The Truth About ‘Getting In…’

How the admissions process at UK independent schools really works.

This is the time of year when parents are starting to finalise their choices of which school their child will go to this September (2017). Whether it is for 11+ or 13+ entry to such selective schools, do we really – no, really – realise how lucky we have been in securing a place at these highly competitive ‘institutes of excellence’?

Although written a couple of years ago now (March 2015 to be precise), I found an article in the Spectator magazine which underscores exactly how hard this whole process is – as if we didn’t already know!

The Spectator quotes Bob Stevenson, the Lower Master at Eton (who writes their pre-test) as saying:

‘We have 1,300 applying for 250 places. The test is a cognitive test, designed to give an indication of a boy’s underlying aptitude. It’s different from other tests, so boys can’t practise for it: there are no questions anywhere else that would resemble the test’s questions.’

1,300 applicants for 250 places…!

Eton’s selection process is actually quite complicated though – as Stevenson goes on to say – it would be easy just to take the top 250 performers in the test. But it doesn’t work like that.

‘We interview every boy, to find out whether what the prep-school or primary school have told us about them is accurate. We’re looking for a spark in lots of ways. We’re not just looking for the brightest boys. We go through each candidate and rank them, comparing five rankings. It’s the most difficult thing we have to do, as there are huge numbers of boys who would fulfil the criteria. But sometimes we have to say no.’

The interview process has become far more difficult over the past few years. The rise in numbers applying for such selective places has skyrocketed – not only among UK and EU citizens, but from countries much farther afield, too. So, the pressure to ‘Get In’ is much greater than ever.

The situation is the same at other top independent schools, too.


John Curtis, the registrar of Westminster, explained,

‘We have 95 places for non-Westminster Under School boys; 500 register for the process. When I started 14 years ago it used to be 300. Of the 500 who sit the ISEB pre-test, 250 are invited to go on to the next stage.’


And, the same goes for St. Paul’s School for Boys where Andy Mayfield, director of admissions,  said,

‘About 600 apply for 90 places. When we saw the numbers jump from 400 to 600 recently, we decided we just couldn’t interview all those children. We needed to find some way of reducing the numbers down to 350.’

Numbers show that you have a one-in-three chance of getting in to Westminster and a one-in-four chance of success at St. Paul’s.

But what about the late developers, the journalist at the Spectator goes on to question. Andy Mayfield agrees, and that’s why he says they have a reserve list. But still, the pressure of competition for many parents is too great.

That’s where tutoring comes in – and the schools know it!

Over-tutored students can apparently be spotted a mile off. So, some schools such as Brighton College, Westminster and Wellington have started to introduce a 6-hour interview process – exactly with the aim of spotting those overly tutored students who, they say have been over-tutored to the point that they act like ‘performing animals.’

An article in the Telegraph from Sept 2016 shows how this Schools’ Admissions Process has changed, and many more schools are set to follow suit. Many have even dropped Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning tests since these are where over-tutored students are most apparent. Some schools now are starting to require only Maths and English to be tested.

James Dahl, director of Admissions at Wellington College said:wellington-college

“At my own school, we have spent the last three years redesigning our 13+ admissions process and now place significant emphasis on collaborative, problem-solving activities for which no preparation can be done in order to allow candidates to set aside their ‘tutored selves’ and show as many sides of their character and personality as possible.”

But this is all news from one or two years ago. What about numbers of applicants for this year – 2017?

Well, parents I’ve spoken to who’ve had children sitting 11+ tests this year have all reported the same thing – the numbers seem to continue to rise.

But it seems now that a quick-fix tutoring style approach to Getting In is not enough. If we want success at these schools – both in entrance tests and when we’re actually in – we parents need to start thinking more about the ‘person’ we want our child to be, rather than/as well as what school we want him or her to get into. I suppose it requires a more ‘back to basics’ approach. You know, the one where we actually TALK to our kids about the world over dinner, let them know what’s going on in Syria, Russia, America etc. rather than just focussing on the results of their latest 11+ Bond Assessment Test. 

Regardless of all the talk about spotting over-tutored kids though, those of us parents who want an independent school education for our children will keep doing it, won’t we?  But it seems that the style and manner with which we achieve this needs to be revamped.


You can read more about this topic at The Telegraph – Independent Schools Change Admissions Tactics… and at The Spectator’s The Truth about private school admissions.

Sharon Kim – Leaders Edu
















Wycombe Abbey School Admission

11pluslogo11+ Exam 

(next ISEB 11+ test date is 16-17 Jan. 2017)

Girls should be registered with the school TWO YEARS before entry. This is done by submitting a registration form and the registration fee (£200 as of 2016).

In the Autumn term one year before entry a preliminary assessment is carried out at Wycombe Abbey. This is composed of a computer test of verbal, non-verbal and mathematical reasoning. There will also be an individual interview, and girls will take part in group activities with other candidates to see their ability to work with others. A headmaster’s report is also requested at this stage to gauge the candidate’s school performance.

After assessment day, offers of places will be made. A conditional offer means that the candidate will be offered a firm place upon their successful completion of the second stage written tests taken in the following January.

11+ tests will include a test in Maths, English (Reading and Writing) and Science.

Topics tested in Maths are according to the National Curriculum, although of course will vary in difficulty. They are as follows:



Year 5 programme of study

Number – number and place value

Pupils should be taught to:

  • read, write, order and compare numbers to at least 1,000,000 and determine the value of each digit
  • count forwards or backwards in steps of powers of 10 for any given number up to 1,000,000
  • interpret negative numbers in context, count forwards and backwards with positive and negative whole numbers, including through 0
  • round any number up to 1,000,000 to the nearest 10, 100, 1,000, 10,000 and 100,000
  • solve number problems and practical problems that involve all of the above
  • read Roman numerals to 1,000 (M) and recognise years written in Roman numerals.

Number – addition and subtraction

Pupils should be taught to:

  • add and subtract whole numbers with more than 4 digits, including using formal written methods (columnar addition and subtraction)
  • add and subtract numbers mentally with increasingly large numbers
  • use rounding to check answers to calculations and determine, in the context of a problem, levels of accuracy
  • solve addition and subtraction multi-step problems in contexts, deciding which operations and methods to use and why.

Number – multiplication and division

Pupils should be taught to:

  • identify multiples and factors, including finding all factor pairs of a number, and common factors of 2 numbers
  • know and use the vocabulary of prime numbers, prime factors and composite (non-prime) numbers
  • establish whether a number up to 100 is prime and recall prime numbers up to 19
  • multiply numbers up to 4 digits by a one- or two-digit number using a formal written method, including long multiplication for two-digit numbers
  • multiply and divide numbers mentally, drawing upon known facts
  • divide numbers up to 4 digits by a one-digit number using the formal written method of short division and interpret remainders appropriately for the context
  • multiply and divide whole numbers and those involving decimals by 10, 100 and 1,000
  • recognise and use square numbers and cube numbers, and the notation for squared (²) and cubed (³)
  • solve problems involving multiplication and division, including using their knowledge of factors and multiples, squares and cubes
  • solve problems involving addition, subtraction, multiplication and division and a combination of these, including understanding the meaning of the equals sign
  • solve problems involving multiplication and division, including scaling by simple fractions and problems involving simple rates.

Number – fractions (including decimals and percentages)

Pupils should be taught to:

  • compare and order fractions whose denominators are all multiples of the same number
  • identify, name and write equivalent fractions of a given fraction, represented visually, including tenths and hundredths
  • recognise mixed numbers and improper fractions and convert from one form to the other and write mathematical statements > 1 as a mixed number [for example, 2/5 + 4/5 = 6/5 = 1 1/5 ]
  • add and subtract fractions with the same denominator, and denominators that are multiples of the same number
  • multiply proper fractions and mixed numbers by whole numbers, supported by materials and diagrams
  • read and write decimal numbers as fractions [for example, 0.71 = 71/100 ]
  • recognise and use thousandths and relate them to tenths, hundredths and decimal equivalents
  • round decimals with 2 decimal places to the nearest whole number and to 1 decimal place
  • read, write, order and compare numbers with up to 3 decimal places
  • solve problems involving number up to 3 decimal places
  • recognise the per cent symbol (%) and understand that per cent relates to ‘number of parts per 100’, and write percentages as a fraction with denominator 100, and as a decimal fraction
  • solve problems which require knowing percentage and decimal equivalents of 1/2 , 1/4 ,  1/5, 2/5 , 4/5 and those fractions with a denominator of a multiple of 10 or 25.


Pupils should be taught to:

  • convert between different units of metric measure [for example, kilometre and metre; centimetre and metre; centimetre and millimetre; gram and kilogram; litre and millilitre]
  • understand and use approximate equivalences between metric units and common imperial units such as inches, pounds and pints
  • measure and calculate the perimeter of composite rectilinear shapes in centimetres and metres
  • calculate and compare the area of rectangles (including squares), including using standard units, square centimetres (cm²) and square metres (m²), and estimate the area of irregular shapes
  • estimate volume [for example, using 1 cm³ blocks to build cuboids (including cubes)] and capacity [for example, using water]
  • solve problems involving converting between units of time
  • use all four operations to solve problems involving measure [for example, length, mass, volume, money] using decimal notation, including scaling.

Geometry – properties of shapes

Pupils should be taught to:

  • identify 3-D shapes, including cubes and other cuboids, from 2-D representations
  • know angles are measured in degrees: estimate and compare acute, obtuse and reflex angles
  • draw given angles, and measure them in degrees (°)
  • identify:
    • angles at a point and 1 whole turn (total 360°)
    • angles at a point on a straight line and half a turn (total 180°)
    • other multiples of 90°
    • use the properties of rectangles to deduce related facts and find missing lengths and angles
    • distinguish between regular and irregular polygons based on reasoning about equal sides and angles.

Geometry – position and direction

Pupils should be taught to:

  • identify, describe and represent the position of a shape following a reflection or translation, using the appropriate language, and know that the shape has not changed.


Pupils should be taught to:

  • solve comparison, sum and difference problems using information presented in a line graph
  • complete, read and interpret information in tables, including timetables.


Year 6 programme of study

Number – number and place value

Pupils should be taught to:

  • read, write, order and compare numbers up to 10,000,000 and determine the value of each digit
  • round any whole number to a required degree of accuracy
  • use negative numbers in context, and calculate intervals across 0
  • solve number and practical problems that involve all of the above.

Number – addition, subtraction, multiplication and division

Pupils should be taught to:

  • multiply multi-digit numbers up to 4 digits by a two-digit whole number using the formal written method of long multiplication
  • divide numbers up to 4 digits by a two-digit whole number using the formal written method of long division, and interpret remainders as whole number remainders, fractions, or by rounding, as appropriate for the context
  • divide numbers up to 4 digits by a two-digit number using the formal written method of short division where appropriate, interpreting remainders according to the context
  • perform mental calculations, including with mixed operations and large numbers
  • identify common factors, common multiples and prime numbers
  • use their knowledge of the order of operations to carry out calculations involving the 4 operations
  • solve addition and subtraction multi-step problems in contexts, deciding which operations and methods to use and why
  • solve problems involving addition, subtraction, multiplication and division
  • use estimation to check answers to calculations and determine, in the context of a problem, an appropriate degree of accuracy.

Number – Fractions (including decimals and percentages)

Pupils should be taught to:

  • use common factors to simplify fractions; use common multiples to express fractions in the same denomination
  • compare and order fractions, including fractions >1
  • add and subtract fractions with different denominators and mixed numbers, using the concept of equivalent fractions
  • multiply simple pairs of proper fractions, writing the answer in its simplest form [for example, 1/4 × 1/2 = 1/8 ]
  • divide proper fractions by whole numbers [for example, 1/3 ÷ 2 = 1/6 ]
  • associate a fraction with division and calculate decimal fraction equivalents [for example, 0.375] for a simple fraction [for example, 3/8 ]
  • identify the value of each digit in numbers given to 3 decimal places and multiply and divide numbers by 10, 100 and 1,000 giving answers up to 3 decimal places
  • multiply one-digit numbers with up to 2 decimal places by whole numbers
  • use written division methods in cases where the answer has up to 2 decimal places
  • solve problems which require answers to be rounded to specified degrees of accuracy
  • recall and use equivalences between simple fractions, decimals and percentages, including in different contexts.

Ratio and proportion

Pupils should be taught to:

  • solve problems involving the relative sizes of 2 quantities where missing values can be found by using integer multiplication and division facts
  • solve problems involving the calculation of percentages [for example, of measures and such as 15% of 360] and the use of percentages for comparison
  • solve problems involving similar shapes where the scale factor is known or can be found
  • solve problems involving unequal sharing and grouping using knowledge of fractions and multiples.


Pupils should be taught to:

  • use simple formulae
  • generate and describe linear number sequences
  • express missing number problems algebraically
  • find pairs of numbers that satisfy an equation with 2 unknowns
  • enumerate possibilities of combinations of 2 variables.


Pupils should be taught to:

  • solve problems involving the calculation and conversion of units of measure, using decimal notation up to 3 decimal places where appropriate
  • use, read, write and convert between standard units, converting measurements of length, mass, volume and time from a smaller unit of measure to a larger unit, and vice versa, using decimal notation to up to 3 decimal places
  • convert between miles and kilometres
  • recognise that shapes with the same areas can have different perimeters and vice versa
  • recognise when it is possible to use formulae for area and volume of shapes
  • calculate the area of parallelograms and triangles
  • calculate, estimate and compare volume of cubes and cuboids using standard units, including cubic centimetres (cm³) and cubic metres (m³), and extending to other units [for example, mm³ and km³].

Geometry – properties of shapes

Pupils should be taught to:

  • draw 2-D shapes using given dimensions and angles
  • recognise, describe and build simple 3-D shapes, including making nets
  • compare and classify geometric shapes based on their properties and sizes and find unknown angles in any triangles, quadrilaterals, and regular polygons
  • illustrate and name parts of circles, including radius, diameter and circumference and know that the diameter is twice the radius
  • recognise angles where they meet at a point, are on a straight line, or are vertically opposite, and find missing angles.

Geometry – position and direction

Pupils should be taught to:

  • describe positions on the full coordinate grid (all 4 quadrants)
  • draw and translate simple shapes on the coordinate plane, and reflect them in the axes.


Pupils should be taught to:

  • interpret and construct pie charts and line graphs and use these to solve problems
  • calculate and interpret the mean as an average.


(Source:  / Department for Education, National Curriculum in England )

Information also taken from the ISEB, the makers and publishers of the 11+ and 13+ exams (Independent Schools Examinations Board). You can find detailed information on the Maths Syllabus for 11+, 13+ and Scholarship exams here.



A test in reading comprehension and writing will be given.

READING COMPREHENSION passages can be taken from either fiction or non-fiction texts. Questions will aim to assess a student’s ability to offer personal opinion and response to a text, to explain writer’s choice of vocabulary, to explain vocabulary in context, to use the text as evidence for ideas and answers etc.

COMPOSITION tasks will assess a candidate’s ability to think creatively and structure their ideas in an effective way.

The writing task may use any of the following prompts as a stimulus:

• imaginative/story writing

• factual/personal description

• writing involving discussion/opinion/memory

• a book review

• a picture stimulus.

Impressive pieces of writing will show an ability to use literary devices, interesting descriptive phrases and syntax to achieve the best effect.


The 11+ Science curriculum covers the following areas:

Energy, movement and forces:

a. the effect of changes in electrical circuits

b. the properties and behaviour of light and sound in order to describe and explain familiar effects

c. combinations of forces

Material behaviour

a. reversible and non-reversible changes which occur in the environment

b. how changes can be used to create new and useful materials

Life and living things

a. the structure and function of key human body systems, including reproduction

b. the structure, function, life cycle and growth of flowering plants and how these grow and are used around the world

c. the benefits of micro-organisms and the harm they can cause

The environment, Earth and solar system

a. how plants and animals are interdependent and are diverse and adapted to their environment as a result of evolution

b. how scientific and technological developments affect the physical and living worlds

c. practical ways in which science can contribute to a more sustainable future

d. how time measurement relates to day and night and the Earth’s place in the solar system.


Information has been taken from

Oxford University Interview Questions

Waiting for university interviews? Perhaps Oxford? Wondering what some of the questions might be like?

Look at these sample interview questions from Oxford Interviewers to get some idea...

If you’re waiting for a call for an interview right now, then you might be wondering what kind of questions your interviewer might ask.

Generally, it is common knowledge that universities like Oxford and Cambridge are interested in seeing the way you think. They are not necessarily concerned with whether you know the answer or not – often they know that you don’t know – they deliberately throw you a hard question, just to see how you can apply your knowledge to find your way out of the conundrum.

Here are a few sample interview questions from Oxford University (by subject).


Interviewer: Mark Wormald, Corpus Christi College

Here is a list of three compounds, A, B and C. Which one is most soluble?
(A, B and C will be specific simple compounds which the candidate should recognise.)

We expect most candidates to say that they don’t know and that’s completely fine – what we are looking for is how the candidate works through the problem. (If someone does already know the answer, we’d move on to another line of questioning.)

I’d help the candidate to try to work out the answer by building a hypothesis that could then be tested. This usually involves a discussion about the factors that might affect solubility, looking at the bonds that hold the solid together. This will call on the students’ knowledge of the specific compounds in the list, the nature of the bonding, and how to predict which types of bonding are stronger than others. This requires the students to provide more detailed chemical analysis, which reveals the depth of their understanding.

Once the student has reached a hypothesis that predicts the order of solubility (eg A > C > B) I may tell them that the correct order is actually something else, and then discuss the possible reasons for the discrepancy. It’s not about the accuracy of the student’s thinking, since we don’t actually expect them to get the right answer. It’s more about how they react to getting the answer wrong, and how motivated they are to identify all the possible sources of error so that they can then test and eliminate each one in turn. We want them to question their assumptions and find ways to test those assumptions.

This might lead in to a conversation about ways you might test the strength of the chemical bonds in different solids. For example, you could heat the solid but then heating might have other unwanted effects. I want the students to demonstrate their understanding of those other effects, and to call on a wide range of knowledge of Chemistry when answering each question.

Biological Sciences

Interviewer: Owen Lewis, Brasenose College

Why do some habitats support higher biodiversity than others?

This question encourages students to think about what high-diversity habitats such as rainforests and coral reefs have in common.  In many cases, patterns or correlations can help us to identify the underlying mechanisms. For example, a student might point out that both rainforests and coral reefs are found in hot countries and near the equator. The best answers will attempt to unravel exactly what it is about being hot or near the equator that might allow numerous types of plant and animal to arise, persist and coexist. Do new species evolve more frequently there, or go extinct less frequently? Once students have come up with a plausible theory, I’d follow up by asking them how they would go about testing their idea. What sort of data would they need?

Interviewer: Martin Speight, St Anne’s College

Why do many animals have stripes?

The main aim of the question is to get applicants to think about biological topics and put them in the context of successful adaptations to life on earth. So I might expect students to start by thinking of some stripey animals, then move on to thinking about categories of striped animals – for 

example those that are dangerous (such as wasps, tigers, and snakes), those that have stripes for camouflage (such as zebras but also tigers), and those whose stripes are harmless mimics of dangerous ones. They might think of specific examples for detailed comparison: tigers and zebras for example both have stripes for camouflage and blending in with background, one to hide from prey and the other to hide from predators.

Other things that would be worth considering include whether stripes may only occur in the young of a species; whether the colour of the stripes matters rather than just the contrasting stripe pattern, and why do stripe size, shape, width and pattern vary in different species. There are no right or wrong specific answers to the questions – I’m just interested in candidates’ speculations about the advantages of having stripes.

Here’s a cactus. Tell me about it.

We wouldn’t actually phrase the question this way – we give the student a cactus in a pot and a close-up photo of the cactus’s surface structure and ask them to describe the object in as much detail as possible using the plant and the photo. We are looking for observation, attention to detail, both at the large and micro scale. We ask them to account for what they see – this means they don’t have to use memory or knowledge about cacti (even if they have it) but to deduce the uses and functions of the shapes, sizes, structures that they have just described. So for example, why be fat and bulbous, why have large sharp spines, surrounded by lots of very small hair-like spines? Why does it have small cacti budding off the main body? There will frequently be more than one logical answer to these questions, and we are likely to follow one answer with another question – for example:

‘The big spines are to stop the cactus being eaten, yes, but by what sort of animals?’ We would also bring in more general questions at the end of the cactus discussion, such as what are the problems faced by plants and animals living in very dry habitats such as deserts.

If you could save either the rainforests or the coral reefs, which would you choose?

I’d expect students to be able to use their general knowledge plus their common sense to come up with an answer – no detailed knowledge is required. Students might then be asked about the importance of natural features, such as biodiversity and rare species, and human interests, such as the fuel and food, ecotourism and medicines we get from rainforests or reefs. Finally there are impacts to consider from climate change, soil erosion, pollution, logging, biofuel replacement, overfishing, etc. The final answer doesn’t matter – both reefs and rainforests must be managed sustainably to balance conservation and human needs.

Is it easier for organisms to live in the sea or on land?

Firstly candidates should define ‘easier’ – does it mean less complexity, less energy expenditure, less highly evolved, less likely to be eaten etc? Then candidates could think of problems caused by living in the sea, such as high salinity, high pressure, lack of light etc. Problems living on land include extra support for the body, avoiding desiccation, the need for more complex locomotory systems (legs, wings etc) and hence better sensory and nervous systems etc. Then ask in which of the two ecosystems have animals and plants been more successful? So now they have to define ‘successful’… 

Interviewer: Owen Lewis, Brasenose College

Why do lions have manes?

Some of the best interview questions do not have a ‘right’ or a ‘wrong’ answer, and can potentially lead off in all sorts of different directions. Applicants might have picked up ideas about the function of a lion’s mane from independent reading or from watching natural history documentaries. That’s fine – but I’d follow up their response by asking how they would test their theory. When I’ve used this question in interviews I’ve had all sorts of innovative suggestions, including experiments where lions have their manes shaved to investigate whether this influences their chances with the opposite sex or helps them win fights over territory.

Ladybirds are red. So are strawberries. Why?

Many Biological Sciences tutors use plant or animal specimens – often alive – as a starting point for questions and discussion, so applicants shouldn’t be surprised if they are asked to inspect and discuss an insect or a fruit. Red can signal either ‘don’t eat me’ or ‘eat me’ to consumers. I’m interested in seeing how applicants attempt to resolve this apparent paradox.

Would it matter if tigers became extinct?

This question is not about hoping students will display their expert knowledge of tigers. Most applicants would instinctively answer ‘Yes…’, but it is the ‘because….’ that interests me, and can help to distinguish critical thinkers. I might follow up this question by asking if it would matter if less glamorous creatures – like fungi – went extinct.

Biomedical Sciences

Interviewer: Robert Wilkins, St Edmund Hall

Why is sugar in your urine a good indicator that you might have diabetes?

This question builds on general knowledge and material studied at school in biology and chemistry to assess how students approach a clinically-relevant problem. It’s commonly known that diabetes is associated with sugar (glucose) in the urine; this question asks students to think about why this occurs. Students have usually have learnt that the kidneys filter blood to remove waste products, such as urea, that must be eliminated from the body but many other useful substances which must not be lost – including glucose – are also filtered. Given that glucose is not normally found in the urine, students are asked to speculate as to how it can all be recovered as the urine passes through the kidney’s tubules.

The process involves reabsorption by a carrier protein that binds the glucose molecules and moves them out of the renal tubule and back into the blood. Students should appreciate that, in binding glucose, the carrier will share properties with enzymes, about which they will have learned at school: the capacity to reabsorb glucose is finite because once all of the carriers are working maximally, no further glucose reabsorption can occur. A successful applicant will make the connection that an elevated level of glucose in the blood in diabetes leads to increased filtration of glucose by the kidneys and saturation of the carriers that perform the reabsorption, resulting in ‘overspill’ of glucose in the urine.

Interviewer: Jan Schnupp, St Peter’s College

Why do a cat’s eyes appear to ‘glow’ in the dark?

This question builds on commonly held knowledge and on material covered in Biology at school about visual processes. The question assesses criteria such as scientific curiosity (has the applicant ever wondered this themselves? Have they formulated any theories?) and scientific reasoning, based on information provided by the interviewer as the interview progresses. After establishing that the applicant understands that light is detected by photoreceptors in the eye (and exploring and explaining this concept if it is a new one), the discussion would consider how the glow might be advantageous to the cat, seeing whether the applicant can appreciate that it may help the animal to see in the dark. Possible explanations for the glow would be discussed with an expectation that applicants might recognise that the light could be generated within the eye or alternatively that light entering the eye is in some way reflected back out. Having established the second possibility as more being more plausible, the interviewer would probe to see whether the candidate recognises the significance of giving photoreceptors two chances to capture light as rays pass into and then out of the eye and why at night this might enhance vision.


Interviewer: Terry O’Shaughnessy, St Anne’s College

The Holiday Puzzle:  

“Alex and Brian are cousins. They are planning a four-day holiday in Venice and they each have 400 euros to spend. (They have already paid for their return flights and for their hotel room.) On the flight to Venice Alex and Brian discuss how they should each allocate their spending over the four days.

Alex believes that the satisfaction he gains from spending a certain amount x euros on a given day is proportional to √x. Explain why this might be a reasonable way to represent his preferences. If he has these preferences how would you expect him to allocate his spending over the four days?

Brian has the same preferences as Alex, but he knows that he tends to be impatient. This means that, on any given day, he tends to give extra weight to the current day’s spending when he makes his spending decisions for that day. Thus on a given day he behaves as if the satisfaction he would gain from spending x euros would be √(2x) whereas the thinks that on subsequent days the satisfaction he will gain from spending x euros will be only √x.

If Brian has these preferences how would you expect him to allocate his spending over the four days?

Is there a better way for Brian to allocate his spending and, if so, how might he achieve this better outcome?

Does your analysis of this problem have any implications for any current economic policy issues?”

After asking one or two general questions such as ‘what topic in Economics have you enjoyed most, or found most surprising’ we move on to working through a puzzle. We give the candidate a copy 10 minutes before the interview starts. We might spend 10-15 minutes going through the implications of the puzzle during the interview, though this depends on how far candidates get, and how quickly they get there!

Each puzzle is designed to see how willing candidates are to abstract from the complexities of a ‘real world’ case involving some economic principles and to put such principles ‘to work’. There is usually some simple mathematical ideas involved (in this case, the idea that the utility function provided implies that it is best to allocate spending uniformly over the four days). However, we do not expect any calculations to be performed, though drawing a diagram is often useful (as it is in this example).

Economics and Management

Interviewer: Brian Bell, Lady Margaret Hall

Do bankers deserve the pay they receive? And should government do something to limit how much they get?

This is a very topical question in light of the recent financial crisis. A simple answer might be that since banks are generally private firms and workers are free to work where they wish, then the pay they receive is just the outcome of a competitive labour market. In this story, bankers earn a lot because they are very skilled and have rare talents. It is hard to see a reason for government intervention in this case – though on equity grounds one may want to have a progressive income tax system that redistributes some of this income. A good candidate would wonder why it is that seemingly equivalently talented people can get paid so much more in banking than in other occupations. Do we really believe that bankers are so much better than other workers in terms of skill? An alternative story is that the banking industry is not competitive and generates profits above what a competitive market would produce. This would then allow workers in that industry to share some of those profits and so earn much more. In this case, there is a role for government intervention – making the market more competitive. The key point about this question is trying to get candidates to think about the economics of pay rather than just whether they think it is fair or not.


Interviewer: Rebecca Cotton-Barratt, Christ Church

Imagine a ladder leaning against a vertical wall with its feet on the ground. The middle rung of the ladder has been painted a different colour on the side, so that we can see it when we look at the ladder from the side on. What shape does that middle rung trace out as the ladder falls to the floor?

Ladder diagram

This question tests whether you can do what mathematicians do, which is to abstract away all the unimportant information and use mathematics to represent what’s going on. I’d initially ask the candidate what shape they think will be formed, and then ask them how they can test this hypothesis. They might initially try sketching the ladder at different stages – this is fine, but ultimately what we want is something that we can generalise and that is accurate (you can’t be sure that your drawing is that accurate, particularly when you’re making a sketch on a whiteboard and don’t have a ruler). So eventually they will fall back on maths, and try to model the situation using equations. If they get stuck we would ask them what shape the ladder makes with the wall and floor, and they’ll eventually spot that at each stage the ladder is forming a right-angled triangle. Some might then immediately leap to Pythagoras’ Theorem and use that to find the answer (which is that it forms a quarter circle centred on the point where the floor meets the wall).

This is a fun question because the answer is typically the opposite of what they expect because they think about the shape the ladder makes when it falls (which is a series of tangents to a curve centred away from the wall and the floor). A nice extension is what happens when we look at a point 1/3 or 2/3 up the ladder.

Interviewer: Richard Earl, Worcester College 

How many ways are there to cover a 2 x n rectangular grid with 2 x 1 tiles?

The question would typically be posed with the caveat – “I don’t expect you to have the answer straight away; try working out the answer when n = 1,2,3,4 say”. So here is something to investigate. Maths interviews are usually conducted over a piece of paper, sometimes at a white board and so diagrams will get drawn and the student will find the answers are 1, 2, 3, 5 for the first four cases. Some systematic care may be needed to explain why the fourth answer is 5 and why no sixth solution has been missed.

A relatively comfortable few minutes has been spent on this, but it’s also important that the student and I aren’t talking at cross-purposes. At this point I usually tell the student the next two answers at 8 and 13 – any thoughts on the emerging pattern? The answer is the Fibonacci sequence – where a term of the sequence is the sum of the previous two eg 8 = 5 + 3, though it’s not important if the student hasn’t met this before or has forgotten the name. The next stage of the interview is about understanding why that pattern should be appearing here.

When done with this bit of the interview hopefully the student has taken on board a few new ideas. So the question moves on to: 3 x n rectangular grids and 3 x 1 tiles, to 3 x n rectangular grids and 2 x 1 tiles. Hints will continue to be needed, but also there will be plenty of chance to see just how much the student has taken on board from earlier and how well s/he can adapt what’s been learned.

One of the reasons I found this a good question in the past was that its knowledge content is low, no more than GCSE. But its internal complexity is sufficiently difficult to test the brightest students, especially in the final part, whilst also allowing students repeated chances to show what they were learning and share their thinking.

To see more Sample Interview Questions from Oxford University for other Subject Departments click here……

(Source: Oxford University website: Sample Interview Questions)



Inside St Andrews

Founded in 1413, St Andrews is known as Scotland’s ‘first university’. It is the oldest ‘ancient’ university in Scotland and the third oldest in the English-speaking world.

It is ranked as the third best university in the United Kingdom in national league tables, behind Oxbridge. The Guardian ranks show that St Andrews is first in the United Kingdom for its Schools of Physics and Astronomy, International Relations, Computer Science, Geography, and Mathematics, whilst The Times and Sunday Times rank the Schools of English, Management, Philosophy, Anatomy and Physiology and Middle Eastern and African Studies first and the Complete University Guide ranks Management, Divinity and Middle Eastern and African Studies first. The Times Higher Education World Universities Ranking names St Andrews among the world’s Top 50 universities for Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities. St Andrews has the highest student satisfaction (joint first) amongst all multi-faculty universities in the U
nited Kingdom.

We asked one of its students, Vienna Kim (4th Year student studying History of Art at St Andrews) a few questions to get an honest account of what this fabulous university is really like. Here’s what she told us:


Vienna Kim

1. What would you say is the main appeal of studying at St Andrews?

     Definitely the quality of teaching. I can only speak for my department, which is Art History, so I think it’s really important for all prospective students to research which institutions have the best teaching and faculty in their department of interest. At St Andrews the Art History department is amazing – it’s always ranked top 3 in the UK, so I think this speaks for itself. The town is also ridiculously beautiful. It may be a small town, but I don’t think I’ve ever been fed up of living here, and I rarely go to the nearby big cities of Dundee and Edinburgh, unless there’s a departmental trip there. So, I have to say St Andrews has everything.

2. What are the Halls of Residence (student accommodation) like? Which halls would you recommend?

The halls really vary. I spent one year in St. Salvator’s Hall, which I really enjoyed! People have mixed opinions about some of the other halls, but they are generally quite happy with them. I would, of course recommend my hall (Sallies, as it’s known here) – but then again, I’m biased. I’ve heard that McIntosh and University Hall are quite good too.

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3. Accommodation is only guaranteed for first year students. How easy is it to find lodgings outside of university accommodation?

Yes, this has been a problem with the university for a while, and the Student Union has been doing a lot to make this process more accessible to students of varying economic backgrounds. The problem is that there are a lot of students in a small town, and much of the accommodation (especially centrally) is too expensive. But I’ve been able to find reasonably priced houses and flats in all of my years here, so it’s definitely possible.

4. Is living in St Andrews expensive?

Not too bad … at least if you’re comparing it to London living expenses. It’s probably more expensive that some other larger towns and cities though.

5.  If I want a part-time job, how easy is it to find one?

Difficult question. Again, you have the same problem here – 6 000 students living in a tiny town, many of whom are looking for jobs – this makes competition for jobs very high. In my first year, I couldn’t get any work, but in the second semester of my second year I managed to get a part-time job in Pret-a-manger, and since then I’ve managed to find something. Coming to St Andrews a few days before the start of the semester (when everyone flocks back to uni) helps.

6. If you had to choose all over again, would you choose a city university instead of St Andrews?

NO! I think St Andrews is a great place to be. It’s small, but very quaint and relaxing at the same time. We study for four years here, unlike three years in English universities, and I think that’s just enough time to enjoy the beautiful surroundings and nature that is unique to St Andrews.

7. How would you rate the level of education at St Andrews?

Absolutely amazing! But again, I can only really speak for my own department, which is constantly rated as one of the best in the UK.

University League Tables 2017 from The Guardian:


8. How would you rate the teaching staff? Are they helpful? Do they get involved?

Again, this depends on the department to a large extent, but the Faculty in the Department of Art History are of the absolute highest calibre. All are extremely friendly and accommodating of students’ concerns. Some get more involved than others – of course, it’s an individual thing, but I think I can speak across the board, that St Andrews has excellent and supportive staff. How would they get the fantastic results otherwise?

9. How about student societies or clubs? Are they very active? Can you describe a club or activity you are involved in? How would you rate it?

The St Andrews Student Union is one of the most organised, active student unions I think img_6103-copyI’ve ever come across/heard of. We’re really unique in that respect. People really care about society culture here? (Sometimes maybe a bit too much, haha!). I’ve been involved with a few things which have interested me and all of them are really well run and supported. In many cases, the clubs or activities are so good, they can really help you to gain valuable experience – increasing your employability later on. At St. Andrews I was involved in an inter-faith forum, where I was selected as one of the representatives of our university to sign the Declaration on a Shared Humanity, an inter-faith document signed by world religious and political leaders and students from St. Andrews. I would never have had this experience without St. Andrews!

10. Are there any things you would change about St Andrews if you could?

Not that I can think of – I’ve really enjoyed all aspects of my four years here. I’ll be really sorry to graduate next year. Everything about it is spectacular really. And I’ll definitely miss that absolutely stunning scenery and picturesque location!

11. Is it difficult to get into St Andrews? What grades do you usually need?

I found getting to St Andrews actually really quite easy, because I’m classified as an international student. Scottish universities don’t charge tuition fees to their UK or EU students, so they rely quite heavily on the fees from their international student intake. I think that’s one of the reasons why we have such a wide and diverse range of people here.

12. What is the grading system like? Is it difficult to graduate with a top mark?

       St Andrews has an interesting 20 point scale system – quite similar to the French style of grading. I think it’s a generally very reasonable method of marking.  It is  challenging, but fair, given the quality of our institution, to graduate with top marks.


If you’re interested in finding out more information about St. Andrews University, you can look at their website. Just follow the link here:    

Accommodation information can be found here:


Credits: Stunning photography by the very talented Alex Shaw  (click to see her website with more awesome pics of St Andrews) / Interview by Vienna Kim

Writing for Oxford University Press (한글)

리더스에듀 Sharon Kim 원장님을 Oxford University Press, Bond Online 프리랜서 저자로 모시게 되어 기쁩니다.
Sharon 원장님은 지난 20년간 Eton, Harrow, Winchester, Cheltenham Ladies College, Wycombe Abbey, Tonbridge, St. Paul’s Girls’ and Boys’ schools, Sevenoaks, Charterhouse 를 포함한 영국 전역의 유수한 사립학교 11+, 12+, 13+ 입학시험 및 Surrey 지역 grammar school 입학시험 준비를 위해 저희 출판 자료를 사용해 오셨습니다.

저희 출판자료는 이러한 학교 입학시험 준비를 위해 중요한 역할을 해왔으며, Sharon 원장님께서 이제는 직접 출판자료의 저자로 활동하시게 되어 저희는 영광으로 여기고 있습니다.

더욱 깊은 협력을 기대하며, 이는 리더스에듀가 저희 출판물 개발에 기여를 하며 리더스에듀 학생들의 수업 진행에도 도움이 되리라 믿어 의심치 않습니다.

Bond 자료에 관심이 있으시면 를 클릭하여 참조해 주십시오.

Bond는 new Durham CEM 시험은 물론, 영어, 수학, 언어추리, 비언어추론과 관련한 자료를 출판하고 있습니다.

리더스에듀의 수업 또는 Bond 자료에 관한 정보가 더 필요하시면, 으로 연락을 부탁드립니다.

Writing for Oxford University Press


It is with great pleasure that we announce the appointment of Sharon Kim, Principal and English teacher at Leaders Edu as Freelance writer for Oxford University Press, Bond Online.

Sharon has been using these materials for the past 20 years to prepare her students for 11+, 12+ and 13+ entry to independent selective schools across the UK through the Common Entrance route including Eton, Harrow, Winchester, Cheltenham Ladies College, Wycombe Abbey, Tonbridge, St. Paul’s Girls’ and Boys’ schools, Sevenoaks, Charterhouse etc. as well as many other grammar schools in the Surrey region. These books have played an important role in the exam preparation for all these schools. It is even more of a pleasure and an honour, then, that she is now able to involve herself in the writing of these materials.

We look forward to collaborating even further with Bond and the OUP, and we are sure that this will help us at Leaders Edu improve our own materials and delivery of lessons to our students.

If you are interested in checking out Bond’s materials please look here.

Bond publishes books in English, Maths, Verbal Reasoning, Non-verbal Reasoning, as well as books for the new Durham CEM tests.

If you are interested in finding out more information regarding Bond materials or our classes at Leaders Edu, please don’t hesitate to contact us: