Friday, October 13, 2006

Sorting the wheat from the chavs

Notoriously eccentric' Oxbridge interviews

Oxbridge universities are reportedly asking applicants increasingly wacky questions to see who 'cuts the mustard'.

Questions being asked in interviews at Oxford and Cambridge include: 'At what point is a person dead?', 'How does a perm work?' and 'Are you cool?'

Other questions included: 'What percentage of the world's water is contained in a cow' and 'Of all 19th-century politicians, who was most like Tony Blair?'

The findings come from a survey of 1,200 of last year's applicants by the Oxbridge Applications advice company.

Jessica Elsom, of Oxbridge Applications, said the interview process was "notoriously eccentric".

More young people than ever were getting A grades at A-level, making it more difficult for leading universities to distinguish between candidates. She added: "With the increase in the numbers of students excelling at A-level, the Oxbridge interviews are one way of finding out who really cuts the mustard."

In the perennial debate about ever-improving A-level results, and whether pupils are getting cleverer or exams are getting easier, it surprises me how often the obvious answer is overlooked: the exam questions don’t change that much from year to year, so by using past papers, teachers just get better at coaching students to tick the right exam boxes.

It’s as good or better, from an exam results point of view, to be a mediocre student at a very good school, than a very good student at a mediocre school. Eccentric questions are thus necessary to sort out which is which.


Hey Skipper said...

Even the West Lothian judge is giving you full points for the title.

martpol said...

It's easy for any mediocre student to get C grades if they do as you say - simply learn what answers are expected and repeat them by rote. But getting A* and A grades does require some creativity even now.

The main reason I gave up teaching was the sheer quantity of written papers which required marking, many produced at such short intervals that students couldn't possibly develop their skills in between assignments. The obsession with written exams continues to rob students of opportunities to get involved in genuine creative thinking and critical enquiry.