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The University of Cambridge
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

, England, divides the different kinds of honours bachelor's degree
Bachelor's degree
A bachelor's degree is usually an academic degree awarded for an undergraduate course or major that generally lasts for three or four years, but can range anywhere from two to six years depending on the region of the world...

 by Tripos ˈtraɪpɒs, plural Triposes. The word has an obscure etymology
Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time.For languages with a long written history, etymologists make use of texts in these languages and texts about the languages to gather knowledge about how words were used during...

, but may be traced to the three-legged stool candidates once used to sit on when taking oral examinations. An apocryphal legend says that students used to receive one leg of a stool in each of their three years of exams, receiving the whole stool at graduation. Another tradition holds that the name is because of the three brackets printed on the back of the voucher.

An undergraduate studying mathematics is thus said to be reading for the Mathematical Tripos, whilst a student of English is reading for the English Tripos. In most traditional British universities a student is expected to register to study one field exclusively, rather than having 'majors' or 'minors' as in American universities
Universities in the United States
Higher education in the United States includes a variety of institutions of higher education. Strong research and funding have helped make United States colleges and universities among the world's most prestigious, making them particularly attractive to international students, professors and...

. In practice however, British degree fields may be fairly interdisciplinary in nature, depending on the subject. The multi-part Tripos system at Cambridge also allows substantial changes in field between parts, and the Natural Sciences Tripos is especially designed to allow a highly flexible curriculum across the sciences.


Initially, the only way to obtain an honours degree at Cambridge was the mathematical Tripos examination. Although John Jebb proposed reforms in 1772, these were blocked by various problems, such as lack of expertise in the smaller colleges in a wider range of subjects. Classed examinations in law were introduced in 1816 by James William Geldart. Although a classical Tripos was created in 1822, it was only open to those who already had high honours in mathematics, or those who were the sons of peers
The Peerage is a legal system of largely hereditary titles in the United Kingdom, which constitute the ranks of British nobility and is part of the British honours system...

. This restriction ended around 1850, and Triposes in the Moral Sciences and Natural Sciences were introduced in the 1860s.

The origin and evolution of the Cambridge tripos can be found in William Clark's Academic Charisma and the Origin of the Research University.


A Tripos is divided into two parts: Part I, which is broadly based, and Part II, which allows specialization within the student's chosen field. Since a bachelor's degree
Bachelor's degree
A bachelor's degree is usually an academic degree awarded for an undergraduate course or major that generally lasts for three or four years, but can range anywhere from two to six years depending on the region of the world...

 usually takes three years to complete, either Part I or Part II is two years, and the other one year. The details of this can vary from subject to subject. There is also an optional Part III offered in some subjects, such as the Mathematical Tripos
Cambridge Mathematical Tripos
The Mathematical Tripos is the taught mathematics course at the University of Cambridge. It is the oldest Tripos that is examined in Cambridge.-Origin:...

; these are not required to complete a bachelor's degree. Some Part III courses allow the student to graduate with both a master's degree
Master's degree
A master's is an academic degree granted to individuals who have undergone study demonstrating a mastery or high-order overview of a specific field of study or area of professional practice...

 and a Bachelor degree: for example, scientific Part III courses allow the student to graduate with an M.Sci. degree in addition to the B.A. degree which all Cambridge graduates receive. The Engineering Tripos on the other hand is divided into Parts IA (spoken as: "One A"), IB ("One B"), IIA ("Two A"), and IIB ("Two B"), each corresponding to one academic year, and leads to the simultaneous awarding of the B.A. and M.Eng. degrees.

Students are examined formally at the end of each part, and are awarded a degree classification for each part. The Part II classification is usually, but incorrectly, considered to be the classification for the overall degree. Most subjects are examined in all three years; for example, the Natural Sciences Tripos has examinations for Part IA , Part IB, Part II, and in some subjects, Part III. English and History have preliminary rather than full examinations at the end of the first year.

Degree regulations state that, to be awarded a degree, you must have passed two honours examinations (i.e. two Tripos examinations) - this could include a Part I and a Part II, two Part I exams, or (in some cases) a part I and a part IA. From October 2011, students can only be awarded an Honours degree
British undergraduate degree classification
The British undergraduate degree classification system is a grading scheme for undergraduate degrees in the United Kingdom...

 if they have been awarded honours in (passed) a Part II or Part III examination; a combination of Part I examinations will allow a student to graduate with an Ordinary degree
British undergraduate degree classification
The British undergraduate degree classification system is a grading scheme for undergraduate degrees in the United Kingdom...

. All students must complete at least 9 terms of residence (three years of study) - making it impossible for students to simply complete two 1 year Tripos parts. This makes it easy for an undergraduate to switch out of a subject. So a one-year Part I (or Part IA) must be followed by a two-year Part II, and usually vice versa. More exotic combinations are possible, with the permission of the student's college and prospective department, but some combinations create a four-year bachelor's degree. A few subjects - e.g. Management Studies, and Linguistics (prior to October 2010) - exist only as Part II, and can be preceded by any manner of Part I subject.

Students who already possess a bachelor's degree or equivalent from another university are generally permitted to skip Part I, and thus can complete a Cambridge bachelor's degree in two years or less. Students already holding a BA degree from Cambridge are not permitted to collect a second BA from the University.

Students requesting to graduate (technically, "admitted to a degree") are assessed mainly on two criteria: not only the triposes he or she has completed (requirements laid by the statues and ordinance of Cambridge), as recorded in the Cambridge University Reporter (Cambridge's Gazzette newspaper), but also the number of terms kept (at least 9 required for a BA; 10 for an undergrad master degree). Students' requests to graduate should also be approved by his or her college, and be unopposed by the regent house, one of the university's governing bodies with vetoing powers.

List of Triposes

Below is the list of Triposes offered by the University (Latin numerals in brackets indicate the Parts available):
  • Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic Tripos (ASNaC) (I, II) (two year part I)
  • Archaeological and Anthropological Tripos ("Arch and Anth") (I, IIA, IIB)
  • Architecture Tripos (IA, IB, II)
  • Chemical Engineering Tripos (I, IIA, IIB) (a pass in part IIB may qualify one for M Eng in addition to BA)
  • Classical Tripos
    Classical Tripos
    The Classical Tripos is the taught course in classics at the University of Cambridge, equivalent to Literae Humaniores at Oxford. It is traditionally a three year degree, but for those who have not studied Latin and Greek at school a four year course has been introduced...

     (IA, IB, II) (pre 1A year available to those without A-level Latin/Greek)
  • Computer Science Tripos
    Computer Science Tripos
    The Computer Science Tripos is the undergraduate course in computer science offered by the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory. It evolved out of the Diploma in Computer Science, the world’s first taught course in computer science, which started in 1953...

     (Comp Sci) (IA, IB, II, III) (part III from October 2011, competitive entry, completion leads to M Eng plus BA)
  • Economics Tripos (I, IIA, IIB)
  • Education Tripos (formerly Education Studies Tripos) (I, II) (two year part I)
  • Engineering Tripos (IA, IB, IIA, IIB) (a pass in part IIB may qualify one for M Eng in addition to BA)
  • English Tripos (I, II) (two year part I)
  • Geographical Tripos (IA, IB, II)
  • Historical Tripos (I, II) (two year part I)
  • History of Art Tripos (I, IIA, IIB)
  • Land Economy Tripos (IA, IB, II)
  • Law Tripos (IA, IB, II)
  • Linguistics Tripos (I, IIA, IIB) (New regulations; before 2010, only one part is available either as a one year or two year course)
  • Management Studies Tripos ("Part II" only; Management Studies Tripos, a one year course, does not technically have a "part" to it as there is only one part)
  • Manufacturing Engineering Tripos (I, II) (pass in part II may qualify one for M Eng in addition to BA)
  • Mathematical Tripos (IA, IB, II, III) (Part III was also formerly known as the Certificate of Advanced Study in Mathematics, or CASM) (from 2011, Cambridge undergrads who pass part III Maths obtain M Math in addition to a BA)
  • Medical and Veterinary Sciences Tripos (MVST) (IA, IB)
  • Modern and Medieval Languages Tripos (MML) (IA, IB, II)
  • Music Tripos (IA, IB, II) (a pass in any parts of the music tripos qualifies one to take (optional) further exams to obtain the degree of bachelor of music in their 3rd year or later, in addition to obtaining a BA)
  • Natural Sciences Tripos ("Natsci") (IA, IB, II, III) (Cambridge undergrads who pass part III may obtain a M Sci in addition to a BA)
  • Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (formerly Oriental Studies Tripos) (IA, 1B, II)
  • Philosophy Tripos (IA, IB, II)
  • Politics, Psychology and Sociology Tripos (PPS) (formerly Social and Political Sciences Tripos, SPS) (I, IIA, IIB)
  • Theological and Religious Studies Tripos (I, IIA, IIB)

Proposed triposes (approval pending)
  • Psychological and Behavioural Sciences Tripos (I, IIA, IIB)
  • Human, Social and Political Sciences Tripos (I, IIA, IIB)

Proposed triposes to be abolished (approval pending)
  • Archaeological and Anthropological Tripos
  • Politics, Psychology and Sociology Tripos

Triposes recently abolished, renamed or restructured
  • Oriental Studies Tripos
  • Education Studies Tripos
  • Linguistics Tripos (Old Regulations)

See also

  • Master of Arts (Oxbridge and Dublin)
  • Wooden spoon (award)
    Wooden spoon (award)
    A wooden spoon is a mock or real award, usually given to an individual or team which has come last in a competition, but sometimes also to runners-up. Examples range from the academic to sporting and more frivolous events...

  • Wrangler (University of Cambridge)