How will I be taught?
We're committed to encouraging and developing enquiring minds and provide unparalleled learning opportunities for our students.
Not only are you taught in the lecture theatre by academics who are experts in their fields, but our supervision system means that you receive more personal tuition from them too.
At Cambridge, your faculty or department arranges lectures, seminars and practicals (where relevant) that students from all Colleges attend together. In addition, you have small-group supervisions (see below), that are organised by your Director of Studies.
As at all universities, there's a much greater emphasis on independent and self-directed study here compared with what you've been used to at school or college. You're responsible for your own learning and are expected to read beyond what's required for your lectures and classes.
Lectures (the basics)
- 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 30 and 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 a particular topic in more detail.
- They're usually for medium–sized groups (between 10 and 30 students, for example) and last between one and two hours.
- They're led by lecturers, but are more interactive than lectures and you're expected to contribute actively to the discussions.
- 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 could be one of the country's or world's leading authorities.
- As well as helping you develop independent learning skills, supervisions enable you to explore course material in much greater depth than lectures allow, to gain further insights into your subject, to clarify anything you're not clear about, to discuss your own work and ideas, and receive regular feedback.
- 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.
- 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.
- You receive regular reports from your supervisors but aren't formally assessed on this work, 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.
- 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.
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.
Some courses include the opportunity to study abroad through exchange programmes with other leading institutions:
- 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.
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.