Wednesday, December 03, 2008

So you think you're an oxbridge wannabe?... hehehe

One of the many things I enjoy doing and had perhaps also become a habit sort of (hehe) is to always read online the UK news, whenever I can. Just two, mostly (telegraph or timesonline). Awhile ago I was checking out timesonline UK and came across this interesting entry on their typepad (blog). I thought that it may be of some interest to my frens be they parents or students who drops by at my blog, who has a penchant or who yearns to be an oxbridge (hehe) or would like their child to go to oxford or cambridge ...perhaps motivated by the perception or the stories going around that much of the nation's backroom boys advising both the corporate and the public sectors, are predominantly oxbridge (mafia) it seems(?)...hehe. Well, its all mostly about networking I would imagine, about your peers and your alma mater. We have the malay college connection, the royal military college connection, the british, american, australian, new zealand or the canadian universities connection..etc etc... Hehe, perhaps connection may sound a bit intimidating, much like the French Connection which denotes something to do with drugs and smuggling hehe. So, I guess, networking among chappies who went to the same institutions of higher learning..would be more palatable, I would imagine... enjoy the oxbridge interview tips below:

Would you rather be a novel or a poem? Oxbridge interview questions and how to answer them...(

Interviews for Oxford and Cambridge are imminent, and 6th formers across the country are panicking. Everyone has heard about the strange questions which are sometimes thrown at prospective Oxbridge applicants, and we're sorry to say that they're all true! However, help is at hand - we have some real Oxbridge interview questions, and some tips on how to answer them.... Oxbridge Applications helps hopeful students find out more about the application and interview process. And MD Chloe Palfreman says that the key is not to panic, but instead to see the interview as a kind of mock tutorial."You should see it as an opportunity to show your knowledge and powers of lateral thinking," she adds. Palfreman says that not all interview questions are strange, and that they do make sense in the interview situation. "What they're trying to get you to do is show how you can apply your existing knowledge in a new context. They're often subject specific." So here are some recent interview questions* - and tips for how to go about answering them...

1) Talk about a light bulb (Engineering, Oxford)
The question makes two main demands: firstly to structure your ideas logically in response to such an open question and secondly to use this open forum effectively to show a good range of your Physics knowledge. Armed with this awareness, one approach would be to define what a light bulb is (a replaceable component in a lamp, which is designed to produce light from electricity); then to give more detail about how the light bulb has been designed to do this effectively; then to talk about different types of light bulb and finally to discuss the current debate about light bulbs and how we will be tackling illumination in the future.

2) Would you rather be a novel or a poem? (English, Oxford)
The question is asking you to consider the differences between the two literary genres. Traditionally the novel is a lengthy prose work, often rooted in reality, while the poem is usually shorter, focusing overtly on style and form, and often based on fantasy. Having made this distinction, you could go on to qualify it with the observation that these definitions are difficult to maintain when considering epic poems such as The Song of Roland, which narrates historical events; or perhaps the prose Arthurian romances - identified as novels because of their length, despite their magical content. A possible conclusion would be to see it as simplistic to divide literary works into rigid categories, or indeed to describe a person with a one-word epithet. As an individual, you would rather combine the novel’s pragmatism with the poem’s idealism.

3) How would you market a rock band (Economics & Management, Oxford)
This is an opportunity to show that you understand the basic principles of marketing. Beyond this, you should also show that you have the commercial awareness to apply and adapt these principles to the specific product you have been asked to market in the relevant industry. First you need to define the product by talking about what type of rock band it is, how well known the band is already, who is in the band, what they look like and the nature of their songs and music. With a clearer idea of the band, you should start to work out its most obvious customer target groups, through which channels the customers could access the band’s material, and where the access points to market the band would be. You would also want to include some examples to back up the ideas you outline from existing bands who have marketed themselves in a similar way. This should make your answer more tangible to the interviewer. Finally, to show that you are up to date with current business and marketing ideas, you might want to talk about how you could use the Web to do this even more effectively, for example creating a Myspace page for the band, putting videos of them on YouTube or other suggestions you can think of (a blog, perhaps?!)

4) How does Geography relate to A Midsummer Night's Dream? (Geography, Oxford)
According to Oxbridge Applications, this is a "wonderful chance to show that you can adopt an interdisciplinary approach and that you enjoy lateral thinking in the abstract." Phew! It is also "wide open to a completely personal interpretation, as long as it is presented logically and uses clear examples." One possible angle would be to look at how the play presents the human world at the mercy of the natural (fairy) world. The fairies dupe the humans with tricks and potions thus changing the course of their lives. Despite all the advances of mankind and our feeling of being in charge of our environment, we remain very much controlled by the natural stirrings of the Earth, at times with devastating effect – drought, storms, tidal waves or earthquakes. Our being in control is very much an illusion.

5) How many of these pebbles would fit in that car? (Natural Sciences, Cambridge)
It is likely that on asking this question the tutor might show applicants an average-looking pebble and point towards a car outside the window. From this, you then need to show that from a few basic pieces of information you can make a few sensible calculations to work out a plausible estimate. Obviously, getting exactly the right answer is near impossible but the real test is showing that you can use basic problem-solving techniques on your own. This is a question about volume. Firstly you need to calculate the volume of the pebble and then the volume of the car. To accurately estimate the volume of the car, you should take account of the boot as well as the main passenger section. You should also think about whether any additional pebbles will fit in and around the engine area under the bonnet and if so, what the volume of this area is. Once you have these two approximations, you then need to divide the total volume of the car by the volume of the pebble to get the number of pebbles that would fit inside the vehicle.

6) Can History stop the next war? (History, Cambridge)
This question tests an applicant’s wider understanding of the academic discipline. To answer it effectively, you first have to decide whether or not you interpret ‘History’ as an active player in world events. If we understand History to be the study of past events, the immediate assumption is likely to be that History itself cannot actively prevent a war. History does nothing. It would be possible, however, to broaden our understanding of History. You could say that those who participate in an in-depth study of the past are necessarily more attuned to the local sensitivities as well as being more aware of the horrors brought by previous conflict. If these people are in decision-making positions, perhaps they're politicians, armed services commanders or international advisers, then this knowledge may make them less inclined to use war as a solution. Therefore, through these agents, History could end up preventing a war. That said, this still beggars the question of how wars are started and whether they are the result of conscious decisions or more intrinsic and deep-rooted local circumstances. The conclusion here may well be that in some instances knowledge of History could help to prevent tensions being escalated into a war, but there are many other wars where this is not the case.

7) Would you say that greed is good or bad? (Land Economy, Cambridge)
This question looks at the conflict between self-interest and the overall common good within the disciplines of Economics, Law and Geography (the three subjects that make up Land Economy at Cambridge). Taking this interdisciplinary approach to answer the question would show an understanding of the course content. A memorable way to tackle the question might be to take examples from each discipline and talk through them in a structured way using a cost/benefit analysis framework to measure the outcome of different scenarios where greed is to be found. So, in classical Economics all individuals are assumed to be homo economicus (economic man) - self-interested actors motivated by the desire for wealth and the need to avoid unnecessary labour. There are many instances in which this ‘greed’ conflicts with the common good. A strong applicant may want to make a reference to recent investment bankers whose greed for bonuses has now affected the world economic system. There are other instances, however, in which greed produces economic benefit, e.g. entrepreneurs building businesses and thus creating jobs, paying taxes and generating wealth. So within Economics, the case seems balanced, greed drives growth and prosperity, but at what cost? Within Law greed is seen as a ‘bad’ thing, e.g. theft or murder. It is hard to find an example where the law looks upon greed favourably. Within Geography, greed is also more often than not detrimental, such as developed countries’ desire to burn fossil fuels at the expense of the environment. Overall, greed can occasionally be seen to be good, but is not necessarily to be encouraged to an excess. A strong applicant could then discuss what criteria we might put in place to manage greed.

8) Should we have laws for the use of light bulbs? (Law, Cambridge)
The question first raises the issue of the extent to which a law should intervene in people’s lives. To have a law on the use of light bulbs (a 'Light Law') would equate to a law that restricts an individual from freely employing a good to which he has a legal right (the right being derived from the contract of sale between the individual and the light bulb seller). Obviously there are certain overarching laws that do just that, for instance the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 severely curtails to what violent use you can put a light bulb. However, such laws primarily impose negative obligations (you may not assault another with a light bulb), whereas a ‘Light Law’ seems to envisage specifying to what positive use a light bulb can be put. Should we dictate the individual’s right to use his goods in such a manner? To do so we would need some type of social justification i.e. that for the benefit of society as a whole, the individual's freedom to act ought to be constrained. As the global supplies of oil, gas and coal dwindle, there may indeed be such a justification in the future. In answering this question, however, you should also be considering the purpose of laws and what the law is trying to achieve. This raises a second issue around limitations of laws. You may want to consider situations in which it would be unsuitable to use the law to attempt to achieve certain aims. For example, controlling the use of light bulbs may achieve the aim of reducing electricity usage which would be good for the environment, but introducing a law may not lead to changes in people’s attitudes to environmental matters. Educating people about the environment would be a more suitable method for achieving this aim.In considering the purpose of laws, you should consider the value that society gets from them. Laws may be expensive and difficult to enforce and it could be argued that this expense and difficulty are not worth the small gain which will accrue from a particular law, meaning that a particular law cannot be justified. It will also be necessary to address the need to balance intervention through laws with the need to respect civil liberties and you should be able to give an opinion about where that balance should be struck.

9) Is there such a thing as an immoral book? (French and Spanish, Cambridge)
You may want to start by questioning the question. Can an inanimate object have a moral value? Is a book made immoral if its author is judged to be so? If the subject matter of a book is immoral, can it be defended as being a moral work which serves to educate the reader on the dangers of immorality? You could then proceed to explore examples. The 18th century French works by de Sade and Laclos are compelling examples of literature which explore immorality. Laclos defends his epistolary novel Les Liaisons dangereuses by claiming in the prologue that he is simply warning innocents of the dangers of Parisian society. Perhaps then it is not the book which is immoral, but rather the reader who is seduced by it.
10) If you are not in California, how do you know it exists? (PPE, Oxford)
The main issue here is defining the ‘know’. The question strikes at the heart of the rationalist, as opposed to empiricist, schools of philosophical thought (of which any candidate seriously interested in studying Philosophy at Oxford should have at least a basic awareness). Rationalists, such as Descartes, claim the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive. Empiricists, such as Locke, believe in a theory of knowledge which asserts that knowledge arises from experience (i.e. what your senses tell you). So, do you trust your senses or rational thought? Sure, you may have experienced ‘California’ through your senses by going there, seeing it, hearing about it, etc., but how do you know you are not being tricked and misled into believing its existence? A strong candidate would discuss an awareness of these two arguments, stressing there is not a right or wrong argument, and then settle on one side of the debate. They should then expect to be cross-examined as to why they chose that side.

*All questions are based on the findings of a survey conducted by educational consultancy Oxbridge Applications of over 4000 students who went through the Oxbridge interview process in 2007.

1 comment:

Fariz ABL said...

Datuk K,

I hope not many Malaysians will go to places of no real relevance anymore such as Oxford and Cambridge. The exception perhaps being for just these next few years of stag-deflation period.

Malaysian education system should look towards more of the kind of works of Prof Dr Makoto Shichida who has spent more than 30 years on right brain development teaching children from pre-natal onwards. There's some 400 centres in Japan itself.

I have witnessed over the years some of these kids as they grow up on how wonderful a human being each of them are turning out to be.

We may have 'ape-d' the wrong sector of the world for far too long to admit that our 'learning technology' has remained stagnant for over 30-50 years perhaps.

I cant believe that traditional Montessori is still something that kindergartens are still preaching and teaching nowadays. We are in the backwaters already.

Since you love to talk; make a lot of noise on this one on the road & may god bless your soul forever more ;)

At a time like now, we surely can have a closer look at the 86% solution. Upto 2005, only 14% of the world live with more than USD10,000 per annum (may be less now). Why do we bother making products and services for the 14% when there is 86% of customers to be served. How many schools & even business schools are addressing such approach? Imagine that over 2.4bn people live under USD5 per day. Great market! If I have demonstrated how a BoP (Base of Pyramid) model can work in Jakarta, surely there's a lot more ideas to address to many parts of the world.

Eh, see you Sunday ok;)