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Undergraduate Study


A world class provision

We provide unparalleled learning opportunities for our students, with the vast majority of teaching being delivered by academics or those involved in research. Not only are you taught in the lecture theatre by academics who are experts in their field, but our supervision system means that you receive more personal tuition from them too.

The Cambridge Advantage: Academic excellence

We’re committed to encouraging and developing enquiring minds, and Cambridge is known and respected across the globe for the excellence of our teaching and research, and the quality of our graduates.

  • Top 5 in the world for academic reputation (QS World University Rankings 2016).
  • Supervisions provide regular small-group tuition with subject specialists.
  • 90% student satisfaction (National Student Survey 2016).

Teaching methods

Your faculty or department arranges lectures, seminars and practicals that students from all Colleges attend together – depending on your course, you'll receive your timetable at the start of each year or term. Your College also arranges supervisions (see below) for you.

However, as at all universities, there’s a much greater emphasis on independent and self-directed study at Cambridge compared to school or college. You’re responsible for your own learning and are expected to read beyond what’s required for your lectures and classes.

Each academic year consists of three eight-week terms. As the terms are short, the pace and volume of work is likely to be greater than you're currently used to. During term time, you're expected to spend an average of 46 hours a week on your academic studies (including teaching/contact time and independent study), and you need to undertake some work during the vacations (eg further reading/research, revision, assignments).

Every student adjusts to this new workload in their own way and time, and there are plenty of people who can offer advice and support while you get settled in and throughout your degree.

The teaching and assessment methods for each course is indicated in the relevant course outline; and further guidance on the structure of courses and assessments/examinations at Cambridge can be found on the About our courses page.

Lectures: the core

  • Lectures cover the basics of a subject and act as a starting point for your own research.
  • Each lecture typically lasts around 50 minutes.
  • Depending on the subject anywhere between up to several hundred students may attend.
  • Many lecturers are working at the forefront of their fields, so lectures are a fantastic opportunity to find out about the latest research and be inspired by leading academics.

Seminars and classes: more detail

  • These provide the opportunity to explore particular topics in more detail.
  • They're usually for medium–sized groups (between 10 and 30 students) and last between one and two hours.
  • They're led by academics, but are more interactive than lectures and you're expected to actively contribute to the discussions.

Practicals: hands-on

  • Practicals teach you the hands-on skills and techniques that you need to be able to apply your knowledge in subjects with a practical element to them.
  • They may also be called 'labs' or laboratory classes.
  • For some courses, your practical work may be assessed and contribute towards your degree.

Supervisions: in-depth exploration

  • This more personal tuition, organised by your College, is one of our greatest strengths and a key advantage of studying at Cambridge - most students find their supervisions the most rewarding and beneficial part of their course.
  • Supervisions are teaching sessions for one or two students or small groups.
  • They're led by supervisors who are specialists in the subject being studied, and who may be one of the country's or world's leading authorities.
  • You go to different supervisors (often, though not always, from your College) for different parts of your course, in order to learn from specialists in particular areas of your subject.
  • As well as helping you develop independent learning skills, supervisions enable you to explore course material in much greater depth than lectures allow, for you to gain further insights into your subject, to clarify anything you're not clear about, to discuss your own work and ideas, and to receive regular feedback.
  • Typically, you have one or two hour-long supervisions each week, although the frequency does vary from course to course.
  • What actually happens during supervisions also varies, but generally you're expected to do some preparatory work for each supervision (eg reading, write an essay, work through some problems), which you then discuss in the sessions.
  • Supervision is the main means of formative assessment at Cambridge. You receive regular reports from your supervisors but aren't formally assessed on this work (it doesn't usually count towards your results for that Part), so you can take advantage of this opportunity to take risks with your own ideas, investigate new approaches, and discuss the set topic as well as other aspects of the course.

Field trips, study visits and language courses

  • Several courses may include opportunities to go on field trips, language courses or study visits to add another dimension to their learning.
  • Where you go, how long for and what you do naturally varies depending on your course.
  • The faculties, departments and Colleges often have funds available to help you go on trips in Britain and abroad.

Independent research: dissertations, research projects

  • Dissertations – or long essays – and research projects are a significant part of our courses and may form part of your degree assessment (in place of an examination paper).
  • These may initially seem daunting, but they're an excellent way to carry out your own research, test out theories and put forward your own ideas.
  • Your work might even get published while you're still an undergraduate.

Study abroad

Some courses include the opportunity to study abroad through exchange programmes with other leading institutions:

  • some Asian and Middle Eastern Studies and Modern and Medieval Languages students have the opportunity to study at another institution during their year abroad
  • some Engineering students are able to spend a year studying in the USA, Paris or Singapore
  • about 20 Law students have the chance to spend a year at a university in Europe (France, the Netherlands, Germany or Spain) under the Erasmus Scheme

Work experience

Some courses include a period of work experience. For instance, you may:

  • work for a company on a research project if you're studying Engineering or one of the sciences
  • work abroad during the third year of your Modern and Medieval Languages or Asian and Middle Eastern Studies course

As well as giving you valuable experience, such placements are a great way of exploring possible future career paths and making contact with employers. They may even lead to the opportunity of a job after you graduate.

For more details about our teaching methods, see the course outlines pages and faculty/department websites.

Choosing a course