Home » Student Life » How do Pirates Divide Treasure? - & Other Oxford Interview Questions

How do Pirates Divide Treasure? - & Other Oxford Interview Questions

22nd October 2014 Posted by: Rebecca Megson

EVERY year, Oxford University releases a list of sample interview questions to help students to prepare for their entrance interview. We couldn’t resist giving you a peek into some of the more interesting questions, and sharing some quick tips on how to ace the answers. (We apologise for the excess use of cat pictures...)

Here’s a cactus. Tell me about it. 

Technically not even a question, this one comes from the biological science department. This object-based question expects you to describe what you see, show attention to detail and work out why, for example, a cactus might have large spikey spines surrounded by smaller hair-like spines.

How do pirates divide their treasure?

Computer scientists love their standard logic questions (and it will definitely pay off to study other problem-based interview questions you might be asked – see here.) Interviewers want to see your ability to break a problem into smaller subsets, work your way through a complex concept and apply solutions in an algorithmic way.


What does it mean to ‘take’ another’s car?

One for the lawyers amongst you. There are no right or wrong answers here; this is about showing your reasoning including how you define ‘taking’ and how you apply that definition in different scenarios. It also gives you the opportunity to show off your communication skills.


Why do lions have manes?

Another biological science one for you. This type of question is about sharing ideas you may have picked up about the function of a lion’s mane from books or TV. You need to be able to go further and explain how you would test your theory of why a lion has a mane. Don’t be afraid to come up with innovative suggestions, that’s exactly what they are looking for.

How hot does the air have to be in a hot air balloon if I want to use it to lift an elephant?


Material science interviewers want to get a feel for how you think about a problem and how you might work through it in a tutorial setting. They want to see how quickly you get to the core of a given problem, how you respond to hints from them, your approach to basic concepts and your use of estimates and rough maths.

In a world where English is a global language, why learn French?

A provocative modern languages question in which the interviewers want you to answer the direct question ‘why learn French’ (e.g. as a ‘window’ into culture/literature/history), but also they want to see you challenge the assumptions within the question – e.g. is English a global language? What about other languages? Why can’t we consider French a global language. Think around these type of questions.


Why does your heart rate increase when you exercise?

For any student looking to pursue a course in medicine this is a deceptively simple question. However be warned, there will be follow-up questions and ultimately the interviewers are looking to see your problem-solving and critical thinking skills, your intellectual curiosity, enthusiasm and (important for all these questions) your ability to listen.


Why do human beings have two eyes?

Looks biological, but actually this comes straight from the psychology department. Resulting from a more general discussion about the human senses interviewers will expect you to show how an understanding of other subjects such as mathematics, physics and biology contribute to the study and understanding of psychology.


Is someone who risks their own life (and those of others) in extreme sports or endurance activities a hero or a fool?

The interviewer wants you to show them how well you can unpick a question, develop and defend your reasoning. Because there is no right or wrong answer here you should be able to approach the question from a number of different perspectives and show that you are willing to think out loud with your interviewer, as this is what will be expected within a tutorial setting.


Should interviews be used for selection?

Another psychological one for you. What the interviewer wants is for you to take a step back and consider more broadly what an interview is – e.g. an information gathering exercise in order to make a decision – and then to consider how human beings are biased, how they overlook some information in favour of others, that all sources of information are not treated equally. This is your opportunity to show your analytical skills.

Photography: Slideshow and title image by Juhan Sonin


Sign up for our newsletter

Follow Us

© 2024 Student World Online Registered in England and Wales 08074528
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Contact us