Discover Studying Abroad
|
|
SAU

Colleges Seek Lateral Thinkers

Applicants for places at Oxbridge and a handful of US colleges are being asked increasingly eccentric questions.
Top U.S. liberal arts college Brandeis University had a little fun with the esoteric essay topic: "If you were a dinosaur,
what dinosaur would you be?"
Applicants for places at Oxford and Cambridge universities have addressed interview questions such as "How do you know that California exists if you haven't been there?", "Would you rather be an apple or a banana?" and the perennial teenage concern: "Are you cool?"

Questions range from the straightforward, asking a politics applicant to explain a brief text on Marxism; to asking the same candidate to: “Describe to an alien on Mars what politics is.”

There is no doubt that Oxbridge dons aim to throw you off-kilter. They might bowl a googly as a last resort, when they have tried every other way of steering the candidate off her long, carefully-learnt speech about why Virgil or Horace is the best author the world has ever seen.
 
"They're looking for independent thinkers — so people who don't just learn off-by-heart from their curriculum and then regurgitate it,” says James Uffindel of Oxbridge Applications.
 
"They're looking for people who have the confidence to engage in the unique teaching style that they have at Oxford and Cambridge — so these are 'lateral thinking' questions."
 
Dinosaur Dilemma
 
American colleges say they ask “fanciful” questions as their priority is to get the kids to talk themselves into a place, not talk themselves out of one.
 
Brandeis University, in Boston which has highly ranked programs in English, history, health policy and management, recently threw in an esoteric essay topic: “If you were a dinosaur, what dinosaur would you be?”
 
“It is not designed to produce a right answer or a wrong answer,” says Brandeis University's President Frederick M. Lawrence.
 
“It is designed to give the student an opportunity to show us who the real person is behind the A grades and marks,” added Lawrence. 
 
Of Blair and teapots
 
Quandaries posed during Oxbridge interviews included:

  • At what point is a person "dead"?
  • Put a monetary value on this teapot.
  • Of all 19th-century politicians, who was most like Tony Blair?
  • How much of the world’s water is contained in a cow?

Oxford and Cambridge universities aren’t so much interested in the answer, though; they’re interested in the process. They want to see a reasoned, rational way of approaching the problem to give them insight into how an applicant’s mind works, how organized a thinker she is. The thought process, the set of assumptions and deliberation, is the answer.
 
“Students are up against other candidates, not against their interviewers who are using the same questions, however eccentric, on whole batches of interviewees to elicit the interesting or unusual answers that make an individual stand out. The key is to be quick on the day and have confidence in your own ability to give an interesting answer to a question,” Anabel Loyd has written in Braingainmag.com.
 
Uttara Choudhury is Editor, North America for TV 18’s Firstpost news site and a writer for Forbes India. In 1997, she went on the British Chevening Scholarship to study Journalism at the University of Westminster, in London.

COMMENTS
Name:

Email:

captach
Can't Read  
Enter Above Code:

Comments:
Rahul Srivastava
Interesting article, Braingain. I think it is important to have lateral skills in a number of jobs and so am not surprised that more and more universities both in the United States and Britain want lateral thinkers. I have a small lateral pop quiz question for reader: If you were alone in a deserted house at night, and there was an oil lamp, a candle and firewood and you only have one match, which would you light first? Answer : The match! If you were alone in a deserted house at night, and there was an oil lamp, a candle and firewood and you only have one match, which would you light first?
05 December 2014


Sign Up for our newsletter

Sign Up for latest updates and Newsletter

x