Boosting your chances of a place at a top university?

13 Feb 2011 Guest Column on

Read more. Sounds unglamorous,  but it’s true. Simply put, time spent reading will dramatically increase your chances of getting a place at Oxford or Cambridge.

At the recent UCAS Higher Education conference Paul Teulon, Head of Student Recruitment at Oxford University said that when he speaks in schools to prospective Sixth Form applicants he asks them to search in their bag for what they are reading outside of class. “Class text books don’t count – reading something beyond the confines of the syllabus is what is important”. He calls this the “just because” test; students need to be reading “just because” they are. But he warns, “if the book’s not in your bag the chances are you’re not reading it.”

Many prospective History students will read E.H. Carr’s “What is History”, and Economists will typically mention that they have read “Freakonomics” by Levitt and Dubner. Would-be Law students are well advised to read Nick McBride’s excellent “Letters to a Law student”. These are all great books to start with but finding more obscure books from footnotes is recommended.

An Oxford English student is likely to read up to five novels a week, so getting used to reading as a habit is an essential way to prepare. So how do you go about finding these books? Oxford have suggested reading lists for all subjects:

Oxford uses a complex selection process including the use of contextual data. Students need to understand how universities are likely to ‘sift’ their applications. The range of selection factors include percentage of A*grades gained at GCSE, predicted A Level or IB grades, performance in admissions tests (only for particular but a growing number of subjects), the school academic reference and the quality of the students personal statement. In this competitive year for admissions, being called to interview at Oxford or Cambridge is an achievement in its own right. And if you’ve done your reading, who knows you might just show your intellectual edge.

Wendy Heydorn, Assistant Director of Higher Education & Careers, Sevenoaks School

User Comments

Peter Asquith-Cowen - 13 Feb 2011

Boosting your chances......etc.

Yes, all well and good. There are twenty-four hours in a day. Students are hide-bound to read the set text and know it "backwards" in order to pass their A AS* levels. This has always been my argument as (a) A Teacher and (b) An Academic. That whether you are reading History, Economics or law, the syllabus is too restrictive. OK. You've got a good memory,can recount quotes from Voltaire, Chamberlain, Asquith or whatever. You 'justify'your statements within the exam question and satisfy the examiner. Because our world is so complex now, so absolutely cramb-packed full of 'knowledge' the student is loosing sight of things because there is just 'too much to know'. So, they have to take a gamble, that their answers will fit the 'thinking'and 'agreeablemess' of the examiner.This is very subjective indeed. An examiner with a 'left-wing' bias may mark the student down, while an examiner with a 'Right-wing 'bias may mark them up. In subjects like these, unlike science, individual 'prejudice' will affect the overall result because there is no 'RIGHT' answer. Everything depends on the books the student has read, the 'influences' that have played upon his/her mind and are coming together, at the age of 18 to decide 'how' this individual is making political/economic decisions based upon his/her reading and the 'influences' via the media, ths student has used as 'models' to formulate opinion. If this was levelled at Cameron and Clegg. Their 'right-wing'views and opinions would have gained the 'approval' of their private-school teachers and later, of their Oxford University teachers which, one can fairly accurately assume in many cases - especially Oxford - to follow a 'Right-wing' model. Because of this 'persuasion/approval element in an 'imprecise field' such as history/economics, they gained their qualifications. In the long-run these privately-educated students - provided they tow the line - will automatically get passed through their colleges and get 'tipped' for political careers. They are 'deemed' to be safe guardians and protectors of The Establishment and the 'Status Quo'. In reality, i believe they are just 'front-men' for the Murdocks of this world who really try to control and 'influence' politics and the media. To read all these books in a week is a physical impossibility; and 'understand' and digest their content. I've "All the time in the world" and I'm a scholar educated to Ph.D level and it has taken me since Christmas to work through Andrew Marr's "The Making of Modern Britain". An excellent book. I seriously doubt whther any student be he/she ever so clever can read, digest and understand several 'high-brow' novels/relevant literature to their course and have to eat, wash, clean, revise and have alittle leisure time. "Pull the other one , it's got bell's on". Whoever wrote all this jibberish wants to be hamnstrung with a copy of 'Tristram Shandy' rammed between his jaws. I'm well, educated, have a BA(Hons) ist class, MA, MEd. and a Ph.D and at the age of sixty...."Even I have just begun to 'scratch the surface of human knowledge'. That's after nearly 35 years of teaching others what its 'all about' when i hardly know myself. Who ever came up with all this crap about reading five novels a week is plain barmy and an idiot of the the most dishonest and banal nature.To read a book well it needs to be 'digested' and swallowed slowly, so that its meaning 'hidden' or surface can be properly understood.The notion of reading several booksin a week is very imprecise and based on the 'prejudices' of individual markers. I feel sorry for students. They get a 'glimpse' of knowledge a little insight into History etc. If they answer 'correct' and 'satisfy' the individual marker, who will in an imprecise art such as History have his or her 'ideas' of what is the right or the wrong answer; either mark the student up or down. So University entrance isn't really truly based on 'knowledge' of a subject, it is based on the imprecice vicissitudes of chance, and the irrational prejudices of the exam marker. What a cock-eyed, bizarre way to decide whio and who does not get the chance of a university education. Si much is based on 'subjective ideaologies' and 'prejudices' not on a wider understanding at all. This is absolutely crazy.


Peter Asquith-Cowen,
East Yorkshire,
HU10 6UT.

Amelie John - 15 Nov 2014

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This kind of information enable the students to become eligible for studying in top universities.

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