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Undergraduate Study


Courses at Cambridge

One of the most distinctive characteristics of our courses (also called Triposes at Cambridge) is that they cover the subject area very broadly in the initial years and then offer a wide range of options in which to specialise in the later years.

Students with a clear sense of the subject they wish to pursue at university can specialise, while those who are less certain are able to explore the wider subject area before deciding what to focus on.

The Cambridge Advantage: Flexibility and choice

If you already know what you want to focus on, you can start to specialise early on at Cambridge. However, if you don’t have a clear idea of the options you want to take just yet, our courses allow you to delay specialising until you've had the chance to fully explore the breadth of your subject and confirm which areas you're most interested in. Either way, by graduation you'll have developed the same depth of understanding and specialist knowledge as graduates of more narrowly focused courses elsewhere.

Course structure

Our courses are divided into 'Parts', with each Part lasting one or two years. In each Part, you take a number of 'papers' (subjects, topics) – some of these are compulsory papers that all students must take; and some are optional, meaning you choose a certain number from a range of optional papers available that year. See course outlines and refer to the faculty/department websites for details.

You must pass exams in two Parts to graduate with an Honours degree, and all of our degrees lead to the award of a BA (Hons). Engineering and some science subjects also have a further optional Part that leads to an MEng or MSci degree. Each course fact file indicates the degree(s) awarded.

All of our undergraduate degrees are full-time courses. All students must ordinarily be available to study in Cambridge for the full duration of their course (with the exception of a year abroad, where part of the course).

Shared papers

Many of our courses encompass several subjects – more than 65 subjects are offered within our 30 undergraduate courses – and, generally speaking, the number of options to choose from increases each year.

In addition, some options/topics (usually called papers at Cambridge) are available in several degree courses where the subjects overlap – these are known as 'shared' papers, but may also be referred to as 'borrowed' papers – for example (see the course outlines for details):

  • some Classics and language papers are available in the English course
  • some Human, Social, and Political Sciences papers are available to Education students
  • Psychological and Behavioural Sciences ‘shares’ the Evolution and Behaviour paper from the Natural Sciences course

This means that, beyond any compulsory papers, you can usually tailor your course to your own specifications and your choices may not be limited to those within your immediate subject field.


Our courses offer a good compromise between the continuous assessment favoured by some universities and the emphasis placed on final exams by others.

There are summative assessments for all the papers you've taken at the end of each Part, which together determine your result for that Part. Each Part of the course is self-contained and you get a separate result for each Part – we don't operate a credit system so there's no averaging out of your Part results for your final degree result (class).

Therefore, your degree certificate won't state an overall class (first, 2.1 etc). However, you'll be issued an academic transcript to accompany your certificate that contains the titles of and marks you achieved for each paper taken, as well as the class obtained for each Part.

In order to achieve an Honours degree you must pass examinations at both Part I and Part II.

  • Written exams are the main form of summative assessment used – typically, you sit between four and eight written exams for each Part.
  • In many science subjects, a specified amount of practical work is assessed.
  • Most courses include a research project or dissertation – these may be in addition to or as a substitute for a written exam.
  • Results of assessments are typically released between four and eight weeks after exams/submission.

See the course outlines and individual department/faculty websites for details about assessment methods.

Changing course

Due to scope and flexibility of our courses, most students stay on the same degree course. However, it's possible to change course after one or two years.

Most changes are within the sciences or within the arts, but students can switch between broad areas as well. Not everything is possible but there’s a surprising degree of flexibility and, as such, a wide range of subject combinations are available. The more popular/common course changes are listed under the relevant course information.

To be able to change course, you need the agreement of your College that any change is in your educational interests, and you must have the necessary background in the subject to which you wish to change – in some cases you may be required to undertake some catch-up work or take up the new course from the start/an earlier year. If you think you may wish to change course, we encourage you to contact a College admissions office for advice. You should also consider if/how changing course may affect any financial support arrangements

Choosing a course