the course. Oxford does not offer any of Philosophy, Politics and Economics as single subjects, but instead they are offered in such courses as PPE, Economics and Management (E&M), Modern History and Economics (MHE), Philosophy and Theology and Modern History and Politics (MHP) to name a few.
The Guardian 2009 league tables put Oxford as the top ranking university for Politics, Philosophy and Economics respectively. []. Oxford University has one of the five Copyright libraries in the UK meaning it has a copy of every research paper published in the UK. PPEists spend most fo their time in the Social Sciences Library, The Philosophy Faculty Library and the Bodleian Library. The 2007 THES World League Tables puts Oxford joint-2nd, after Harvard, and on par with Cambridge and Yale.
With Oxford you also gain from the one on one tutorial system that is relatively unique in the British education system (Cambridge and Durham university also teach through the tutorial system).

Despite it's facilities, Oxford University is not for everyone and there are many other universities which offer the course, some of these are:
University of East Anglia (UEA), University of Durham [course code VL52), University of Essex, University of Hull, Lancaster University, University of Stirling and University of York (all offering PPE courses in 2009), all (except Durham) use UCAS course code "L0V0".

So is Oxford right for me?
Well here is the yes no questions...
Would I be happy in a medium sized city? Yes/No
Would I be happy being taught in 1on1 or 2on1* tutorials? Yes/No
Would I be happy writing two 2000 word essays a week? Yes/No
*2 maybe even 3 students to 1 tutor
If the answer to any of the above is no then i strongly suggest you don't apply. Here are some other questions to think about (although answering no isn't such a bad thing as with above):
Could i cope with the possibility of being average?
- You may have been top in your school or 6th form, but PPE at Oxford brings about some of the brightest students in this country and others
Could I cope with the possibility of rejection?
- The success rate for applicants is 18.4% ( and all most of those applying are very bright, can you cope with the idea you may be rejected
Could I motivate myself to work on my own?
- PPEists are expected to work at 40 hour week, around 10 hours is likely to be lectures,classes and tutorials, the other 30 or so is reading and writing for essays on your own
Could I cope with doing exams at the beginning of nearly every term?
- "Collection" exams are set at the beginning of most terms, a few days before the first lectures
Have a good think about these questions.

Can I afford Oxford?
For UK students fees are a little over £3,000 per year. You should be eligible for various loans, some means-tested (your parents income), others not - see here
EU students are eligible for extra help -
As an international student there are a limited number of scholarships available:

Do I have the requirements for PPE?

The typical Oxford offer for PPE is AAA at A-level. Many applicants will be applying with predicted grades of AAA or better, so straight As is almost a must. For the International Baccalaureate, the typical offer is 39-40 points with 7,6,6-7,7,6 in your Higher Level subjects. GCSEs may be looked at but many students will not have straight As and A*s so don't feel you need it.
PPE has no required subjects, you do not need to have previously studied any of the composite subjects individually, but the university does say History and Maths is helpful. You will have to write essays so if you haven't in the past you will have to learn in your first term at Oxford. With regards to maths, read below.

Do I need maths A-level
As mentioned above, there are no officially required subjects for PPE, however maths is considered "helpful". As far as surviving the course maths is useful but not necessary there is also some light maths in the economics papers, but don't worry if you have only got GCSE maths since they will teach you, it is just a lot harder for non-maths people. Most PPEists i know would highly suggest having done at least AS-level maths before applying.
Nonetheless, many tutors (particularly the economics ones) will almost completely ignore candidates without a certain level of maths. This varies tutor to tutor [I chatted with an economics admission professor in 2009 who said he personally didn't feel maths was a necessity but some of his colleagues wouldn't pick candidates without it]. I would say you are at a slight disadvantage if applying without maths, but it is certainly possible to be accepted without it.

Well all of this considered, if you still want to apply then read on!
(edited 3 years ago)

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2. The PPE Course

The PPE Course is 3 years and is split into the first year where you build up a basic knowledge of all three disciplines in preparation for first year exams (called prelims or mods), and the second two years where you focus on elements of two or three disciplines in order to take final exams.

A detailed guide to the PPE course can be found in the PPE handbook provided by the university:

First Year Course
In your first year you will study all three subjects. In exams you have 3 hours to answer 4 questions.

*There is no longer a required statistical coursework*

Philosophy - Introduction to Philosophy
The course is split into 3 sections. In your exams you have to answer at least one question in two different sections so you may only be taught 2 of the following sections or you may be taught all 3. I believe all 3 is most common across most colleges.

1. Logic
- This is usually taught in larger classes. Read 'W. Hodges - Logic' for an introduction, however the university is developing a new book for this course (Hodges will no longer be the book Logic is taught from. You will be taught propositional logic and basic predicate logic.
- Example Exam questions are:
"Explain the difference between semantic and syntactic entailment in the propositional calculus" (Q6.(a) of 2005 Philosophy Prelims paper)
"Find counter-examples to '|=[[[[P->Q]->[Q^P]]->R]<->[R->¬P]]'"(Q2.(b)(i) of 2005 Philosophy Prelims Paper)

2. General Philosophy
- This is likely to be taught in tutorials and is an introduction to some of the important topics in epistemology and metaphysics. You will be introduced to philosophers such as Locke, Descartes and Hume
- The General Philosophy topics are: Knowledge, Identity, Primary and Secondary Qualities, Mind and Body, Free Will, Skepticism, Induction and Perception.
- Example Exam questions are:
"Does induction's track record bear on its future prospects?" (Q11 of 2005 Philosophy Prelims paper)
"Are you the same person as you were when you were six years old?" (Q14. of 2005 Philosophy Prelims paper)

3. Moral Philosophy
- This is also likely to be taught in tutorials and studies moral philosophy in conjunction with 'J.S. Mill's - Utilitarianism'. It covers such areas as "higher and lower pleasures" and "Act and Rule Utilitarianism".
- Example Exam questions are:
"Does Utilitarianism treat people as mere containers for happiness, with no value of their own?" (Q16. of 2005 Philosophy Prelims paper)
"Is Mill's proof of utilitarianism so patently fallacious that it should be used as a warning example in textbooks of logic?" (Q20. of 2005 Philosophy Prelims paper)

Politics - Introduction to Politics: The Theory and practise of democracies
This course is split into 2 sections. In the prelims exam you must answer at least one question from each section.

1. Theorizing the democratic state
- You will learn about some of the main concepts involved in Democracy such as Liberty and Justice as well as frameworks of power such as Pluralism and Marxism. You may not be taught all of these areas, depending whether your tutor puts more focus into section 2 rather than section 1.
- You will meet philosophers such as Mill (On Liberty), Marx, Tocqueville and Rousseau (The Social Contract)
- Example Exam questions:
"Can it ever be Democratic to place constraints on majority rule?" (Q2. on 2005 Politics Prelims Paper)
"Why does Marx think that capitalism will be overthrown by a proletariat revolution?" (Q3. on 2005 Politics Prelims Paper)

2. Analysis of Democratic Institutions
- You will learn about the political institutios of France, Germany, UK and USA although not necessarily all four. You will learn about the various branches of government, the constituions, the party system to name but a few areas. You will learn about controversies arising in these areas.
- Example Exam questions:
"Why are some legislatures more party-dominated than others?" (Q13. on 2005 Politics Prelims Paper)
"What constrains the power of the US Supreme Court?" (Q22. on 2005 Politics Prelims Paper)

Economics - Introductory Economics
This course is split into Microeconomics and Macroeconomics. There is some maths spliced into this course, however it is no longer separated into its own branch of first year economics. You are likely to be taught Microeconomics one term and Macroeconomics the next this will usually be done in both tutorials and classes, whereas maths is likely to be done over two terms in large classes (5-10 students).

1. Macroeconomics
- This gives a rought overview of macroeconmics so as to bring everyone up to a similar standard including those with no previous economics experience. More textobooks are needed but many people choose 'Mankiw - Macroeconomics'.
- Example Exam questions:
"Compare the GDP deflator and the Consumer Price Index as measures of the cost of living across countries." (QA16. on 2005 Economics Prelims Paper)

2. Microeconomics
- This gives a rought overview of microeconomics so as to bring everyone up to a similar standard including those with no previous economics experience. The exam could almost completely be revised for using 'Hal. Varian - Intermediate Microeconomics: A Modern Approach, i strongly suggest you buy this book. Microeconomics also includes a section on trade.
- Example Exam questions:
"Patents are a form of monopoly. How would you assess the optimal duration of a patent? What would the limitations on the use of your analysis in practise?" (QA4. on 2005 Economics Prelims Paper)

Second and Third Year Course

You have the choice of the staying with all subjects or droping one and continuing bi-partite, this latter option is more common. In your chosen two of three subjects you must do 2 core papers. bold means you must take this course as one of your core papers if you choose to continue this dicipline.
Philosophy - Ethics, History of Philosophy, Plato:Republic, Aritotle:Nichomacean Ethics
Economics - Microeconomics, Macroeconomics (no choice on core papers)
Politics - Comparative Governments, Political Sociology, International Relations, 20th Century British Politics and Government, Theory of Politics

You can then take a number of extra modules to bring the total number of modules to 8 on which you will be examined in finals. Some examples of these modules are below
Philosophy - Formal Logic, The Later Philosophy of Wittgenstein, Philosophy of Religion
Economics - Public Economics, Classical Economic thought, Econometrics
Politics - Russian Government and Politics, International Relations in the era of the Cold War, Marxism

For a full list of courses read the PPE handbook:
3. Personal Statements and PPE Test

So You've decided to apply for Oxford, the deadline for applications this year is 15th October 2010.

1. The TSA Oxford Test

The TSA Oxford Test website

The TSA (Thinking Skills Assessment) is sat by PPE and E&M (Economics and Management) students since 2008 when it replaced the original Oxford PPE admissions test. It is taken in October / November each year (4th November 2009) and you must ensure you have been entered to take the test - talk to your school. You will typically take the test at your school. Results can be downloaded from the website. Many questions on the logistics of the TSA can be found here:

The test has two components. A) Multiple Choice (90 mins) and B) Writing Task (30 mins). This second section replaces the need to submit written work - so it is important that you show you can write clearly and concisely.

Practise Papers can be downloaded here:

The importance put on the test by admissions tutors will vary between tutors. Some will take good marks as a big bonus to chances of admission, while other tutors will only care that you get a certain minimum grade and then assess the student on other qualities (PS and interview).

Paper 1: Multiple Choice
The test comprises of 50 questions giving you approximately 1 min 45 seconds per question. The questions come in a variety of forms including (my terminology):

1a. Assumptions
- In this you are presented with an argument and you must work out which of the five statements correctly underpins that heart of the argument (this may be done by analogy). Read these carefully - some statements may be consistent with the argument, but not an underlying assumption. The correct answer when "reversed" may suggest a hole in the original argument e.g.:

Question (summary): Pass Rates Improving. Students not actually becoming more skilled (say employers). Thus Pupils being coached better.
Answer B: The level of difficulty of examinations has not been falling

- specimen paper, question 4

If you reverse the answer - that exams are becoming easier - you find that it would present a problem for the original argument - therefore statement B must have been an assumption.

1b. Flaws
- You're given a statement and asked which answer provides the flaw. This question is actually identical to the assumptions questions except they give you the "reverse" answers. if you "reverse" the correct answer it will turn into an underlying assumption of the argument (although it is easier to think of the answer in terms of the flaw - i.e. I'd only test the answer through its contradiction for the assumption questions - the flaw questions do it for you)

All answers are likely to be plausible, but only one is a logical flaw - read ALL the possible answers, even if you think one answer is right.

2. Conclusions
- A slight derivation of the assumption question is one asking for a summary of the main argument (e.g. which answer "best expresses the conclusion") - once again check all answers - the correct one will summarise the conclusion, not just an assisting point.

Question (summary): If wages don't increase then staff morale will fall, thus productivity will fall, thus smaller profits, thus bankruptcy. Either they pay higher wages or bankruptcy.
Which is the best conclusion?
Answer B: If wages don't increase, business will fail
Answer D: Fall in productivity may mean business fails
Answer E: If wages rise, business will succeed

- Specimen Paper, Q11

D is logically correct but not the thrust of the argument (which is "either higher wages or bankruptcy"). B and E may appear the same, but E is not necessarily logically true - and certainly not the same way the argument is shown.

3. Data
- For data questions you will be presented with a table, graph or picture and asked a question. The first tip is to read the question, then the graph, then the answers. Much of the time there is irrelevant data and so read the question carefully to make sure you're only looking at relevant information.

Question 19 of the specimen paper produces a table of gas and electricity usage between October and April. The question asks about gas usage - the second column of the table is entirely irrelevant.

4. Maths
- A direct or indirect maths question. Take a moment to work out the most efficient way of answering the question. The questions are very diverse and its hard to give tips except to say that usually the answer can be found very quickly IF you stop and think.

For All Multiple Choice Questions
- If you're getting stuck, skip the question and come back to it
- Remember to Breathe. If you're stuck in a rut close your eyes, take a deep breath, open your eyes, and continue.
- Make notes on the paper - summarise the arguments if necessary e.g. if A then B, if B then C, C is true (therefore A or B must be true)

Paper 2: Written Section

First off - only answer one question - may seem obvious but someone will forget. Spend five minutes making a plan, and make sure your plan is clear IN YOUR INTRODUCTION. Some people find it easier to write their plan immediately in prose as their introduction (rather than making a rough plan). But definitely spend a few minutes drawing a rough sketch of ideas.

Be clear and concise.

Be interesting - draw on your knowledge - There will usually be suitable call for some current or historical knowledge to illustrate your points - but don't make to too contrived.

Examples (from Specimen):
1. "Privacy is only good because people aren't good. In a perfect world we wouldn't need privacy." Is that right?
2. In order to be a successful leader, is it better to be loved or feared?
3. Is "ethical" consumerism a solution of poverty, or a dangerous distraction?

2. Personal Statements

What does my Personal Statement need to include?
1. Interest in PPE - You must show that you are genuinely interested in spending 3 years of your life studying politics, philosophy and economics. I would strongly suggest that you include elements of all 3 in your PS.
2. Personal Drive - You must show that you can motivate yourself. Many people do this by showing extracurricular interests in the both related and unrelated subjects and activities.
3. Academic Ingenuity - Your UCAS forum will mention your grades. Most applicants will be applying to Oxford with decent GCSE's (an A average), decent AS-Levels (AABB or better) and excellent predicted A-levels (AAA or better). Your UCAS form is a chance to show that despite similar grades to the other applicants you've got that little extra creative spark that will make you more interesting to teach than the other 3 people fighting for your place.
4. Show you've got some specific interests - If you're recently been reading about the Spanish Civil War or Animal Rights, mention it (If you have a strong belief in animal rights, I would be try to come across interested and not belligerent - most staff in Oxford are very tired of Animal Rights Activism).
5. If you want to mention your extra-curricular activities, try and link in core skills that you have, or are, gaining from it e.g. "Since starting rock climbing in 2004, I've developed a strong team spirit".

How do I set out my Personal Statement?
There is no right way of setting out a personal statement, however I suggest something similar to the following
PARAGRAPH 1: A general introduction on why you want to study PPE
PARAGRAPH 2-4: A few sentences for each explaining why you want to study Politics, Philosophy and Economics respectively. Try to include some specifics such as books that you've read, activities that have contributed to your interest (internships, travels, competitions).
*The above should cover about 2/3 of your personal statement*
PARAGRAPH 5-6: One or two paragraphs covering your extracurricular activities - make sure you include any links between these activities and PPE if there is any.
Paragraph 7: A final summary saying why you want to apply, and what you hope to achieve, as well as how you believe you are well suited to the course.

Do's and Don't of Personal Statements
Do mention specific books you've read and enjoyed - try to make them something more interesting and different than "The Prince", "On Liberty", "Social Contract"
Don't re-use "big" words. If you "thoroughly enjoyed" one thing, then be "particularly interested" in a second thing, and "fascinated" by a third.
Do use very good English and grammar - a tutor doesn't want someone who is going to produce essays each week with silly grammar mistakes.
Don't use contractions - some tutors seem to get very irritated with words like "can't", "don't", "isn't", "wouldn't" etc.
Do show your understanding of the links between the three disciplines
Don't just focus on one specific discipline of PPE - the Philosophy who might read your PS doesn't want an entire essay on exactly why Politics is the only thing for you.
Do mention your opinion/belief regarding things you mention being interested in
Don't copy any part of your personal statement from the internet - UCAS have ways of checking this.

An example of one can be found in section 7 in the form of my own Personal Statement which may have contributed to me being offered a place at Oxford.
4. Interviews

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
- 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.


1. Preparation

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:


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:

Don't worry.
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.
(edited 3 years ago)
5.Disclaimer and Final Notes

All writings in these posts about PPE are my opinion, following any advice will not guarantee you will get into Oxford and I do not hold myself liable for anything written.. Basically you follow my advice at your own risk.

The original thread was written in 2005 - some aspects of Oxford, including some aspects of the course, may have changed. I sporadically update elements of this guide.

Please bear in mind that I have graduated - I do not have access to Oxford internal computer network.

Good Luck

Have Fun


Pembroke College - PPE
(Graduated 2007)
(edited 3 years ago)
6. PPE 1st Year Reading List

Economics 1st Year Reading List

1. Microeconomics

Varian, H. (2006), Intermediate Microeconomics: A Modern Approach, 7/e, Norton
Katz, M. and Rosen, H. (2005), Microeconomics (European Edition), McGraw-Hill
Bernheim, D. and Whinston, M. (2008), Microeconomics, McGraw Hill

Begg, D., Fischer, S. and Dornbusch, R. (2005), Economics, 8/e, McGraw-Hill
Lipsey, R. and Chrystal, K. (2007), Principles of Economics, 11/e, Oxford University Press

2. Macroeconomics

Mankiw, G. and Taylor, M. (2007), Macroeconomics (European Edition), Worth
Blanchard, O. (2008), Macroeconomics, 5/e, Prentice Hall (more advanced)
Miles, D. and Scott, A. (2004), Macroeconomics, 2/e, McGraw Hill (more advanced)

Abel & Bernanke, Macroeconomics, 2nd edn, Addison Wesley, 1995
Barro and Grilli, European Macroeconomics, Macmillan, 1994
Blanchard, Macroeconomics, Prentice Hall, 1997
De Long, Macroeconomics, Wiley, 2002
Dornbusch, Fischer & Startz, Macroeconomics, 7th edn, McGraw Hill, 1997
Miles & Scott, Macroeconomics, McGraw Hill, 2002
Stiglitz, Economics, 2nd edn, Norton 1997
Sachs & Larrain, Macroeconomics in the Global Economy, Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993

3. Maths

Maths Workbook - available as 10 pdf files - see bottom of this post for attached

Anthony, M. & N. Biggs (1996), Mathematics for Economics and Finance. Cambridge University Press.
Jacques, I. (1999), Mathematics for Economics and Business, 3rd ed. Addison Wesley Longman.
Adams, C., Hass, J. and Thompson, A., (1998), How to Ace Calculus: The Streetwise Guide, W. H. Freeman & Co.
Huttenmueller, R. (2007), Business Calculus Demystified, McGraw Hill
Huettenmueller, R. (2002), Algebra Demystified, McGraw Hill

Politics 1st Year Reading List
(too many books to write - but you can access the above link from anywhere)

Philosophy 1st Year Reading List

1. General Philosophy


- Sven Bernecker and Fred Dretske (eds.) Knowledge: Readings in Contemporary Epistemology (OUP 2000) (Covers Knowledge, Scepticism, Perception)
- Michael Huemer (ed.) Epistemology: Contemporary Readings (Routledge 2002) (Covers Knowledge, Scepticism, Induction)
- R. Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy (trans. J. Cottingham), Meditation I-VI (Covers Scepticism, Mind and Body)
- A. J. Ayer, The Problem of Knowledge (Covers Knowledge, Perception )
- D. Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, sects. IV-V (Covers Induction)
- J. Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book II, Chapter viii & xxvii (Covers Primary & Secondary Qualities, Free Will, Personal Identity)

2. Moral Philosophy (Mill)


** Mill, J.S. Utilitarianism ed Crisp, R. (OUP, 1998) (first published 1861; 4th and final edition published 1871) (BUY THIS BOOK)
- Crisp, R. Mill on Utilitarianism (Routledge, 1997)
- Berger, F. Happiness, Justice and Freedom (Univ. California Press, 1984)
- Smart, J.J.C. & Williams, B. Utilitarianism: For and Against (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1973)

3. Logic


- The Logic Manual, Volker Halbach. Currently only available on weblearn to current students or to be bought in the Philosophy Faculty.
You can get a first in Prelims with a good knowledge of this.
(edited 12 years ago)
7. My Personal Statement

[Removed for privacy reasons - apologies]
(edited 3 years ago)
Reply 7
The holiday has just started and this man is so bored already... !
Meh, what else was there to do at 3am
Reply 9

Reply 10

There are variations in interview style from college to college and this might be useful to get if you can. (eg several interviews for each of the 3 subjects or just one interview with a team of interviewers) Also for PPE you might need to include the 'grouping' system so that students know what other colleges are in the same interview groups.

Ok, we agreed lil tommy has got some free time, surely not enough to investigate interview styles in all colleges... chill out!
Reply 11
The grouping system is completely irrelevant. You'll get sent a little note saying what your 2nd and 3rd choice colleges are, but even if you do get a second interview you probably won't get sent there. When I was being interviewed, nobody got sent to one of them.
Reply 12
Tom Holder shares my birthday. I hope he doesn't plan on stealing the limelight from me.
Reply 13
I don't think not being 'happy' about having exams at the start of each term is a reason to 'strongly discourage' someone from applying, to be fair.
Reply 14
wow thats amazing! nice work! If only I applied for PPE!
Reply 15
I hope to apply for PPE this year, and this thread is incredible - so much help :smile: thankyou!!!!!

Although, I must admit, I do agree:
I don't think not being 'happy' about having exams at the start of each term is a reason to 'strongly discourage' someone from applying, to be fair.

I mean, it's not as if everyone who does PPE is happy to be doing exams - you surely just accept them as an unpleasant but necessary fact of (PPE) life? Also:
Tom Holder
"Find counter-examples to '|=[[[[P->Q]->[Q^P]]->R]<->[R->¬P]]'"(Q2.(b)(i) of 2005 Philosophy Prelims Paper)

Although I think its a good idea you put in example questions, surely that is just downright intimidating? Very few (if any at all) applicants will have studied logic before, especially least not at the level to decipher that - surely the idea should be to encourage people to apply, rather than intimidate or preplex them? I know that's not what you were trying to do, but might it have that affect?

Other than that, superb thread, your work is greatly appreciated :smile:
I don't think not being 'happy' about having exams at the start of each term is a reason to 'strongly discourage' someone from applying, to be fair.

agreed - I've moved that question to the section below of "questions to think about".
Reply 17
A few points:

PPE test:
- time can be a major constraint in this test
- the test is very similiar year on year, especially the word triplets sections
- other past tests can be found here:
- i will try and find the 2004 test and upload it

- as well as being familiar with your personal statement make sure you know your essays inside out, including any complicated theory or models you have used
- be prepared for logic/game theory questions - there is a good chance you will encounter these. Although they are intended to be something you can't practice for, get used to working through them.

- this is what they ask for: "After submitting your application form, you should send in two marked pieces of written school or college work, including at least one essay. Those already studying a subject related to PPE, such as philosophy, politics, economics, sociology, or 19/20th-century history, should submit essays from that subject. If you study more than one such subject, you should send in essays from two different subjects."
- these are damn important - one admissions tutor said essays are more important than interviews for PPE and others have been told they got in on the strength of their essays
- the essays are judged in the context that they were written, so a timed test will be judged differently from a homework which will be judged differently from a specifically written piece of work with extensive research
- try not to write anything too short to show grasp of a decent amount of content (unless it is a timed conditions piece - they like these) or too long to lose sight of the argument - i would say 1,500 to 5,000 words

Other universities:
- Oxford realise you probably won't apply for PPE everywhere, so expect your personal statement not to be focussed around all three brances of PPE in equal proportions. You can write more specific information for the PPE course on the additional form, but some would advise against this. It is probably not a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket and write about disciplines that you won't be studying at other universities you have applied for on your statement.
- Having spoken to people involved in PPE at Oxford and the architects of the course at Warwick it seems like the other two places that do PPE very well are York and Warwick. York's course has plenty of flexibility and a excellent reputation for PPE. Warwick's course is still in its infancy, but is expected to become very big and they make a conscious effort to take a multi-disciplinary approach rather than have the subjects studied separately. A few people have told me that Durham's course has been in a lot of trouble and it would probably not be advisable to go there.

Tom, if you want to integrate some of this then I will delete the post.
Reply 18
this thread is great! it answered most of my questions, especially the one "should I do it?" :p:
Reply 19

- try not to write anything too short to show grasp of a decent amount of content (unless it is a timed conditions piece - they like these) or too long to lose sight of the argument - i would say 1,500 to 5,000 words.

Are you serious? My one non-timed piece was about 1000ww and that was plenty. They want stuff done in the normal classroom context - it would be very strange for this to be much more than about 1200ww if it's not coursework. To be honest, if you write much more than this, it'll probably look like you've deliberately done it for the application process.

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