by Suzie Langdon-Shreeve

Course Introduction

First off, congratulations for meeting your offer! The Education Tripos is really challenging and enjoyable, and I am sure you will love the next three years. The course itself is unique in that it allows you to study in a dual honours fashion, taking a subject alongside Education and is multi-disciplinary. This means your education at Cambridge is going to be broad and hugely interesting, covering a whole range of issues from child psychology, to world religion, and even picture books! The following guide will hopefully be helpful in aiding your navigation of the challenges that come with taking such a wide-ranging degree– although difficult, the multi-modal style of this tripos makes it wonderfully rewarding.

The structure of the course

In first year, you will study the 4 disciplines of education – Sociology, History, Psychology and Philosophy. The most challenging thing about this course is being able to switch between these disciplines and adjust your essay style accordingly. Although these disciplines are all very different, they do link in with each other and as you progress through the tripos these links will become more obvious and easier to make. You will also study LCL (Learning, Communication and Literacy), which covers early language acquisition, psychology and international education. For this paper, you will be expected to write a short piece of coursework due in at the beginning of Easter Term. The coursework is effectively an autobiography of your own literacy acquisition as a child. You will be assigned a coursework supervisor who will guide you through it. Your subject modules will be taken alongside.

In second year, the four disciplines are split into two compulsory papers – Sociology and History, and Psychology and Philosophy. Alongside this you can choose a combination of modules from your subject paper and from Education. The optional education paper is Modernity and Globalisation.

In your final year you will conduct a Research and Investigation (R&I) on a topic in Education, leading to a 10,000-word dissertation. You will take a maximum of two further education papers, at least one of which must be Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology or History of Education. Other options in the Education Tripos include Children and Literature, Creativity and Thinking and Educational Inclusion and Diversity. This choice in the third year allows you to give greater weight to either education or your subject – indeed, you don’t need to choose any subject papers in this year if you do not wish to do so.

Working through the year

Throughout the year you will be set multiple supervision essays for each subject. The best bit of advice for these essays I can give you is to plan out a rough timetable of when you will do each essay across the term. Although not all supervisors will tell you in advance when each essay is due, you will have a rough idea and so it is a good idea to plan out your terms in order to fit in all of your essays. Also, do not panic about the reading list! It is important to realise early on that the reading lists are merely guides – you do not have to read everything on them – indeed, there is no point, as the supervision essays are too short to include everything anyway! (about 1500-2500 words). Instead, read wisely and use what you read relevantly and concisely. Also, do not be afraid about straying from the reading list- independent reading outside is encouraged.

In terms of the actual styles of the essays, it is important, as aforementioned, to write in the relevant style for your subject/discipline. For example, a psychology essay will read very differently from a philosophy essay, as your supervisors will explain – always remember what medium you are writing in. It is also encouraged to make links between references/research in your essays – making such connections is a display of independent thought, which is the holy grail of Cambridge essays!

Subject Papers

A frustrating part of the Education Tripos is that because you can take subject papers alongside, it can sometimes feel like you are taking two unconnected degrees – you will be managed and have lectures in two different faculties, supervised by two sets of supervisors, and these academic staff are unlikely to communicate across their departments. Thus, particularly in third year, you may find yourself in the situation where you have multiple essays due simultaneously because your supervisors haven’t liaised on your workload. If this happens, do not panic – a heavy workload is to be expected and you ARE capable. However, do not be afraid of talking to your supervisors – they are there to further your learning, and most will be very understanding if you feel the need to negotiate due dates in light of your other subject.
Some Education students also feel like they sometime struggle to keep up in their subject papers – the other students in their subject papers only have to a lot of time on that one discipline, so may naturally be more at ease and appear to be ahead of you. Do not let this put you off or worry you, just keep self-aware; if you think you may be falling behind in your subject because you have focused more on Education, make sure to concentrate more on your subject, maybe do some extra reading, until you feel more comfortable with the balance. The education tripos is always a balancing act, but once you get the hang of it, you’re golden!


The Education examinations are easily manageable if you revise your supervision essays well, as each question normally corresponds to a lecture, and so you are pretty much guaranteed that every topic covered in the lecture series, and therefore every topic you have written an essay on, will come up. This does mean you need to be savvy in picking your supervision essays from which you will revise (i.e. if you have to answer at least one question from each section, make sure you have covered at least one topic, preferably two in case of tricky questions, from each section). You should also make sure that each supervision essay is well researched and written to the highest standard, as this will reduce your revision-workload later on – and make sure you have actually done all your supervision essays so you are not catching up during exam term! You should also be careful not to simply memorise your supervision essays – read around the topic, have an extra back-up topic revised, and make sure you answer the exam question relevantly. It is handy to talk to your fellow students in exam term, swap essays and organise revision sessions – everyone will have written about and read different things, and so collaborating with each other will help increase your revision efficiency – just be careful not to copy other people’s arguments, or plagiarise. Moreover, the marking system for the Education tripos is not comparative; your mark is given independently from what others get, so you are not in competition with each other, and therefore have nothing to lose in helping each other out. In short therefore, as long as you have worked conscientiously throughout the year, the dreaded exam term should not be too horrific!

And finally, when it comes to actually answering the questions in the exam – just make sure you have planned carefully, thought your answer through, and come to your own, insightful conclusion, full of your own opinion as based on the evidence you have presented. At this level, you are not expected to simply spill out on to the page everything you have memorised – critical, independent thinking is crucial. Most of all, as crazy as it sounds, try to enjoy the exam and the argument you are constructing – experience tells me that some passion, as long as it is backed with evidence, can make your essays stand to the examiner.