Computer Science Interview/ CSAT

Tim Cooper made this Freedom of Information request to King's College, Cambridge

This request has been closed to new correspondence from the public body. Contact us if you think it ought be re-opened.

King's College, Cambridge did not have the information requested.

Dear King’s College, Cambridge,

Could you please provide me with a selection of questions used for computer science interviews preferably from recent admissions cycles as well as a copy of the CSAT paper used by colleges in the 2015-16 cycle.

Yours faithfully,

Tim Cooper

King's College, Cambridge

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Cooper,
This is in reply to your enquiry received by the College on 26 September
and made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA). I can confirm
that the College does hold the information about which you enquired,
however the information is exempt under section 36(2)(c) of FOIA.
Subsection 36(2) of FOIA provides that:
Information to which this section applies is exempt information if, in the
reasonable opinion of a qualified person, disclosure of the information
under this Act … (c) would … prejudice, or would be likely … to prejudice,
the effective conduct of public affairs.
The qualified person in the case of King's College, is the Provost. The
Provost has been consulted and is of the opinion that section 36(2)(c) is
engaged in this case, for both of your requests for information.
The College's charitable goals are to be a place of place of education,
religion, learning and research. The recruitment of the highest possible
level of students is essential to all branches of our mission. Any act
that might prejudice the fairness of the selection process – such as the
disclosure of the requested information – would be likely to prejudice the
College’s conduct of its mission and therefore the effective conduct of
public affairs. We address the application of the 36(2)(c) exemption in
your two questions below.
A selection of interview questions
The purpose of the interview process is to provide the candidates with a
level playing-field. Even if you publish the response to this enquiry
on-line, the only sustainable method to ensure fairness is that the same
information be provided to all, by the University and Colleges, and to
ensure this process is fair the advice that is given to all candidates is
available on a University-maintained website: 
The ‘learning answers by rote’ scenario would be a likely outcome of
disclosure of the interview questions. It is even possible that, if the
requested information were disclosed, some students would take advice in
advance of their interviews and the answers they gave when interviewed
would not reflect accurately 'their' answers.
The 2015-16 CSAT paper
The College understands that it is important to give candidates a
reasonable indication of the nature and form of the examination that they
will have to take. That information may be found at
[2] which
includes a sample test. The purpose of the testing process is to test
candidates' general knowledge on the subject, not their knowledge on a few
known topics. Therefore it is important to restrict access to previous
questions, to those who were taking the exam. Indeed care is taken each
year, through the Instructions to Invigilators and the Cover Sheet seen by
candidates, to prevent candidates taking the question papers away with
them. Again, disclosure of the requested information would be unfair in
that some candidates would have different knowledge than others when
coming into the exam. As we must provide the same information to all
candidates, it is important not to release any additional information in
other contexts.
See also
for the College link to that University webpage.
Disclosure of the information you requested, which would thus be available
to some individuals and not others, would be likely to diminish the
quality of the selected candidates. It would make the interview and
testing process inaccurate. It would also be unfair to any candidates to
whom the information was not made available. One might suggest that the
routine publication of all questions (at interview and/or on the CSAT
paper) is a way around this argument, but then either the College would
have to come up with wholly new questions (a time-consuming and thus very
expensive process, even were it possible), or would lose the ability to
judge the candidates' ability to think on their feet (in the case of
interview questions ) or judge their general knowledge in the field (in
the case of the CSAT paper), which are important aspects of the learning
process in which the students will have to engage.
The public interest test
The section 36 exemption is subject to the public interest test; that is
to say, whether, in all the circumstances of the case, the public interest
in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing
the information. 
In this case the considerations as follows.
The public interest in disclosure is transparency of process and enabling
applicants to have a fair warning of the manner in which their
applications will be determined.  However, disclosure of this information
would be likely to give enough away about the nature, type and focus of
our questions so as to disrupt our application process, which is against
the public interest. The public interest in disclosure is adequately
served in the websites cited above, which are given, fairly, to all
The public interest in withholding the information is the protection of
the integrity of the undergraduate admissions process, in ensuring that
the best applicants are admitted, and that a level playing field exists
for them.
The suggestion that we could publish the information on the websites
above, and write new questions every year, is not in the public interest
because it would cause the admissions officers unnecessary work, would
give away too much about the recruitment and would be likely to lead to
the College being misled (about applicants who had access to the
information compared to those who didn't), and thus making the wrong
decision about the best candidates for admission.
The College have decided that the public interest in maintaining the
exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.
I attach a leaflet outlining the College's FOI Act policies and
procedures.  If you have further questions please ask me in the first
instance. If you are not satisfied with the way in which your request has
been dealt with you may apply directly to the Information Commissioner for
a decision. Generally, the Commissioner will not entertain your complaint
unless you have exhausted any relevant internal review procedures.
Patricia McGuire (Dr)
King's College
Cambridge CB2 1ST
Tel: 01223 331444
FAX: 01223 331891

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