Reading Lists: How To Start Wider Reading For Oxbridge

Are you struggling to start wider reading or utilise recommended reading lists? Perhaps you aren't sure what wider reading even is or why it's important. In this guide, we explain what wider reading is, how you can get started using reading lists and why it will help you with your A-level exams and university applications.

Last Updated: 1st April 2021

Author: Rob Needleman

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Wider reading is one of the most crucial parts of an Oxbridge application, but it’s not discussed as much as it should be. Many applicants are unaware of the importance of wider reading and utilising quality reading lists, which are both essential for application success

In this guide, we explain what wider reading is, how it will benefit you, how you can utilise Reading Lists and how you can get started. Plus, you’ll find our in-depth recommended reading lists for a wide variety of subjects taught at Oxford and Cambridge. 

Oxbridge Reading Lists

Want to skip straight to our recommended reading lists for 15+ Oxbridge subjects? Click the button below to discover the perfect books to begin your wider reading!

What is wider reading?

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.

Why Is Wider Reading Important?

Wider reading is important when writing your Personal Statement as it is your opportunity to talk passionately about the subject and show you are taking an invested interest in it.

It is important to read critically by thinking carefully about the arguments, assumptions and evidence presented by the author. The Admissions Tutor is likely to ask you questions on this during your Interview, so be prepared with your thoughts and opinions.

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.

Broaden your subject knowledge and demonstrate your passion to Admissions Tutors through our Enrichment Seminars.

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 Statement and during your Interviews. 

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Wider Reading 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’.

AQA-A-Level-Biology-Paper-3-Marking-Guidance
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.

AQA-A-Level-Geography-Marking-Guidance
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.

Wider Reading 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.

Cambridge-University-key-criteria-for-medical-admissions
Key qualities of a medical student (source: Cambridge University)

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. 

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. 

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: 

Books

Already mentioned, and a fairly obvious one. Books cover a variety of information, including your niche interests and main points for every subject. Ensure you keep notes of the titles and authors for when it comes to Interview season.

Websites

There are countless sources online, from societies and academics which will often have news and articles related to your subjects. Make sure to sign up to their newsletters to stay up to date with everything.

Publications

Reading journals, reviews and reports is a big part of university, so getting used to understanding how to scrutinise and review publications is a key skill to develop.

Film and Television

Documentaries are a great source to utilise and are easier to consume than other forms. Just be wary of the accuracy and authenticity of the on-screen depictions – it’s common for filmmakers to over exaggerate the facts for dramatic purposes. 

News

The best source to keep across current affairs. Make sure you are checking the news regularly, particularly in the areas which you are wanting to study to stay up to date with the latest topics.

Online Courses

Universities, such as Reading University, now offer free online courses and supporting study. These courses cover a variety of topics such as Archaeology. Search for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s) online.

Lectures

Taster days and relevant lectures are a great talking point during interviews and will also give you an insight into university teaching.

Competitions

The Big Bang Competition, debating competitions and Maths Challenge all show initiative and a real commitment to your subject. These competitions will help develop key skills for university, such as academic research, public speaking and presentation skills and look great on your Personal Statement.

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.

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Using Reading Lists for Wider Reading

With all these options available for wider reading, it may seem incredibly easy to jump in and build up a great collection of texts and experiences to reference. However, with so many choices, you may end up feeling overwhelmed by the number of options. With so many books published for each and every subject, how do you know what the best pieces will be to read first? 

As with many things in life, the best thing to do is to check with the experts. While notable figures in your chosen subjects will provide you with plenty of good suggestions, you should also be sure to check out the universities themselves. Both Oxford and Cambridge have reading lists which demonstrate the types of texts they would like their applicants to read, with some individual colleges also having unique lists. 

Student-teacher-support-with-reading

Choosing from a recommended reading list

These reading lists will be a huge help in narrowing down your options, but you may find that there is still more than you could realistically get through before your personal statement and interviews. While you should aim to read as much as possible, you may still need to be selective with your choices. 

Here are a few tips to help you work through the various reading lists available: 

Organise Your Reading

In order to provide a clear answer during your interviews, it is really important to review and organise your reading. Each time you read a new text, it is helpful to go through some sort of process to make sure you digest what you’ve read.

As an Oxbridge Interview recommended reading strategy, we suggest that you set up a table or book review, which you fill out for each reading. This way, you can keep track and be prepared to use them to answer Oxbridge Interview questions. Here is a suggested format:

Book Title & Author:

Date Read:

Author’s Main Argument & Key Ideas:

Look out for any points of view which the author supports or challenges. Make note of any new concepts that the author proposes and any key debates with which the author engages.

Useful Facts Learnt:

Note down any interesting/useful bits of information you picked up.

Analysis:

Keep a record of these tables and read over them before you go into the Interview. It’s especially important to do this for those sources you have mentioned on your Personal Statement. Highlight those mentioned or stick post-it notes on them so you can find them easily.

You can do this exercise by hand or digitally (however you work best), but make sure you summarise your thoughts as best you can! You really want to show the difference between just reading a source, to being able to understand the source you are reading and process the key ideas. Each subject will also have a slightly different approach to analysing sources.

Prepare properly for the Oxbridge Interview using our recommended reading lists and through Mock Interview practice and One-To-One Tuition.  

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Oxford and Cambridge Reading Lists For Interviews

Oxford and Cambridge each have reading lists available for most of their courses to inspire applicants before their interviews. However, with so many applicants utilising these reading lists, it can be a good idea to explore further and utilise unique lists from different sources. 

You can get started with exploration by checking out our Oxbridge Reading Lists below!

Biology and Medicine Reading List

Medicine is an extremely broad subject, so medicine reading lists can cover a vast amount of topics, including plenty on biology. Look out for books on specialities you may want to enter in the future. 

Chemistry Reading List

This reading list is good for Oxford Chemistry and Cambridge Natural Science applicants. Look out for Biochemistry reading lists as well if that’s a field that you’re more interested in. 

Physics Reading List

Having an Oxford Physics reading list is crucial for success in your interviews, so be sure to explore a variety of options and find a niche that you’re particularly interested in. 

Psychology Reading List

A-Level and Cambridge Psychology reading lists are a great way to explore topics outside of your standard curriculum. Clinical Psychology reading lists are also great for those looking to specialise. 

Engineering Reading List

Engineering reading lists are great for diving into the general knowledge of engineering. However, you also have the option to narrow things down even more with speciality lists, such as civil engineering reading lists or mechanical engineering reading lists. 

Maths Reading List

While Mathematics as a subject doesn’t lend itself as naturally to literature as other subjects, Oxford and Cambridge maths reading lists are extremely important for displaying a genuine appreciation for the subject beyond your practical abilities. 

Law Reading List

With so many books about law available, covering all different disciplines, cases and historical movements, it’s crucial to have an Oxford or Cambridge law reading list to help you navigate the hundreds of possible titles to read. 

Geography Reading List

Whether it’s physical or human Geography, reading lists are a great way of leaving your comfort zone and discovering new topics and areas of interest to discuss in your interviews.

Modern Languages Reading List

While reading any form of literature in your chosen language is a great way to reinforce your learning and ability to understand, it is also extremely beneficial to explore Modern Languages reading lists. These titles are more specific to the subject and explore the specifics of reading, writing and speaking the language you’re studying. 

French:

Spanish:

German:

Classics Reading List

Using Oxford or Cambridge Classics reading lists is incredibly important as you will need to be able to demonstrate a good understanding of some of the titles the course covers. While it is also good to explore titles outside of the standard curriculum, your first step should be to familiarise yourself with some of the essential books from the course. 

Texts in Translation:

Secondary Works:

History Reading List

History is a subject that allows you to explore a wide variety of topics through wider reading. Though you may wish to start with a couple of more general titles, it is also a great idea to explore eras in time that interest you the most. 

Economics Reading List

Economics is somewhat unique as a subject, as some of the best read you can do for the subject is to follow current affairs. However, there are plenty of helpful titles that can be found in Economics reading lists too.

PPE Reading List

PPE is a combination of three different subjects, meaning you can utilise Politics reading lists, Philosophy reading lists and Economics reading lists. PPE reading lists tend to borrow from each of those and select the most relevant titles to PPE. 

Biological Anthropology Reading List

This is a very specific type of reading list, so while your selection of titles may be slightly smaller, the titles selected will be more likely to give you interesting talking points for your interview. 

English Reading List

Oxford English Literature reading lists are less about discovering new texts to analyse and contain more titles about the mechanics and history of literature. However, it’s always good to look for more works of literature to discuss with peers and admissions tutors. 

Politics Reading List

Similar to Economics, Politics applicants benefit greatly from following the news as part of their wider reading. Exploring the history of national and international politics is crucial too though, so Politics reading lists will set you on the right path.  

Sociology Reading List

Sociology reading lists offer a wide variety of titles that cover a broad spectrum of ideas. As sociology is an ever-evolving field, it’s also a good idea to keep up with current events – perhaps even subscribing to a magazine.  

HSPS Reading List

HSPS covers a wide range of topics including sociology and politics, so you can pull from any of the relevant reading lists for inspiration. However, utilising HSPS reading lists will allow you to further focus your wider reading.

Conclusion

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 Statement and during your Interviews. 

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

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