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Tripos - What to do when things go wrong

Under Tripos, you will gain a Cambridge Honours BA degree by achieving Honours in a Part II of one of the available Tripos within a maximum number of terms since matriculation; and to achieve that, you will normally need to have achieved Honours in a Part I Tripos, as well as satisfying the nine-term residence requirement. There are no re-sits; and it is important, therefore, that students should be clear about what happens when

  • "illness or other grave cause" renders a student unfit to study during the year, or prevents them from sitting exams successfully at the end of the year;
  • something goes badly wrong in the "conduct of  examinations" (major disruption to exam arrangements, mistakes in the exam paper, suspected mis-marking)

Bad news first: in all but the most extreme of cases, Tripos has no compensating mechanism for even serious examination underperformance, as long as the student still achieves Honours.  So a first class student who gets a II.ii even in Finals because of a bad bout of hay fever has no way to change that result. On the other hand, the College will be able to write a strong reference stating the true academic calibre of that student, using evidence from previous years' Tripos results, from Camcors and from Academic Reviews, and from the  DoS's personal acquaintance with the student: this is one important reason why you, your supervisors, and your DoS should take those processes seriously.

On the other hand, Tripos has a variety of mechanisms to deal with likely or actual failures to achieve honours through illness or other grave cause:

  • intermission (still called "de-grading" in official documents, though not for much longer) effectively stops the clock on a student's course: the student leaves College to recover health, and resumes studies (in the course year which they had not completed) once assessed as fit, but the number of terms deemed to have lapsed since matriculation remain within the maximum permitted to achieve a degree;
  • allowance of examinations or a "DDH" (deemed to have deserved honours).  These two decisions make it possible for a candidate who has completed enough of the current year's learning to proceed to the next Tripos part in their course, even if they have not been able to sit successfully the university examination for that year.  In comparison to an  allowance, DDH implies stronger evidence of good academic progress until illness or other grave cause struck - though the difference between the two may be lost on the outside world, and the tenor of a College reference may carry more weight in a potential employer's mind.

All these outcomes are determined by the University's Committee on Applications, in response to a submission by the College on a student's behalf.  This note explains what to do before, during, and after your exams if you believe that you may be at risk from "illness or  other grave cause".


Exam timetables

Rules for candidates

University of Cambridge exam guidance

Applications Committee

For further information and advice, please contact your Tutor or the CUSU/GU Student Advice Service. The Student Advice Service offers free, confidential and independent support and advice to all students at the University of Cambridge.