Oxford Psychology, Philosophy & Linguistics (PPL): Tips & Questions for Interview

5 min read
Will Lowndes Sanderson

This article will help you prepare for your Oxford Psychology, Philosophy & Linguistics interview, covering what to expect on the day, to listing previous interview questions so know what to expect.


What is the Oxford Psychology, Philosophy & Linguistics interview structure?

Most candidates have 3 interviews which each last around 30 minutes. Candidates choose to specialise in two of the three subjects, and will have interviews for these chosen disciplines. 

Candidates are all given prior notice, with most getting an interview timetable, along with who will be interviewing them, a few days in advance.

Interviews take place in December, and Oxford University has stated that most interviews will take place virtually for the foreseeable future. Make sure you have practised using the technology beforehand!

Psychology, Philosophy & Linguistics interviews at Oxford University will be held virtually

Example Past Questions from Oxford Psychology, Philosophy & Linguistics interviews

General questions:

  • Why do you want to study Psychology/Philosophy/Linguistics at Oxford?
  • Questions on why I talked about X in personal statement 
  • Why [your chosen subjects] and not the other?
  • What skills would make you suited to be a successful student at Oxford?
  • Why this college?
  • Why Oxford University?
  • What can you contribute to college life?
  • Discussion on my EPQ topic (if done)
  • What are your plans for your gap year (if applicable)
  • Discussion of my future plans for study and career
  • Why is Psychology, Philosophy & Linguistics worth studying?
  • Why is the course structured the way it is?
  • Why should we give you an offer to study Psychology, Philosophy & Linguistics at Oxford?
  • I was asked to summarise a book mentioned in my personal statement and my opinion of it

Oxford Psychology, Philosophy & Linguistics interview questions:


  • The tutors posed as someone learning English, gave me a simple sentence, and asked me to explain to them how to change the word order to change it into a question. I had to come up with rules as to how to change the phrasing, and for each one, the tutor gave an example of a different sentence to which the rule would not apply, and I had to reevaluate the rules I’d given to adapt to this.
  • I was given a list of words or phrases in an uncommon language that I was unfamiliar with, with translations of each word or phrase in English beside. I was asked to pick apart these words to identify different morphemes, and what these morphemes may correlate to in English, for example, the equivalent of ‘he’ or ‘walked’ or a past tense conjugation. I then had to use the deductions I’d made to translate a given sentence from English to the language they’d given.
  • I was asked to draw comparisons between different romance languages such as Latin and Spanish, and how I might go about teaching someone who knows one language, the other.  I was also asked to discuss how language changes over time, and to comment on whether I thought this was a good thing or not.
  • The interview started off by asking some basic introductory questions (such as why the course and university), moving on to questions on language acquisition. We focused on this topic for a while – the interviewer kept asking follow on questions to any answer I gave
  • My interview started with a few questions about my personal statement and the implications of the opening sentence I had written in it. We then talked about linguistic theory, focusing on a particular area in detail
  • My first interview was heavily based on my personal statement. They also gave me words to look at, and discussed them with respect to key ideas from Psychology, Philosophy & Linguistics. The discussions had an emphasis on phonetics oriented questions (this was the interviewer’s area of focus)
  • My second interview included a morphological problem that was set in an unfamiliar language, paired with a semantic/pragmatic  discussion of a few sample sentences.
  • My first interview was more based on my personal statement, focusing on the languages I had mentioned, especially in relation to the books I had read. Most of the questions seemed to be gauging how well you can think on your foot about something you weren’t expecting to be asked
  • My second interview again started off with an initial personal statement focus, before I was given a sheet of paper with some sentences in other languages and in their English translations. Although it was difficult, it helped talking through my thought process with the interviewer
  • My interview initially focused on my personal statement and some of the key ideas/themes I had mentioned, as well as the subjects that I am studying in school and how they are relevant to Psychology, Philosophy & Linguistics. I was then given a dataset and asked to interpret them (they were very helpful, pointing me in the right direction if needed)
  • I was first asked about my motivations  for the subject, before being asked why Oxford and why the college. We then discussed some hypotheses for sociolinguistic trends in the UK, before looking at a problem sheet (containing historical changes in English and ambiguous sentences)
Free Oxbridge Interview Scenarios


    • Is a snail conscious?
    • I was given a document before to read (about an experiment), before being asked why the experiment was done, and examining what was good and what could be improved in the experiment
    • What is normal for humans?
    • Discuss the origins of phobias?
    • What are the effects of recreational drugs on the brain?
    • How can genetics be used to determine someone’s intelligence?
    • How can you design an experiment to see if something is addictive?
    • How come a painting by a four year old of “a tiger amongst tulips” (as described by the child) doesn’t look like a tiger despite the child studying a tiger at the zoo the day before and being satisfied with the outcome?
    • Why do humans have two eyes?
    • Should interviews be used for admissions?
    • How would you conceptualise an emotion?
    • Does the colour of the room you are sitting in affect your mood?
    • How could you design an experiment to see if babies can recognise faces / if faces are special compared to other objects
    • What have you read recently that took your interest (relating to Psychology) 
    Oxbridge Interview Tips Questions Tutoring
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    • 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.
    • 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 and been involved.
    • 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?

    What do you have to bring to your Oxford Psychology, Philosophy & Linguistics  interview?

    I had a pen and notepad on the table beside me, but didn’t end up needing it. I wore a simple outfit that looked smart but not too formal, was comfortable, and wouldn’t distract me during the interview. Make sure to have a bottle of water nearby too!

    When are Oxford Psychology, Philosophy & Linguistics Interviews held?

    According to Oxford University, interviews typically take place during the first three weeks of December, with a small number of candidates interviewing in January. 

    I heard back on the 15th January, roughly 1 month after my interview that took place mid December.

    What if my technology cuts out during the interview?

    Do not worry if you have a tech issue – try to let someone know and rejoin as soon as possible. The interviewers understand these things are often out of your control, and have stated you will not be penalised if it were to occur.

    What are the Oxford Psychology, Philosophy & Linguistics Interviewers like?

    My interview experience was very positive. Although I was very nervous, the interviewers quickly put me at ease and were very friendly. They were very patient and happily clarified any questions, and gave me time to think through my answer.

    It seemed like they genuinely just wanted to know more about you and your motivations for studying the subject. Treat it as more like a conversion between people passionate about their subject, rather than a typical scary interview!

    PPL Oxford teaching
    Students reading Psychology, Philosophy & Linguistics at Oxford will typically have 2 tutorials a week with 0-3 other students and a tutor

    Oxford Psychology, Philosophy & Linguistics Interview tips?

    1. Get prepared at least 15-30 minutes before the interview starts – make sure you have good lighting, good connection, and have found the links you need.
    2. I had a glass of water beside me, turned my phone off entirely, and ensured there were no other distractions around such as family members or pets. 
    3. Make sure to sleep enough the night before, so you feel lively and refreshed – it can be easy to lose sleep due to stress, but the event should be more fun than stressful, and is really nothing to worry about!
    4. Read around your subject, and explore areas outside of the curriculum if you study the subject already at school: they want to see that your love for the subject goes beyond the classroom.
    5. Consider alternative perspectives to what you may already know or have learnt about, and have an understanding of how your views could be contradicted or challenged – be open-minded and willing to change your opinions based on new information. Read texts and articles critically – how do they phrase their arguments to achieve their end goal, whether that’s persuasion, providing information, or sparking discussion?
    6. Do mock interviews! Thinking through a question in your head and talking aloud to someone else are two very different skills, so it is good to practise being more comfortable answering unseen questions and being put on the spot!
    7. Treat the interview as a discussion, more than an interview: it’s an opportunity for you to chat to some of the most renowned specialists in your field about a subject you both care deeply about – it should also be a unique learning opportunity for you to listen to them speak about the subject too!
    8. Enjoy the experience! Whilst it is inevitably a bit daunting, you have done great so far to get an interview! The fact you have been invited in the first place shows you are a top candidate with great potential – show off your passion and enjoy speaking to leading academics in the field!
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