Oxford Economics Common Interview Questions

The Economics Interview at Oxford is an important step in the application process, knowing what questions they tend to ask will help put you on course to gaining a place.

Author: Chloe Hewitt

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Being the final stage of the Oxford application process, there is a lot of importance placed on the Interview.

Knowing what questions to expect in the Economics Interview at the University of Oxford will be the most effective way to prepare for the Interview.

This is your chance to make a lasting impression, and truly sell yourself. There is only so much that a Personal Statement and grades can show.

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.

This is also true for someone who has the expected number of two Interviews. Although it is out of your control do not reflect too much on how many Interviews you have to sit, compared to others. Making sure to be prepared in case you are called for an Interview at short notice is key.

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The chosen college will give the go-ahead of when it is okay to leave and there would 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.

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 Oxford in Economics. These skills are logic, critical thinking, and the ability to communicate clearly and effectively. 

With these skills in mind, the Admissions Tutors pose the questions in a way that will allow the candidate to demonstrate they have these abilities.

This is your chance to show your creativity, analytical skills, intellectual flexibility, problem-solving skills and your go-getter attitude. Although easier said than done, do not waste this opportunity given to you on nerves or the fear of messing up, the questions are designed to be difficult to give you this chance to show your full intellectual potential. 

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. 

Common Questions Asked In The Economics Interview

The Interview will require you to demonstrate passion and a genuine desire to study Economics, you could be asked to discuss a source extract, a diagram or solve a mathematical problem.

Do not be disheartened or worried about being asked Economics questions when you have not studied it before, the Admissions Tutors know this will be the case. The point of the Interview is to see you explain why you want to study Economics and show this through extra-curricular reading or activities how you have fostered this interest.

The nature of the questions asked will differ from college to college and even Admissions Tutor to Admissions Tutor. Some will prioritise maths-based questions, with some areas of maths being more likely to be asked than others but will be topics covered at school.

Others will priorities questions on Economic theory, which as previously mentioned you are not expected to be familiar with and is instead to assess your ability to think critically and logically.

More generically, there can also be questions relevant to your Personal Statement. If, for example, you mentioned a book you had read in it they may get you to expand further on what you had said. As well, they may simply ask you why you chose to study Economics.

The questions are not designed to catch you out, make sure to think aloud on anything you are unsure of – that is what the Admissions Tutors are wanting to see.

Where this has clearly been demonstrated is with the following question:

“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.

Although, having prior knowledge of Economics is not required for this answer identifying the relevant area of Economics is a nice touch and shows that the student has a general understanding of the concepts. It is a niche field, so the Admissions Tutors do not expect you to be an expert and want to see you apply existing knowledge to a new scenario.

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. 

This has been demonstrated in the following question: 

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.

As to how a candidate would go about answering this question, see the example below: 

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. 

Such an example is seen below: 

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. 

What is important though is not to 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. 

As to how a candidate would go about answering this question, is shown below: 

“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. 

From these common questions, the Admissions Tutors will be able to identify those that they feel will succeed at Oxford in Economics and this is the most effective way in doing so. 

Conclusion

There is no set Interview question format at Oxford. What you are asked comes down to the Admissions Tutor and what they decide to ask you. 

No two Interviews will be the same because of this, the Admissions Tutors will tailor the questions to you based on what you tell them and what you had written in your Personal Statement. 

As long as you can build on your existing knowledge and think critically it will go a long way to helping you have a successful Economics Interview at Oxford.

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