WHY?


‘I found this book really interesting’, ‘I thought this graph was really useful’, ‘I think this theory is helpful’

ZZZZZZzzzzzzzz can these get any more boring?!

I’m falling asleep listening to those, so think how the tutors must feel when hordes of students insist on repeating them over and over again.

Can you remember what these oh so dull statements are called?

EMPTY STATEMENTS!

And why are they called that?

Because they have no substance; it’s not useful to give your opinion without evidencing it.

So, can you remember that catchy little phrase I’ve mentioned in other posts?

WHY? JUSTIFY!

Now is the time to revisit this little gem and trust me it is a gem. This phrase really is key to being offered a place at Oxford. With interviews coming up soon now is the time to refresh it in your mind.

So here’s a little exercise for you to practice your justification skills. Ask yourself which of these statements are useful and which are going to send the tutors to sleep:

  • I think it is very important that people still learn French, as it is not only useful for communication but we can also learn a great deal about French culture and history from the language.

  • Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ really appealed to me, I loved the scenes with the witches. I didn’t particularly enjoy the battle scenes though. Macbeth seems to be an extremely power-hungry character who will not stop until he gets what he wants.

  • Queen Elizabeth I was a female monarch who had stereotypical male qualities. I believe she was a strong queen for her time.

  • In my opinion if a poem is difficult to read, it can make the reader work harder. This may extend their vocabulary and help them to learn new concepts. It will prevent them from just scanning the text and not fully absorbing themselves within the sentiment of the poem.

Now it’s time to see if you have been able to identify the correct ones:

  • The statement about French language is a good one because an opinion is put forward ‘I think it is very important for people to still learn French…’ and then we are told WHY. It is JUSTIFIED through evidence relating to communication, culture and history.

  • This statement is a weak one. It is full of opinions but opinions are not useful on their own. Whilst the answer begins to justify Macbeth’s quest for power by saying he does not stop until he gets what he wants, there are no specific instances in the play mentioned to JUSTIFY this. It is far too general. This answer tells us about the various scenes and characters which appealed but does not tell us WHY.

  • This is also not very useful. Telling us that Queen Elizabeth had male qualities is a good starting point but we are not told WHY. This opinion is not based in evidence. We are also not told WHY she was a strong queen.

  • This statement is a good one. The opinion that poetry ought to be difficult is JUSTIFIED through the way in which it can make the reader work, extend vocabulary and prevent readers scanning texts.

Obviously these answers would be developed further within an interview scenario but the ones which include WHY? JUSTIFY are definitely going to stand out.

Top Tips

  • Apply ‘WHY? JUSTIFY!’ to every opinion.

  • Vocalize your opinions and get used to saying WHY you believe them to be correct.

  • Get anyone and everyone to listen to you talk about your subject and ask you WHY.

  • Make sure you understand the concept of an ‘empty statement’ so they can be avoided at all cost.

  • Evidence should be based in knowledge. It isn’t enough to say ‘I think Macbeth is a horrible character because he is power-hungry in the play’, yes you have given an opinion and then started to justify it but you need to provide a text based example to support this. For instance, Macbeth’s is a tyrannical character. His rule leads to the death of several characters, the most heart-wrenching scene being the one where MacDuff’s family are killed as a direct result of Macbeth’s quest for power.

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