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The Hardest Examination in the World

Via @jack.lawro over on TkTok:

“I took the hardest exam in the world. Oxford University is made up of 45 different colleges these colleges work a little bit like the houses in Hogwarts so in order to study or teach at the university you have to be a member of a college – each of them are unique and wacky in their own way but there's one in particular which is quite interesting: All Souls college. This college has no undergrads whatsoever. You can only apply to it if you already have an Oxford degree or you're currently studying a post grad there. The college only lets in one to two members every year and it selects these members through what is sometimes called the hardest exam in the world – an examination that has been running since 1878.

All applicants have to sit four 3 hour examinations: 2 specialist papers where you get to choose your subject and 2 general papers which everyone has to sit. Some things you can choose from for the specialist paper are Classics, English Literature, Law, History, Politics, Philosophy and Economics – no sciences, only humanities…For all of the papers you get a list of roughly 20 questions and you get to pick three of them to write an essay on, and the questions are brilliant. Some of the questions that appeared in the philosophy paper which I did were things like ‘should we try to define art’ or ‘do we have reasons to love those that we love’…Questions that appeared in my general paper were things like ‘can satire be constructive’ or ‘what if there were no hypothetical questions’…Until 2010 you had to do a fifth exam which was an essay written about a single word as a prompt, for example ‘water’ or ‘courage’. If you make it through this stage you get to the 'Viva' stage which is kind of like a big interview about what you wrote. It lasts for 25 minutes and 50 of the fellows of the college have to attend. From all of that they select one to two people every year.

Why would someone put themselves through all of this to become a member of some weird college? Because if you're accepted you'll be given seven years of funding to research whatever you like, as well as accommodation at the college and other necessities. I tragically didn't make it to the second stage…however, on the All Souls college website there are lots of past papers which detail all these really amazing and interesting questions which I would encourage you to read through.”

And here they are. Some truly amazing questions, particularly (as Jack suggests) in the philosophy, economics, and general papers

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