Skip to content

Put Yourself to the Test

July 29, 2013

So, I’m doing some scary in September.  I signed up to take a test I feel I have nearly zero chance of passing.  I am taking…  The All Souls Exam.


All Souls college

So, All Souls is definitely the most mysterious and probably the most prestigious college in Oxford.   It is prestigious because unlike other colleges it has no students, only fellows.  All the colleges in Oxford are governed by an elite class known as fellows, generally made up of the teaching faculty in each college.  However, everyone admitted to All Souls automatically attains this status, but by ‘everyone’ I mean the select few they choose to admit.  They have a few fellowship places for post-graduate PhD holding candidates, but they also accept some graduate students each year.  And by some, I mean two.

Now, what do these two special exam fellows win?  The honour of being a fellow at this prestigious (and mysterious) of all colleges?  For sure!  But also funding for the next seven years.  Yep, no joke- they will fund any degree(s) you choose to pursue, as well as your living costs for seven years.  Plenty of time to finish a PhD, write a book, and take the academic world by storm.  Or travel the world if you like.  Get a job.  Whatever.  There’s no catch, you can do anything.

So, how does one earn the honour of being an All Souls fellow?  Well, they pass the exam of course!  And what, you may ask, is this exam?  Well, it takes place over two days and consists of 12 essays.  Six of the essays are on ‘specialist’ topics (for me this would be on history), and six are general essays.  In both categories you get to pick from a list of numerous potential questions.  The general essays can be on anything, and are often rather bizarre.  Here are a few sample questions from a test a couple of years back for you to ponder:

‘Could my brain be evil?’

‘Why are some jokes funnier than others? ‘

‘Is it meaningful to speak of a ‘morality of architecture’?

‘Should governments aspire to make their citizens happy?’

‘What’s so bad about envy?’

‘Did death evolve? ‘

The Exam used to be famous for making its taker write an essay on a single word- however, within the last couple of years this is no longer required.  But still.  It’s a crazy test.  In Oxford the All Souls exam has a reputation of being a test for geniuses.  Comparatively few people take it because, well, no one thinks they have a shot.  (That and the fact that the test is two days long and involves writing 12 essays).

But I am taking it.

Do I think I have a shot?  The answer is, not really.  I have met a couple of people at Oxford that are so bright, so creative and free thinking- they are the sort of person this test is made for.   I could easily count myself out.  I mean, why spend two days of your life trying for something you know you will fail?

But, I decided to do it.  Why?  Because I think everyone is too ready to count themselves out.  This challenge has put to test something I believe: the idea that it is more admirable to try and fail, than to be afraid to try.  So you know what, I decided to take a chance.  No test will scare me away.  The likelihood that I will become an All Souls fellow next year, well I wouldn’t bet on it- but at least I will know that I tried.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 30, 2013 10:53 am

    This is the BEST THING TO EVER HAPPEN. Can non students take this test? Can non students be on the decision making board? How do I become the person who decides whose soul is the best!? I’d be so good at that.

    p.s. SUPER proud of you for trying. I love that advice. Always try.

  2. July 31, 2013 7:23 am

    Good luck! I think you’re definitely on to something when you said that, “everyone is too ready to count themselves out.” Everyone is the first to discredit themselves, and I think it’s great that you’re doing the opposite. I will have to keep this post in mind next time I quickly discredit myself or my capabilities.

  3. snowwhore permalink*
    August 3, 2013 12:58 pm

    I am admiring you so much right now.


  1. All Souls: Part II | Twenty Something Condition

Have a comment?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: