Admission for Philosophy

The following criteria are applicable to assessment for admission in philosophy; but philosophy in Oxford is studied in association with a partner discipline or disciplines, and those disciplines will have their own selection criteria. Candidates might excel in each of the criteria discussed below, and yet fail to meet the criteria of the relevant partner discipline, and thus be deselected, or, having been selected for interview, fail to obtain a place, for reasons beyond their ability and potential in philosophy.

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Whether candidates are selected for interview will depend in the first instance on a firm belief on the part of the college handling the application that that candidate would be well-suited to the course; minimally, that they would not find the course too demanding and too difficult for it to be of value to them, and, thinking more positively, that they would be likely to gain a good degree result. Beyond these considerations, selection for interview is competitive, and on some degrees there are many more candidates meeting these criteria than could be interviewed, so that some very well qualified candidates will each year be deselected (that is, not invited for interview). Selection occurs after assessment looking at the following areas:

  • Results in official examinations, especially GCSE, A level and equivalent;
  • Results predicted for A level, or other impending examinations (looking particularly at candidates who would not meet the ‘standard offer’ for their chosen course);
  • A school reference (including whether there are aspects of a candidates performance that need to be placed in a particular context);
  • Written work (submitted school work, or work written as part of an aptitude test);
  • Results on the relevant assessment test for the degree in question.

Those without UK qualifications, and mature applicants, will be assessed according to their situation, for example by looking for an equivalent level of attainment in official examinations, and by assessing current potential for the course rather than relying solely on school results from some years earlier.

If after assessing the candidate against these criteria the college handling the application proposes not to select a candidate for interview, there will be an opportunity for other colleges to call the candidate for interview before the deselection is confirmed.

Assessors will take note of the circumstances under which the work was done, and assess it accordingly. A very different standard of content and presentation will be expected from pieces of highly prepared course work, on which many hours have been spent, and from pieces of written work for homework with a short dead-line, or written under examination conditions. Taking this into account, assessors will be looking for evidence of:

  • Good basic knowledge of the topic;
  • Powers of analysis;
  • Ability to reason effectively, to construct a coherent line of argument, and to present it with clarity;
  • Good command of the English language.

Candidates are not expected to have studied any philosophy at school, and the written tests will not presuppose any knowledge of philosophy. The aspects of the test that will be particularly relevant to philosophy will be evidence of the candidate's ability:

  • To comprehend a complex piece of reasoning, and to sum it up in a suitable way;
  • To analyse and solve problems, giving clear and succinct reasons for the answer proposed;
  • To construct a well-argued case for taking a definite position on some fairly familiar question (on whatever topic);
  • To appreciate fine differences in meaning.

Different written tests are set for different subjects involving philosophy, and the above criteria do not apply equally to them all.

The interview is aimed primarily at assessing the candidate's potential for future development. Interviewers will be looking for evidence of independent thinking, ability to follow argument and to construct an argument, and a readiness to think effectively on novel topics. The interview is not primarily a test of existing knowledge. Interviewers will also be looking for evidence that the candidate has a genuine interest in their chosen course, and motivation to work hard at it. They will pay little attention to achievements that have no connection with the proposed course (e.g. achievements in sport, drama, and so on).

Those responsible for admissions will pay due attention to all the available information, i.e. from past and predicted exam results, school reports, personal statements, written tests, and interviews. In the light of all this information they will assess (a) whether the candidate is suited to the chosen course at Oxford, and (b) how that candidate should be ranked in relation to other candidates for the same course, or for other courses. Entry is competitive, and it may well happen that a candidate who satisfies all the criteria mentioned in sections 2, 3 and 4 above is nevertheless squeezed out by stronger competitors, whether from obtaining a place after interview, or even from obtaining an interview at all.

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