Oxford Philosophy: Tips & Questions for Interview

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In this article we will guide you on how to best prepare for your Oxford Philosophy Interview. There are guides on past Oxford Philosophy questions, interview tips and mock examples. It also includes real experiences from students who have sat the Oxford Philosophy Interview.

This article is from a collection of accounts from Oxbridge applicants.

What is the Oxford Philosophy Interview structure?

Students can only study Philosophy as part of a joint honours course. Most often as part of PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics), but they can also study it with Psychology or Linguistics (PPL), Modern Languages, Mathematics, Physics, Theology or Computer Science. 

Depending on the specific combination of subjects, you’re likely to have at least one Oxford Philosophy interview, as well as one or more interview(s) for each of your other chosen subject(s).

What are the Oxford Philosophy interview dates?

All philosophy-related interviews will take place in the first two weeks of December. You will need to check the university website for specific dates for your chosen course.

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Example of Oxford Philosophy Interview Questions in Previous Years:

  • Given photos: what do they have in common?
  • Which questions in Philosophy interest you most?
  • What do you think about the ethical implications of [a certain philosopher]’s theories?
  • Tackled a logic problem.
  • Given two concepts: what are the differences between the two, and how is this important for morality?
  • A thought experiment about knowledge.
  • Given a set of statements, do they logically entail one another?
  • Why do you believe what your teachers tell you?
  • What is freedom?
  • If you were to form a government of philosophers, what selection process would you use?
  • How do we know if 1 + 1 = 2, if the concept of numbers was in fact ‘invented’ by humans?
  • Is it a matter of fact or knowledge that time travels in only one direction?
  • Differentiate between power and authority.

Further Interview Questions

  • Can animals think?
  • Is it possible for a society to exist in which everyone lies all the time?
  • A man is on top of a building with a sniper rifle, and lines up a shot to kill the Queen. The conditions are perfect; he has a clear view and no one has spotted him. He fires the gun and the bullet is travelling straight towards the Queen’s head, and will surely kill her. However, a second before impact, a bird flies in the way, taking the bullet and missing the Queen. Should the man be given the same sentence as if there was no bird and he killed the Queen?
  • When looking back at the Nazis, the world views the men who were involved as shameful and horrendous. However, if put in a similar position to German nationals, it is likely that British men would have also followed the commands. Why then, do we look so negatively upon the Germans who were coerced, when it is possible that we too would have acted the same and followed orders?
  • How do you know I’m not a zombie?

Above is an example of a Philosophy and Politics interview from Oxford’s YouTube channel. It is a great video to see how an interview may be structured, even if you aren’t doing exactly the same course combination.

Insider Guides: Oxford Philosophy Interview

What happens on the day of your Oxford Philosophy interview?

Until 2020, all Oxford interviews were in person, and you’d be staying in accommodation in Oxford for a few days while your interviews took place. This year, interviews may be online, so you don’t need to worry about any of this. If this is the case, the university will send you a link to a Microsoft Teams meeting by email prior to the interview, and you should join this at your allocated time. 

They may send you a resource to look at for 15 minutes or so before your interview, so make sure to be checking your emails!

Depending on the college, they may go straight into the interview, or you may be met by student volunteers from the college. They will put you at ease and answer any questions you may have, before they leave for the actual interview to commence.

What do you have to bring to your Oxford Philosophy interview?

You’re unlikely to need anything with you, unless you’ve been given a resource to look at before the interview. I’d recommend having a pad of paper and pen close by, in case you find it easier to work out a problem visually, though I didn’t end up needing to myself.

What is the interview setting and how long is it?

Interviews are normally between 20-30 minutes, sometimes with additional time for preparing materials they’ve sent over. If you interview is online, I’d recommend setting up your device in a quiet spot with a good Wi-Fi connection. Furthermore, somewhere there’s little to distract you or get in the way, but also somewhere you can sit comfortably.

What are the Oxford Philosophy interviewers like? 

All the interviewers I had were very friendly, and made sure to put me at ease! Remember, they want you to succeed and do your best, so it’s unlikely they will try and trick you. They know how nerve-wracking it can be, so they might try to ease you in with some small talk at the start. While answering a question, if you get really stuck, they’ll offer you a helping hand and lead you in the right direction. One tutor even told us about his own experience applying for PPE at Oxford, and didn’t make it past the interview. He got rejected, and instead came back for postgraduate study. The interviewers are just people like you, who care deeply about their subject and want to see you thrive!

Are there any academic or challenging Philosophy questions at the Oxford Interview?

Tutors may give you a passage of text on a Philosophical topic, and ask you to prepare answers to a series of questions. The interviewers often have a list of 4-5 questions to work through. But they may not get through them all, which is okay. Sometimes one question can spark a deep and intriguing discussion, which allows you to explore the concept in much more detail. They’re likely to ask you follow up questions. This is to encourage you to approach the question in different ways, and to appreciate what would happen if the stimulus was slightly different. In general, the interview is unstructured, and flexible to go in any direction based on your answers. You can basically shape the interview towards what you’re comfortable speaking about!

Are there any personality, work experience or extracurricular based questions at the Oxford Philosophy Interview? 

People’s experiences of this are varied. Some applicants have been asked lots of questions on ideas they’ve explored in their Personal Statement. While others haven’t been asked on it at all. It’s a good idea to read over your Personal Statement again before beginning the interview. This is to make sure it’s refreshed in your mind in case you are asked about it.

They could ask about a book you’ve read, and how it’s influenced your perception of a certain aspect of Philosophy. Or for you to think critically about a Philosopher’s ideas that you’ve referenced. They could also pick out specific sentences in which you’ve expressed an opinion of your own. They may ask you to elaborate on why you’ve explained something in the way you have done.

Top Tips for the Oxford Philosophy Interview

1. Practise mock interviews.

This can be with friends, teachers, parents. Just get someone to put you on the spot and make you give a detailed answer. Whilst it is helpful thinking how you would answer questions on your own, being made to answer unseen questions under pressure is a whole different experience, and practising as much beforehand definitely helps.

2. Keep up to date with current affairs in the news or newspapers.

Whilst you may not actually mention anything you have read, if relevant when answering a question, bringing in real-life examples can really boost your answer and show you are passionate about the subject. It shows that you can apply your understanding of Philosophy to real-world examples where they are relevant, and could explain why something exists as it does. Importantly though, do not try to force these examples in for the sake of doing it – the interviewer will be able to tell and may be deemed as irrelevant to the question.

3. Know your personal statement inside and out.

Whilst I was not asked about anything I put on my PS, the last thing you want to do is for them to mention a book you have read or an economic concept you mentioned, for you to not be able to talk about it in detail – would be a major red-flag to the interviewer.

4. Practice the questions beforehand that you can prepare for.

It is almost guaranteed that at some point in the interview you will be asked questions such as “Tell me about yourself”… “Why Oxford/this college”… “Why Philosophy”. These are all questions you can prepare for and practice giving a well-thought out, structured answer. Prepare for these beforehand – will mean you will give a better answer than if you are thinking on the spot!

5. Listen to debates/speeches.

These are helpful to watch, as the speaker must give a well-thought out answer, showing good use of body language, expression and tone of voice – all things you need to model when putting across your own arguments. This helped me prepare for my interview – I found a few videos that resonated with me and adopted some of their methods of articulation which helped me give a more structured, clear answer.

Still need more support with preparing for your Oxford Philosophy Interview? Check out Oxbridge Philosophy for more information on our one-to-one tutoring service, to help secure your place at the University of Oxford!

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