Ways to pick the smart students

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Ways to pick the smart students

“Propose ways to divert escalator users to use stairs instead with the ‘nudge’ effect” was one of the interview questions for admission to Korea University. Instructions were provided explaining the “nudge” effect, but the question was definitely easier for those who have read the best-selling book “Nudge” or have read an article about the piano keyboard-shaped staircase in Sweden. Another question asked the students to explain how information asymmetry leads to social inequality using specific examples. Those who had never heard of the concept of “information asymmetry” struggled.

Oxford University and Cambridge University in the United Kingdom are notorious for their challenging interviews. Top students from prestigious high schools often don’t pass the controversial interviews. The two universities select about six times their number of available seats for freshmen based on the nationwide test known as A-levels. Then the top candidates are shortlisted for an interview. British writer John Farndon’s “Do You Think You Are Clever?” offers a few examples from actual interviews to get in to Oxford and Cambridge.

“Are there too many people in the world?” was one question asked of an applicant to the human science department at Oxford. “Would you say greed is good or bad?” was asked of a student applying to the land economy major, while a candidate for Cambridge’s medical school had to answer, “How would you describe a human to a person from Mars?”

All these questions are made up of words that even elementary school students understand, and yet they have no set of correct answers. The candidates must use all of their abilities and understanding to provide a creative answer, and the interviewer then judges their knowledge, reasoning and creativity based on that answer.

Students can pass the interview by providing fresh and logical answers. Oxford asked applicants to explain the reason behind drowning. Students who provided a scientific explanation of the respiratory system received good marks, but an applicant who offered an evolutionary biological perspective by comparing mammals with fish and amphibians also was scored high.

The rolling admission interview and oral exam at Seoul National University (SNU) includes an advanced math test. Even applicants for humanities majors cannot avoid it.

The university introduced the math section as its own method for picking the “smart ones,” as it cannot fully trust transcripts from other exams.

The university’s ideal student is quite different from what Cambridge or Oxford are looking for. Cambridge’s website states that the school wants students who think like Newton, not those who know Newton well. And Cambridge has produced 90 Nobel Prize winners, while SNU has yet to produce one.

The author is a deputy editor of JoongAng Sunday.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 27, Page 35

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