Applying, General, Languages, Wider reading

“Wider Reading”

I may be posting this after stuff about interviews and admissions assessments, but wider reading is one of the most important things you can do to be successful in an AMES application. I mean, there’s techniques for interviews and AAs but ultimately it rests on how much you’ve demonstrated your interest independently.

Where do I start?

There’s lots of different ways to approach wider reading really. I personally used the reading lists on the AMES website as a starting point (the Japanese one was a bit more extensive when I applied as it was the reading list given to freshers; the old version included more literature) and then decided what I liked based on my initial dabblings. What I would recommend to everyone is to read up on the history of the place you’re studying. Even if you don’t like history that much it’s worth doing as it gives you more context to other stuff you read. Also, the Cambridge AMES course is quite history-focused (especially in East Asian Studies) so it’s important to get to grips with it. I personally read Japan: A Short History by Mikiso Hane as it was readily available in my small local Waterstones but anything goes really. After that I chose to branch out into literature mainly, as it gave me a break from school work, but if you’re interested in something else then follow that rather than what I did!

How on earth do I keep track of it all?

Good question. Again it’s personal to you, but it’s definitely a good idea to keep some sort of diary of what you read. I found myself a nice notebook with the Great Wave on it:

wave notebook

Having such an aesthetically pleasing notebook motivated me to actually fill it in, but you don’t have to be that extra. Essentially as long as you’re keeping track of what you read, and crucially what you think of it then you’re good.

What’s this about thinking? I thought we were reading!

Well, it’s not just about what you read, it’s about how you interpret it yourself. When you read something, don’t just take it at face value. Be evaluative, and don’t hold back on that. If you read a history book that you think is presenting a certain narrative rather than an unbiased perspective, take a note of it. If you really like an author’s writing style, write about that too. Just always be thinking about what the deeper meaning is behind a text – do they want to make you believe a certain idea or feel a certain way? This could always be linked back to a discussion in your personal statement about validity or other things like that, which shows you’re a thinker as well as a reader and engage with what’s in front of you. It’s also good practice for interviews where you can often be asked to evaluate ideas or perspectives.

What if I get bored of reading?

There are many different ways of showing interest in your subject apart from hitting the books, more than I can include on here! Here’s a few examples of things I did alongside reading:

  • An essay competition (although I wrote about a book) – a fair few Cambridge colleges run these every year. You’re unlikely to find an AMES-specific one but you could always do a different one and put an AMES twist on it, like writing about the history of science in the Middle East or about Asian literature.
  • Taster classes for Japanese – this could be for whichever language you want to do, have a look on local university websites to see if there’s anything on.
  • AMES subject masterclass – Cambridge holds this series of AMES lectures every year; the booking details appear here throughout the year so keep checking back! The AMES open day in March also tends to have various things going on.
  • English coursework – I chose to write a short story using The Third Night by Natsume Soseki as a style model. Coursework is a really good way to bring in AMES related things.
  • EPQ – if your school offers it this is a fantastic (but time consuming) way to pursue an interest in Asia or the Middle East, as you get to do a project on whatever you want. The title of mine was Is Kimigayo relevant to modern Japan? An exploration into the social and historical contexts of Japan’s national anthem. It was a great way to explore my interest in Japan while being stuck doing other subjects at school, and also introduced me to academic referencing. If you think you can balance your time for it, definitely take the opportunity to do an EPQ!
  • Visits to museums – if you get the chance to visit a museum with an exhibition on your area, check it out. They’re often free which is a bonus!
  • Keeping up with current affairs – this is really easy to do, just keep up with the news in your area so that you can apply anything you’ve learned from history or what have you to the present. Or just to keep in the know. Or to win quizzes. Up to you, but it’s worth doing!

So that’s my advice on wider reading, I hope you found it useful. See you soon!

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