Reading MA TESOL Students Reflect on their Research Opportunity with the British Council Assessment Research Group

On May 3, two MA TESOL students in the Department, Akihiro Matsuura and Chiho Takeda, were awarded the opportunity to conduct their dissertation research under the supervision of the British Council Assessment Group as part of the Department’s longstanding collaboration with the British Council. The awards were presented at one of our Applied Linguistics Research Circle Weekly Talks, where Prof Barry O’Sullivan, Head of Assessment Research and Development at the British Council gave a talk on the future of language assessment. Here, the two students reflect on the opportunity that they have earned.

MA TESOL students receiving British Council awards

Akihiro Matsuura

I am Akihiro Matsuura from Japan, a MA TESOL student at the University of Reading. I am so honoured to have met the British Council Assessment Research Group both in person and online. I also realise again that I have been awarded this precious research opportunity. The ceremony had a sobering effect on me so that I became even more motivated and more responsible at the same time. Arigatou-gozaimasu (means “Thank you so much.” in Japanese) for organising this event for us.

This research opportunity has inevitably brought me considerable interest and enthusiasm. This is because the main area I am interested in is second language speaking assessment. In Japan, enhancing English learners’ speaking ability is highly required especially in the environment for English education due to implementing a new course of study. However, I wonder how the elements measured by speaking tests differ from the skills required in real life, and how they could be improved. These questions have arisen from my own experiences both as an interviewer for the EIKEN (English Proficiency Test in Japan) and as an English teacher.

Thanks to both Professor Parvaneh Tavakoli from the University of Reading and Richard Spiby from the British Council, my initial topic focused on fluency measurements in speaking tests through a module ‘Language Testing Principles’ in the spring term. Then, my supervisor, Sheryl Cooke from the British Council, always encourages me to keep improving my research topic, which has been making great progress in repair fluency. Moreover, Barry’s talk at the ALRC Weekly Talk sounds very fascinating and suggests that fluency will be a key point in the AI scoring model, which can be a cynosure in the language testing field in future.

My research will investigate constructs of repair fluency across different degrees of proficiency and four semi-direct tasks of the Aptis Teen speaking test by replicating the study of Tavakoli et al.(2017). It is interesting indeed for me to focus on the result that there was no clear linear progression through the levels of proficiency in the study of Tavakoli et al.(2017), showing repair fluency is quite a complex process. By doing this research, I would like to find features of repair aspects of fluency across the levels of proficiency, leading to a very useful indicator for teachers of teenagers and for young learners themselves especially in Japan as well as a validation rating scoring for the Aptis for Teens speaking test and speaking rater training.

No one can accomplish anything alone. I am much obliged to all my great classmates, teachers and staff at the University of Reading for helping and enlightening me. I am convinced our research will bear fruit.


Chiho Takeda

I am Chiho Takeda, a MA TESOL student at the University of Reading. I am glad to have a great opportunity to research with members of the British Council for my dissertation. I strongly believe using data from the British council for a dissertation is special for a graduate student. Rodney and Tony, thank you for organizing this ceremony as a part of the University of Reading applied linguistics research circle weekly talks in person.

I would like to introduce my research project supervised by Dr. Emma Bruce, a researcher at British Council. My interest is language writing assessment in Japan. My research aims to investigate the different rating styles and perceptions of Japanese high school teachers and experts of Aptis raters using the Aptis writing test written by Japanese learners. Firstly, this study will compare holistic ratings of ten Aptis-trained raters and ten Japanese English teachers. Both groups will rate 20 Aptis for Teens Part 4 writing tasks using a 10-point holistic scale. Then participants will be asked three reasons for their scoring and three participants from each group will be interviewed to express their perception of sample writings and the rating process.

I believe this research will contribute to Japanese English education to develop reliable and valid writing assessments. It would be helpful for all English teachers who want to conduct English writing tests. In addition, the Japanese are considering introducing new exams to measure test taker productivity, writing, and speaking. The possible rating bias, process, trend, and raters’ characteristics should be clear before the writing assessment introduces to the national examination.

I am deeply thankful to Parveneh and Richard for delivering a great module on Language testing and supporting me to expand my knowledge of the field of language assessment. Finally, I would like to thank all of my professors, teachers, tutors, and classmates, who always inspired and encouraged me. I am sure we can complete our research project successfully.

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Lockdown memes: the creation of humour and public perceptions towards the government during the Coronavirus pandemic 2020.

For my BA dissertation, I looked at lockdown memes generated during the Coronavirus pandemic. Firstly, let me ask you a question; did you see any memes during lockdown? Unless you don’t participate in social media, I am sure everyone has sent or received a funny image or video that has made us laugh and feel better. The natural assumption is that memes are just funny images with a bit of text; however, on closer analysis we can see that they are linguistically rich, containing lots of modes like text and image to convey a humorous thought. Scholars have labelled memes as ‘social replicators’ because they comprise of images/texts that effectively communicate and reappropriate thoughts and ideas, particularly from the public, that imitate wider political and cultural beliefs. This makes memes, in particular lockdown memes, important to analyse.

The aims of my research were twofold; I wanted to uncover public perceptions about lockdown and the types of humour presented in lockdown memes. I also investigated how these concepts tied together: how the humour displayed in lockdown memes represents public perceptions about lockdown, and by extension the work of the government. As there were a vast array of memes online, I made sub-categories to focus my dissertation. These sub-categories were ‘staying at home,’ ‘working at home,’ ‘social distancing’ and ‘emerging themes’ (such as the ‘tier systems’) that transpired during the investigation. I also collected a specific format of meme called an ‘image-macro’. This is when the meme has top-text (writing at the top) and a picture, usually referred to as the bottom text.

In order to analyse my data, and my sub-categories of memes found online, I conducted a multimodal discourse analysis. With any qualitative research, we have to be mindful of the subjective nature of analysis and the influence of researcher opinions (something we call reflexivity), so it is important to define stages of analysis as transparently and objectively as possible. As my research questions aimed to find types of humour and public perceptions, I found three types of humour from prior literature that were common in memes.

The first type of humour was incongruity; this is essentially a comparison of two juxtaposing aspects. In memes, the top-text may say something, but the picture below represents the opposite to what is expected in the discourse system, and this is humorous. The second type of humour in memes is visual punning: a type of wordplay. Visual punning plays on the homophonic elements (similar sounds) of a word, and this is represented in both the text and image. In visual punning memes, the picture illustrates some of the sound element. The third type of humour was parody, which is known as the refunctioning of linguistic material. Memes may parody lockdown or particular government figures. As memes often refunction existing material for a humorous purpose, parody achieves this goal.

The findings of my dissertation showed that the visual punning category was particularly innovative and creative. One of the memes displayed ‘Quentin quarantino’ in the top text and represented humorous wordplay with pictures of ‘Quentin Tarantino’ underneath, in different parts of his home, as though he was quarantining. Tarantino’s name has been remixed with noun ‘quarantine’ as they are homophonically similar. The visual pun is created because although the nouns (quarantine and Tarantino) sound alike, they represent different entities. Additionally, another visual pun was Johnson’s baby wash. The top text ‘No more tiers’ is a homophone of ‘tears,’ relating to Johnson’s slogan: ‘No more tears.’ The homophone ‘tiers’ and ‘tears’ although sound similar, refer to different persons. Additionally, Johnsons and Boris Johnson share the same name, but refer to different concepts. The author of the meme has remixed the Johnson’s product (and name) to coincide with the lockdown genre, thus creating humour.

The incongruity category was also fascinating and made up 80% of my corpus. The high volume of incongruous memes showed that the public particularly enjoyed using incongruity to create humour. There were three themes in the incongruity category: ‘expectation vs reality’, ‘duration of lockdown’ and ‘extreme level of comparison.’ Authors liked to use the top-text of a meme to set up an expectation; however, the image below juxtaposes the expectation and represents the harsh reality of lockdown. Not only is this funny because it is unexpected from the caption, but many of the UK public could relate to the sad reality experienced during the pandemic. The theme represents how people expected things to be pre-lockdown, compared with the reality of what actually happened.

Incongruous memes also represented the duration of lockdown, and how in only a short amount of time, people felt as though they had aged or deteriorated. This shows that people felt the effects of lockdown and perceived the events negatively. The other type of incongruity humour was ‘me vs them.’ People liked to use the personal pronoun ‘me’ to compare with what other people were doing/achieving during lockdown. For instance, authors highlighted how other people are learning new skills during lockdown, compared to the ‘me’ characterisation who is lazy and day drinking. Additionally, some incongruous memes criticised the government directly. Johnson was depicted as a clown, showing that the public thought the government were ineffective with their guidelines and policies (like lockdown and the tier systems) during the pandemic.

The types of humour, and the subsequent public representations that they portrayed, demonstrate how people felt unmotivated and lazy, like they were doing worse than others in how they were coping, and the harsh realities of lockdown during 2020. What my dissertation research shows, through memes, is that people thought lockdown was a tough event and that many perceived governmental inefficiencies. In particular, we can identify that the purpose of lockdown memes was to alleviate some of the harsh realities of the pandemic, and reframe them in a humorous response, to provide temporary relief for the UK public. The sharing and receiving of these memes, provides solidarity and peer support during tough events – like a global pandemic. Therefore, it would be beneficial to analyse lockdown memes from a psychological perspective to see the cognitive and emotional benefits that provide temporary relief for engagers of memes.

By Katie Halley

(Postgraduate of MA Applied Linguistics)



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Professor wins grant to study online learning

Prof Parvaneh Tavakoli has recently received research funding from the prestigious Future of English/British Council scheme for a project entitled ‘Digitally-mediated EMI communication in Higher Education classrooms: Transforming evidence to practical resources’. Prof Tavakoli is a Co-investigator on this project working collaboratively in collaboration with Dr Fumiyo Nakatsuhara from University of Bedfordshire (PI) and other colleagues from University of Bedfordshire, Waseda University in Japan, and University of Reading Malaysia.

 The project examines digitally mediated English Medium Instruction in Japan and Malaysia. It aims to a) investigate emerging practices of digitally-mediated communication in English-medium instruction (EMI) classrooms, b) identify the support needed for students, academic and non-academic staff in these contexts, c) explore issues and challenges central to digital communication in relation to different genders, and d) provide empirically driven test specifications and test task prototypes.

With the increasing significance and prevalence of digital learning and EMI in higher education around the globe, this research project will offer not only critical information about the challenges and opportunities EMI users experience when communicating online in these diverse educational contexts, but  will also help further develop an up-to-date and effective agenda for policy makers and educators and a realistic research agenda for researchers around the world. The study will aim to ensure pathways to impact by making the findings of the study available in the form of useful multilingual resources for a range of stakeholders involved in teaching, learning, and testing in digitally-mediated EMI contexts.

In this research funding scheme, the British Council has aimed to provide researchers with an unprecedented opportunity to conduct research that will lead to actionable insights on key trends associated with the role of English as a global language for a range of stakeholders including policy makers, university academics, support staff and students.

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How I’ve used ‘The Spark’ as a platform to support and connect with other students

Taz Usher

Having been involved in UoR’s student newspaper, The Spark, since my first few weeks at university I have had the opportunity to experiment with various sub-genres of journalism meanwhile exploring and writing about a variety of topics.

Writing for The Spark provides students with a fantastic platform for self-expression and creativity, whilst enabling them to hone their story-telling and summarising skills. Not only this, but the chance to connect with and offer guidance to student readers is rewarding in more ways than one.

My role as editor of The Spark, which I have occupied for two years now, has allowed me to play an instrumental role in the selection and organisation of the content which features in the publication. When making these decisions I feel a responsibility to provide readers with a mixture of content which they can enjoy and learn from as well as that which they can turn to for guidance on issues which are characteristic of the student experience.

For example, a topic which I recently wrote on was sexual consent and personal safety at university which, owing to their considerable relevance to students undergoing the transition from secondary school to higher education, I chose to feature as the front-page news story of The Spark’s September 2019 Freshers’ edition.

The article which aimed to seize the attention of new readers with its colloquial headline “Let’s talk about sex and safety” took a relaxed approach to reminding students about their personal rights, whilst signposting them to relevant support services. Throughout the article I focus on topics including sexual harassment, discrimination and bullying, supported by descriptions of the Student’s Union’s welfare policies, quotes from RUSU’s full-time welfare officer, and advice from external support services.

Featuring this piece in the Freshers’ edition of the newspaper was of a particular importance to me as I am aware of the anxiety that can surround issues of sex and safety when moving to university. Equally, studying a degree in English Language has shown me the unmistakeable significance of language in our everyday social interactions and the importance that the simplest of words: “yes” or “no” can serve in contexts where personal wellbeing is at stake.

Consequently, I was chuffed to receive recognition for my article in the form of a Best Impact award in the Student Publication Association’s (SPA) South East regional contest. Winning the award meant a lot to me as it reminded me why I give up so much time to The Spark each week. However, as for any journalist, learning that your work has had the impact you intended is a reward in itself.

I would highly encourage any student with a passion for writing, reading, or interest in pursuing a career in journalism, publishing or public relations to write for The Spark, regardless of how regularly they can contribute. Not only will membership of The Spark give you access to a range of opportunities including reporting at Reading Festival and attending national networking events, but the contacts and extra-curricular merit which you gain from the experience is something which you will cherish as part of your university experience.

As an English Language student, membership of The Spark can also be an enjoyable release from academic essay writing, whilst it can also benefit you in modules such as Persuasive Writing, Language and New Media, and Language in Professional Communication where alternative writing styles are assessed.

If you have any questions about The Spark and would like to get involved please feel free to email me at You can also find The Spark on all social media platforms.


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Studying English language in the age of “Post-truth”

With all of the misinformation that seems to be circulating online nowadays, it is said that we are living in a “post-truth” world, a world where facts don’t matter, and where people make important political and personal decisions based on “fake news”, rumours, and their own feelings. In fact, Oxford Dictionaries has named “post truth” the 2016 word of the year.

In an era of “post-truth”, it may be tempting to dismiss the importance of studying language. After all, if nothing is true anymore, what’s the point of paying attention to what people say or write. But actually, the decline of truth in mainstream and social media, and in political discourse makes studying language more important than ever before. This is because current theories in English Language Studies and Applied Linguistics can help us to understand why people are inclined in believe seemingly outrageous things they read online, and can help us to spot fake news stories and recognise the strategies people use to try to trick us into engaging with them.

Propaganda and fake news are not definitely not new phenomena. They have been with us for years. And it doesn’t take the Internet to spread fake news. In fact, one of the most influential recent pieces of misinformation, the claim that Brexit would result in £350 million being channelled to the NHS, appeared on the side of the bus. What is different about misinformation on the Internet is the way the information architecture of digital media affects both what we read and how we read.

Scholars of reading have found that when people read online, they are more easily distracted, and spend less time on a particular page. This can make us less critical when we are reading online, because we are less likely to follow an argument to its conclusion. Online we are used to reading short form texts, such as tweets and status updates, rather than long form texts which present reasons and evidence for statements. When it comes to fake news, most of the time, people simply read headlines as they scroll down their Facebook Newsfeeds. They usually don’t read the news stories themselves, and of course headlines are usually just assertions which are difficult to verify without more information.

But the more important way that the Internet affects reading is the way it changes what we read. The difference between reading news in a newspaper, and reading it on a social media site, is that on the social media site, the news that you read has been selected for you by your friends, many of whom may have similar opinions to you. The algorithms of sites like Facebook and Google are also designed to select which status updates appear at the top of your newsfeed or which websites appear first in a list of search results based on your past behaviour: the kinds of posts that you have “liked” or the kinds of search results you have clicked on in the past. And so what you read on the Internet is often likely to reinforce opinions that you already have rather than introduce information that challenges those opinions. The writer Eli Pariser calls this phenomenon “the filter bubble”. What this means is that the information we get online is “filtered” based on our pre-existing beliefs.

So what does this have to do with “fake news”? First of all, we are more likely to believe news that confirms our existing opinions about a particular issue, particularly if it appears in the context of a whole lot of other news which also confirms that opinion. Psycholinguists, people who study language and the mind, have shown how the way we comprehend what we hear and read can be affected by what we have heard and read immediately beforehand. They call this “priming”. Sociolinguists, people who study language in society, talk about how people who belong to particular groups develop not just particular ways of using language, but also particular ways of interpreting what they hear or read, and when they interact, they reinforce these “norms of communication”. When you read a piece of “fake news” on Facebook, you might be more likely to believe it, because it fits in with the opinions of the group to which you belong (in this case, your group of Facebook friends), you may also be more likely to share that piece of fake news with those very same friends, thus reinforcing those opinions. Some people might even argue that we are being “brainwashed” by the algorithms that govern what we read on social media sites and by our “like-minded” Facebook friends who keep sharing stories that reinforce the group ideology.

But we can’t blame it all on Facebook and Google, or even on our friends. New research by applied linguists Carolyn Tagg and Philip Seargeant reveals that, for many people, the problem is not that all of their Facebook friends believe the same thing, but that their friends include people from different parts of their lives (classmates, relatives, co-workers), who might have lots of different opinions. They argue that the prevailing ideology of social media sites is conviviality; people want to be friendly, and avoid conflict. Because of this, people are much less likely to challenge what they might think is “fake news” posted by one of their Facebook friends. In other words, if you think something is true, you are likely to share it, but if you think something is not true, you are not likely to challenge it.

So how can we tell if something we read online is “fake news”. Of course, the best way is to read the article carefully, consider its source, and cross-check the “facts” in it with other sources. But there are also some clues in the language of “fake news” headlines. One field of English language studies called discourse analysis can help us to notice these clues. Discourse analysis is the study of the way different kinds of texts are put together. It can be used to reveal common patterns across texts. Texts that have similar patterns and similar purposes are called genres. “Fake news” headlines can be said to belong to a particular genre of headlines called “clickbait”. Clickbait headlines have a common purpose – to get you to click on them so that their creators can earn advertising revenue. These headlines also have some common lexical and grammatical characteristics.

One thing that characterizes clickbait headlines is that they tend to contain words chosen to trigger an emotional response from readers such as epic, amazing, incredible, unbelievable, and shocking. for example:

Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement. 

Internet researchers from Brazil and Qatar conducted a study in which they measured how likely people were to click on different kinds of headlines. They found that people were much more likely to click on headlines that expressed extreme (either positive or negative) sentiment, which they called “sentiment polarity”.

Apart from emotional words, writers of clickbait headlines also sometimes personalize the content of headlines by using pronouns like you or your, as in the following headline:

BREAKING: Hillary Clinton To Be Indicted… Your Prayers Have Been Answered.

Another way clickbait headlines get people to click on them is by creating some kind of mystery or ambiguity. Many of us are familiar with clickbait headlines like:

Someone Gave Some Kids Some Scissors. Here’s What Happened Next.

 A Gorgeous Waitress Gets Harassed by Some Jerk. What She Did Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity.

Such headlines normally consist of two sentences. The first sentence expresses something that happened or some state of affairs, usually involving some undefined person such as “some kids” or “a gorgeous waitress”. The second sentence can be called the “hook”. This sentence is designed to raise a question about what happened in the first sentence (e.g. “what she did” or “ what happens next”) and to promise the reader and emotional payoff if they click to find out the answer to the question.

As it turns out, many fake news headlines use this structure. Here are some examples:

WikiLeaks CONFIRMS Hillary Sold Weapons to ISIS… Then Drops Another BOMBSHELL!

 IT’S OVER: Hillary’s ISIS Email Just Leaked & It’s Worse Than Anyone Could Have Imagined

Both of these headlines begins with a statement about something that supposedly happened, and ends with an ambiguous statement which adds mystery to the first statement. Of course none of these statements are actually true. But because of the emotional way in which they are expressed, the fact that they might confirm the worst fears or fantasies of people who belong to particular groups, and, the way they are grammatically constructed to manufacture curiosity, people are more likely to click on them or share them with other people.

The important thing to remember about fake news is that sometimes it doesn’t even pretend to be real. Often, the purpose is not to get you to believe that the Pope supported Donald Trump or that Hillary Clinton is a member of ISIS, but rather, to create confusion and undermine your faith in all news. If we are living in a media environment in which so much of the news is fake, that makes it easier for politicians and public officials to dismiss any news that is unfavourable to them as “fake news”.


Professor Rodney Jones

Professor of Sociolinguistics, Head of Department

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How I shaped my dissertation around my interest in counter-terrorism

Emma Campbell, a final year English Language and Applied Linguistics student, tells us about her dissertation topic and hopes for the future.

“When I applied to do English Language at the University of Reading during my last year of sixth form, I didn’t imagine I would be considering a career into counter-terrorism. I always knew I wanted to study English at University, but never really thought about the careers that would be accessible to me after completing my degree. A lot of people would associate an English Language degree with only the options of becoming a teacher, a journalist; but what people don’t realise is that doing this degree opens so many other doors. I am currently in my final year, and completing my dissertation. To stay motivated and manage to write 10,000 words I knew I had to do it on a topic I am really passionate about, and with a degree like I English Language I was able to be as flexible as I liked. After some research, I decided to look at the terrorist organisation; Islamic State’s use of propaganda. My research involves using an approach in linguistics known as critical multimodal discourse analysis, which allows me to investigate the group’s use of language, and images and begin to understand the vital role they both play in a terrorist organisations communication strategy. I eventually hope to use my research to help build frameworks to further the efforts of counter-terrorism strategies. By thinking a little outside of the box, I can pursue my choice of a career in working on counter-terrorism strategies, whilst following my passion for studying the English Language. My advice would be is if you love studying English like I do, do it at University. You don’t have to limit yourself to the small pool of careers that are stereotypically associated with this degree. There are so many more options out there and it only takes a place like university to learn about what a degree in English Language can offer you.”

Find out more about the modules we offer here:

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Halloween: The Meaning Behind the Word

Halloween.  A night filled with scary costumes, decorations and chocolates. The rich history of this annual ritual is often forgotten. The word itself is so rarely considered, yet certainly ought to be as its origin is thought provoking.

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween

I admit, until recently I knew only that Halloween was an abbreviation from “All Hallows Even” but have since researched and have become fascinated with the origins and developments of the word and the celebration.

“All Hallows Even” refers to the evening of the 31st October, a time where people would give thanks for the harvest and honour their deceased loved ones. Over time, this name became shortened via the omission of “all” “s” and “v”.  This was originally written as “Hallowe’en” but has since become more commonly known as “Halloween”.  This word was popularised by Burns in his poem “Halloween” in 1785.

All Hallows Even is the night before All Saints Day. “Hallow” is a relatively archaic noun which means “a saint or holy person” thereby clearly relating to the following celebration “All Saints Day”.

Whilst an official connection has never been confirmed, Halloween is very closely linked to the pagan festival “Samhain”. There are varying pronunciations of this word, one of the most common being “Sah-win”.  Samhain occurs on the same date as Halloween and it is arguable that the two have merged over time. This is because Samhain is the celebration of the changing seasons. Sunset on Samhain is the beginning of the Celtic new year. All modern spellings of Samhain come from Old Irish “Samfuin” which can be translated roughly to “Summer’s end”.

This can easily be linked to the concept of death which is prevalent throughout both festivals as Summer is often seen as the season of life and fertility whilst Autumn is a time of transition; that is to say, death and ‘ending’ is all around us during this time. It is at this time that the physical world is said to be most connected to the spirit world.

If I have left you with a slightly sad impression of what is usually a light hearted festival, don’t let it get you down. Instead consider celebrating the cyclical nature of the Earth, the seasons, and of life and death! And more importantly, dress up and have fun!

By Saskia Knight (Current Student)

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My Welcome Week Experience

Becky reflects on her enjoyable Welcome Week and gives you an idea of what to expect in yours.

Welcome Week at the University of Reading was one of the busiest weeks of my university career, packed with meeting new people, attending introductory lectures and taster society sessions, and, along with many students, moving away from my family for the first time.

My Dad dropped me off, his car filled to the brim with my clothes, books and other stuff I’d decided to bring with me. We’d had to attach a roof box just so I could fit in an extra few boxes. After we had carried everything to my new room, he hugged me goodbye and left but, as cheesy as this sounds, I wasn’t on my own. Everyone else was in the same boat: excited, nervous, and (like me) putting up their posters before even unpacking their bedding. Some people I met that first week in lectures commuted from nearby, or lived in student housing, but we all had one thing in common- we were all starting the next Big Step in our lives. It’s the most uniting thing I’ve ever experienced, making Welcome Week really special and good fun. It also really helps if you offer everybody chocolate biscuits!

I soon become close with my flatmates. I had worried that because I had not been clubbing much, this would affect my social life. I couldn’t have been more wrong! My flatmates and I started having many nights dedicated to watching Game of Thrones boxsets, and days scouring Reading’s charity shops for bargain fancy dress outfits. I also got to know students from my course, going to a café after one lecture to discuss the modules before we had even started them, and to this day we still revise together in the summer term. I even became friends with one girl at a university bar because of the amazing coincidence that we were both named Rebecca.

Societies Fayre at Welcome Week

Societies Fayre at Welcome Week

The Societies Fayre and Sports Fayre gave me more great opportunities to meet new people, as well as try new things. With over 150 societies and sports clubs to pick from, it was hard to decide which to join. From the fencing society to the Harry Potter society, from modern languages to rugby to singer-songwriting, between me and my friends we went to a huge number of taster sessions. In addition, another fayre available in that first week was the Careers Fayre, which was exceedingly useful. The companies recruiting students at the stalls prove that there are so many career options and a huge variety of graduate jobs for humanities students, and they start you thinking about the career path you would want to follow after finishing your degree.

With all the activities available in Welcome Week, introductory lectures still managed to be the most exciting part of it. I met the tutors who would be teaching me over the next few years, met students I would be sharing classes with, and got my first feel of what it was going to be like to study at the University of Reading. I remember meeting up with all my flatmates straight after our introductory lectures, sitting on a bench in the middle of campus, and talking enthusiastically about each of our subjects, and our plans for the future. It was a whirlwind of a week, and a great start to university. I hope you enjoy yours just as much.

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Where to go for help and advice at University

Final year student Chloe takes us though the many places to go for guidance at Reading and assures us that ‘everyone is in the same boat’. 

Beginning university is a big milestone. A change in studies and often a change in scenery, university is the start of a new adventure and marks, for many, the first experience of moving out of home. In the coming months you will start to contemplate all of these changes: writing lists of what will make the cut in your packing for university; looking at your reading list; figuring out how to do things that you may not have had to do before (like your own washing!). When the time comes, the move to university will surely be a momentous occasion, and awaiting you alongside your studies are friends and experiences that you will treasure long after your university time.

However, understandably, such a change can seem daunting. Everyone will be telling you that ‘everyone’s in the same boat’ – I’m sure you’ve already heard that a few times! – but it actually is true. When you arrive to university, whether that be your move-in day at Halls, or your first lecture, you will see that all of the other students have exactly the same feelings of apprehension, excitement and nerves. The friends you make in your accommodation and/or on your course will most probably be your closest support network for the coming years. Providing a home away from home, the bonds between students are so tight because they become your first port of call when you need a companion for all the new things you are discovering: when you want to go and explore the campus; when you need to watch a favourite film to combat a bit of homesickness. These bonds are important to the transition to university. However, as in any situation, there can be times when things go wrong or something is making your time less enjoyable than it should be. For such times, there are a fantastic range of support services run by the university, to help you in any way that may be required.

Upon arriving at university you will be assigned a personal tutor, a member of staff within your subject of study. Your personal tutor will be a constant throughout your degree, providing help and support for not only academic issues or concerns you may have, but also with personal issues such as housing, relationships, finance etc. Most tutors are more than happy to talk to you either in person or via email at any point during the academic year, and will be able to refer you or provide necessary advice for the specific problem. During my studies at university I have used both my personal tutor and even tutors from modules I have taken. Members of staff, in my experience, are so friendly and helpful, and having such a great network of tutors and staff to talk to means that there is likely to be at least one person that you feel comfortable talking to.


Outside the Carrington Building

Outside the Carrington Building

Alongside the personal tutor connection, the University runs a Student Wellbeing Service, housed in the Carrington building on campus. The ‘Counselling and wellbeing’ facility operates many services, including: Counselling sessions with trained professionals (can be a one-off session or a series of sessions), Peer supporters (fellow students offering advice), Life Tools talks (resources and advice about living independently, managing time, study advice etc.), Study Advisor ( to help with academic problems). This is a free service available to all registered students, and fully trained counsellors are always on hand to provide guidance and support to students about a range of personal and academic issues. Similar to this, RUSU (Reading University’s Student’s Union) runs events throughout the year to help students deal with stress. ‘RUSU says Relax’ is a scheme precisely for this, and is currently running a ‘Mobile Zoo’ that is on campus during exam period to help students relieve stress.

So always remember, especially in the run up to starting university, that help and support is always on hand at any point, even if you just need a friendly chat and a cup of tea!

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How to use a reading list: Advice for applicants

One of the first things that we will send you before your course starts is a reading list, so we thought this might be a good chance to say something about what a reading list is for.

The reading list helps you make the best use of our learning resources in a way that is tailored to your modules.  For your first term, you may get this reading list in paper copy, but for the rest of your degree you will be able to access it electronically on our VLE. We will explain how to access the VLE and use the library’s online systems in Welcome Week.

Your reading lists will be divided into sections: there will be an ‘essential reading’ or ‘set texts’ section that will list the books that you will be studying on the module (a textbook, an anthology, or a short list of book or film titles). A few of these will be listed as ‘recommended for student purchase’. It is a good idea to buy copies of those, because you will be using them intensively on the module. It’s also a good idea to buy the edition we recommend. (This means buying a copy published in the same year and with the same ‘ISBN’ number: the ISBN is a 10 or 13 digit number that identifies a book.) We try to recommend editions that give you the most up-to-date information. There will always be at least one copy of these books in the library, but it will be in high demand. Watch out for second –hand copies for sale in the bookshop on campus!

The rest of your reading list will be longer than the ‘essential reading’. This is what we often call ‘secondary reading’. Anything listed as ‘secondary reading’ or ‘general reading’ is not a book you need to buy: there will be a copy in the library, either in paper form or electronically. We don’t actually expect you to read all of the texts that we list in this section! Secondary reading is to help you with the topics that you’ve decided to research for essays or other assignments.  This reading supports your ‘essential’ reading with more detailed analysis. The list might include links to web resources as well as the names of books that you can find in the library or journal articles and essays that you can access electronically. So the ‘secondary reading’ list contains lots of very detailed scholarship on a whole range of topics: your job (once you start researching your assignment) is to choose which items on that list are most useful to the topic you are working on.

Your seminar leaders will give you advice on how best to tackle your reading, but don’t be afraid to ask for help if you feel unsure. The reading list is a key component of university study, and there is an art to using it well!

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