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Directed Reading for Your Personal Statement

Why it’s important:

Your personal statement is a key part of university applications. It demonstrates your interest in, suitability for, and value to the course and university to which you’ve applied.

A great way to show your enthusiasm is by discussing any relevant wider reading you’ve done. This not only shows your knowledge of an area you’re particularly interested in, but it proves you’ve taken your learning beyond the school syllabus.

You can expect your personal statement, and the particular areas of interest you have defined, to form the basis of your university interview. Therefore, it’s really important that you’ve given these areas thought, have read and prepared well, and are ready to talk about what you’ve discovered in depth.

How to do it:

To get started, choose 3-5 interesting topic areas within your subject. You don’t have to know much about these topics already, but it’s important that they’re things you want to learn more about. Perhaps you came across an intriguing idea in an article you read in class, or a poem has grabbed your attention. These would be perfect starting points.

You can then get help from an i-Learner tutor who’s familiar with the subject. They can suggest research areas based on your interests and may have specific articles and books to recommend.

An example of 5 topics for English literature:

  1. Metaphysical poets
  2. Jacobean tragedy
  3. Coleridge and the conversation poems
  4. Black mountain poets
  5. Thomas Browne and theories of knowledge

An example of 3 topics for biomedical science:

  1. CRISPR-Cas9 and genome editing
  2. mRNA vaccines
  3. Epigenetics

Within each topic, you should aim to read 2-3 primary texts (or 4-5 poems) written by the author you’re most interested in.

You should also read background information about the specialism/movement the writer is part of. If the writer is from the past, you should research some of their contemporaries as well; for example, if you chose to read about Coleridge, you might want to compare his ideas about imagination with those of Wordsworth. Finally, it’s important to also read some criticism of the person (perhaps 1 or 2 short articles, or a chapter in a book). Criticism is important because it offers different views or readings of them and their work.

This reading will prepare you for discussion in your interview. It is really important to be aware of ideas beyond your own, and by reading around your topic in a structured way you’ll be able to discuss different perspectives as well as your own thoughts and personal opinions.

As you research your chosen topics, take note of your observations. For example, if you are reading about Thomas Browne, it might occur to you that he accepts gaps in his knowledge, and seems to love mystery, while other writers are passionate about describing things perfectly. You might observe that these different attitudes result in different forms of writing. Discussing this in your interview would be far more interesting and successful than hoping you’re aware of the topics the interviewer brings up.

As you can see, a well-read student not only makes an excellent candidate, showing off all their amazing knowledge, but they also feel more comfortable in the process. Directed reading can give you the breadth of knowledge and the confidence to succeed with ease!