Many universities request evidence of ‘wider reading’ in Personal Statements without giving much clarity on what they are actually looking for. Here's our guide.
Why should you do wider reading?
- 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 most. Specifically wider reading should help you find out more about the subject(s) and deepen your interest.
- It can help improve your grades
- It’s unlikely you will 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 may 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 stand out
- It will show that you haven’t just decided on a degree because you get decent grades in the subject, but that you are passionate and informed about it. Unsurprisingly, universities appreciate applicants who show passion for the subject for which they are applying.
- 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 develop these skills.
- It is an essential habit to get into to be successful at university.
Five(-ish) 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, free, online courses called MOOCs on platforms such as FutureLearn, often centering around their new research. Check out Unifrog’s MOOCs tool to find the best one for you.
2. Documentaries and podcasts
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.
3. Lectures, taster days, and summer schools
These can give you interesting experiences within academic institutions. As well as helping you 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 speech making and story writing competitions demonstrates a clear interest in the subject beyond specification requirements.
The obvious one, books are incredible sources of information about everything from extremely niche interests to broad overviews of all the issues and debates in a given field.
Choosing what to read
You probably have a good idea of what interests you in your chosen degree subject, and what parts of your A-Level syllabi you find enjoyable. 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 two pieces of advice:
1. Ask for recommendations
Lecturers, teachers, librarians, and even your peers applying for a similar subject will have had to do wider reading at some point. 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. 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 common between each university can help you determine the major fundamental books or topics your wider reading may focus on. For example, Oxford University have 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!