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“Reading around your subject” – you will probably hear the term so many times in the coming months that it will likely start to drive you a little mad! However, there is a good reason so many of your teachers will harp on about it, as the demonstration of academic knowledge beyond the core syllabus is so critical in the Oxbridge interview process. With the exam season soon over, you will have the summer holidays to rest and recover, but also time to do some much needed reading. This blog will focus on how to make that reading as streamlined, fun and most importantly, efficient as possible.

What does it mean?

When we talk about “reading around the subject”, the idea is that the best students will not only have a rock-solid knowledge and understanding of the core curriculum, but will be aware of and educated on topics not covered in their school studies, or have advanced their learning of core topics to a beyond A-level standard. This idea holds significant weight with Oxbridge, and they actively seek students who have sought to engage with their subject beyond what they learn at school. 

Action Point

When designing your list, only select 5 books for it that cover a breadth of topics. Of those 5, try to read 3 – the spare ones are there in case one of your target three books turns out to be a poor-read or not interest you, which will slow your reading progress down to a crawl. In these latter situations, you should quit that book and move onto the next.


What if I don’t enjoy the book?

Another key tip is if a particular book is slow reading or not of particular interest, then put it down and move onto the next. With particularly massive tomes, feel free to pick and choose just a few chapters to read. In the interview, the most likely question you will be asked is “tell me about your favourite chapter?” or “what was the most interesting thing you learned?”  They will not ask you for a synopsis of every single chapter – so don’t worry if you haven’t read them.

Action Point

Put post-it notes to mark interesting pages or chapters so you can quickly brush up this winter before the interview!


How can I go the extra mile?

Once you have selected the books for your list, you should make a small amount of time in your weekly schedule to read news around your chosen subject. Many of you will have subscriptions to academic magazines through school, but why read the same material as everyone else in the country? By going online, you have so many excellent resources to explore! For a simple and quick fix (around 5 mins daily, on your phone while on the bus going to school) check out the BBC news pages. These short articles can bring you up to speed on the most current news which is important, as your Oxbridge interviewers will expect you to be aware of the year’s big news stories!

Action Point

In addition to news sites, there are a host of great online blogs and YouTube channels that are entertaining and educational to watch. Subscribe to the more active channels and make it a habit to get caught up on a regular basis. 


Any last tips?

As a final, more relaxing recommendation, try watching educational television programmes. Short insightful documentaries, centred around an interesting topic of your chosen course will help you in stressful interview situations. Visual learning is often incredibly effective, so never underestimate the power of a good hourly documentary!

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