Oxford University Adds J.K. Rowling-Inspired Interview Question

Oxford University may have played the part of Hogwarts on-screen, but getting a place to study at the prestigious university requires more than just good grades (or a touch of magic).

Prospective students who are offered an admissions interview at Oxford University could be facing a J.K. Rowling-inspired question this December.

Applicants who are shortlisted for a spot in their chosen undergraduate program must attend an interview, which, according to the Times, is full of curveball questions to “tease out the reasoning skills of young applicants.”

Examples of these interview questions range from “What does it mean for someone to ‘take’ another’s car?” (for law programs) to “If you could invent a new musical instrument, what kind of sound would it make?” (for music programs) to “What can historians not find out about the past?” (for history programs).

These questions have no right answers and are designed to show applicants’ reasoning, creativity, and critical thinking.

An English literature sample question for this year’s interviews published by the university has revealed that one interviewer has added a question that uses J.K. Rowling’s career to allow applicants to demonstrate their thoughts on approaches to reading and writing for different audiences:

JK Rowling has just published a book for adults after the hugely successful Harry Potter series. In what ways do you think that writing for children is different [from] writing for adults?

The interviewer in question, Lucinda Rumsey, has stated that the reason for using Rowling rather than Shakespeare, Dickens, or other writers in the literary canon is an applicant’s potential access to literature:

I worry that not all candidates might have the same access to a wide range of literature, and I am careful to judge them on what they know, not on what they don’t know. If I asked that question about Shakespeare some candidates might have a view of his literary output, but many wouldn’t. If I start with Harry Potter, everyone at least has a starting point of recognition.

By using Rowling’s career as a starting point for the question, Rumsey is hoping to open up the interview process to those who may not have had the exposure or access to a variety of works that are traditionally considered to be classics. Rumsey also states that the question is answerable for those who have never touched a Potter book:

Candidates who have grown up on Harry Potter might have read Rowling’s new book and have thought both about Rowling’s change of audience and their own change as readers from child to adult. But even without knowing Rowling’s work at all candidates could say something about themselves as readers, and how as readers they approach different kinds of books, and how writers develop a body of work and write for different audiences.

Of course, there is no denying the impact that Harry Potter has had on young readers around the world, and this is something that Rumsey feels should be recognized.

And I think Rowling deserves a mention, as I am sure that there are many people applying to study English at university this year who became avid readers because of her books.

And after all, what’s more fitting than a J.K.-Rowling inspired question for a university campus that is featured in a number of the Potter films?

Lucy O'Shea

I was given a copy of Philosopher's Stone in 2001, and instantly, I was hooked. Since then, my passion for Potter has been equaled only by my passion for fair access to education (and watching motorsport). A spell I wish could exist in the Muggle world is the summoning charm because this Hufflepuff is not a "particularly good finder"!