This week, our Real Oxbridge Interview Questions blog focuses on a subject that often causes the greatest amount of anxiety and fear in students preparing for the interview process: law. Perhaps because many schools do not offer law as an A-level, candidates are often extremely nervous about facing questions in the interview, as they feel less prepared for interrogation having not yet studied the subject. Well fear not! This genuine past interview question, from Oxford University admissions tutor Liora Lazarus should reassure potential applicants that interviewers are not looking for detailed legal knowledge, but for evidence of intelligent discussion and an analytical approach to the question. “If the punishment for parking on double yellow lines were death, and therefore nobody did it, would that be a just and effective law?”
Don’t Look for the ‘Right’ Answer
Lazarus explains that there is no ‘correct’ answer students are expected to come up with for this question. So remember, don’t waste time in your interview trying to produce a clever, single idea that somehow ‘outwits’ the question or answers it all at once – that won’t impress the interviewer. What she is looking for instead is an ability to consider the question carefully and show that you appreciate the complexity of the law – that you are able to distinguish between the different parts of a law and consider each separately before coming to a conclusion.
Be the Student They Want to Teach!
Remember, the admissions tutors are not just there to do interviews – they are invariably the actual supervisors and tutors who would be in charge of teaching you if you were to be offered a place. So what they’re most interested in is not what you already know, but what sort of student you would be like to teach – how well you would take in new information and whether you would be a valuable addition to a small tutorial group. So how you respond to their question, work with them and engage with the guidance they give you is actually much more important than whether you know the answer!
Analyse Every Word
When it comes to law, every word of a sentence carries a great weight of importance. The interpretation of the law is as much a part of the course at Oxbridge as learning what the law says. Don’t just assume that the meaning of the law is solid and definite – it is open to interpretation and argument and the interviewer will be looking for your ability to engage with this and really interrogate legal wording. Even the addition or omission of a seemingly unimportant conjunction like the word ‘and’, or a piece of punctuation, might actually alter the meaning of a sentence, so consider every word carefully, take your time and don’t take anything for granted!
In this case, the words you ought to really zoom in on are “just” and “effective”. Combined as they are by the word ‘and’, it is heavily implied that they are part of the same idea, so a weaker candidate would take the wording at face value and consider them as a single concept. But what the admissions tutor is really hoping the applicant will do in this situation is separate the two words- point out that they have different meanings and that it is therefore actually a two-part question, not a simple one. That the law is “effective” is clear from the fact that nobody has broken it, but whether a law is “just” or not relates to whether it is proportionate to the crime – and that is where the really interesting debate will begin.