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by Elizabeth Fair

The weeks before starting as a music student at Oxford were very odd for me. Many of my plans had fallen through, and I was left with a vast expanse of time to fill, and a brain wanting stimulation, bored of Netflix. My faculty and college had emailed me extensive handbooks and reading lists, but I had no idea where to start – the list of modules and reading lists seemed endless! I was full of questions: How much was I expected to do? How was I expected to be able to fund all these books? Did I need to make notes as I read? Would they test me at the first tutorial? However, in hindsight I need not have worried as much. Here are some tips from my experiences, and advice for those starting at Oxford.

Firstly, don’t panic! Tutors don’t expect you to complete the reading list even in term time, and so don’t worry about reading everything. It simply isn’t possible, so don’t wear yourself out before term begins – use the time to rest and reset, and do what reading/exercises you feel able to do. The reading lists are designed to give you more choice over what you read, rather than be merely prescriptive.

Next, choose which readings you do carefully. Use your time and energy to prepare efficiently. Some ways to choose what to do could be to look at the core modules, those which you may find hardest, and those which interest you the most. I would recommend reading a couple of articles from the core topics, getting ahead with areas which you feel you may be behind in (for me this was keyboard skills), and also some reading around the areas which you are interested in if you have time (some courses have the option to do an extended essay, and you might want to use this time to get an idea of what you may want to focus on for this). There’s no point in reading for modules you don’t want to take. Another way to focus your readings would be to look at which topics you will be taught in the first term, if they have given you this information. You could also contact your college parents to see what they recommend, although some courses and modules can change year on year.

Unfortunately academic texts can often be quite expensive, but don’t let this get in the way of you reading. You should be able to get hold of some of the set texts online via Oxford’s online library system (SOLO), so don’t feel that you need to buy lots of textbooks before you begin. In fact, you may not need to buy anything at this stage, but if you do, I recommend buying second hand from online stores or student-run facebook groups. Some colleges may have book grants so you may be able to claim back book expenses at the end of the year. There are many ways of getting hold of texts to stop you running out of your loan before you’ve begun term!

Finally, don’t panic if you don’t remember what you’ve read! Your first tutorial won’t test you on your summer reading and preparation. I found it useful to think of the summer reading lists as getting me used to the sort of texts I might read in term time, especially as I had done very little academic reading beforehand. Enjoy the readings, and don’t pressure yourself to complete a certain amount.


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