Some universities request evidence of ‘wider reading’ in Personal Statements without giving much clarity on what they are actually looking for. Use this guide to find out what counts as wider reading, and how to get started.
Why should you do wider reading?
- You’ll enjoy it.
- Hopefully, you’re applying for a subject you love. Wider reading should therefore be an enjoyable activity - it’s a personal exploration of the subject(s) you enjoy the most. It’ll help you to find out more about the subject(s) and deepen your interest.
- It can help you to improve your grades.
- You might not be able to use your reading to answer specific exam questions, but it can deepen your understanding of the syllabus. With a deeper understanding of your subject comes confidence in tackling exams, and this should lead to better grades.
- In some subjects, wider reading might actually be required to reach the highest grades. For example, to achieve top marks in AQA A-level Biology essays, there must be evidence of ‘reading beyond specification requirements’.
- It can help you to stand out.
- Wider reading will show admissions tutors that you are genuinely passionate and informed about your chosen subject, and that you’re therefore likely to succeed at university.
- Wider reading could be the deciding factor if you have interviews. University interviews are designed to test your ability to think critically and engage with the texts and concepts you have studied; wider reading will help you to develop those skills.
- It’ll help you once you start your course.
- The ability to read around a topic and form strong, balanced arguments based on that reading is essential for excelling in most university courses, so it’s good to start practicing now.
6 things that count as wider reading
Wider reading doesn’t necessarily involve reading… it can include:
1. Online courses
A relatively new phenomenon, many universities offer short, at least partly free, online courses called MOOCs. Check out Unifrog’s MOOCs search tool to find the best one for you.
Easier than reading a book, good ones can be great for deepening your knowledge of particular topics, and showing you are serious about your subject.
These can offer lots of complex information about pretty much anything you can think of in an easy-to-digest format. Try to find ones that are presented by eminent experts. Listen while you’re on the bus or in the bath!
4. Lectures, taster days, and summer schools
These can give you interesting experiences within academic institutions. As well as helping you to understand your subject, they can also help you determine which universities they apply to! Two birds with one stone.
Entering extra-curricular competitions such as science Olympiads, Maths Challenges or debating and story competitions demonstrates an interest in the subject beyond specification requirements.
The obvious one, books are incredible sources of information. You’ll find books covering everything from extremely niche interests to broad overviews of the main issues and debates in a given field.
Choosing what to read
You probably have some idea of what interests you most in your chosen degree subject. A simple Google search on the topic you’re interested in will lead you down a rabbit hole of books, films, and documentaries you could consume. How, then, do you choose what to read?
Here are three pieces of advice:
1. Ask for recommendations
Lecturers, teachers and librarians will be able to point you in the right direction. Most people love discussing the field they are interested in and will have no problem giving you pointers. They may even be able to lend you copies of their favourite material!
2. Geek out
In Unifrog’s Subjects library go to the ‘Geek out’ section for your chosen subject. Here you’ll find everything you need to broaden your understanding, including three important fiction books and three important nonfiction books. You’ll also find information on hot topics within the field, influential academics, interesting articles, videos and podcasts.
2. Check recommended reading lists
At many universities, each department publishes a list of texts that they see as important for gaining a deeper understanding of the subject. You do not have to read every item on every list of every university, but identifying materials that are commonly listed can help you to determine the major fundamental books or topics your wider reading should focus on. For example, Oxford University has a directory of recommended reading, organised by subject.
Remember not to feel constrained by people’s advice or the recommended reading lists. It’s important to be able to critically analyse the texts you read - so you need to enjoy them!