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Tackling the English Reading List

English reading lists are often scarily long. The short length of Oxford terms means that it is unlikely that you’ll be sat in your room reading novel after novel and this is why reading as much as you can before term starts is helpful. I want to give you tips from my personal experience (though every tutor is different in their approach to reading lists) and tell you what I wish I had known during the summer before starting uni.

  1. Novels and Plays. Studying the Victorian paper in first year means that you can’t escape some really long novels. These are the texts which you have the least chance of being able to quickly read last minute when term starts so I would recommend making these a priority. Hopefully you will actually enjoy some of these as well! It’s probably worth making a few notes if anything interests you or you might end up forgetting by the time you come to write on them.

  2. Old English. This may seem the scariest part of your reading list because it is probably completely unfamiliar to you. But don’t worry, everyone else will be feeling the same and you tutor will start with the basics. Don’t feel like you need to spend the next few weeks learning everything there is to know. This is the part of the reading list which I did the least amount of work for and I was absolutely fine as my tutor didn’t expect any prior knowledge.

  3. Literary Theory. The principles behind familiarising yourself with literary theory make sense but in reality, there are problems with it. Firstly, if you’re like me and not lucky enough to have a photographic memory, then you may just end up wasting hours reading things that you don’t remember. There was no quiz on literary theory when I arrived, and the books I had read and made notes on were rarely put to use. When you come to write essays, your tutor will give you a list of relevant secondary reading and you will read sections from various books, all manageable within term time. Spending your summer reading entire books on literary theory is therefore probably not that helpful in the long run. One final point to add is that these books are often really expensive, even if you can find them second hand. Once you arrive in Oxford you will have access to all the books you need in the libraries, so please don’t spend lots of money on books about literary theory which aren’t actually essential – I certainly wish I hadn’t.

In summary: if you’re trying to do a last-minute cram over this next month, I suggest focusing on the novels and plays as you will struggle more if you have to write an essay on a novel you haven’t read than if you haven’t perfected your Old English pronunciation!

Don’t panic if you haven’t managed to read as much as you had hoped; it is far more important that you arrive well-rested and ready to take on the busy term. Good luck with your reading and enjoy the rest of your summer!

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