A Student’s Experience Of The Oxford Economics Interview

Second-year Philosophy, Politics and Economics student Hannah looks back on her Interviews at Oxford University.

Author: Hannah Sadik

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Heading into the Oxford Economics Interview means venturing into the unknown. Knowing what the experience is like will help you in preparing for it. 

My name is Hannah, I study Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the University of Oxford, and no, that has never become less strange to say!

Here, you can read my Interview experience and the many tips and tricks I learned from it. My advice will be as universal as it can be but please be aware that the specifics of the Interview experience can and will differ from person to person.

Preparing For My Interview

First of all, let us start with my initial experience of finding out I was selected. I had my Interview around the second week of December. The Tuition Office of the college I had chosen informed me by email in late November.

Colleges tend to send out their emails at this point – typically the college will send out Interview emails to a subject cohort within a few days. You may also receive a rejection at this stage. If you chose to make an open application in terms of college and were accepted to Interview – you may get more information in this email, or else you will be told what procedure you will follow for Interviews.

You may, even if you selected a college, receive an email reallocating you to another college. This is fairly common and is done so that the best candidates are considered for every position so that applying to busier colleges does not unfairly disadvantage you.

Of course, having two or fewer weeks between finding out about Interviews and going to yours gives you very little time to prepare in between. I was in the middle of my mock examinations and had not had much chance to prepare before receiving my email.

To be frank, I was also probably too worried about raising my hopes to do so at that point! It is, however, common to begin preparation before this. I ended up cramming the revision I did into that short period, which meant being efficient was more important than ever.

First of all, I refreshed the information from my Personal Statement. I did this again the night before my Interviews, but the initial review was to make a list of major topics, books and concepts to review.

It was useful to read over what I had said and what I had referenced so I would not be caught unaware if a tutor were to reference it. For example, I mentioned solipsism and a few other concepts of reality and self that I had researched – this was a good jumping-off point for research. It is an excellent idea to demonstrate your interest by showing that you know the niches you mentioned.

Understanding PPE

I had never done Philosophy or Politics at school, but I had done the Indian equivalent to an Economics A-Level. This meant that most of my Interview preparation focused on Philosophy and Politics.

For Philosophy, my first instinct was to briefly learn about the major concepts of Philosophy. To do this I watched Crash Course Philosophy, available on YouTube and hosted by Hank Green, which is an excellent overview of the biggest questions in Philosophy.

Similarly, Thomas Nagel’s ‘What Does It All Mean?: A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy’ has an interesting overview of these issues but also takes a stance on what is the most defensible position on most of them.

For issues where you have not formed your own opinion, these can be good ways of helping form your intuitive responses.

For Politics, my research was significantly easier. Predominantly I looked through key Economist and the Wall Street Journal articles, as well as reputable social media infographic posts.

This kept me up to date on current Political events – my Interviews occurred around the 2016 election. I focused on the United States – due to the ongoing election, the United Kingdom – as the country I was interviewing in, and India, where I had come from and went to school.

Though I had no questions about current events, I stand by this method as a way to illustrate your points during interviews. When you are asked hypothetical questions and theories, it can be helpful to evidence your arguments with real-life scenarios.

For Economics, I felt in many ways the least and most prepared for interviews. I refreshed my Economics syllabus – read through the contents table and refamiliarised myself with some of the material.

This is even more useful if you do Economics A-Level. I also read similar articles, particularly from the Economist, to keep up to date with international Economic policies. I also focused on a few areas of Economics that I was particularly interested in.

I had mentioned a book by Rutger Bregman stating some utopian Economic prospects – among them Universal Basic Income and a 15-hour workweek. Rereading notes I had taken on this book reminded me of my core Economic values and helped solidify any evaluation or arguments I would make later.

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The Interview Process Itself

As a note – doing Economics and Management, or any other joint honours courses including Economics will have similar procedures. I had three interviews – one for each subject, and the Economics one will be similar to those done for other Economics-based courses.

My actual Interview process, flew by in a blur. As I mentioned, I had separate experiences for each Interview. While my Philosophy Interview seemed to go quite well and my Politics Interview relatively decently, my Economics Interview felt like where I had messed up!

The tutor who Interviewed me, a very kind man, started with a simple icebreaker about how I had found the travel. He then transitioned into a few basic questions about Universal Basic Income, since it was on my Personal Statement as an area of interest.

This part was easy enough – it was not trying to catch me out, and it was trying to make me comfortable and demonstrate an area I found interesting.

From there we moved on to a question about traffic in a school region in the UK. I was handed an infographic with some statistics about when the region was over-trafficked.

We discussed how this seemed to be fairly in the morning – and he asked what I thought about tolls at this time as a prevention method. I suggested that financial tolls disproportionately affect the lower-income, as these are the only people who will be deterred by a fee.

Moreover, a toll in the morning would affect parents and work-goers most, whereas it would be the other members of society that could reasonably be expected to detour around the area.

Instead, I suggested a public awareness campaign of public transport options, as well as bicycling and other methods.

This part of the interview seemed good – but it was short-lived! Immediately after having concluded that question block, we moved on to more difficult macroeconomics questions.

I was given a table with information about a few different hypothetical countries (Country X, Country Y etc…) and their treatment of investors.

I lost my nerve almost immediately, especially when my first answer had his smile fading. I was so on edge during the Interview that small perceived changes in the demeanour of the interviewer affected me far too much.

We discussed what would happen if a company had these incentives to invest in Country X versus Y, and at what rate they would consider it. There was a mathematical question given here but it was expected to be a ballpark answer – for example, saying less than 10% was acceptable – and I did not understand that! 

Luckily, I got away with explaining that I could not give a conclusive answer since I listed the information, I believed I would need to calculate it. I finished my Interview passably, but my confidence in my performance was severely shaken.

Interview Misconceptions

I believe my Interview experience is a good demonstration of one of the main misconceptions of an Oxford Interview.

The Interviews are intentionally designed to mimic the tutorial system you will encounter if selected and are not in the typical Interview format. They are far less formal, for one thing – and your tutor is actively trying to help guide you towards a more educated response!

Being responsive to their prompts and receptive to any suggestions can guide you to the most refined form of your argument. Most importantly – you are not expected to be perfect.

As long as you are willing to see flaws in your reasoning and correct them, you can get away with mistakes.

Concluding Thoughts

In my opinion, if I had known how much my Interview would mirror the tutorials I would later take, I would have enjoyed it far more.

At the end of the day, it is an opportunity to talk to a world-class expert in a field you are interested in!

If nerves are getting the better of you last minute – I say take it as an opportunity to discuss and refine your ideas, and what will come of it will come.

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