My Cambridge interview: 6 questions (& lessons)

It was around this time, a few years ago, that I had received my invitation to

It’s around this time, each year, that students studying for their A-Levels begin to send off university applications; the first batch of applicants tend to be the ones trying to study medicine, dentistry or any subject at Oxford or Cambridge. Many moons ago, I was one of those students, with high hopes of being admitted into Cambridge to study Economics.

For some strange reason, I recently remembered that I had scribbled down my interview questions immediately after the ordeal (believe me, ordeal is the appropriate noun); after going through the questions and the memory of the day flooding back, I thought that it would be a good idea to share some of the experience with CM readers. I’ll try and provide some useful takeaways, too!

Lesson 1: Be ready to expand your mind…

“Describe, a la Friedman, how a helicopter drop will work its way through the monetary transmission mechanism?”

Lesson 2: If you talk about something peculiar in your personal statement, it will very likely be brought up. I didn’t speak about Friedman, but I did speak about unconventional monetary policy in my Personal Statement…So I’m guessing it was expected, because I was waxing lyrical about it, that I would know differing schools of thought.

This question was about 1) Talking about the Friedman paper/Monetarism in general and 2) What and how the monetary transmission, is thought to, works

“How does the Bank of England monitor money supply and get inflation on target?”

Lesson 3: If you talk about something peculiar in your personal statement, it will most probably be brought up. In this instance, I had mentioned how I had seen the former Deputy Governor, Sir John Gieve speak at the London School of Economics about lessons which he had learned during his time as a key policymaker…

This question was all about understanding the constraints between what happens in theory and what happens in actuality. At the time of interview, the suggestion that a Central Bank would engage in a once-only print of money to hand to every was ludicrous. Now, the idea is slightly less so but still…It was all about bridging the gap and talk about Goodhart’s law – a measure not being used as a target…

“Explain the rationale of a giffen good using the income and substitutiuon effects”

Lesson 4: Don’t be scared/embarrassed to ask for help if you need it! Because Giffen goods are not ordinary, our behaviour towards them is completely different than what we’re normally used to…I’d come across a Giffen good but certainly could talk about the effects on the good! So I asked for help and we walked through the answer, step by step. I’ve come to learn that the best candidates tend to be the ones who are critical of their thought process and don’t mind being wrojng

“Talk about the income and substitution effects on a giffen good.”

This was a tough question. I remember seizing up when I heard this question: Firstly, I’d only just about come to understand what the income and substitution effects were (I didn’t understand it properly until undergraduate finals!). Secondly, a giffen good is a very, very special case that does not exist in normality. I remember telling my DoS tat I was stuck and needed a leg-up.

“Explain the Prisoner’s dilemma and whether co-operating can be a Nash-equilibrium?”

Lesson 6: Air your thoughts:

Though I’ve not gone through all of the questions – that would take up way too much space – one