So, you’re thinking of applying to study Economics at Oxford or Cambridge, or perhaps you’ve already applied. This means you’re probably already looking ahead to the dreaded Economics Interview.
Many students find the Interview the most daunting part of the whole process of applying to Oxbridge. What will it entail? How can I read ahead and prepare? Is my Personal Statement going to come up? Today we’ll go through these questions to give you some more clarity on the Economics Interview process at Oxford and Cambridge.
Why Do Oxbridge Interview For Economics?
You may have noticed that some of the other universities that you’re applying to do not require an interview, instead going off of your personal statement and grades. but the answer as to why Oxford and Cambridge interview for Economics (or Economics and Management at Oxford) is simple: Oxbridge conducts interviews for practically all of their courses.
Economics isn’t being singled out as a course with particularly high entry standards as Oxford and Cambridge both seek to admit the highest calibre of students. The interview process is a key part of this as it allows the admissions tutors to learn each applicant on a more personal level in order to assess their suitability.
There is no set mould for the ideal Oxbridge student. Everyone is assessed individually, meaning the Admissions Tutors are looking for something different in each student. All the applicants will have been predicted top grades, so it is difficult to fairly select based on their UCAS applications alone. Therefore, interviews are the way forward.
Admissions Tutors are looking for students who they feel have the most academic ability and potential, are best suited to the course and who will benefit from the learning environment that Economics at Oxbridge offers them.
The interview is not designed to catch you out, or for you to recite what you already know but rather use the knowledge you have and apply it to new problems, this is so they can see how you think.The key thing they are looking for is that you can show interest in and commitment to Economics, and the ability to think critically and independently.
Who gets an Economics interview?
Applying for Economics at Oxford is extremely competitive, over the three-year period of 2018 to 2020 applicants to the Economics and Management course an average of just 21% of them were interviewed with 6% successful in getting a place.
Cambridge is generally known to be more generous with their interview invitations, with around 70% of applicants typically being shortlisted each year. This doesn’t mean there are more spaces available for the course, but it doe mean you have a better chance of getting your foot in the door and impressing the admissions team.
Either way, given how competitive the process is, getting an interview is a huge achievement and should be something to be proud of. Taking the competitiveness into consideration, it is important to stand out and make a lasting impression at your interview.
Finding out if you have been invited for an interview can be quite last minute, as you may only be given a week’s notice that you have been shortlisted. Begin preparation as early as possible as if you wait to receive an invitation it will be too late.
Letters or emails indicating whether you have been successful are usually sent middle of November to early December with the interviews expected to take place early to mid-December. It is important to note, interviews cannot be rearranged so you must make sure you are available.
Don’t wait until you get invited for an Interview to start your preparation, getting started early will put you on course for Interview success.
Waiting to be invited for an Interview means you won’t be left with enough time to prepare for your Interview. Check out our Oxbridge Economics Premium Programme to gain essential Interview preparation.
How to Prepare
Let’s start off with some general advice that will help you get prepared for either interview.
You will need to be engaging with economic writing beyond the A-level syllabus. For the general Cambridge Economics Interview, this means reading economics books published by prominent economists, for instance, Nobel Laureates. It is also worth engaging with the research published by institutions such as the Bank of England.
Make sure you re-read your Personal Statement and any coursework you are providing. Anticipate questions that may arise from these and prepare them in advance. Don’t get caught out!
Some people who have been through this interview process advise preparation in maths, further maths, and economics specifically when discussing their experiences. They also suggest an array of reading material in addition to the books already mentioned. The Economist and a respected business news section, such as the Financial Times, can be very helpful.
You should already be working through a recommended reading list or have compiled your own, but make sure to remain consistent with your wider reading before the interview.
When preparing, make sure you are explaining your thought processes out loud, even if it is just to yourself. This is crucial for the Interview itself as you need to explain the journey, not just say the destination. It doesn’t particularly matter if you end up getting it wrong. Interviewers are usually far less interested in what you know, instead, they are really interested in what you can do with what you currently know.
Of course, a good place to start is to practice speaking. It may seem simple and obvious, but it is a good way to boost confidence as well and help you communicate your knowledge better.
This does not have to be formal in anyway, they can be chats with teachers, friends or family members. You could also record yourself as practice to help gain clarity and confidence and once you have found that confidence, try talking to people which can help with active listening and body language.
Think of some basic questions that may be asked and how you could answer them, this is a handy way to help articulate your thoughts and feelings on the subject. You may be asked why you have chosen Economics and why at this university.
What Is The Oxford Economics Interview Process Like?
Applicants will have at least two Interviews at Oxford, due to the collegiate and pooling systems the exact number of Interviews that will have to be sat is uncertain.
The traditional Interview process meant applicants would be invited to Oxford but would not know when they could leave. Therefore, it is possible to be called for extra Interviews at any time. It is unlikely that someone would have for example five or six Interviews, but it is not unheard of, so it is important to anticipate having more Interviews than you expected.
It is also important to emphasise that the number of Interviews an applicant has does not indicate their chances of success. Someone who has many Interviews might still end up at the original college they applied for, or they might not. The chosen college will give the go-ahead of when it is okay to leave and there will be no further Interviews.
Unlike Cambridge, students applying for Oxford will not be asked to reattend for any additional interviews and there is not a winter pool. It is possible to be accepted into a different college than the one applied for, but this will occur without any further interviews and applicants will be notified in January along with their Interview results.
Since the Covid-19 outbreak, Interviews have been held online meaning this is not the case for the time being. It is also currently unknown whether they will continue holding Interviews online or if they will revert to their old system. As of 2022, the process has remained online.
The Cambridge Economics Interview: a tale of two parts
Similar to Oxford, the Cambridge Economics Interview process is broadly split into two distinct parts:
The first part is an Interview that covers your conceptual understanding of economics. This is macroeconomics, microeconomics and potentially covering the global economy, including development economics.
These are the broad themes of the A-level syllabus and so it will be necessary to not only have a strong grounding of the concepts in these areas, but also to reach beyond the confines of class textbooks and read some of the work economists in the real world are producing.
As well as these concepts, the interviewer may touch upon the contents of your Personal Statement, so make sure you’re familiar with the readings and theories you discussed in there. If you talked about QE, monetary policy or the 2008 recession, it is advisable to have a good understanding of these topics as they are the potential basis of the Interview conversations.
The second Cambridge Economics Interview tends to be more applied, involving applied maths and problem-solving questions. Cambridge Economics is probably the most mathematically rigorous Economics course in the UK and as such, you should expect the Interview to have some form of mathematical focus. The Admissions Tutor will get you to discuss some material you would have seen before the Interview but expect the Interview to have a mathematical focus.
It is useful, therefore, to have covered the A-level maths syllabus again, including Core modules and Statistics. It is typical that a question may incorporate differentiation, for instance, in the context of an economic problem.
Like Oxford, interviews have been held online since 2020. While this format remains roughly the same, it’s important ensure your computer set up is ready to attend these interviews for potentially the near future.
Common Oxbridge Economics Interview Questions
While you can never predict exactly what you’ll be asked at your interview, the admissions teams do like to ask certain questions which give them a better insight into your abilities and your character.
What Is The Purpose Of These Common Questions?
The questions asked by the Admissions Tutors are designed in a way to get more out of you than you realise. Candidates will be asked different questions based on what the tutors want to see from them but they all follow a similar theme.
They are designed to assess your academic potential, as well as see your enthusiasm for the subject. They can only learn so much from grades and your Personal Statement, they want to get to know you and see how you think.
Questions that are asked of you are done so as they effectively showcase the talents and skills required to be successful at Economics. These skills are logic, critical thinking, and the ability to communicate clearly and effectively. In some cases, the Interview is designed to mimic the supervisions you will attend as a student and the Admissions Tutor is looking to see how you deal with such an environment.
Most importantly, this is your time to show your creativity and knowledge. These questions are designed to challenge to allow you to show off your full potential.
What kind of topics tend to come up?
The range of topics is, inevitably, very wide. The topics below gives some overarching themes based on our tutors experience from the Oxford and Cambridge Economics Interviews:
As well as knowing the types of questions that could come up, it’s also helpful to see some examples of how to answer them successfully. Here are some common interview question examples from Oxford and Cambridge.
Common Oxford Economics Interview Questions
“I’m going to give you £50. You have to offer some of it to another person, but you won’t get to keep a penny unless they accept the offer, with that in mind, how much of your £50 would you offer to them?”
This is a mathematical question and therefore will require a numeric answer. A strong candidate will have the ability to answer the question directly and from an analytical point of view that the Admissions Tutor outlined.
As for going about answering the question, an example of a response is below:
“So, I’m looking for a nominal value between 0 and £50 to be offered to the other person. This seems to be a question related to the field of game theory; the area that focuses on understanding optimal strategic decisions and their modelling. Unfortunately, I’m not familiar with the tools of this discipline but I will try to tackle the question using my basic economic intuition and mathematics.
I understand that economics primarily deals with incentives, and here the two participants have very different incentives. Let me consider both of them and then outline who will get their way or what kind of a compromise they will reach.
Both me and the other person want to get as much money as possible, but we both can’t get the £50, there is a trade-off.
We also have different ways of achieving our aims: I set the amount, the other person decides whether to accept or not. The other person can stop me from having any money whatsoever; this seems to be a strong tool against me.
So, I will have to make the other person happy otherwise we will both walk away without anything. Given this, how can I get the best outcome for myself while navigating through my dual objective: getting money, but satisfying the other one? I have to give the person something, even though I don’t want to.
Anything I give should make the other happy since the alternative is 0. Therefore, mathematically, I should probably offer the least amount: £1. But would that be acceptable? At this point, I could consider other, alternative methods to understanding cooperation that can better deal with phenomena like envy, fairness, altruism, etc.”
In this example, the student immediately sets the context and frame of the question, which suggest that this is a very strong candidate who is not trying different things but knows the direction of their answer.
Good candidates will always draw knowledge from multiple disciplines and apply the most relevant knowledge that is available to them. The structure of the answer is key, to make it easier for the Admissions Tutor to see where you are going with the answer and can assist in getting you there. If they know where you intend to end up, they can guide you to the correct answer in the quickest way possible.
An outstanding candidate would demonstrate some outside-the-box thinking by having the ability to challenge fundamental assumptions. In the example given above, the candidate could point out that there are many people to whom getting the highest amount of monetary gain might not be a primary goal, hence making the simple mathematical analysis problematic.
As previously mentioned, Admissions Tutors will take your Personal Statement into consideration and ask you questions based on what you have told them. This is because you have shown an interest in a topic and they want you to expand on that.
You’ve mentioned globalisation in your personal statement, how would you define it, and what would you say the benefits of it might be to ordinary people?
The main challenge this question poses is clearly the broadness of the topic. This is a subject hundreds of academics and other pundits have written hefty books on.
The important thing to keep in mind here is that sometimes the applicant’s first response serves only as a discussion starter. There is no need to include everything you would want to talk about in excruciating details, the Admissions Tutors only want to hear a few points they can start from.
Let me start by clarifying the concept of globalisation. It’s a household concept by now, but I’m not sure we have a universal agreement on what is meant by it. To me, globalisation is the process through which national and regional borders become increasingly irrelevant, as a result of culture, business and general economic activity all become more homogeneous and are formed by actors unrelated to any single country.
This definition allows me to capture the different aspects of globalisation each of which requires a different analytical perspective: sociology, economics, politics, international relations, etc.
From an economics point of view, the average citizen gains in two main ways from globalisation. First, the citizen benefits from the diversification of products and services available for consumption at lower prices.
Second, the broadening of opportunities allows citizens to have a better match between their skills and their occupation.
I will first consider the benefits of free trade. The emergence of transnational corporations and wider political movements supporting globalisation have put increasing pressure on governments to allow for greater freedom in international trade. This has resulted in an unprecedented expansion of consumption goods and services available for all customers.
Just think about all the exotic fruits, spices, and craft goods one can buy even in their local Tesco. International competition, another benefit of globalisation, has furthermore allowed all goods to be priced competitively on a global scale, leading to significant price drops. This process clearly benefits the average citizen.
My second point relates to the tendency that globalisation comes with the expansion of cross-border mobility too. This happens for a range of reasons: better and more easily available information about opportunities abroad, the internationalisation of communication (English as lingua franca) and the transnational HR procedures and multinational corporations.
The average citizen benefits from being able to find a position more ideally suited for them than before globalisation had emerged.
Having said that, I believe it’s important to note the likely negative consequences of globalisation too: the threat of dumping in developed countries, the threat of exploitation in developing countries or diminishing cultural diversity are just a few on the list.
In this example, by presenting a clearly outlined structure in the beginning, the applicant ensured that the Admissions Tutor knew that a strong and well-argued presentation would follow. It is also advisable with such a complex question to take some time before starting the answer, this allows any applicant to articulate any thoughts in a more organised manner.
A focus on the economic arguments is also important as this is an economics and not a sociology interview, and the points, therefore, need to be chosen accordingly.
Other questions commonly asked in Economics Interviews surround current affairs. This is to assess the applicants wider knowledge and how they can apply Economic logic to it.
Considering recent events, do you think that the creation of the Eurozone was a good idea?
This is an extremely open-ended question, which provides the candidate with the opportunity to talk about a multitude of topics and issues. It is easy to get side-tracked with such an unstructured question, but the applicant should make sure they answer the question. However, there is potential for them to talk about areas that interest them, and display their enthusiasm for the subject in doing so.
“For me, the main objectives of the Eurozone were to improve trade between European nations and to provide more economic stability for those nations involved. I think the European Union has been successful in the first of these goals, however, when addressing the latter, it is clear that the last two decades have been rather turbulent for all Eurozone countries, especially considering the issues with the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Proponents of the Euro may argue that weak nations such as Greece would never have survived the economic crisis of 2008 without the presence of the Eurozone, but others may argue that a lack of control over individual countries’ monetary policy contributed to the severity of the recession. One interesting aspect of the Eurozone process is that it has highlighted the high geographical mobility of labour in many European nations…”
In this example, the candidate has been able to demonstrate an understanding of current affairs focusing on the Covid-19 pandemic and has successfully applied Economics reasoning to it.
It is worth bearing in mind that not only is the tutor looking for intelligence; they are looking for someone that they are happy to teach for the next few years. Personality can be a factor in determining their decision: arrogance or attempting to deceive a tutor may not be looked upon fondly.
One important thing to remember is to not make out you have substantial knowledge in this area. You are not expected to have a wealth of experience or knowledge in Economics so it would do you no advantages to try and convince the Admissions Tutors that you do.
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Common Cambridge Economics Interview Questions
“Inflation is often talked about as a bad thing, but governments don’t try to prevent inflation from taking place, why do you think this is?”
This question allows the candidate the opportunity to show the extent of their understanding of current policies and additional knowledge they have established with their further reading.
“0% inflation may seem like a good idea as lower prices provide consumers with the opportunity to get more for their money. Price increases are often poorly received by consumers as they have to reduce what they buy. However, there is often a trade-off between inflation and economic growth and aiming for zero inflation may lead to stagnation in an economy. Inflation only forces a reduction in consumption when prices are rising faster than wages, so a government may compromise on inflation – such as the Bank of England have done with their 2% target – in order to ensure that economic is being achieved.”
In this example, the candidate effectively pre-empts and dispels arguments in favour of 0% inflation goals. Given that this is probably a topic that the candidate has never had to tackle before, it is advisable to ensure they can present a structured logical argument before attempting to answer.
This may involve asking for a moment to think, and a good candidate should not be discouraged from doing just that as it allows for a moment to collect your thoughts. It is also important to remember to voice your thought process aloud, this is what the Admissions Tutor wants to see.
Although they have a heavy focus on practical questions, Cambridge Interviews are also often known for their seemingly bizarre questions. But remember each and everyone has a purpose.
“Sadly, we aren’t allowed to just sit down with you and play a game of Monopoly, but if we did, how would you try to win? Would your strategy also work in the real world?”
Being asked about Monopoly does seem slightly less serious, but it is still clearly grounded in Economic theory and should form the basis for your answer. If you happen to be unfamiliar with Monopoly or are not clear on the best way to win it, then make sure to ask for clarification.
Do not struggle to try to answer a question, thinking it makes yourself look better by doing so, the Admissions Tutor will think more highly of you for being honest about not knowing the concept. What the Admissions Tutor wants to see is how you apply the method to reality and the subsequent discussion of whether this is possible.
“In general, the best way to win monopoly is to play it as aggressive as possible. This means buying up every single property that you land on or that becomes available to buy in some way. Your ultimate aim is to acquire sets and owning as much as possible gives you a much larger degree of bargaining power over other players.
You should not save any money as it is easy to instantly mortgage and unmortgage properties to pay anything that you owe. To apply this to real life, we need to consider what the overall goal of monopoly is.
In order to win, you need to bankrupt every other player and by doing this you accumulate all of the available money and assets. For the sake of discussion, we will assume that the goal of real life is to achieve economic success through the accumulation of wealth.
The monopoly strategy does have some real-life application. It makes sense to accumulate as many safe assets as possible (property in this case) and then accumulate a steady flow of income in the form of rent.
Bargaining power is also important in reality, and a strong set of assets is a useful bargaining tool. The crucial difference in monopoly, however, is that resources (properties) are so scarce, and you are one of a small number of people trying to acquire them.
In reality, both the pool of assets and potential buyers is much greater. This means that accumulating one extra property has a far smaller impact on your bargaining power.
Furthermore, it is useful in real life to have some savings and liquidity to fall back on. You cannot instantly mortgage and unmortgage assets in the same way as you can in the game, and as such having no savings as coverage will increase your chances of going bankrupt.”
In comparison, a poor answer will be one that does not take this question seriously and treats it as more of a joke. While the question is not serious in tone, you need to make sure that you are still treating it with care and using it as an opportunity to show your Economics knowledge and relate concepts to the specific question.
Kings College has some examples of the mathematical questions that are asked during the Interview itself, these are helpful to gauge an idea of what they are like. There are no answers with these so they can be put to good practice of being able to form an answer to a Cambridge Economics maths question. One of the samples given is:
“A fair coin is tossed but you cannot see whether it is heads or tails. In order to learn the outcome, you ask three friends who all see the outcome clearly. Each friend has a habit of lying one-third of the time at random. If all of them say that it is heads, what is the probability that it is indeed heads?”
This provides a solid representation of what these questions are like and the general theme that they follow. Getting to grips with what these questions are like will play a big part in succeeding in your Cambridge Economics Interview.
It is the final stage of the application process, and often what sways the admissions team’s decision so being prepared is essential and vital to having a successful interview. The interview is not designed to be a thorough test of your knowledge of the subject. Rather, it is about how you would fit in at Oxbridge and your teachability.
But overall, the key thing to remember is to just be yourself and show off your passion for Economics. The tutors just want to find out what you think and how you think. Confidence is the key to shining on the day, which can be gained thanks to the help of practice. Being prepared for such a competitive interview will make the difference between getting accepted or not.
How do I prepare for my Oxbridge Economics Interviews to perform well on the day?
Our expert Oxbridge Economics Interview support is designed to give you the highest chance of an offer at the Interview stage. Your Economics tutor will work closely with you to craft a strong Interview strategy, with the option to take part in mock interviews to put your learning into practice.
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