A Level: A*AA IB: 40-41 points, with 776 at Higher Level

Subject Requirements

Essential: A Level / IB Higher Level English Literature or English Language and Literature.

Also Useful: An A Level / IB Higher Level in a modern or ancient language or in History.

We expect all candidates for English to be taking an A-level (or equivalent qualification) in English Literature or English Language and Literature. Given the philological and historical nature of some parts of the course, we have also found a modern or ancient language (for candidates from schools which offer them) or History to be useful, but successful candidates in the past have studied a wide range of subjects at school or college.

Written Work

Candidates will be asked to send in two recent pieces of marked English Literature schoolwork, one of which should be, if possible, on either Chaucer or Shakespeare.

Admissions Assessments

As for all other Cambridge colleges, applicants are required to take the English Literature Admission Test (ELAT) pre-interview for English at an authorised centre local to them (for a lot of applicants, this will be their school/college).

You must be registered in advance (separately to your UCAS application) to take the assessment – the registration deadline is 15 October 2018. Your assessment centre must register you for the pre-interview assessment; you’re not able to register yourself. See the written assessments page for information about assessment centres and registration.

The ELAT will be taken on  31 October 2018. It will be a 90 minute assessment. You will be given six passages of poetry, prose or drama, from which you choose two or three to compare in an essay.

Please note that your performance in the pre-interview assessment will not be considered in isolation, but will be taken into account alongside the other elements of your application.

See the link below for further information.

Admissions procedures for English.

Why Robinson?

English at Robinson is thriving: students come here because they are passionate about literature. This passion shows itself not only in their rigorous approach to their academic work – our students consistently perform extremely well in the University Tripos examinations – but also in the various extra-curricular activities in which they are engaged, from dramatic production (Robinson boasts the best college auditorium in the university, as well as the only outdoor theatre) to poetry recitals.

We are committed to nurturing the academic development of our students – which is a far broader, far more important thing than mere examination tutoring. In addition to the university-wide lectures in English that are open to everyone from all colleges, our students are taught several times per week in groups of up to five people (with much work conducted in pairs, and all dissertation and portfolio work, one-to-one). In this close ‘supervision’ system it is possible for teachers to be highly responsive to the particular needs of the individual. You will be encouraged not only in what you learn, but in how you learn. Detailed feedback on your weekly essays will help you to write (and think) with greater clarity; the opportunity for discussion allows you to develop your ideas, to take intellectual risks in an environment where you feel comfortable and supported.

Robinson is very well situated for English students, immediately next to the University Library, and a couple of minutes from the English Faculty on the Sidgwick site, with its library and lecture rooms.

The English Fellows at Robinson have a wide variety of teaching and research interests, which range from Dante and translation to Wordsworth and the poetics of verse, to modernism and the philosophy of language.

Dr Scott Annett (Director of Studies for Part I)

Dr Helen Thaventhiran (Director of Studies for Part II)

Professor Robin Kirkpatrick

Course Details

(PLEASE NOTE: The structure of the undergraduate English course will be changing for entrants from October 2020. More information can be found below.)

For applicants seeking 2019 admission

The degree breaks into two parts; students are examined on Part I at the end of their second year (with a ‘Preliminary’ examination at the end of the first year), and Part II at the end of their third.

Part I is devoted to the study of English literature from the age of Chaucer to the present and is composed of six papers. Two of these are compulsory:

English Literature and its Background, 1300 – 1550


You can choose the remaining four papers from the following options:

  • Practical Criticism and Critical Practice
  • Early Medieval Literature and its Contexts 1066-1350
  • English Literature and its Contexts 1500-1700
  • English Literature and its Contexts 1660-1870
  • English Literature and its Contexts 1830-1945, or English Literature and its Contexts 1870-Present.

One or two of the last three optional papers can be replaced with coursework (one dissertation and one portfolio of essays).

You can also request to borrow an optional paper from one of the following other faculties: Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic; Classics; or Modern and Medieval Languages.

Part II enables study that is at once deeper and wider in its horizons. It is possible to focus on the history of ideas, literary theory, the comparative study of literatures and philosophies, as well as on the particular study of selected major authors, genres, and periods.

Part II is composed of four papers and a dissertation on a subject of your choice. Two of the papers are compulsory:

Practical Criticism


You select two further papers from the following:

  • Chaucer
  • Dreams and Visions 1066-1500
  • Shakespeare in Performance
  • Literature, Culture and Crisis 1631-71
  • Lyric
  • Modernism and the Short Story
  • English Moralists
  • American Literature
  • Postcolonial and Related Literature
  • History and Theory of Literary Criticism
  • Literature and Visual Culture
  • Contemporary Writing in English
  • Special Period of English Literature 1500-47
  • Special Period of English Literature 1847-72

For more details, see the link below:

Further information about the Cambridge English Tripos.

For applicants seeking 2020 admission

Course outline

You are introduced to the full range of English literature from the Middle Ages to the present day. There are few set texts, so that while you must study widely, you can also focus on topics of interest to you.

Teaching is provided through lectures, seminars, and small-group supervisions and classes.

You typically attend at least six hours of lectures or seminars, and two to three hours of individual, paired or small-group supervision each week. You normally write one or two short essays per week which you then discuss with your supervisor.

Year 1 (Part IA)

You take two compulsory papers:

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

You also start work on two of the period papers, which will be examined in Part IB.

Year 2 (Part IB)

You take four papers, from the following list:

  • Paper 3: Early Medieval Literature and its Contexts 1066-1350;       
  • Paper 4: English Literature and its Contexts 1300-1550;     
  • 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.

Year 3 (Part II)

You take two compulsory papers:

  • Practical Criticism and Critical Practice II
  • Tragedy, which ranges from ancient Greek drama to contemporary writing

You also write a compulsory dissertation (of 6,000-7,500 words) and either submit a second dissertation (of 6,000-7,500 words) and take one optional paper, or choose two optional papers. The optional papers change regularly, and the following are available in 2018-19:

  • Chaucer;
  • Medieval English Literature 1066-1500: The Medieval Supernatural;
  • Early Modern Drama 1588-1642;
  • Material Renaissance;
  • Lyric;
  • Special Period of English Literature 1847-72;
  • Modernism and the Short Story;
  • Contemporary Writing in English;
  • Postcolonial and Related Literatures;
  • American Literature;
  • The Ethical Imagination;
  • History and Theory of Literary Criticism;
  • Literature and Visual Culture.

Subject to certain restrictions, it’s possible to take papers from the Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic; Classics; or Modern and Medieval Languages courses in Part IB and Part II. Further details of these papers are available on the Faculty website.

Updated September 2018