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UG CamGuides: How will I learn at Cambridge?

Different learning environments, both physical and online


With thanks to:

Dhruv (Human, Social, and Political Sciences)

Cheryl (Music)

A chance to demonstrate what you have learned

Students in a Cambridge supervisionSupervisions are a distinctive feature of a Cambridge education. They are small group teaching sessions, usually lasting an hour, which take place between a supervisor (an academic member of staff or researcher) and a small number of students. They are usually organised by your Director of Studies (DoS). You might have them with peers from your college or be grouped with students from another college on the basis of the papers (modules) that you are taking. The supervisor will be a specialist in an area, not necessarily based in your college, and your supervisors will usually change throughout your course depending on the papers you choose. You may have supervisions in your department or in the college of the supervisor.

The frequency of supervisions varies from course to course but you can expect to have least an hour or two a week.

Your attendance and progress is monitored through CamCORS (Cambridge Colleges' Online Reporting System for undergraduate supervisions). Supervisors submit brief, termly reports on the supervisions for you and your DoS to see, and they may choose to speak to you about any points that are raised in these reports.


Woman writing on white boardYou'll be expected to do some preparation for a supervision. This will vary greatly depending on the subject you are studying. It might be writing an essay, reading texts, or working on Examples Papers. Often this is handed in to a supervisor in advance.

You may then be asked to present your work in the supervision by talking it through with the supervisor and other students. This might be talking about the topics, explaining how you reached your answer, or raising any questions or queries that you have after completing the work. They often take place not long after you've finished the work so if you made any mistakes or misinterpreted anything, your supervisor will soon have the opportunity to rectify that.

Supervisions aren't assessed activities. It is therefore good practice to think through your answers out loud. This may seem daunting at first, but you should build your confidence as you work through the year.

You will link topics, explore areas that you need clarification on and, by articulating how you reached your conclusions and answers, you'll be developing your verbal communication skills.

  • For students in Arts, Humanities and Social and Sciences subjects they provide a great opportunity to try out new ideas or writing styles for your essays.
  • For Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Medicine students, you will often work through problems which test you to explore your subject more deeply.

You'll get feedback from your supervisor, which may be written or verbal, which will help to refine your thinking and subject-specific skills. Supervisors will often try and stretch you, moving away from prepared work and getting you to think more broadly, in much the same way as you did in your interview.

To illustrate some of the similarities and differences between subject areas, two of our undergraduates describe how they participate in supervisions.


With thanks to:

Sean (Computer Science)

Jesse (Medicine)

Image credits

Sir Cam/University of Cambridge. All rights reserved.

Film credits

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