How To Start Wider Reading For A-Levels and University Applications

Are you struggling to start wider reading, wondering what it is or why your teacher keeps telling you to start? In this article, we explain what wider reading is, how it will help you with your A-level exams and university applications and how to get started.

Author: Rob Needleman

You are here:

Table of Contents

Are you struggling to start wider reading, wondering what it is or why your teacher keeps telling you to start?

In this article, we explain what wider reading is, how it will help you with your A-level exams and university applications and how to get started. 

What does wider reading mean?

In simplified terms, wider reading is going beyond what is covered in class. Wider reading covers more than just reading too, you can watch documentaries, enter competitions and more. You don’t have to be a book worm to get better grades (but there is nothing wrong with that either).


Wider reading is a personal exploration of the subjects you enjoy. It will show your A-level examiners that you have a good understanding of the subject and demonstrate your passion for the degree during a university interview. Through reading, you will also gain a deeper interest before you start your degree.


The Institute of Education carried out a study of 6,000 children between 10-16 years old. Those who enjoyed reading regularly scored higher on maths, spelling and vocabulary tests than those who rarely read. 


This does not mean you are too late to benefit from wider reading if you are sitting your A-levels in two months, but it does help to start early and build a well-rounded knowledge as soon as you can.

Why is wider reading important for A-Levels?

Often labelled as ‘super curriculum learning’ by schools and universities, wider reading helps you understand a subject at a higher level than solely through classroom teaching.


You may hear your teachers say that to do well, you need to read around the A-level specification.


Well, to reach those top marks in exams, examiners often expect you to show evidence of wider reading. Marking criteria for AQA A-level Biology mentions: ‘For top marks in the band, the answer shows evidence of reading beyond specification requirements’.

A-level Biology marking guidance (source: AQA)

It is actually relatively easy to pick up these extra marks, especially if you are already interested in your subject area.


With practice, you’ll be confident at incorporating relevant and original concepts into your exam answers that you picked up from wider reading. For example, in a Geography essay, you could use case studies from publications to critically evaluate the degree of success of strategies used in response to natural disasters. This shows real flair and a wide breadth of knowledge.

A-level Geography marking guidance (source: AQA)

Wider reading should also give you confidence in answering exam questions as you will have a deeper understanding of the specification.

Why is wider reading important for University applications?

Wider reading will help you stand out against your fellow applicants and show your passion for the degree. This is a great opportunity for you to demonstrate your academic potential and ability to work independently.


Your Personal Statement should explain why you are suitable for your chosen course, so make sure you strengthen your points with evidence from wider reading. It should be noted that wider reading, particularly in your Personal Statement, should be relevant so look at the admissions criteria for your chosen degree. For example, the Key Criteria for Cambridge Medical Admissions mentions ‘possess a sound appreciation of ethical, legal and community issues’. You could therefore include wider reading into ethics to strengthen your application.

Key qualities of a medical student (source: Cambridge University)

Wider reading can also be used in Admissions Tests. For instance, during the Cambridge Law Test, you are expected to show your breadth of knowledge by reading about current affairs. Click here to read more about the Cambridge Law Test.


During your university interviews, you may be asked “tell me something interesting you’ve read recently”. This can be the key to a successful interview or the downfall. It is a great opportunity for you to show your passion by discussing an interesting and relevant topic. We have an article discussing this question here


Throughout your interviews, you are likely to be tested on your ability to think critically and engage with the concepts you have studied. Wider reading will help develop these skills and give you the confidence to answer tricky questions.

A quick reminder:

Anything you mention in your Personal Statement may be brought up in an interview, so make sure you go back through the wider reading you included in your Personal Statement to be fully prepared. Don’t get caught out!

Aside from your application, wider reading will help you develop key skills for university work, such as critical thinking, academic research and independent study. Our Enrichment Supervisions, delivered by expert tutors, provide you with valuable topics to mention in your Personal Statement and interviews. These sessions ensure you gain a wider understanding of your subject and an interesting look into the field. Read more about our Premium Programmes

What counts as wider reading?

Remember, wider reading is not just book-based. If reading is not your thing, there are many ways to go beyond your A-level subject specifications. 


Here are some examples of wider reading: 


We also suggest reading outside of your subject to avoid running out of steam or getting too narrow. This includes personal development books to improve your organisation and time management skills. At university, you will need good organisation skills to plan your time effectively around lectures, labs and leisure time.

How to start your wider reading today

Fortunately, authors and producers want you to read and watch their work, so finding content is not difficult. All it takes is a simple Google search. 


The tricky part is finding relevant information.


A good way to start wider reading is to ask the experts around you. Your teachers, lecturers and librarians will have suggestions for you to read. They will most likely be helpful and enjoy talking to you about your field of interest.


Universities have suggested subject resources on their websites, such as Oxford University and Cambridge University. Reading University provide a useful guide on reading techniques.


If you struggle to find motivation with wider reading, set yourself some goals. For example, half an hour of reading every evening or completing two sections of an online course each week. Reading around the areas you are interested in will also keep you motivated. 


Wider reading is a personal exploration of the subjects you enjoy. It helps you to demonstrate a deeper understanding of your A-level subjects and convey your passion for your degree to university interviewers. There are more forms of wider reading than just books, so make your life easier and choose an approach that you enjoy to keep you motivated. From wider reading, you will quickly gain a more comprehensive understanding of your subjects, which will place you in a stronger position for starting your further education.

Looking for wider reading support to broaden your subject knowledge and demonstrate your passion to Admissions Tutors?

Wider reading is crucial to boost your university application. Our weekly enrichment supervisions will help you to develop a deeper understanding of your subject. Our goal is for you to effectively demonstrate your passion and suitability to the Admissions Tutors in your Personal Statment and during your Interviews. 

Discover our Premium Programmes by clicking the button below to enrol and triple your chances of success.

Book An Expert Application Consultation