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Finally – you have a place at Oxford or Cambridge. You’ve been through every hurdle, and the summer before your first term now stretches out in front of you, glorious and sun-drenched. There’s plenty of time for fun – but it’s also a great time to prepare yourself for university, so you can turn up and jump straight in.

Revise your A-level Maths and Further Maths content

The most beneficial thing you can do to prepare for your Physics degree is revise your A-Level Maths content. If you don’t have an A-Level in Further Maths, or you did not do all of the further pure second-year content, it is certainly worth teaching yourself this. Not only will the self-study skills you develop help you with university work, but the content is also crucial to the Oxford Physics degree. 

In the first few weeks, you will race through all of the Further Maths pure content, but if you have not seen or studied any of this before, this will be extremely fast and incomplete in places. It is definitely worth acquiring a textbook and teaching yourself some of the subject matter, so it’s not a complete shock come week one!

Depending on how much maths you’ve done, the first term of first year, there’s a considerable amount of overlap with maths you will have already seen. They do go through the material at a pretty quick pace, though. I saw Further Maths A-Level fly by my eyes in two weeks.

Jack, Physics, Oxford 

If you are worried about the maths content, Oxford provides an online bridging programme for Physics students about to start the course, so this may be a useful thing to do to ensure you are not drowning in hyperbolas and imaginary numbers come Freshers’ Week! For more info on the maths content, take a look at our guide to the content of the Oxford Physics course.

Complete any work set by your college

Your college tutors are also likely to set some preliminary college holiday work, so make sure you compete this! Not only would it be embarrassing to rock up to your first week having left the holiday work email fermenting at the bottom of your inbox whilst you celebrated finishing school all summer, but the work will also be hugely helpful: it is designed to ensure everyone is beginning the degree on a level playing field. This will iron out any creases in your knowledge, and fill out any empty pockets. 

Read around Physics

Although you will not get a reading list, your understanding of the subject and your enthusiasm for it (this flame may dwindle a little during the inhumane process of A-level revision…) will soar if you read around a little bit. For example, Warner’s Cavendish Quantum Mechanics Primer offers an interesting and accessible insight into Quantum Mechanics: a pillar of university physics. For more ideas, check out our further reading list for Physics.


Remember: look forward to it! You’ve worked hard to get to this point, and now you get to reap the rewards: studying a Physics degree at Oxford, or Natural Sciences at Cambridge. It’s important to take a moment sometimes, and be proud of yourself for what you’ve achieved. You’re going to study something you genuinely enjoy doing, at one of the best universities in the world – you’re incredibly lucky.

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