I’ve spent the day at the library – reading.

It’s around this time of year that students in the penultimate school year (or parents) think that maybe it’s time to start talking about a university application. If that includes Oxford or Cambridge, the deadline is 7 ½ months away. October 15.

What I often hear is ‘I’d really like to study at Oxbridge’. Ignoring the blanket lumping of the two universities into one, my follow-up question is generally about WHAT students want to study. If that is somewhat vague ‘I like x and y’, I’ll ask what it is they like about x and y. I’m hoping for more than ‘my grades are good’.

For example, let’s presume that student says, I like English and History. I might well ask about particular authors, or periods, themes. What is the student reading outside of class? If the set Shakespeare play was Othello, have you read any other of Shakespeare’s tragedies? Have you thought about Othello in a historical context?

How about Maths and Physics? I might then ask about what aspect they enjoy. At the very simplest level, pure or applied? I’ll be asking about problems they enjoy outside of class, or websites visited. Are they familiar with NRich or Khan Academy?

If YouTube is a favourite, do students know the Crash Course site…

These are all starting points to the next step: wider reading.

I’m really interested in how you get from student to university. I’m reading education theory, (huge fan of David Didau), psychology, sociology, etc. I have piles of books on piles of books. Online journals I’m referencing. I’m reading.

Research has to include reading. The more reading about a subject or a place, the more likely you are to honestly assess whether you like it, or not. You know, I’m not really that interested in the historical context of Othello = should I just be thinking about applying to an English course?

How do you start? Well, both Oxford and Cambridge provide lots and lots of resources of suggested reading for just about any field. And then it’s up to you.

When I’ve come across a reference to another book or article, I’ll make a note of it. That’s particularly the case for non-fiction. Let’s stick with Shakespeare. You’ve now read Othello, Hamlet, and Macbeth and have some ideas about tragedy. Have you read any of Shakespeare’s comedies? Or histories?

There isn’t a formula to get to ‘what I like’. There is individual curiosity and creativity in joining the dots of your journey.

What have I learnt? Reading is taking me to places I’d never thought of. I wish I’d kept better notes of my reading.

What are you reading?