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The University of Cambridge, England, divides the different kinds of honours bachelor's degree by Tripos (En-uk-tripos.ogg ˈtraɪpɒs ), a word which has an obscure etymology, but which 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 due to the three brackets printed on the back of the voucher.[1]

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 English universities a student is expected to register to study one field exclusively rather than having 'majors' or 'minors' as in American universities. In practice however, English 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.)



The origin and evolution of the Cambridge tripos can be found in chapter 4 of the book "Academic Charisma and the Origin of the Research University" by William Clark, University of Chicago Press, 2006.

Tripos est in partes duas divisum

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 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; 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 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, IB, IIA, and IIB, 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 considered to be the classification for the degree. Most subjects are examined in all three years; for example, the Natural Sciences Tripos has examinations for Part IA (read: "Part one A"), Part IB ("Part one B") and Part II ("Part two").

Degree regulations state that, to be awarded a degree, you must have passed both a Part I and a Part II examination. This makes it easy for an undergraduate to switch out of a subject, but only into a complementary Tripos. 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. Linguistics, Management Studies) 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 either Oxford or Cambridge are not permitted to collect a second BA from Cambridge.

List of Triposes

Below is the list of Triposes offered by the University (numerals in brackets indicate the Parts available):

  • Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic Tripos (I, II)
  • Archaeology and Anthropology Tripos (I, IIA, IIB)
  • Architecture Tripos (IA, IB, II)
  • Chemical Engineering Tripos (I, IIA, IIB)
  • Classical Tripos (IA, IB, II)
  • Computer Science Tripos (IA, IB, II)
  • Economics Tripos (I, IIA, IIB)
  • Education Studies Tripos (I, II)
  • Engineering Tripos (IA, IB, IIA, IIB)
  • English Tripos (I, II)
  • Geography Tripos (IA, IB, II)
  • History Tripos (I, II)
  • History of Art Tripos (I, IIA, IIB)
  • Land Economy Tripos (IA, IB, II)
  • Law Tripos (IA, IB, II)
  • Linguistics Tripos (One Part only)
  • Management Studies Tripos (Part II only)
  • Manufacturing Engineering Tripos (I, II)
  • Mathematical Tripos (IA, IB, II, III)
  • Mechanical Sciences Tripos (I, II)
  • Medical and Veterinary Sciences Tripos (IA, IB)
  • Modern and Medieval Languages Tripos (IA, IB, II)
  • Music Tripos (IA, IB, II)
  • Natural Sciences Tripos (IA, IB, II, III)
  • Oriental Studies Tripos (I, II)
  • Philosophy Tripos (IA, IB, II)
  • Social and Political Sciences Tripos (I, IIA, IIB)
  • Theological and Religious Studies Tripos (I, IIA, IIB)

See also


  1. ^ "Essay on Triposes" in The Classical journal, Volume 13; p. 83; No. XXV, March 1816

External links

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