This month, in their Readings department, Harper’s magazine published a list of questions* from the entrance examination to All Soul’s College at Oxford University. Applicants take four examinations of three hours each, and in the general subject tests must answer three questions from a list. The question in the title to the post was one of the few science questions; other science-related questions include:
- If there are millions of other planets capable of supporting advanced life-forms, why haven’t we seen or heard from them?
- Is there anything to be said for astrology?
- What can we learn from a century of sound recording?
- How many people should there be?
- Has there ever been a period that was not an information age?
Elsewhere in the list you find abundant questions that Core students can relate to:
- From where does a sense of community come?
- What has happened to epic poetry?
- Why does truthfulness matter?
- Would it have been better had some surviving works of ancient authors been lost?
- Have any philosophical problems been finally solved?
- Is Amazon.com good for literature?
- Has morality made progress?
- Is nothing sacred?
Provocative questions! Last year, to the chagrin of the traditionalists, the college dropped its famous one-word essay subject, in which applicants were asked to write coherently for three hours about a single word, such as “innocence,” “miracles” or “water.” Detractors argued that the entrance test, sometimes known as the “world’s hardest exam,” has now been made too easy. I wonder how an entrance-earning essay on the word “science” would read…
Read a longer sample of questions published in the Guardian, or about how a few of the paper’s hand-picked entrants fared under exam conditions. The college’s own collection of general subject exams from the last five years is also available online. Click here to browse other subject exams.
* = In the ironic fashion typical of Harper’s, this list was juxtaposed with a list of questions posted to online message boards by Jared Loughner, who is charged for a shooting that killed six people in Tucson. [back to top of post]