Making the best use of your summer holidays

Darllenwch yn y Gymraeg

This week, RCT/Methyr hub coordinator Stephen Parry-Jones gives his insight on how to make the best use of your summer holidays to prepare for the next academic year.


Obviously, having worked your socks off in Year 12, you need a break. But these next weeks give you a chance to get ahead of the game without sacrificing your leisure time.  It will also make next term easier.

Here are some suggestions on how to make the most of your summer:


  • Order one of the Oxford University Press Very Short Introduction Over 300 titles, all written by leading scholars; they are slim volumes and cost around £8.00
  • Cambridge University Department websites have suggestions for reading on applicants’ pages: tackle at least one major work a few page at a time, or dip into the odd chapter; don’t binge (unless you feel you can cope) – you don’t want mental indigestion
  • Guardian online (free) follow a relevant story – e.g. a legal issue, a medical or scientific development; try to go beyond the obvious – e.g. everyone knows about gene therapy (of course), but what about the CRISPR revolution? Maybe follow the ongoing debate between John Guy (Tudor historian) and Hilary Mantel (Wolfe Hall etc.) about historical truth.
  • New Scientist, Junior BMJ – these are often available to students at discounted rates. The Economist is superb for medicine and science/ technology, believe it or not – not just the would-be bankers.


Listen/ Watch:

  • Look at some University websites for podcasts – some are ten minutes, some full blown lectures. Cambridge, Oxford, Warwick all excellent. (Warwick has some surgical procedures if you’ve got the stomach for it!)
  • Radio 4 podcasts – the Moral Maze, the Ethics Committee (for medics) and The Life Scientific – are painless ways of becoming comfortable with the academic vocabulary needed; you will also be struck by how simply the most brilliant minds express things.
  • If you’re thinking of English, there are some good things on YouTube – e.g. the very young Maggie Smith as Portia in Merchant of Venice. Analyse her performance critically. See if Judi Dench has done anything similar.


If you’re facing one of the tests like BMAT, MAT or LNAT – remember, they’re designed for able 17/ 18 year olds, not Einstein.

  • Go through the online specimens, which often have worked examples, and maybe order the help books
  • Do a few problems each day until you’ve cracked the technique, and then go on to consolidate it. (Tip: eliminate the wrong answers first in multiple choice tests.)
  • Again, don’t go for the binge approach, unless it suits you. Although they look daunting at first, things will start to make sense as you become familiar with what the tests are asking for.
  • If you’re thinking of Law, get to the magistrates/ crown court and watch a case. Medics – you can never do enough voluntary stuff. Engineers and geographers – try to do some site visits. Keep a sort of diary of what strikes you: universities want above all to know how an experience affected you, not simply that you’ve done something, however superficially impressive.

It’s a question of little and often: a Cambridge academic told me that reading one poem or solving one maths problem every day would pay huge dividends.

Finally, remember that it’s not a question of being good enough for your university of choice. It’s about getting an edge over the competition. If you don’t do any of the above, you can bet your rivals elsewhere will!!

Good luck – (and do enjoy a bit of sun as well)

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