The Oxford PPE Interview: What You Need To Know

Preparing for an Oxford PPE Interview may seem difficult, particularly with three new subjects to grapple with. However, it is important to remember that the Interview is aimed at looking for an applicant’s potential for development.

Author: Zayra Morales

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The Oxford PPE Interview, is an important step in the application process for candidates.

With just 11% of applicants from 2018 to 2020 successfully gaining a place on the course, it is important to make an impression and stand out in the Interview.

Studying a course that covers three subject areas, the PPE Interview is not alike other Interviews you may have to attend. 

Knowing what to expect will help boost your chances of having a successful Interview. 

What To Expect At An Oxford PPE Interview

Most students tend to have an Interview for each subject that makes up the PPE course. Although, this can vary and you can also be invited for further Interviews at other colleges.

What happens in the Interviews themselves can also vary a lot, but candidates most often receive some sort of new material and are assessed by how they respond to it – this may be anything from a graph to an article

What the Admissions Tutors are trying to do is see how you process new information. Be prepared to be questioned on your stance. Don’t worry though, it is okay to adapt it according to new information.

It is not a test of existing knowledge, it is aimed at assessing the candidate’s potential for future development. The Interviews are meant to be like mini-tutorials so the Admissions Tutor is keen to see how you fare in such an environment. 

There are four areas that are being assessed during the Interview, which the Admissions Tutor is looking for to determine your potential for future development. These are:

Understanding:

This can be shown in (for example) a candidate’s ability to listen carefully, to analyse problems, to identify the premises and conclusions of arguments, and to express in their own words someone else’s ideas.

Intellectual flexibility:

This can be demonstrated by (for example) a candidate’s willingness to consider alternative views, and readiness to respond to problems and criticisms. 

Critical thinking and problem-solving: 

This can be shown in (for example) a candidate’s ability to adopt logical and critical approaches to problems, to critically assess arguments, to identify good and bad reasons for believing a particular claim, to assess relevance, and to think independently.

Communication: 

This can be demonstrated by (for example) a candidate’s willingness to express ideas clearly, to give considered responses to questions, and to address the point under discussion instead of veering off topic.

Oxford only Interview people they feel have a realistic chance of getting in and being successful on the PPE course, so being invited to attend is a massive accomplishment.

How To Prepare For The Oxford PPE Interview

Candidates are not expected to have studied Philosophy, Politics or Economics at school, but they should be interested in the subjects and be prepared to put their minds to problems of PPE presented to them. 

Throughout the Interview, the Admissions Tutors are looking for commitment and motivation to the course as well as evidence of academic potential. They want to see that you have really engaged with the three subjects and have a passion for them. 

A key recommendation is to obtain a reasonable grasp of the workings of the social and political world in which we live. Keeping up to date with current affairs by engaging with the news will be crucial to a successful application. 

As you are not expected to know about these subjects before applying, being able to demonstrate an interest in ideally two of the subjects through extra-curricular reading will show this desire to study PPE.

Wider reading shows that you are really engaged with what the course entails, especially when you have not studied them before. 

Oxford recommends some introductory texts for each discipline which acts as a solid starting point for your preparation.

Additionally, it is important to find out what interests you as an individual. This will not only make sure that PPE is the right choice for you but exactly what you are interested in.

This will make it easier to communicate your passion for the subject and will make you stand out as an individual.

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 Oxford PPE Interview Programme to gain essential Interview preparation. 

 

What are Oxford PPE Interview Questions like?

The questions are designed to be difficult to give you the chance to show your full intellectual potential. The Admissions Tutors will help guide you to the right idea, that is if you provide them with the information to guide. 

The Interview is your opportunity to show your creativity, analytical skills, intellectual flexibility, problem-solving skills and your go-getter attitude. 

Making mistakes is not a bad thing if you can show that you have addressed a mistake and attempted to revise your argument upon the realisation of more information. By doing this, you are showing a crucial to getting through essays and the tutorials at Oxford. 

There are no set patterns to the questions you can get asked, most questions will focus on a topic for which it is possible for any individual to have an opinion without previous knowledge of the area. This is to test the way you think about a topic and to test whether you are able to apply your own experiences and knowledge to an unknown subject area. 

Which view you may take, do not be surprised to see the Admissions Tutor take the opposing and raise objections. This does not mean you have made a mistake. Be prepared to argue in defence, but also be willing to change position if you realise that it has become indefensible.

PPE relies strongly upon the ability to construct an argument based on the information provided. Many questions are related to society today and may require the candidate to be familiar with current affairs and big events in the news. 

Questions also have recurring themes that appear because they are important for social sciences: legitimacy and role of government, human rights, poverty, feminism, international institutions, the purpose of education and different educational systems, voting systems, inequality and social classes. 

Philosophy

Before your Philosophy Interview, you will be given some pre-reading which will consist of four or five questions. These may be puzzles, arguments, or imaginary scenarios to think about. 

Sometimes, there may be a right answer, but in general, it is preferred that the problems will have a number of different approaches that are equally reasonable. 

This pre-reading is not a test, you will not be given a mark for your responses to the questions. Rather, the point is to introduce you to topics that can then be discussed in the Interview and allows you and the Admissions Tutor to cover more in the limited time you have together. 

Primarily, the focus of the Interview will be the pre-reading topics though expect to be asked questions on your Personal Statement. 

The Admissions Tutors are looking to see you have the ability to understand a problem, think clearly and logically about it, explain your thoughts, and respond intelligently to considerations for and against. 

Politics

As for the Politics segment of the Interview process, there is a variety of questions that you could be asked. Be ready to be challenged on your views, remember that more often than not there will be no right answer. 

You may also be given some ‘puzzle questions’, or be asked to consider a few political scenarios. The Admissions Tutor wants to see how you think such puzzles through. 

As already stated, you need to be able to explain your reasoning and justifications. Being able to do this will prove your capability to succeed in the course at Oxford. 

Economics

In Economics, you will likely be asked one or more of these ‘puzzle questions’. Do not feel like you cannot answer the questions, they are supposed to be difficult. You are not expected to land on the right answer straight away. 

The Admissions Tutor is wanting to see your thought process, so make sure to verbalise your thoughts rather than doing it in your head. By speaking aloud, you may also be provided with hints to guide you to the right answer quicker.

This does not mean you are doing bad, it is a way for the Admissions Tutors to see how you would react to having them teach. After all, the Interview is meant to a resemble a tutorial which is the teaching method at Oxford. 

Also, there is no need to worry if you only get one of these types of questions. The Admissions Tutor know some of the questions take longer to answer than others and would not expect to ask more than one. 

Example Oxford PPE Interview Question

Knowing what the questions are like, and what the Admissions Tutors are looking from you is one thing. Actually being able to answer the questions is another thing entirely.

The Admissions Tutors are primarily wanting to get to know you. They are the ones who will teach you throughout your time at Oxford, and they want to see how you think and how you would handle being taught by them. 

An example of the type of question you could be asked in your PPE Interview is:

“How would you judge the extent of the differences between a capitalist and a communist system?”

This is a good example of a question that you could be asked in the Interview, as it would fall under both Politics and Economics. 

It allows the candidate to demonstrate their understand of the different political and economic systems and critically analyse the difference between the two. 

Being able to demonstrate real-world examples where possible, would be beneficial when answering a question such as this. 

Being able to demonstrate real-world examples where possible, would be beneficial when answering a question such as this. 

A good answer would be able to engage with both sides of the argument and would reach a persuasive conclusion.  The candidate would also engage critically with the standard definitions of capitalism and communism, in a way that enhances their argument. 

An example of such an answer follows: 

Capitalism, it is standardly claimed, is an economic system in which goods, property, and businesses are privately owned, and resources are therefore distributed through market mechanisms.

Communism is an economic system in which these are owned by the state instead, and so resources are distributed by the government.

The main difference between these, therefore, is the fact that, in communism, private property doesn’t exist, and so the allocation of resources does not depend upon the free market. 

However, this picture is complicated by the existence of mixed economies. These exist when some things are owned and distributed by the government, and some by the free market.

Most countries that have a mixed economy are considered capitalist countries, on account of the fact that they have private markets.

The standard definition is in fact not that suitable for capitalism because it is impossible for nothing to be owned and distributed by the government if a country has a government.

Therefore, there is at least some way in which all capitalist countries allocate resources through the government unless they are an anarchist country, which is an oxymoron.

Therefore, a line must be drawn in order to determine at which point a mixed economy is a capitalist country, and at which point it is communist.

This is what causes people to argue that they are not so different. However, I believe that the existence of any private market at all makes a country capitalist, and, therefore, capitalism does maintain a fundamental difference to communism. 

Juxtaposing this, a bad answer to this question would demonstrate a lack of critical analysis about the difference between the two economic systems. 

It is perfectly fine for the candidate to argue that they are different, but failing to engage in both sides of the argument or clearly defining why they are different will significantly weaken their answer. 

An example of an answer you should not giving is below: 

Capitalism is an economic system in which goods, property, and businesses are owned privately, whereas communism is an economic system in which they are owned by the state. Therefore, the two are different. 

This example question effectively demonstrates what the questions in the Oxford PPE Interview are like. It tests candidates ability to think logically and critically, by applying existing knowledge to the question meaning it is possible to answer it without having studied the subject.

It is essential to remember that it is not just the answer the Admissions Tutor wants to hear but your thinking to have gotten there in the first place.

Conclusion

Overall, take an interest in political and social issues, read around the subjects to find out what interests you. Be prepared at the Interview to engage with new concepts and material, thinking critically and responding to what the interviewer gives you.

As long as you can demonstrate your passion for the subjects, even if you have never studied them before, will ensure the Admission Tutor knows PPE is the right choice for you. 

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