Friday, 23 December 2011

PPE Interviews

Having spent the last two weeks trying to do everything except reliving interviews, some of the details have admittedly drained from my head, but hopefully my ramblings can still be useful!

Experiences at first college:
I felt strangely calm right before I went for my interview. I waited around in the JCR at 9:30am in the morning, as instructed, not knowing what to expect as I was to be the first candidate to be interviewed. However, after a little while, one of the interviewers came to pick me up, and I was led to a comfortable office to be met by four interviewers - two for Economics, and one each for Politics and Philosophy.

After we were all seated, the questioning began with Economics. I immediately stumbled over the first question - 'What are you studying in economics at the moment?' because I was unable to remember the unit titles, and so went off on a rambling spiel about how we were doing Unit 4 before Unit 3 as Unit 3 has more technical stuff in it so it would be preferable to do it closer to the exam. I suspect this was just a 'we're going to make you feel comfortable and able to talk' question, because I'm pretty sure I came across as an idiot. We swiftly moved on to 'what is the difference between a public and a private good?' This is a specific technical question, and if you're not studying Economics and are applying for PPE, don't worry - they ask separate questions depending on your background and you wouldn't be expected to know anything about this. I said something about public goods being paid for by the taxpayer, and when pressed to give examples, I said a lamppost, with a private good being a watch. My thinking was gently led around by the tutors, and they informed me that the technical definition of a public good is one that is 'non-excludable and non-rival,' which was something I had certainly been told before, yet hadn't remembered. I was then asked to apply this to the workplace, which had something to do with trade unions negotiating pay for a union member that also benefitted the non-union members.

We then moved onto politics - 'What is your primary news source?' My immediate choice as a primary news source was Twitter - I believe it's completely fantastic yet largely stereotyped in the media as being nothing but 'I had a toasted sandwich for lunch' sort of platform. I talked for a long time about how interested I was/am in the sharing of news, and the potential to hear things from different perspectives, and to observe the direct development of a story, mentioning the death of Osama bin Laden as an example. I was then asked to explain why I felt Twitter was a news source and not just a news aggregator, and also how it was a preferable source to a paper such as the Guardian. I then had to round off this section of the interview by sharing my thoughts on the disadvantages of Twitter, to which I said something about how the 140-character nature of it can mean it is difficult to get a full flavour of a story, and is rather like reading headlines instead of full articles, unless of course you bother to click on the link.

Philosophy, I'm pretty sure I messed up. I remembered reading an mock interview question, for law, talking about whether it was right to have the death sentence as a punishment for driving too fast if it successfully stopped people from speeding. The answer people were supposed to give was 'maybe - it is effective as a repercussion as it stops people from speeding, but it may not be just as it is not proportional to the crime.' Therefore, I immediately leapt on 'is it ever morally justifiable to torture someone?' as similar sort of question, and so rambled on for a while and again probably seemed like a complete idiot, largely ignoring the philosophical side of things. The tutor was kind enough to push me in the right direction by asking me to counter what I was saying, and so I was able to give a more balanced, broad answer, but it still wasn't very good anyway. The part of the interview I most enjoyed was the logic question at the end, a variant of the unexpected hanging paradox. This was based around a surprise exam due to be set one day Monday-Friday that apparently could not happen following the set logic that the students would not know the night before that they would have to do the test the following day. The solution was (apparently) that if the teacher had not set the test by Thursday night, you would know the test would have to be Friday, so it could not be Friday, and therefore once you got to Wednesday night and the test had not been set you would know it was Thursday, so it could not be Thursday, and therefore once you got to Tuesday night and the test had not been set you would know it was Wednesday as it could not be Thursday or Friday, and so on. The teacher then set the test on Thursday and could still claim to have been telling the truth as the teacher had anticipated them working this out, and so come Wednesday night they had in actuality not been expecting the test, and so it was fine using her logic to set the test on Thursday or indeed on any day.

Overall, I enjoyed the interview, and it was nothing like the horror stories tell you it will be. They didn't try to trip me up (or at least, I noticed nothing!) and if I was going in the wrong direction at times, they seemed to be coaxing me back on the right path. It's very important to remember, I believe, that they're testing the way you think, rather than your actual knowledge.

Experiences at second college:
The interview here seemed much more firmly based on problem solving. I'd only found out I had another interview that morning, and was therefore feeling equal parts surprised, grateful and petrified. One thing I quite liked was that the interview was conducted around a table, with one of the tutors on each side with a space for me on the remaining side. It felt like a conversation, rather than an interrogation!

My answer for the politics question - 'explain the difference between economics and maths to an alien' - was something about how maths is generally seemed to be composed of universal rules, whereas we still don't know pretty much any of the rules of economics after thousands and thousands of years. Also, maths is more prevalent in economics, generally, than the reverse! I probably left out the 'to an alien' part quite a bit, but at the end I was asked to sum up my explanation of the difference again, which helped me focus on the question a bit more probably. I had to solve a puzzle for philosophy, which asked me to explain why one of three arguments, all composed of two premises and a conclusion, was unlike the others. I explained it somehow using Venn diagrams for the first two and then said this could not be applied to Argument C as it used the identity 'numerous' rather than 'European' and 'healthy' as with the others, and numerous is quantitative not qualitative. The use of 'any' in the question came into it somewhat and I was asked to introduce it - unfortunately I've forgotten exactly where 'any' was in the puzzle - and I had to rework the grammar of 'People over 10 feet tall are over 5 feet tall' by introducing 'any,' so to 'any person over 10 feet tall is over 5 feet tall' which took an embarrassingly long time!

The economics question I quite enjoyed. I was first asked to read a problem sheet, and then summarise what I had read - I don't know if I was allowed to look down at the sheet during the summary, but I didn't, so I guess that part was a test of memory and understanding. The sheet was all about two bidders with two different maximum prices of £200 and £100 for an item, and three different types of auction the dealer could choose between in order to maximise his or her profits; you had to explain which one the dealer would choose, the final selling price and the winner. If I remember correctly, I argued for Ascending bidding as this would go for £110, assuming the bidders were rational. £110 this would be the point where Bidder B, with a maximum bid of £100, was unable to pay for the item. I chose this over Sealed First Price as in this scenario Bidder A, maximum bid of £200, could guarantee winning at £100.01 so it would be an inferior option for the dealer, and I decided Descending was also slightly less preferable in case Bidder A decided to take his chances and go for £100 rather than £110 as he would still have a 50% chance of winning the item. No idea if any of that was right, but it's what I said! I was then asked how I would change my answer if Bidder A mistakenly believes that Bidder B's maximum price is £50, not £100, and Bidder B is aware A has this mistaken belief. I chose Descending, with a selling price of £70 won by Bidder B. This would be because Bidder A would see £60 as his lowest price at which he could guarantee winning the item, which Bidder B would anticipate, and therefore would bid £10 higher, at £70.

I hope all that was helpful! It's probably a little vague, and my answers were probably way off the mark, but I thought it would be useful to share for people who are anticipating interviews anywhere in any subject, but particularly in Politics, Philosophy and/or Economics. As for whether I got in... last Saturday my dad rang me up while I was on holiday to inform me that two envelopes, one thin and one fat, were waiting for me at home. The first, from my first college, said something like 'we regret we are unable to offer you a place, but we have heard that another college is likely to accept you.' The second, from my second college, offered me a place! I'm so happy and I feel so grateful to have been given this chance. I now guess it's time to start studying...

As always if you have any questions or comments please leave them for me below and I'll get back to you as soon as possible!



  1. hello .. greeting my name is Kherry & i live in Indonesia! have you visit my country?? belive me my country is the most beautiful in the world ( i think i talk too much ) i know your blog from someone, and i prefer to join your site, and if you please could you visit & join my blog too ??

  2. yayayayayayya :D so deserving of it! one thin one fat envelope, obviously that means a yes and a no, you didn't need to open the envelopes to know whether you got in really!

  3. I'm pleased you got an offer, out of interest, did any of the colleges (or interviewers) realise that you were writing a blog?

  4. I think you should post with pictures

  5. Sorry for late replies to this! Hi Kherry - I've had a look at your blog and it looks great, I'll definitely bookmark it!

    Tiffy - haha thank you :D Yeah I wasn't going to get him to open them but he let slip that detail about one being fat so I thought I might as well!

    Alex - No I don't think they did, as I got picked to do the blog after I'd sent my UCAS form off. It might be useful on my CV in the future though I guess, and same for you as well with yours, I'm interested in journalism so hopefully it'd be relevant for that!

  6. Hi Emma - stumbled upon your blog while scouring the internet for useful information on the PPE application process. I'm interested to know more about applying as a senior student (having recently completed a Bachelors of Arts degree from an Indian University). Who do you think is the best person to address this to? The admissions offices of individual colleges? Do let me know if you have any insights on this! Thanks.

    1. Hi! Yes, I think that would be a good idea - they'll be able to give you specific advice on things like entrance requirements tailored to your needs. Also if there's a PPE admissions enquiry email, send to that too (I would check myself but I'm on my phone) good luck!

  7. Hello,
    I am currently doing my gcse exams so am finalizing my a level choices and I was wondering if I could ask your advice. I hope to go on to do PPE at uni.
    I wanted to know whether, from your experience, you have found it beneficial to have studied Economics before going to Uni?
    My choices for an option space are Further Maths or Economics.
    Thanks in advance,
    Hannah M

    1. Hello! Sorry for the very late reply - I was doing my exams myself! I did find it beneficial to study Economics. A lot of the graphs for first year economics at university are elaborations on the ones in the A Level course and it really helps to understand them. However, the maths for economics at university is also difficult and I've seen that it generally helps to have Further Maths. Overall I'd say, if you're confident enough in your maths abilities to do Further Maths then you should probably be fine either way. Therefore do whichever one your would most enjoy.

    2. Thank you for your help, i decided to go with Further Maths and am enjoying it so all's well :D
      I wondered if I might ask you for your opinion on a question of mine, When you went through the interview process did you find that they took your gcse grades into account or just your AS grades and UMS for AS?
      Thanks again,