The Mathematical Tripos is the oldest Tripos and, according to some, the best Undergraduate degree in Mathematics, and according to many, Part III (fourth year) is the best Master's degree in Mathematics in the world.

The Course

The course is split over different lecture courses, which span at most a term. In the first year (Part 1A) you will normally do all courses, in the second year (Part 1B) most and in the third year (Part II) you will be able to specialise. The fourth year (if you are allowed to continue, requires you to be in top ~40% in third year) is completely modular.

The Undergraduate course is effectively modular without being technically modular. Basically, at the end of the year, everyone is examined by the same four 3-hour papers, with questions covering the different courses scattered over the papers. Most students are limited by time in their exams, not the number of question (although there is a limit in the first two years), which means that you do not have to do every course (you could also do half of a course)!

The actual specifics are quite complex, as is the marking. If you would like more information you can check out the Faculty website on the link above.

How the course is taught

In first year, unless you do the Mathematics with Physics option, there will be no options in the courses. There is some choice of questions in the exams, which basically means you can tweak the balance between applied mathematics/physics and pure mathematics. In the first term you will be doing:

The timetable is incredibly simple: 10am-12pm every day, six days a week (yes, you read that right, no rest for the wicked [well, at least you get Sundays off {but you might have supervisions on Sunday}]). For more information see the Faculty website, again via the link at the top of this page.

In first year, all supervisions have:

An example sheet is basically a question sheet. For the supervisions you will do the 'examples' on the example sheet, hand your work in and then you will discuss it with your supervisor together with your supervision partner – this system is what sets Cambridge and Oxford apart from other universities. Depending on how quick you are, you will spend between half and all of your afternoons working on example sheets.

For most supervisors you will have to hand in your work beforehand. There are four different supervisors for Peterhouse:

For me, most days also contains other activities, from getting up at 6:30am to have a refreshing outing with the Boat Club, to target shooting in the afternoon or having dinner and a pint in the pub. Carpe Diem.

Mathematics at Peterhouse

Peterhouse is a small college with about 5-8 students in Mathematics every year. This means you will quickly get to know your fellow students at Peterhouse and supervisors. The Director of Studies, Dr. Zsak is extremely nice, and offers us drinks (including Champagne) 'to arrange supervisions' every term and yearly there is a dinner, desserts  and a garden party!

Advice for applicants

If you’re thinking of applying to Peterhouse then you have to be prepared to do a STEP exam. The best advice I can give for this is to do lots of past papers. is useful to get started, and provides an insight into what is expected in the exams.

The interview is part of the application process that people are usually concerned about. Just try to relax: they are trying to test your mathematical ability so try not to be too nervous. Don’t worry about when (not if) you make a mistake – accept that you’re only human!

Advice for offer-holders

Work hard, start your example sheets on time: ideally once you get them, or even prod the lecturer to give them earlier; definitely not on the same day as the deadline...

During the Easter Holiday and Easter (Exam) Term you will be doing past papers, and I advice you to do as many as possible, it will improve your result immensely. [This also applies to STEP: the key to doing well is doing loads of past papers.]


Mathematics at Cambridge is very difficult, but it is very rewarding: if you work hard, it will come to fruition and you will grow. Enjoy your time doing maths, I certainly am doing that, and lest we forget: work hard, play hard!

[Updated 14/02/2015]