Below is a selection of Medical School interview questions on the theme of ‘Creativity and Imagination’.
The answer guides have been put together by medics who have successfully navigated interviews at top Medical Schools.
Remember, though, that an interview is about an individual, so there are no hard and fast rules. The answer guides are only examples and are not exhaustive. They should be used to stimulate your thinking — not repeated verbatim at your interview.
Creativity and Imagination
How much does a mountain weigh?
As with all questions of this sort, you won’t be able to get an exact answer. They are looking for you to talk through a systematic methodology. It is about applying reasoning and scientific rationale to an unusual scenario
You don’t have to answer straight away. Take a little time to map out a good starting point. Ask for a moment if you need. But you do have to start articulating your thought process at some point — probably before you know it is complete
You should ask logical questions, such as: what shape is the mountain? How tall is it? And what is the radius of the base?
Getting these parameters would allow you to use an appropriate mathematical formula, such as the one for the volume of a cone: one third pie r squared, multiplied by height
If they are not prepared to provide any further information, then you would need to work out how you would get some of these answers, like consulting existing maps
You can then ask about other important factors that will have a major impact, like the type of mountain it is and what type of rock it is made out of. Perhaps you would take a rock as a sample and extrapolate the weight
Freezing. You have to articulate some sort of logical thought process.
Thinking for a moment and then coming out with a random number. Even if, by great chance, this was accurate, it defeats the purpose of the exercise
How different would the world be if the wheel wasn’t invented?
Again, this is about implementing a logical process in a difficult situation — and covering all the angles. You might begin by talking about uses of the wheel currently
Transport would be a good starting put, since a lot of types of transport depend on the wheel e.g. cars, bikes, aeroplanes, boats with wheel engines
Be creative, though. Wheels are used for transport but try to cover as many angles as possible to show you can think outside the box
What about water wheels in electricity production? In machinery, the wheel evolved into gears and propellers. So without the wheel all these areas would be affected
You might want to speculate on whether humans would have created alternatives or whether the advancements made possible by the wheel would simply not have been made
Then move ahead to the next logical step. What are the implications of this? Would it have affected the evolution of society? (The world would definitely be a smaller place)
Remember, the wheel has also affected lots of other major things, like war and trade. You should try to cover as many bases as possible. You might spark some lively debate, which could even end up being quite fun
Not considering all the various implications, causes and effects. It’s obvious to say that there would be no cars, but you need to show that you think out of the box.
How many words are there in an average book?
You need to get as much detail as you can before launching headlong down what could be a logical rabbit hole
First, establish what type of book it is. You can ask but they might not say. In which case just state that you’re assuming it is, say, a novel, because this makes life easier (if it were a textbook for example, there would be diagrams and tables; this differs a lot from book to book)
Think logically. Start with the average number of pages in a novel. This doesn’t have to be right, just reasonable. Always use round numbers, so you can multiply them out without causing a huge headache. In this case let’s say 300 pages.
Then, estimate how many words are on each page. Again, break this down. Possibly twenty lines, each with ten words. So 200 words
300 multiplied by 200 equals 60,000 words
However, to really show you are thinking of all angles, estimate how many pages would be wordless (or have less words e.g. dedication and review pages). Say this is equivalent to ten wordless pages.
10 multiplied by 200 equals 2,000 words. Subtracting this from 60,000, means that your average book is 58,000 words long
Coming out with a random number. This question is evaluating your thought process. It might be that your mother is an author and you know the answer, but they want to see you talk a problem through, so try to respect that
Using difficult numbers. Saying that each page has 184 words and there are 317 pages will leave you with some difficult sums to do
This is an example of a more abstract, and less process-driven, creative interview question, and as such it requires a slightly different process
You should take a moment to think up a balanced argument, which reflects both sides of the situation. You can’t be black and white about such a complex and subjective issue
Arguments for: inhibition, in the sense of keeping yourself out of dangerous situations, is an evolutionary instinct to promote self-preservation. It modulates your relationships with other people and it gives you a social conscience
Arguments against: fear can limit your human experience. It is not always necessary, and it can be dictated by your past encounters with certain stimulus. Past a certain point it can be detrimental to your heath
You could then link the question to the medical environment¦
Disease puts patients in vulnerable situations in which there is an element of fear and this can be harmful when it comes to good decision making. You should make it clear that you understand that fear will have an impact on your interactions with patients
There will be moments in your career where you may be unsure of your decisions and fear the possible outcomes/consequences. This is natural, and you should show an awareness of this
You could also state that this will lessen as you gain more experience and confidence, and that even when you are ‘worried’ you would be confident that you acted within guidelines, consulted your colleagues and made a reasonable decision
Giving a one-sided answer. Questions like this merit more than a simple binary answer of ‘yes’ or ‘no’, ‘good’ or ‘bad’. You have to recognise, and show that you can appreciate, the shades of grey and complexity involved
Why do we wear shoes?
Another esoteric-sounding question that requires you to think logically about something that we usually take for granted
Though it seems quite arresting, this question isn’t too bad if you think about the practicalities, which is the key to a lot of creativity questions
Shoes are a social norm. Most people have never questioned why we wear shoes because that is what is generally accepted. Not wearing shoes is considered abnormal.
But was it always this way? And what could have led to it becoming so? Perhaps it made walking long distances and hunting easier, centuries ago
From a functional perspective, shoes are protective. They prevent injury. Some shoes, like steel toe work shoes, are designed specifically for this function. What other functions require specific shoes? Hiking, climbing etc. Or sport?
Consider different cultures. Don’t only think about your perspective — this is part of what can help you stand out. There are many groups of people in other parts of the world that actually don’t wear shoes
Of course, there are also aesthetics to consider. People put a lot of thought into how they look and this extends to their shoes. Many women wear shoes they consider uncomfortable to increase their height or make their legs look longer
From here, you could contrast the functional reasons you touched upon earlier with the recent (first world) shift towards aesthetics. Be creative!
Feeling inhibited. Sometimes questions like this, where there are no short and simple answers, make people retreat into a shell. They are afraid to speak about ideas, rather than certainties, at the risk of sounding silly.
Not practising this kind of discussion. By getting used to thinking this way, either with friends, or around the table at a family meal, you can train you mind to think creatively.
If you were stranded in a remote rainforest and trying to escape, who is one person you would want to accompany you and why?
Take some time to think about a few people, then single it down to one person and be prepared to explain why.
Go through the thought process of who you would want with you. Mention both practical and personal reasons to give a unique answer.
This question has an underlying theme of teamwork. Think about how you would work with the person to come up with the best means of escape.
If you are struggling to come up with someone, there may have been someone in your life that has always been reliable. Pick them as a safe choice.
You may wish to draw on personal experiences you had with this person where you were able to work towards a goal effectively.
You may wish to show interest in the question by asking questions of your own, such as what equipment you would have access to. If the person you have picked is good with navigational equipment, you could mention that.
Not choosing anyone and sticking to yourself. Although you may think this is a clever answer showing off how capable you are, this is likely to backfire as it gives off a sense of overconfidence.
Focusing solely on how you would escape. Although a chance to show off your creativity, this is not answering the question in its entirety.
How many atoms are there in a glass of water?
With a question like this, the interviewers are interested in your thought process rather than an actual solution to the problem so talk them through your thinking step by step when giving your answer.
Think about the problem practically and take into account the different values you would need to know in order to reach a solution. You will be using logical reasoning as well as some scientific knowledge in your answer.
How much water is in the glass? Think about the dimensions of the glass and how full it is which would allow you to work out the volume of water that it contains. Depending on the shape of the glass, think about which formula would allow you to deduce this volume such as
V = pi(r)2 x h
for a cylindrical glass where h is the height that the water comes to.
Once you know how to find the volume of water, you need figure out the number of H2O molecules that that volume would contain. Chemistry at A or AS level is a requirement for prospective medical students at certain colleges such as King’s College Cambridge so some chemistry knowledge may be required in answering questions such as this.
By dividing the mass of water in the glass by the molar mass of H2O, you would be able to calculate the number of moles present.
Avogadro’s number 6.02 x 1023 multiplied by the number of moles of H2O would tell you how many molecules of H2O the glass contains. As H2O is comprised of 3 atoms, multiplying this answer by 3 would give you your solution.
This type of question is all about how you approach the problem; you probably won’t have time to plan out your entire answer before responding so just take the problem step by step, explaining your thought process as you go.
Trying to give a precise number. This is not what interviewers are interested in and there’s no way of you actually coming up with the correct figure.
Which has more value: creativity or knowledge?
This question is more abstract and requires you to give a balanced argument in which you address the value of both creativity and knowledge. As the question is pretty broad, consider giving some general examples of why each quality is important but then relating your answer back to how each applies to the practice of medicine.
For creativity – Creativity can lead to innovative solutions to societal problems as well as new developments in fields such as technology. Whilst most people are able to acquire knowledge, it could be argued that creativity is a rarer quality and cannot be learnt so is therefore more valuable.
For knowledge – It takes time and hard work to acquire knowledge which makes it extremely valuable; the fees that students pay to attend university are an example of the value we place on knowledge.
Consider discussing the roles of creativity and knowledge in medicine.
It is crucial that doctors are knowledgeable about the scientific basis of medicine in order to inform clinical diagnosis and decision making. Knowledge also allows scientists to inform their research by using the knowledge we currently possess to pave the way for new medical discoveries.
Creativity may also be considered important in medicine as it can help lead to new, innovative ideas about how to run hospitals more efficiently, train medical students more effectively, or use drugs in new and different ways, for example.
Consider concluding by stating your opinion on which quality has more value, both in general and for a doctor specifically.
Worrying about what the interviewers want to hear. There is no correct answer to a question like this and you will be given credit for your answer as long as you provide a balanced argument and proper justification for your opinion.
Being thrown off by broad nature of the question. If you are struggling to come up with more general points, consider linking the question back to the practice of medicine.
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*According to an article in the Journal of Medical Regulation, A Census of Actively Licensed Physicians in the United States, 2016, vol. 103. no 2.
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