PPE at Oxford

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Not just at Oxford

Whilst this article is about 'PPE at Oxford', remember that a whole heap of other Universities offer PPE : Durham, KCL, Sussex, Birmingham , London (Holloway), Essex, Nottingham, Reading, Hull, UEA, Exeter, York, Lancaster, Leeds, Southampton, Belfast etc - and that you will need 5 choices on your UCAS application, not just Oxford, so remember to read their course descriptions as well.

Should I Apply?

First read the Course Information about PPE.

Then read this Guardian article about reasons for doing a PPE degree.

Finally, read this piece from the BBC, 'Why does PPE rule Britain?'.

Then just decide for yourself if any of these things matter to you, or if you have your own reasons for being interested in this multi-discipline, intensive degree.

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.

Make sure you do actually want to study these three subjects together - look at the following different subject descriptions carefully. There are different combination degrees available at other prestigious Universities - Politics and Philosophy at LSE for instance or Politics and Social Policy at Bristol. Make certain that you really do want to do a 'PPE' degree because of the subjects it includes in combination.

  • Studying Philosophy, you will develop analytical rigour and the ability to criticize and reason logically, and be able to apply these skills to many contemporary and historical schools of philosophical thought, and to questions concerning how we acquire knowledge or how we make ethical recommendations. Philosophy
  • The study of Politics will acquaint you with the ideas behind the 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. The study of Politics also includes opportunities to take core and optional papers in Sociology and International Politics. Politics
  • 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 which are occurring throughout the world at the current time. Economics focuses both on individual units and on the aggregate behaviour of groups, societies and international markets. Economics

If you're interested in finding out more detail about what topics you can study, have a look at the full syllabus for the course on which is available on Oxford University's PPE website. Course Information

Does this sound interesting? If not turn around now. Yes, this may be one of Oxford University's most prestigious courses. Many MPs, Presidents and Prime Ministers studied PPE at Oxford. BUT do not do it unless you are truly, truly interested in the subjects.

Why PPE at Oxford? What is so good about it anyway?

  • Oxford University's PPE course is world-renowned. 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).
  • Oxford has some of the finest specialist libraries in the world.
  • With Oxford you also gain from the one on one tutorial system that is almost unique in the British education system (Cambridge also teach through the tutorial system and other unis such as St Andrews and Durham use a variant).
  • Oxford is hard work. Do not doubt that. And PPE is very hard work. It is not a degree you 'have a go at'. You have to be totally committed to it from the moment you are accepted. But there are also a fantastic range of non-academic pursuits to get involved in once you are there; there is a real work hard / play hard approach and it's an incredibly fulfilling subject for those who have a genuine interest in the topics. Just think carefully about if you have the personality to cope with all of this.

So is PPE at Oxford right for me? What are the downsides I need to think about?

  • Over 60% of applicants to PPE get a straight rejection without an interview.
  • Only 14% of applicants to PPE receive an offer, making PPE one of the most competitive courses at Oxford.
  • Could I cope with the possibility of just being very average amongst some of the brightest students in the world?
  • Could I cope with the possibility of rejection or failure, and receiving regular highly critical feedback?
  • Would I be happy being taught in intensive 1on1 or 2on1 tutorials where I can't 'hide'?
  • Could I actually manage writing two 2000-2500 word essays a week / writing an essay and doing an economics or logic problem set, throughout the first year - with all the associated reading?
  • Could I motivate myself to work on my own? PPEists are expected to work a 40 hour week; around 10 hours is likely to be lectures, classes and tutorials, with the other 30 or so intensive reading/research 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. They do not count towards your final mark, but are essential for monitoring ongoing progress, and some colleges (not all) set minimum grade levels, or require re-sits if not met.
  • Would I be happy in a city where the focus is entirely on study and academic research - or would I find this oppressive, intimidating, too pressured?
  • Despite its facilities, Oxford University is not for everyone. The eight week term is very intensive. The college system doesn't appeal to everyone. There is no opportunity for a Year Abroad.
  • Remember you get FIVE choices on your UCAS application. You will need other options to allow for this hard reality. Even if you get an offer, that is not the same as a place. Even with an offer, if you don't get the grades in August, you won't be going to Oxford.
  • Other Unis offering PPE include - University of East Anglia (UEA), University or Warwick, University of Durham, University of Sussex, University of Hull, University of Reading, University of Manchester, Royal Holloway, University of Swansea, Lancaster University, Queens Belfast, University of Leeds, University of Stirling, LSE, UCL, King's College London, Nottingham, Exeter, and the University of York.
  • Other top Universities which don't offer PPE offer related degrees (eg Politics and Economics, Philosophy and Politics) or Liberal Arts degrees which can include PPE subjects.

Can I afford Oxford?

For UK students fees are £9,000 per year. You may be eligible for various loans, some means-tested (your parents income), others not - see here

There is a generous means-tested Oxford bursary scheme, which can make studying at Oxford cheaper than other 'away from home' choices, and Oxford are keen to ensure that nobody is prevented from studying at undergraduate level at the university purely due to financial limitations, so please read the available information and ask a college admissions tutor for more information.

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 including A*s. However, part of the reason for the interview system is to ensure that students from a background where achieving more than AAA would have been difficult, are not ruled out based on grades alone, so don't be put off if AAA are your expected / actual results.
  • For the International Baccalaureate, the typical offer is 39-40 points with 7,6,6-7,7,6 in your Higher Level subjects.
  • Your GCSE profile will be looked at. It's not a prerequisite but the higher grades you have the better.
  • 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 are helpful.
  • PPE is reading and essay intensive. If you haven't studied an obvious essay subject like English Literature, History, Politics etc at A level or similar, you will find the first year of the course very challenging.
  • Without previous study of a related subject, you may find it difficult to write a sensible PS justifying your choice of course, but not necessarily. If you have a genuine interest in the subjects and can show wider reading, your statement may be more unique and interesting than someone who only reiterates A Level course material.
  • You must be interested in intense high-level study in these specific subject areas. Yes, this sounds obvious, but clearly just wanting to be a future Cabinet Minister won't get you through three years of PPE at Oxford if you aren't actually interested in these subjects.
  • With regard to maths, please read below.

Do I need maths A-level

As mentioned above, there are no officially required subjects for PPE, however maths is considered "helpful", and increasingly, a number of colleges are asking for Maths AS Level as standard. If you have only studied GCSE maths you may struggle to cope (or you may be a fast learner who handles things fine!). There are PPE maths classes at Oxford for those who do not have maths A Level, but you will be learning the maths alongside the economics and this will mean a heavier workload. Having studied AS or A level maths makes the Economics section easier. In particular, differentiation, partial differentiation, integration, logs, and sequences / series will all come up at some point. It is a myth that there is substantial statistics work in other areas such as Politics; there certainly will not be in your first year anything that somebody without Maths AS Level could understand, and you can probably learn the stats you need later if necessary. If you have less than an A grade in maths at GCSE however, and no Maths AS Level, then you should seriously consider whether PPE is really the course for you.

For 2011 entry, around 90% of the applicants who were offered places for PPE and who were studying for A-levels had studied Mathematics to at least AS-level. So, consider taking Mathematics to AS-level, or an equivalent qualification such as IB Standard Level.

All of this considered, if you still want to apply then read on...

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.


The course is split into 3 sections. In your exams you have to answer four questions including one question from each section.

1. Logic - This is usually taught in larger classes - it is based upon "The Logic Manual" by Volker Halbach.You will be taught propositional logic, basic predicate logic and basic equivalent logic (Named L1, L2, and L=) as well as natural deduction.

In the exam there are 2 questions based only on material from the first four chapters of the logic manual of which you are only allowed to do one. There are a further 3 questions which will include material from all eight chapters. You must answer at least one logic question in the Prelims exam.

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 and Scepticism, Induction, Mind and Body, Personal Identity, Free Will, and God and Evil In the exam there are two questions on each topic but you can only answer one from each topic. - Example Exam questions are "Do you know that you are now sitting a philosophy exam? Are you certain" (Q6a of 2013 Philosophy Prelims paper) "Could there be freedom in a world where everything was necessary? (Q10a. of 2013 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: Can the fulfillment of his sadistic impulses make a sadist genuinely happy? (Q12. of 2013 Philosophy Prelims paper) Does rule-utilitarianism provide a good alternative to act-utilitarianism (Q15. of 2013 Philosophy Prelims paper


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 institutions 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. This section is very flexible - tutors will choose which areas they teach. - 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)


This course is split into Microeconomics and Macroeconomics which both have a strong focus on the maths they involve. In prelims you must do 4 economics questions including 3 short questions and 1 long question, you must answer at least one question on macroeconomics and at least one question on microeconomics. You are likely to be taught Microeconomics one term and Macroeconomics the next this will usually be done in both tutorials and classes; maths will likely be taught in classes or extra tutorials through reference to the maths workbook which can be found on weblearn.

1. Macroeconomics/Microeconomics - Microeconomics gives a rough 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', but some people find this too hard to read straight through, and may include textbooks by other authors particularly Perloff. Microeconomics also includes a section on trade. - Macroeconomics gives a rough overview of macroeconomics so as to bring everyone up to a similar standard including those with no previous economics experience. More textbooks are needed but many people choose 'Mankiw - Macroeconomics'.

- Example Exam questions: Do oligopolies produce an efficient level of output? (Q9. on 2013 Economics Prelims paper)

Does weak output growth in the UK strengthen or weaken the case for fiscal austerity? (Q9. on 2013 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 from the lists below. bold means you must take this course as one of your core papers if you choose to continue this discipline.

Philosophy - Ethics, History of Philosophy from Descartes to Kant, Knowledge and Reality, Plato: Republic, Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics

Economics - Microeconomics, Macroeconomics and Quantitative Economics (no choice on core papers)

Politics - Comparative Governments, Political Sociology, International Relations, British Politics and Government since 1900, Theory of Politics

If you choose to continue with all three subjects you do not have to take Quantiative Economics unless you want to take a further economics option.

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, Intermediate Philosophy of Physics Economics - Public Economics, British Economic History since 1870, Econometrics Politics - Russian Government and Politics, International Relations in the era of the Cold War, Marx and Marxism

For a full list of courses read the [1]

TSA Test


The TSA Oxford Test website [2]

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: [3]

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.

Practice Papers can be downloaded here: [4]

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. e.g.:

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?

Personal Statement: What Should I Show?

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. Include comment on all three in your statement.
  • 2. Personal Drive - You must show that you can motivate yourself. Many people do this with an example where you showed personal drive and determination to get someone started/improved, where you had to set yourself a big goal and you achieved it. You also need to make it clear that you enjoy pushing yourself - and the sense of achievement it brings. There is also an element of selfishness here - PPE is not for selfless team-players, its about 'I am the best'.
  • 3. Intellectual ability - Your UCAS forum will mention your grades. Most applicants will be applying to Oxford with good GCSE's (an A average), high 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 all the other applicants you've got that little bit extra that will make you more interesting to teach than the hundreds of other very well qualified people applying, or that you will benefit more from the tutorial system at Oxford.
  • 4. If you want to mention your extra-curricular activities, make them relevant. Yes, playing violin at Grade 8 level is terrific but it doesn't tell an Admissions tutor anything about your suitability for PPE or Oxford. Anything you do mention must have obvious relevance that you then need to draw out. What has volunteer work at an Aged Care Home taught you about social policy towards the elderly? If you represent your school at Rugby how has that developed your leadership skills?
  • Anything that looks like showing off should be avoided. Do not hint at what your parents do for a living, or your family connections. 'I shadowed an MP for a week and this allowed me to...' reads far better than name-dropping.

How do I set out my Personal Statement? There is no right way of setting out a personal statement. One suggestion is 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 aren't any, don't mention them.
  • 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 suited to the course.

Do's and Don't of Personal Statements

  • Do mention specific books you've read and enjoyed. Don't give the Admissions Tutor your entire book review - he/she has already read it and understands it a great deal better than you do. 'I have become interested in Moral Philosophy/Human Rights/Tax Policy Reform and have read intensively on this subject because .....' is better than a detailed description of numerous text books.
  • Don't re-use "big" words. If you "thoroughly enjoyed" one thing, then be "particularly interested" in a second thing, and "attracted" by a third.
  • Avoid cliche phrases like 'I am passionate about ...' or 'I have always been interested in politics...'.
  • Do use very good English and grammar.
  • Don't use contractions - some tutors seem to get very irritated with words like "can't", "don't", "isn't", "wouldn't" etc. It is not correct academic English. Do not panic if you have done it once in your statement however and only realise afterwards; one contraction is unlikely to riun your chance of an interview.
  • Do show your understanding of the links between the three disciplines.
  • Don't just focus on one specific discipline of PPE - the Philosophy tutor 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, but be very careful of mentions of specific party politics, unless you are active in a particular party etc. and want to demonstrate your commitment to the subject through this in some way, but do not bang on about a particular party policy.
  • Don't copy any part of your personal statement from the internet, journals or newspapers.
  • Finally, if your statement sounds like a speech, try to rewrite it using shorter sentences, simpler words and clearer ideas. Keep it focused and well organised. Have someone sense check it for you!


Firstly, here is what Oxford say about interviews: http://www.admissions.ox.ac.uk/interviews/

You'll be down in your college for c1-3 days for interview, so have a little fun, get to know the city if there's time, and don't work too hard (or better still don't work).

Your interview time may consist of: - Welcoming Talk - Interviews - Interviews at other colleges (maybe) - Socialising with other interviewees and current students

You may also have a small class with some undergraduates on a topic like game theory to give you a taster of Oxford.

There is no set pattern for what happens, and welcoming talks may only happen at some colleges; others may just show you to your room and introduce you to the student helpers who are there to help you throughout your stay. Don't be afraid to ask them anything at all; they may not have answers but most will try to find someone who does!

You cannot read anything into whether or not you have additional interviews at other colleges. There are lots of reasons why this may happen, and the best thing to do is to just to do your best at whatever interviews you have.


This is what they say about interviews: http://www.admissions.ox.ac.uk/interviews/


Know what's on your course: http://www.admissions.ox.ac.uk/courses/ppec.shtml - course structure

Many people are asked about what they think is on the course, and it doesn't reflect too well on you if you don't know. You don't need to know much about the individual topics, but try to 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 ideas. 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).

Subject Preparation

Politics: 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 a few basic facts if you can, 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), but do not panic if you forget one small detail in the interview itself. 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 - On Liberty (1859) - This relatively short book is a great read. Unlike some political philosophy this is a relatively readable book.

Whatever you read, read critically. Note down any questions you have; this may spark thoughts in your interview.

Philosophy: Know some of the broad ideas or themes in philosophy. 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?
  • 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

Philosophy tutors are generally very interested in how you think, and how you consider an issue they might give you, not in hearing right answers, or ones that include all the correct terminology; that can be taught once you start.

Economics: READ THE PAPER (broadsheet equivalent), buy that week's "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 what is happening in the world and UK economy. The three books below all give 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:

Going to the Interview and How to Dress


BE ALERT AND AWAKE (no big booze up the night before, however much fun it is meeting the other candidates!)

How to dress:

You do not need to wear a business suit. Casual clothes are fine, and there is no need to avoid jeans/t-shirts, if you will feel most comfortable in them in front of up to three tutors. Most tutors will not dress up, so it is not necessary to dress very formally either. If you do wear a suit, that is fine, you won't be 'marked down' because of it. Tutors are far more interested in what you say and how you act, than in what you are wearing; just make sure that you feel confident in what you wear. The most important thing is that you look clean, that your clothes don't get in the way (e.g., if you're distracted by worrying that your bra straps are showing, or that your trousers are uncomfortably tight, that might put you off your stride!), and that you are able to relax and present yourself and your thoughts clearly. Some people might advise women not to overdo make up, wear skirts too short, or show too much cleavage etc. This would be patronising, sexist and unnecessary; wear what feels comfortable for you, and however you would feel most confident talking to tutors and discussing academic matters.

Get your hair cut if that will make you feel smarter, have a shower, clean your fingernails and polish your shoes if you're wearing shoes, but only because these things will probably make you feel more comfortable and less self-conscious, not because tutors will seriously judge you on how clean your footwear is.

The Interview

In all cases, tutors will tailor their expectations of subject knowledge to your level of previous study, (if you have an economics A Level you should know more terminology than someone who does not) so bear that in mind.

Politics: You may talk about Current Issues, Political Theory or Course Structure, or you may be asked to analyse a text and discuss it. Try and show a little interest, try and move the conversation forward. 

  • - 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?

If you don't understand term - ASK what it means rather than try to bluff it!

Philosophy: You may be asked about political concepts, you are unlikely to be be asked about 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. 

  • - 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 current issue, answer intelligently. You may also be asked a maths 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 be amused by your oh-so-clever answers, they are there to decide whether they would like to / can teach you. Its a business to them, not an amusing competition.
  • 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, try to make sure you're not just waffling on about nothing because you are lost in the topic...
  • 7. Remember that the interviewer is trying to help get the best out of you. Listen to what they say. Is there a key word that gives you a clue about what they are driving at.
  • 8. At the end of the interview, look everyone in the eye and say 'Thank you for seeing me'. And mean it.

Career potential

Here is a list of some of the better known people who did a PPE degree at Oxford.

This doesn't of course guarantee you fame and fortune, but it does give you an indication of the wide variety of possible career paths beyond just 'politics'.


Biological Sciences
Computer Science
Earth Sciences
Economics and Management
Human Sciences


All Souls
Christ Church
Corpus Christi
Green Templeton
Harris Manchester
Lady Margaret Hall
Nuffield Hall
St Anne's
St Anthony's
St Catherine's
St Cross
St Edmund Hall
St Hilda's
St Hugh's
St John's
St Peter's
The Queen's