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Critical Thinking

Why do lions have manes? And what noise should a new musical instrument make? Why Oxford University asks its applicants bizarre questions

  • Oxford University reveals the conundrums it poses to candidates in interviews
  • Law applicants could be asked about running red lights on empty roads at night
  • Biological sciences candidates face questions about why lions have manes
  • It comes just days before the October 15 deadline for would-be undergraduates to apply for a place to start at Oxford next autumn

Oxford University has revealed the conundrums posed to candidates - including why lions have manes and what noise a new musical instrument should make. The prestigious institution has released its annual batch of sample questions potential students may have to face as part of its ongoing attempts to demystify the application process.

It comes just days before the October 15 deadline for would-be undergraduates to apply for a place to start at Oxford next autumn. Among this year's offerings is a question for law candidates, on the legality of running red lights at night on empty roads.

Interviewer Jon Herring of Exeter College said: 'The ability to think normatively is important to the study of law, so we are interested in what candidates think the law ought to be, but more important is their capacity to justify their position. This involves being able analyse concepts, critically appraise arguments and the reasoning behind a position, as well as to consider objections and to offer rebuttals to those objections. There isn't a right or wrong answer to this question; we would be using the example to see how well the candidate could justify their stance.'

Potential French students could find themselves faced with being asked to consider what someone loses if they only read a work of foreign literature in translation. 'This is a good question as it helps us to see how candidates think about both languages and literature,' according to Jane Hiddleston of Exeter College. 'They might be able to tell us about the challenges of translation, about what sorts of things resist literal or straightforward translation from one language to another, and this would give us an indication of how aware they are of how languages work.'

Those hoping to study Philosophy, Politics and Economics could be asked, if there is a convincing argument, if someone agrees that air transport contributes to climate change, that there is no moral reason for them not to travel by air given that the plane will fly anyway.

Cecile Fabre of All Souls College said: 'The interview is not meant to test candidates' knowledge of philosophy, since more often than not, they have not studied this subject before. Moreover, we are not trying to get them to guess or arrive at 'the right answer. Rather, the interview is about candidates' ability to think critically, to deal with counter-examples to the views they put forward, and to draw distinctions between important concepts.'

Dr Samina Khan, Oxford's director of admissions and outreach, said: 'We emphasise in all our outreach activity that the interview is primarily an academic conversation based on a passage of text, a problem set or a series of technical discussions related to the course students have applied for. But interviews will be an entirely new experience for most students, and we know many prospective applicants are already worried about being in an unfamiliar place and being questioned by people they have not met - so to help students to become familiar with the type of questions they might get asked we release these real examples.'

Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally about what to do or what to believe. It includes the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking (мыслить рефлексивно и независимо). Someone with critical thinking skills is able to do the following :

  • understand the logical connections between ideas (понимать логические связи между идеями);
  • identify, construct and evaluate arguments (определить, проанализировать и взвесить аргументы);
  • detect inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning (выявлять противоречия и распростанённые ошибки в аргументации);
  • solve problems systematically (систематически, последовательно решать проблемы);
  • identify the relevance and importance of ideas (определять актуальность и важность идей);
  • reflect on the justification of one's own beliefs and values (обдумывать обоснованность собственных убеждений и ценностей).

Questions for discussion:

  1. How can critical thinking help us to make decisions and solve problems?
  2. What prevents us from thinking critically?
  3. What was the most difficult problem you managed to solve? How did you do that?
  4. What was the hardest decision in your life? Did you make the right choice? If so, what helped you do that?
  5. What do you usually do when you can’t make a decision?
  6. In your opinion, is it important to challenge your views and principals from time to time? If so, why?
  7. What views have you changed during your lifetime? How and why did you change them?
  8. Is there any innate tendency to critical thinking?
  9. Do you think that critical thinking should be taught at school or universities?
  10. Do you think that in literature classes students are taught critical thinking? If so, why don’t we have tasks for critical thinking in other courses?
  11. Do you know some interesting tasks for developing critical thinking?
  12. Were you interviewed when you were entering a university? If so, what questions were you asked? Were there questions answering which you were supposed to show your ability to analyse different concepts and justify your position?
  13. Is critical thinking important for career development?
  14. Creative thinking is also a part of critical thinking. What ways of developing imagination and creativity do you know?
  15. How can creativity help you in everyday life?
  16. Can creativity sometimes become a problem for a person?
  17. Can you share an example of something creative you have done in the past?


innate tendency - врождённая склонность, генетическая предрасположенность

to challenge your views and principals – подвергать сомнению свои взгляды и принципы

to justify one’s position – обосновывать свою точку зрения

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