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Albrecht Dürer, Saint John Devouring the Book, Woodcut, c. 1496–1498. National Gallery of Art, Washington

English at Cambridge

English Part I

Over the next two years, Part I of the English Tripos will change in structure.

For 2019 entry, Part I is a two-year course, with a Preliminary Examination at the start of the third term of the first year, and the Part I Examination at the end of the second year. You would take six components over those two years, with all the papers to be examined at the end of your second year. Papers in Medieval Literature and Shakespeare are compulsory, but you can then select between papers covering a series of overlapping literary periods from 1500 onwards (a portfolio of essays and/or a dissertation can be offered for these), Practical Criticism and Critical Practice (Paper 1), and other papers on literatures in modern and ancient languages borrowable from the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages, the Faculty of Classics, and the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic. The considerable choice available within each paper – there are few set texts – is an important aspect of studying English at Cambridge, so we would want you to take advantage of this invitation to develop your own lines of literary inquiry.

If you arrive in 2020 or afterwards, Part I will look slightly different. It is still a two-year course, but formalized into a Part IA and Part IB and examined in both the first and second years.

Year 1 (Part IA), two compulsory papers:

Paper 1: Practical Criticism and Critical Practice;
Paper 2: Shakespeare (assessed by a portfolio of essays submitted in Easter Term).

Over the course of the first year you also start work on two of the period papers (see below), which will be examined in Part IB.

Year 2 (Part IB), four papers (two covered in the first year, two in the second year), from the following list:

Paper 3: Early Medieval Literature and its Contexts 1066-1350;
Paper 4: English Literature and its Contexts 1300-1550 (compulsory);
Paper 5: English Literature and its Contexts 1500-1700;
Paper 6: English Literature and its Contexts 1660-1870;
Paper 7a: English Literature and its Contexts 1830-1945 or Paper 7b: English Literature and its Contexts 1870-Present.

One of Papers 4 – 7b can be replaced by a dissertation.

English Part II

The final-year course – Part II – consists of five components: Practical Criticism, Tragedy, a 7500-word dissertation, and two optional components, of which one can be another dissertation. Tragedy is a wide-ranging and highly stimulating paper based fundamentally in Greek, Shakespearean, and other tragic drama in any language, but augmented by the history of critical and theoretical writing on the tragic, as well as works in such media as film, music, painting, and sculpture. Optional papers: Medieval English Literature 1066–1500; Chaucer; Early Modern Drama; Material Renaissance; Victorian Literature 1847–72; Literature, Culture, and Crisis 1631–71; Lyric; Modernism and the Short Story; The Ethical Imagination; History and Theory of Literary Criticism; Postcolonial and Related Literatures; American Literature; Contemporary Writing in English; Literature and Visual Culture.

You can find full details about the English Tripos at Cambridge and core aspects of the learning experience (Faculty lectures and seminars, small-group classes, and paired or individual supervisions in College) on the Faculty of English website, and summarised in the University Undergraduate Prospectus.

English at Churchill College

English at Churchill College is a thriving and sociable literary community, to which we aim to admit 5 or 6 able and enthusiastic undergraduates each year. Much of the teaching and supervision is provided by the College’s Fellows. Other teaching is exchanged with Fellows of other colleges, or given by advanced doctoral students, so that your individual interests can be developed through working with subject specialists. Your Director of Studies would discuss with you the overall shape of your deepening intellectual and literary commitments.


If you have an avid and eclectic appetite for reading good literature and exploring what that means, we are looking for students like you. Moreover, you would write at least one essay each week, often two, so having a keen interest in developing persuasive, well-structured critical prose is also essential. We expect you to have or be taking A Level English Literature or its equivalent, but do not require specific supplementary subjects. We see no necessary disadvantage in having studied outside the humanities, so long as you show suitably high levels of potential, commitment, and ability in English. However, many applicants have studied modern or ancient languages, or another essay subject (such as History) at A Level or equivalent, and these complementary subjects can enrich your interpretation of literary works and language.

Subject pre-requisites

Essential Highly desirable/useful
A Level / IB Higher Level English Literature or English Language and Literature No specific subjects

For details about potential A Level and IB offer conditions in your target degree, see our Typical Offers webpage and select your course from the University's Course Listing homepage then check out the "Subject Requirements and Typical Offers" link in the Entry Requirements tab.

For other qualifications, see our Typical Offers page.

Admissions assessment

Cambridge University uses a system of common format admissions assessments, specifically tailored to each subject. These give us valuable additional evidence of your academic ability, knowledge base, and potential to succeed at Cambridge. For more information about the admissions assessment in this subject, click on:

Admissions assessment

Written work

We will ask you to submit two examples of teacher-marked written work (one preferably on Shakespeare), which we will read very carefully and may discuss with you at interview. In addition, we will ask you for a single-sheet summary of your extra-curricular reading over the year leading up to your application - this normally focuses on works of literature but may also include literary criticism, history, and theory. 

Interviews & interview preparation

If called, you will normally have two interviews. Directly before one of them, you will typically be required to write a short essay discussing the form, language, and style of one or two literary passages. A conversation about this normally forms part of the following interview. We are interested in the clarity of your thought and expression, your ability to develop ideas in response to your close reading of literary texts, and to defend or modify them when challenged. You will be able to refer to your essay and the passages in the interview.

The other interview will usually range over your wider reading and literary interests, and will focus more generally on your application. In this interview you may be invited to read and comment on a short piece of literary or critical writing.


Recent Churchill graduates have pursued careers in (amongst others) comedy script-writing and performance, law, teaching, social policy, international journalism, accountancy, the Civil Service, BBC radio, with others continuing to postgraduate studies in English, but also Psychology and Theology. In short, the highly developed powers of critical analysis, persuasive argument and stylish exposition acquired through studying English at Cambridge will provide an excellent basis for your next steps.


For more information and for all admissions enquiries, please contact the Admissions Office.

Admissions Office

College and Faculty of English prizes

Details on the The John Kinsella and Tracy Ryan Poetry Prize and The Other Prize.

Find out more


Image: Albrecht Dürer, Saint John Devouring the Book, Woodcut, c. 1496–1498. National Gallery of Art, Washington

Fellows in English