Monday, December 08, 2008

Thinking Your Way Into Cambridge and Oxford

Sir Isaac must be spinning in his grave over this:

You might expect Oxford and Cambridge universities to ask prospective students to compare the works of Chaucer to Boccaccio or to explain the theory of relativity.

Instead, Oxford wants to know: "Would you rather be a novel or a poem?"

Cambridge asks applicants: "What would you do if you were a magpie?"

These questions, somehow, are supposed to have meaning? How far the mighty have fallen.


Donalbain said...

Those questions have been part of the Oxbridge entry system since AT LEAST the 1930s. Allegedly the purpose is to show the ability to think laterally on a subject rather than to assess knowledge. Every year or so the media catches on to them and makes a story of them, much to the boredom of those of us who answered one or two them at an interview which lasted two hours!

Dr. Davis said...

These questions are most likely the ones that are on the application that are intended to a.) destress students and b.) make sure there is intellectual diversity.

Colleges need some differences beyond the ones you can see in the classroom and this is one of the ways they are attempting to get it.

At least, so says the reading I have done.

Anonymous said...

And those so-called universities will have the gall to continue operations despite harsh judgment from a Sacramento math teacher.

The nerve.

Donalbain said...

They arent on the application. They are at the interview. But otherwise, yes, Dr Davis is correct. The aim is to find out things that A Level results dont necessarily show. After all, everyone who applies to Oxbridge will be likely to have very similar A Level results.

socalmike said...

I'd rather be a sparrow than a snail
Yes I would, if I could, I surely would

I'd rather be a hammer than a nail
Yes I would, if I only could, I surely would

If I were a magpie, I'd sit in a tree outside the admissions office and hope the officials walked right beneath me. Yes I would, if I could, I surely would.

Loni said...

The first question has a right answer. It may take extensive research, but with access to the right library and hard work, you will find the already-discovered link between Einstein's theory and great works of art and literature.

The other questions do not have a right answer. Person A could want to be a novel and person B could want to be a poem and they could be equally right, because it's not about what the outcome is but how you got there and what your reasoning is.

The first question would show the same thing that grades or standardized tests would: how hard you work and how well you use your resources. The essay is supposed to show how creative you are and with questions that, lets face it, are a little random and stupid, you can demonstrate your creative capacity.

And if I were a magpie, I would purposely mess with ornithologists. I guess I'm not Oxford material...whateva' :)

Steve USMA '85 said...

Yes, they do have meaning. Maybe not in the context of a college application, but I regularly ask questions like those when interviewing a prospective hire.
I want to know that a person puts thought into an answer. "So Mr. Miller, you wish to come work here, so tell me, if you could be any animal you chose, what would you be and why?" Usually I ask this towards the end of an interview.
I am looking for someone who takes a moment to think. Take a moment and decide what animal you should choose and the rationale for choosing that animal. I require my employees to think before they act or speak. A person who immediately launches into an answer rarely puts a coherent answer together. They build their case as they speak. Many times this gets them into awkward corners as they contradict themselves while developing a rationale on the fly.
A successful applicant in my eyes takes a few moments, even a minute or two to collect his/her thoughts and then give me a well-organized case for selecting a particular animal. Mind you, I could care less what animal they chose and what their rationale is. I only care that they chose something and have a rational explanation as to why. A person who can field a question from left field and not talk themselves into a corner. They are harder to find then you think.

Anonymous said...

I'm here! I'm queer!! I'm drinking a beer!!!

allen (in Michigan) said...

Donalblain wrote:

Those questions have been part of the Oxbridge entry system since AT LEAST the 1930s.


Mrs. C said...

I see anonymous took the day off from work today.

Donalbain said...

Sorry, the only source is a conversation I had with my professor of physics who also applied to Cambridge back when he was young.