Map Oxbridge Applications. 14 – 16 Waterloo Place, London, SW1Y 4AR

The summer between Year 12 and 13 is key for preparing for all areas of the Oxbridge application – but it can be difficult to know where to begin!  To help, we have broken the summer up into three sections – Early, Mid and Late - to help you structure your preparation and ensure that make real progress between June and August.

Early Summer: End of June – mid July

Reading: There are plenty of reading lists online – both on our website, and on college or department websites, for example.  For those applying to subjects where reading is key, pick one or two key, canonical books you will read early in summer to give you a grounding in the subject.

Admissions Tests:  Early Summer is the time to research the admissions test you will be sitting and make sure that you are aware of its requirements.  You can therefore come up with a list of topics and/or skills that you need to work on throughout the rest of the break.

Personal Statement:  Now is the time to make a list of everything you have read and participated in outside of class that is relevant to your subject.  This will be a great starting point for your personal statement, but also highlight what further actions you need to take.

Mid-Summer: Mid-July – Mid-August

Reading: The books you read in early summer should be the building blocks for your reading, inspiring an interest in one or two areas that you continue exploring.  Feel free to choose more niche and specialised books at this point.

Admissions Tests:  At the beginning of this time-period, sit one mock admissions test under timed conditions, and then reflect.  Where are your strengths?  What do you need to work on?  Make a list of areas you need to improve, then start working on them.

Personal Statement: Start working on the points you identified as lacking in early summer.  This might involve work experience, visiting exhibitions, signing up to a Maths challenge, or watching TED talks.

End of Summer: Mid-August – early September

Reading: You should now be reading something beyond that which you will include in your personal statement, so that you have more content to discuss at interview.  You should become comfortable talking about your reading with others – find a friend and chat about what you’ve been interested in!

Admissions Tests:  Finish off polishing any areas of improvement you identified in your first mock test, and then sit another.  Again, make sure you stick to the conditions you will have in the actual test!  Reflect on this test: have you improved and are there further areas to work on when you return to school or college?

Personal Statement:  Having spent apt time preparing, now is the time to write your first draft.   Having a solid draft now will give you some time in September for re-writes.

Red numbers on whiteStudying Mathematics at university requires a different approach to studying Mathematics at school.

Successful applicants for Mathematics are able to bridge the gap between school-level Mathematics and undergraduate-level study. At school, much of Mathematics is taught under the same umbrella of Mathematics, whereas undergraduate study presents a clear distinction between applied and pure Mathematics. Our Mathematics reading list, compiled by Oxford and Cambridge graduates, provides you with some recommendations to develop your knowledge of Mathematical theory.

Our Mathematics Reading Recommendations

Chaos, Making a New Science – James Gleick

Covering the physical side of maths, this is an accessible introduction to Chaos Theory, which has been quite popular over the last 50 years.

Alex’s Adventures in Numberland: Dispatches from the Wonderful World of Numbers – Alex Bellos

If you’re a fan of the importance of mental arithmetic (in an increasingly digital age) Bellos’s new 448 page book which aims to introduce “the excitement and wonder of mathematical discovery’ to a wider audience, is the one for you.

It Must be Beautiful: Great Equations of Modern Science – edited by Graham Farmelo

A collection of essays which sets out to reveal the true nature of an equation.

The Problems of Mathematics, Nature’s Numbers, From Here to Infinity, Game, Set and Math and The Magical Maze – Ian Stewart

What is Mathematics? – Courant and Robbins

Mathematics: The Golden Age – Devlin

A Mathematician’s Apology – Hardy

One of the central topics of this book is the beauty of mathematics. Anyone with a passion for pure mathematics is likely to enjoy Hardy’s discussion of the ugliness of applied mathematics.

Makers of Mathematics – Hollingdale

A history of mathematical discoveries and an introduction to ideas that have shaped modern mathematics. Read in its entirety, this book provides an excellent foundation for undergraduate study of mathematics.

General Resources

Google Scholar. A free and simple way to search for up-to-date scholarly literature and research 

JSTOR. A comprehensive collection of scholarly journals in all disciplines and their full archives, this massive source of information is invaluable but you will need to subscribe. Most unis subscribe their students to this as it is an invaluable tool.

Google books. This is particularly useful for looking at old texts which have gone out of copyright – that is, the author died over 70 years ago – and read sections of them for free online.

OED. An incredible way to understand language and etymology, as well as the history of the words you’re reading. You can get it all online but you will need to subscribe.

Cambridge Companions. You have probably seen these at school. If you are particularly interested in a topic, Cambridge Companions are collections of critical essays from the top scholars in a topic to give you an excellent introduction into periods, authors, movements and other major areas of humanities studies. You can either buy individual books according to your interest, or subscribe to the site and have access to all of them.

Red numbers on whiteIf you are interested in Philosophy, there are several options available at Oxford and Cambridge.

Philosophy as a sole specialism can only be taken at Cambridge, but at Oxford, you can take Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE), or combine Philosophy with Mathematics, Physics, Theology, Modern Languages or Computer Science. To prepare for an application for any of these courses, Philosophy applicants must develop their ability to read volumes of texts with an analytical and logical mind. Our reading lists guide you to read some of Philosophy’s cornerstone texts, as well as readings which will help you analyse problems posed by philosophical thought.

Our Philosophy Reading Recommendations

Utilitarianism – J.S Mill

Essential reading for any budding Philosopher. One of the most important and contentious works of moral philosophy. Its articulation of a ‘hedonic calculus’ and its development of the ideas of Mill’s mentor, Jeremy Bentham, on what makes mankind ‘happy’ make it a classic.

The Social Contract – Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Rousseau argues for the preservation of individual freedom in political society. An individual can only be free under the law, he says, by freely embracing that law as his own. This work is a defence of civil society, but also a study of the darker and potentially dangerous aspects of political systems, evident in many political cultures today.

Straw Dogs – John Gray

This is a march through the history of Philosophy, and whilst entertainingly dismissing all belief sets saying they might make you feel better, concludes that ultimately we live in chaos.

Consolations of Philosophy – Alain de Botton

In this, Botton explores different philosophies to cope with the stresses of modern day living. A great introduction to the philosophers he uses at the same time as being a useful way of feeling better about your life (and not getting in to your chosen university if that is the way it turns out).

The Problems of Philosophy – Bertrand Russell

This is a short and accessible introduction to some of the most important topics in epistemology. Highlights include Russell’s distinction between “knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by description” and his account of a priori knowledge. 

The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten: 100 Experiments for the Armchair Philosopher – Julian Baggini

A lively and entertaining account of 100 thought experiments, designed to expose the reader to a wide range of philosophical issues. The scope of the book and its thought-provoking style makes it perfect preparation for tackling almost any philosophy interview question.

Symbolic Logic – Lewis Carroll

Riddles of Existence: A Guided Tour of Metaphysics – Earl Conee and Theodore Sider

General Resources

Google Scholar. A free and simple way to search for up-to-date scholarly literature and research 

JSTOR. A comprehensive collection of scholarly journals in all disciplines and their full archives, this massive source of information is invaluable but you will need to subscribe. Most unis subscribe their students to this as it is an invaluable tool.

Google books. This is particularly useful for looking at old texts which have gone out of copyright – that is, the author died over 70 years ago – and read sections of them for free online.

OED. An incredible way to understand language and etymology, as well as the history of the words you’re reading. You can get it all online but you will need to subscribe.

Cambridge Companions. You have probably seen these at school. If you are particularly interested in a topic, Cambridge Companions are collections of critical essays from the top scholars in a topic to give you an excellent introduction into periods, authors, movements and other major areas of humanities studies. You can either buy individual books according to your interest, or subscribe to the site and have access to all of them.

Red numbers on whiteIf you are interested in Psychology, Oxford offers the Psychology (Experimental) course, while Cambridge offers Psychological and Behavioural Sciences, or PBS.

For prospective Psychology students, understanding the history of psychology is an important foundation to accessing more recent texts. Additionally, psychology applicants should understand the importance of rigorous methodology for carrying out psychological tests. Our Psychology reading list is created by Oxford and Cambridge graduates to give you a sample of undergraduate-level texts, and how to balance these two key elements of psychology.

Our Psychology Reading Recommendations

Psychology: The Science of Mind and Behaviour – Richard Goss

Goss is a first rate writer for Psychology, and one that a lot of undergraduates rely on. This is a weighty tome, but it will cover all the major domains of Psychology in 50 very clear chapters. Pay particular attention to the links between different areas of Psychology and the case studies used.

Musicophilia – Oliver Sacks

Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at Columbia University looks at the healing effect of music on the brain. This is a very interesting interdisciplinary approach to Psychology.

How the mind works – Steven Pinker

A brilliantly fun read, this is like a freakonomics for Psychology. From questions ranging from why do fools fall in love, why does salary increase with height and how do optical illusions give us an insight into the human soul, this is a really interesting book. It’s certainly not simple though, so don’t worry if you have to go over the more challenging things more than once. Another interesting book by Pinker for Psychologists is The Language Instinct. You can see our graduate’s review to the right.

The Stanford Prison Experiment

Documents the experiment with a simulated prison environment and its effects on behaviour at Stanford University in 1971, with lots of further reading and parallels with contemporary incidents.

Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman

Very interesting 2011 exploration of cognitive psychology in contemporary society by Nobel Prize winner Kahneman. Explores the way in which intuitive thought often takes precedence over conscious deliberation, leading to self-delusion.

Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work – Paul Babiak

A really enthralling book of case studies showing how psychopathy can be advantageous in business. It has an interesting take on how psychological problems are not always seen as problems.

Further Recommendations

Phantoms in the Brain – V S Ramachandran

Another book of case studies of bizarre neuro/psych phenomena (for example, phantom limbs) with the biological knowledge and background on causes. A great conversation piece for interviews.

Statistics Without Tears – Derek Rowntree

This book explains statistics using words rather than numbers. An excellent book if you are unsure about your confidence with statistics, and in case a maths question does come up at interview.

Mindwatching– H J and M W Eysenck

This is a very readable book, which introduces a number of areas in psychology, and giving details of experiments. It is useful to remember some experiments that are of interest, since they can be used for discussion in the interview (i.e. what experiments aimed to show, what techniques were used, what was found etc).

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat – Oliver Sacks

Short stories about some of the strangest neurological conditions the author has treated as a clinical neurologist. If you like this, you can also try Musicophilia, also by Sacks: this considers the relationship between music and the brain, also approached through a series of case studies.

Atkinson & Hilgard’s Introduction to Psychology – Susan Nolen-Hoeksema

This is a textbook, and therefore too long to read from cover to cover, but useful for the introductory sections and chapter summaries. It may also be useful to look at areas that the tutor interviewing you specialises in.

General Resources

Google Scholar. A free and simple way to search for up-to-date scholarly literature and research 

JSTOR. A comprehensive collection of scholarly journals in all disciplines and their full archives, this massive source of information is invaluable but you will need to subscribe. Most unis subscribe their students to this as it is an invaluable tool.

Google books. This is particularly useful for looking at old texts which have gone out of copyright – that is, the author died over 70 years ago – and read sections of them for free online.

OED. An incredible way to understand language and etymology, as well as the history of the words you’re reading. You can get it all online but you will need to subscribe.

Cambridge Companions. You have probably seen these at school. If you are particularly interested in a topic, Cambridge Companions are collections of critical essays from the top scholars in a topic to give you an excellent introduction into periods, authors, movements and other major areas of humanities studies. You can either buy individual books according to your interest, or subscribe to the site and have access to all of them.

Red numbers on whiteHistory of Art at Oxford and Cambridge allows you to study art as an academic pursuit, rather than the practical implications felt through the Fine Art course at Oxford and elsewhere.

As such, an appreciation of art from a historical and cross-cultural academic perspective is important to helping you develop your subject-knowledge prior to interview. Our History of Art reading lists offer you analytical and historical readings for the discipline, to give you an overview of some topics covered in the History of Art syllabuses.

Our history of art reading recommendations

The Story of Art – Gombrich

Everyone should read this – it is a stock textbook. It gives a very good overview but you should be aware of its limitations, i.e. it only focuses on Western art as opposed to anything else.

Studies in Iconology – Panofsky

A good introduction to symbolism and how to read into works of art. Again, read around Panofsky and his motivations, but it is an interesting way to start thinking about how to look at art and challenge your visual expectations.

Durer to Veronese – Dunkerton et al.

These books are very good for providing overviews of the art covered in the first year in Cambridge. Written by experts, they approach both the content of relevant works and also analyse them with scientific equipment to show the processes involved. These are core texts when you start the course. They also have very good images.

Early Medieval Art – L. Nees

Important introduction to a very different period of art history.

Ways of Seeing – John Berger

A seminal book and vital reading for anyone commencing study of History of Art.

The Embarrassment of Riches: An interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age – S. Schama

A good example of a book exploring links between culture and art, from a persuasive writer.

On Photography – Susan Sontag

The Italian Painters of the Renaissance – B Berenson

The Nude and Landscape into Art – Kenneth Clark

Anatomy – Francesco Clemente

General Resources

Google Scholar. A free and simple way to search for up-to-date scholarly literature and research 

JSTOR. A comprehensive collection of scholarly journals in all disciplines and their full archives, this massive source of information is invaluable but you will need to subscribe. Most unis subscribe their students to this as it is an invaluable tool.

Google books. This is particularly useful for looking at old texts which have gone out of copyright – that is, the author died over 70 years ago – and read sections of them for free online.

OED. An incredible way to understand language and etymology, as well as the history of the words you’re reading. You can get it all online but you will need to subscribe.

Cambridge Companions. You have probably seen these at school. If you are particularly interested in a topic, Cambridge Companions are collections of critical essays from the top scholars in a topic to give you an excellent introduction into periods, authors, movements and other major areas of humanities studies. You can either buy individual books according to your interest, or subscribe to the site and have access to all of them.

Red numbers on whiteThe main challenge in the step up from school to university for History is the quantity of reading, and analysis of that reading, that you will be expected to complete. Aside from getting into the swing of things by practising now, wider reading at this stage allows you to expand your A Level knowledge, giving you the opportunity to rely on a familiar knowledge base to engage with complex historical theories.

You may also choose to branch out from your school syllabus to take on an entirely new topic – just make sure you rely on reputable historians before turning to the more marginal arguments. Below are the recommended readings we have compiled to prepare you for undergraduate study, written by Oxford and Cambridge History of Art graduates.

Our History Reading Recommendations

The British Problem 1534-1707 – John Morrill

A look at English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh history – bringing the countries together and investigating the inter-relationships.

Britons: Forging a Nation – Linda Colley

A comprehensive, tour de force of national identity and how it shapes a nation. An absorbing and fascinating read, written in an engaging and entertaining style.

The book of Margery Kempe – Margery Kempe

Thought by some to be the first autobiography in the English language, this book chronicles the pilgrimages and experiences of a middle-class woman in the 14th and 15th century.

The Men Who Lost America – Andrew O’Shaughnessy

Interesting recent book giving the counterpoint to the view that America was ‘lost’ by incompetent, myopic leaders. It illuminates the many influences on these events and the subsequent careers of the apparently inept commanders.

Imperium – Ryszard Kapuscinski

Pulling together his journalism from three visits to disparate parts of the Soviet Empire, in the 1960s, mid 1980s and just after the collapse of the USSR, critically acclaimed author and journalist Kapuscinski’s account is easy to read, yet full of terrible but captivating stories. It is a fascinating insight into oral history, which conveys the power of snapshot accounts of real lives paralleled with devastating and brutal policies.

Further Recommendations

Witnesses of War – Nicholas Stargardt

An account of children’s experiences in Germany and the occupied territories of Eastern Europe, Stargardt uses a range of surprising sources such as children’s letters to their parents, diaries and pictures to explore how a whole generation of European children were shaped by the horrors of 1939 – 1945. Unusually, he looks at the terror for children in Jewish ghettos and concentration camps, as well as for German children in the extreme Allied bombing in German cities towards the end of the war and the level of deprivation they faced in 1945 (an area rarely covered by historians). The range of sources is fascinating, and the child’s perspective illuminating.

Le Feu (‘Under Fire,’ in English), Henri Barbusse

One of the first accounts of the First World War from the perspective of the French trenches. This is a powerful and explicit account of how ordinary men reacted to and were forced to deal with one of the most brutal wars inflicted on mankind.

Suite Francaise – Irene Nemirovsky

On publication, Le Monde, the French national newspaper, called this ‘A masterpiece…saved from oblivion.’ In July 1942, the author was sent to the Nazi gas chambers where she died. Her daughters preserved her manuscripts. It is a superb and at times harrowing book.

History in Practice, Ludmilla Jordanova

The Nature of History, Arthur Marwick

We would also recommend George Orwell’s, Animal Farm, Nineteen Eighteen Four and Homage to Catalonia, in which he records his experiences as a militiaman in the Spanish Civil War in 1936. It is worth noting that after that war, Orwell said; ‘Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic Socialism as I understand it’.

Finally, have a look at Graeme Greene’s The Quiet American, Our Man in Havana – the plot of which appears to erringly predict the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. (There have been films of both these books, the first starring Michael Caine, and the second, Alec Guinness).

General Resources

Google Scholar. A free and simple way to search for up-to-date scholarly literature and research 

JSTOR. A comprehensive collection of scholarly journals in all disciplines and their full archives, this massive source of information is invaluable but you will need to subscribe. Most unis subscribe their students to this as it is an invaluable tool.

Google books. This is particularly useful for looking at old texts which have gone out of copyright – that is, the author died over 70 years ago – and read sections of them for free online.

OED. An incredible way to understand language and etymology, as well as the history of the words you’re reading. You can get it all online but you will need to subscribe.

Cambridge Companions. You have probably seen these at school. If you are particularly interested in a topic, Cambridge Companions are collections of critical essays from the top scholars in a topic to give you an excellent introduction into periods, authors, movements and other major areas of humanities studies. You can either buy individual books according to your interest, or subscribe to the site and have access to all of them.

If you are applying for HSPS at Cambridge, it is important to have an interest across the course choice options available: politics, sociology, international relations and anthropology.

HSPS allows students to study a breadth of contemporary and historical political movements, theories and ideals. Successful applicants can not only pull from recent political events, but can put this in the perspective of history and academic theory. Our Cambridge HSPS reading lists cover the different course options available in HSPS to support you to expand your extra-curricular reading.

Our HSPS Reading Recommendations

Anthropology reading list

Guns, Germs and Steel – Jared Diamond

Although Archaeology has now been removed from HSPS, this book is still tremendously useful for applicants interested in anthropology and the broader development of human society. The book gives an overview of 13,000 years of human development and is an ambitious, easy-to-understand introduction to what makes us human.

Purity and Danger – Mary Douglas

This book is an easy, memorable introduction to structuralism. Drawing from everyday examples and theological canon, Douglas dissects the ways in which we categorise things as pure and dangerous – why does hair on our head seem normal but hair in the sink causes repulsion? What binaries do humans use to determine when something is dirty? Douglas probes these questions and more.

Coming of Age in Second Life – Tom Boellstorff

A contemporary ethnography, writing on the interface of humans and virtual humanity. The book is a fun, engaging read which looks at players on Second Life, a virtual reality social network which allowed people to actualise their desires through choosing their appearance, name, and what they revealed to other members.

Can the Subaltern Speak? – Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

A difficult but important read for anthropological theory. Spivak’s voice is integral to the conversation of anthropology’s role in colonisation and suppression of the east. Spivak discusses the legitimacy of anthropology speaking for people, and how (as well as if) this differs from speaking over people.

Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly – Judith Butler

Butler is best known for her seminal works on gender and performativity, but in her most recent book, she looks at the assemblage of bodies in protest. Using the example of the Arab Spring and countless others, Butler balances case studies and theory to examine what happens to bodies when they are assembled on mass in public spaces. A unique, intelligent approach to an increasingly common phenomenon.

Argonautsthe Western Pacific – Bronislaw Malinowski

Politics & International Relations reading lists

Leviathan – Thomas Hobbes

This is a key text studied during the first year of Politics. However, it is an extremely difficult and you may find it more beneficial to look at secondary sources and the Internet.

Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power – Rachel Maddow

In day-to-day life, Maddow runs a liberal American news programme. In this book, however, she takes a part-academic, part-novel approach to the changing relations of the American military, from the draught in Vietnam to current practices, which see citizens disconnected from the wars they are fighting in other nations.

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism – Max Weber

This classical text links capitalist development in northern Europe with a specific evolution of Protestant ethic, arguing that this influenced large numbers of people to develop the discipline to operate in a capitalist system. A integral read to politics and sociology.

The Prince – Niccolo Machiavelli

Banal Nationalism – Michael Billig

Billig writes on the  small ways we see nationalism in everyday life – not just in the big performances of nationalism in war and sport, but how every time we use currency or naturally defer to certain members of society, we are reinforcing ingrained nationalism through our performance. A read that will make you reconsider how small actions implicate larger societal systems.

Sociology reading list

Marx, Durkheim, Weber: Formations of Modern Social Thought – Morrison

This is introduces the work of Marx and Weber and is more accessible than reading them first-hand.

Liberty: Incorporating Four Essays on Liberty – Isaiah Berlin

Try reading Berlin’s lecture on ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’ which is printed in this book.

Suicide – Durkheim

While the subject matter is difficult, this is a seminal work by prominent sociologist Emile Durkheim which provides an excellent introduction into key tenets of sociology; case studies, methodological study and macro-analysis. The book essentially serves as study of suicide to explore base causes for why suicide occurs. While there are obvious flaws in such a broad approach, it is crucial reading for sociologists  looking to understand theory.

Developmental Social Psychology – Durkin

Introducing Social Psychology – Fraser, Burchell, Hay and Duveen

The Tipping Point: how little things can make a big difference – Malcolm Gladwell

This gives you an interesting introduction to the links between the mathematical and the social, and also to a variety of issues which you would then have to explore in more depth.

General Resources

Google Scholar. A free and simple way to search for up-to-date scholarly literature and research 

JSTOR. A comprehensive collection of scholarly journals in all disciplines and their full archives, this massive source of information is invaluable but you will need to subscribe. Most unis subscribe their students to this as it is an invaluable tool.

Google books. This is particularly useful for looking at old texts which have gone out of copyright – that is, the author died over 70 years ago – and read sections of them for free online.

OED. An incredible way to understand language and etymology, as well as the history of the words you’re reading. You can get it all online but you will need to subscribe.

Cambridge Companions. You have probably seen these at school. If you are particularly interested in a topic, Cambridge Companions are collections of critical essays from the top scholars in a topic to give you an excellent introduction into periods, authors, movements and other major areas of humanities studies. You can either buy individual books according to your interest, or subscribe to the site and have access to all of them.

 

Red numbers on whiteWith a subject as far-reaching in terms of style and age as English Literature, it can be difficult to know where to begin.

Successful applicants for English demonstrate a voracious appetite for literature, but to help you focus your reading, we have compiled recommended books of literary criticism, as well as key texts throughout the literature periods studied in Oxford and Cambridge. Read more for our Oxbridge English reading lists, compiled by our expert English tutors.

Criticism

John Lennard, ‘The Poetry Handbook’

This will be your undergraduate bible, marking your formal debut into the study of literature. Its objective is to introduce you to the foundational concepts underpinning every literary form and the various analytical approaches your readings can take, weaving through the basic principles of scansion, syntactical construction and grammar. Students should be warned that the Poetry Handbook is a purely introductory affair – it merely sketches outlines, leaving you to fill them in. Applicants are best advised to combine Lennard’s insight with their own, independently-chosen texts – this will be particularly useful when sitting the ELAT or any of the college-specific Cambridge written assessments, given that they encourage students to construct sustained analytical readings.

Terry Eagleton, ‘Sweet Violence: The Idea of the Tragic’

Eagleton’s interesting take on how tragedy can live in contemporary literature, in a rational, secular capitalist world, makes use of philosophical frameworks without seeking a rigid definition of tragedy. It is particularly useful if applying for Cambridge.

 

Fiction

Chaucer, ‘Troilus and Criseyde’ and ‘The Canterbury Tales’ (circa 1350)

As the oft-quoted father of English literature, Chaucer marks an origin of narrative thought. His texts have provided stimuli for countless successive writers, with ‘Troilus and Criseyde’ begetting Shakespeare’s ‘Troilus and Cressida’ and the comforting introductory line to ‘The Canterbury Tales’ finding its dystopian twin in T.S.Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’ (1922).

Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)

An absolute must for any applicant, especially considering the ol’ Bard encompasses an entire module in both institutions, and is Oxford’s only author-specific paper. Shakespeare’s shadow is looming over virtually every successive literary period, the implications of his writing reverberating throughout Donne, Milton, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Browning, the Bronte sisters, Dickens, Eliot, McEwan, Atwood et al. Most of you will have encountered Shakespeare in various guises on the A level and GCSE school syllabus, but we suggest you attempt reading one of his lesser-known plays. We’ve chosen the following because they exist as stimulating counterpoints to his ‘landmark plays’, providing fruitful parallels and contrasts: Pericles, Julius Caesar, Titus Andronicus, Cymbeline, Troilus and Cressida.

Laurence Sterne, ‘The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman’ (1759)

Sterne is the great (anti-)pioneer of the novel form, with ‘Tristram Shandy’ often regarded as his magnum opus. Railing against the conventional properties of story-telling, Sterne deliberately subverts our expectations of a linear narrative, offering instead a story of revision and regression; indeed, one that is constantly re-negotiating the concept of ‘beginning’. In its flagrant anti-conformity, Sterne’s narrative can be said to embody the querulous, iconoclastic literary mind of 20th century modernism and its crisis of faith in language as an instrument of effective communication. It is Sterne’s legacy that T.S.Eliot ultimately inherits in his structurally amorphous ‘The Waste Land’; that Beckett assumes in ‘Endgames’s (1957) exploration of spiritual paralysis; and that Dickinson’s poetry erects an altar to by sloughing off the shackles of the pedantic grammarian.

Mary Wollstonecraft, ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Women’ (1790)

This serves as one of the earliest works of feminist philosophy, responding to traditional eighteenth century political and educational theory that believed women should not have an education. “It’s an absorbing read, yet conflicting for the modern day reader,” says one Oxford English graduate “as Wollstonecraft still responds to and abides by the patriarchal assumptions of the time whilst thinking she is being subversive”. Wollstonecraft often works well when compared alongside more contemporary feminist essayists, such as Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Room of One’s Own’ (1929) and Judith Butler’s ‘Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex’ (1993).

John Keats, ‘The Fall of Hyperion: A Dream’ (1820); Byron ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’ (1818); Percy Shelley, ‘Ozymandias’ (1818); Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ‘Kubla Khan’ (1816)

These texts are united by a shared evocation of the 19th century ruinenlust or ‘craze for ruins’, insisting either upon their own fragmentariness as unfinished texts or engaging with the notion of the ruin on a purely metaphorical level. The intention of these writers is to stress a splintered temporal space, one caught between past and present, especially since ruins contain both the trace of their past and the potential of their future completion.

Through the ruin’s synecdochic gesturing towards the whole, these writers’ texts comes to embody a number of dialectic relationships – between decay and preservation; history and eternity; the inevitable fall and the possibility of restoration. Students interested in the doctrine of ruinenlust might also want to ruminate on the 18th century motif in artwork of representing contemporary buildings in a ruined state: Soane’s depiction of the Bank of England was labelled with a quotation from ‘The Tempest’ to make explicit the emphasis on the decline and fall of civilisations, whilst Hubert Robert’s designs for the Louvre depict the imaginary design in ruins alongside its proposal.

H. Lawrence, ‘The Rainbow’ (1915)

Lawrence pens exquisite phrases: “the fire went black in his veins”; “his soul ran its own blood”. These expressionist images are examples of Lawrence’s unique linguistic process, which he uses to capture the very motions and rhythms of ‘being’ itself and to convey the inner life of his characters as living subjects rather than their portraits as observed objects. Students keen on ‘The Rainbow’ might also reflect on Lawrence’s forays into other disciplines as providing supplementary insights into his writing. Lawrence’s paintings especially correspond with his written aims: the watery, wavery, dissolvable bodies of his canvases encapsulate his written desire to take his characters into the extra-corporeal, the extra-terrestrial.

Virginia Woolf, ‘Jacob’s Room’ (1922)

Woolf’s barely known text highlights the delicate intersection between structure and thematics, and the imaginative ways in which this relationship can be exploited to enhance a writer’s political message. The premise of ‘Jacob’s Room’ is extraordinary: in short, it is a biography of a man without the reader ever encountering him; as though he were just always slightly out of camera view, we learn of him indirectly, through the scrambled stories of the network of women who shaped his life. Woolf’s narrative both refutes expectations of genre (a biography with no express subject!) and marks a departure from couching landmark life moments in intensely gendered terms.

General Resources

Google Scholar. A free and simple way to search for up-to-date scholarly literature and research

JSTOR. A comprehensive collection of scholarly journals in all disciplines and their full archives, this massive source of information is invaluable but you will need to subscribe. Most unis subscribe their students to this as it is an invaluable tool.

Google books. This is particularly useful for looking at old texts which have gone out of copyright – that is, the author died over 70 years ago – and read sections of them for free online.

OED. An incredible way to understand language and etymology, as well as the history of the words you’re reading. You can get it all online but you will need to subscribe.

Cambridge Companions. You have probably seen these at school. If you are particularly interested in a topic, Cambridge Companions are collections of critical essays from the top scholars in a topic to give you an excellent introduction into periods, authors, movements and other major areas of humanities studies. You can either buy individual books according to your interest, or subscribe to the site and have access to all of them.

Red numbers on whiteA strong Law applicant must have the ability to read not only quickly, but effectively. Determining which texts offer the most rigorous guidance for an application can be difficult when so much literature is available.

To support you in selecting your reading, we have compiled a list of legal reads suited to both the Oxford and Cambridge Law courses.

 

Our Law Reading Recommendations

Children’s Welfare and the Law – The Limits of legal intervention – Michael King and Judith Trowell

A Cambridge lawyer notes “a good example of a book on a specific topic within law. I enjoyed Family Law and matters involving children, as well as enjoying Psychology at school, so I read a book which incorporated all these topics. By doing this you can more easily remember and discuss the information in the book and your interest will show through more clearly.”

Just Law – Helena Kennedy

Good for those interested in the Human Rights aspects of law. It deals with civil liberties and the erosion thereof in recent times. It is a good look into the effects of recent legislation. It deals with important, current issues.

Learning the Law – Glanville Williams

Gives the core basics, looks at interesting problems and is an excellent introduction which is very accessible. If you are bored with this book you shouldn’t be applying for Law as it covers exactly the type of questions you’re going to spend three years on! It helps you with technique and the skills of academic law too, so it is essential.

Eve Was Framed – Helena Kennedy

Interesting and very unique critique of the legal system, it helps you start thinking of things from a new perspective and see new sides to arguments. A good book to discuss in interviews.

Loyalty: An Essay on the Morality of Relationships – George P. Fletcher

Persuasive argument for the centrality of loyalty as opposed to ‘objective’ morality or profit as a driving force, by noted Professor of jurisprudence.

The Justice Game – Geoffrey Robertson

Gripping account of some of the most significant cases of recent years in this memoir, which often led to important new legislation on issues such as free speech and the death penalty.

About Law – Tony Honore

Understanding Law – Adams and Brownsword

The Law Machine – Marcel Berlins, Clare Dyer

A Theory of Justice – John Rawls

General Resources

Law students should always make sure they are familiar with primary sources such as statutes and judgments (see BAILII for a free selection) alongside a range of secondary legal criticism. For all students the following resources are powerful tools for research and wider study:

Google Scholar. A free and simple way to search for up-to-date scholarly literature and research 

JSTOR. A comprehensive collection of scholarly journals in all disciplines and their full archives, this massive source of information is invaluable but you will need to subscribe. Most unis subscribe their students to this as it is an invaluable tool.

Google books. This is particularly useful for looking at old texts which have gone out of copyright – that is, the author died over 70 years ago – and read sections of them for free online.

OED. An incredible way to understand language and etymology, as well as the history of the words you’re reading. You can get it all online but you will need to subscribe.

Cambridge Companions. You have probably seen these at school. If you are particularly interested in a topic, Cambridge Companions are collections of critical essays from the top scholars in a topic to give you an excellent introduction into periods, authors, movements and other major areas of humanities studies. You can either buy individual books according to your interest, or subscribe to the site and have access to all of them.

 

Further Support

National Admissions Test for Law (LNAT) Seminar

A one-day course with an Oxbridge-graduate LNAT expert. Includes:

  • 4 unique LNAT mock papers, two marked by our experts
  • 3.5 hours of LNAT training in the multiple choice section and in LNAT essay technique
  • The opportunity to sit a mock test under real exam conditions, before the real thing

Find out more & book now »

Find out more & book now »

Applying for Music at Cambridge or Oxford requires a range of different skills. Successful applicants are not only outstanding performers, but also have a range of analytical skills. Expanding your exposure to music, composers and musical literature is essential; so our Musicians have come up with Oxford and Cambridge Music reading lists to cater to all tastes and stretch even the most competent Musicians.

Below you’ll find a selection of subject-specific reading suggestions, compiled by our Oxbridge-graduate team of consultants, tutors and advisory board. As much of your degree will be spent analysing music, it is essential to get a handful of interesting texts and pieces into your personal statement. 

 

Our Music Reading Recommendations

The Norton Anthology of Western Music – J Burkholder, C Palisca and D Grout

This is extremely readable and a good starting point. When reading this and other music anthologies suggested, think about how the authors go about writing their history of Western Music. Do they mention women? Do they talk about composers from smaller countries? What nationality are the writers, and do they write fairly on music from elsewhere?

The Dynamics of Harmony – G Pratt

A short book packed full of information on tonal composition and harmony, with some very good exercises given too. The book discussed harmony in the Bach-Shubert period, analysing and explaining the principles of harmonic progression.

Text and Act – R Taruskin

This book gathers together some of Taruskin’s best articles and essays on musical performance practice. It includes controversial points of view, and a discussion of the early music performance ‘movement’ and the idea of ‘authenticity’.

A Guide to Musical Analysis – N Cook

violin and trumpetThis book is a more advanced read, but it is an important introduction to many of the analytical processes (and terminology) used in the Analysis course.

Music: A Very Short Introduction – N Cook

This quick, accessible read discusses how society and culture have controlled the way we think about and evaluate music, particularly classical music.

Sonata Form – Charles Rosen

An interesting book that puts forward sonata form as some thing more flexible and complex than other forms which are often defined by pattern.

Music and Emotion: Theory and Research – ed. Juslin and Sloboda

This books provides a rigorous, scientific perspective, exploring music psychology with thorough analytical data.

The Journal of Music 

The Journal of Music is a subscription-only web-based journal, with thought-provoking articles on both classical and contemporary music. Well worth signing up for.

 

 

Further Recommendations


Instrumentation and Orchestration –
 Alfred Blatter.

Every student’s essential guide to writing music, including composing, editing, arranging and orchestrating.

Music Instinct – Philip Ball
An exploration of the psychology of music and how human brains understand it.

Schenker Guide – Tom Pankhurst
A straightforward and easy to understand guide to Schenkerian analysis – an essential tool for understanding the complexities of the most influential tonal analyst.

Powder Her Face – Thomas Ades
Controversial opera breaking both dramatic and musical boundaries, focusing on the exploits of Margaret Campbell, Duchess of Argyll.

Dettaglio tromba con spartitoGreek – Mark-Anthony Turnage
A modern re-telling of Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, set in East London.

Dr Atomic – John Adams
A fascinating look at the moral dilemma faced by Robert Oppenheimer during the testing of the first atomic bomb, with a sonically breathtaking finale.

Leonard Bernstein
The father of modern musical theatre. West Side Story, Mass, and Candide are all brilliant music-theatre works.

Harrison Birtwistle
The Minotaur, The Io Passion, The Corridor, and Panic give a full overview of this dynamic modern British composer’s works.

James Macmillan
Parthenogenesis is an amazing music-theatre work exploring non-sexual human reproduction. Piano Concerto no. 2, and Mass are also highly recommended.

General Resources

Google Scholar. A free and simple way to search for up-to-date scholarly literature and research 

JSTOR. A comprehensive collection of scholarly journals in all disciplines and their full archives, this massive source of information is invaluable but you will need to subscribe. Most unis subscribe their students to this as it is an invaluable tool.

Google books. This is particularly useful for looking at old texts which have gone out of copyright – that is, the author died over 70 years ago – and read sections of them for free online.

OED. An incredible way to understand language and etymology, as well as the history of the words you’re reading. You can get it all online but you will need to subscribe.

Cambridge Companions. You have probably seen these at school. If you are particularly interested in a topic, Cambridge Companions are collections of critical essays from the top scholars in a topic to give you an excellent introduction into periods, authors, movements and other major areas of humanities studies. You can either buy individual books according to your interest, or subscribe to the site and have access to all of them.

 

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Our Oxbridge-graduate consultants are available between 9.00 am – 5.30 pm seven days a week, with additional evening availability when requested.

Oxbridge Applications. 14 – 16 Waterloo Place, London, SW1Y 4AR


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