Natural Sciences (Cambridge)

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Natural Sciences Tripos (NST)
  • Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree
  • Master of Science (MSci) degree
Knowledge / skills testedNatural science
Year started1851[1][2][3]
Duration3 or 4 years
Countries / regionsUniversity of Cambridge language
based onTripos

The Natural Sciences Tripos (NST) is the framework within which most of the science at the University of Cambridge is taught. The tripos includes a wide range of Natural Sciences from physics, astronomy, and geoscience, to chemistry and biology, which are taught alongside the history and philosophy of science. The tripos covers several courses which form the University of Cambridge system of Tripos. It is known for its broad range of study in the first year, in which students cannot study just one discipline, but instead must choose three courses in different areas of the natural sciences and one in mathematics. As is traditional at Cambridge, the degree awarded after Part II (three years of study) is a Bachelor of Arts (BA). A Master of Natural Sciences degree (MSci) [4] is available to those who take the optional Part III (one further year).[5] It was started in the 19th Century.[1][2][3]


Teaching is carried out by 16 different departments. Subjects offered in Part IA in 2019 are Biology of Cells, Chemistry, Computer Science, Evolution and Behaviour, Earth Sciences, Materials Science, Mathematics, Physics, Physiology of Organisms and Mathematical Biology; students must take three experimental subjects and one mathematics course. There are three options for the compulsory mathematics element in IA: "Mathematics A", "Mathematics B" and "Mathematical Biology".[6] From 2020 Computer Science will no longer be an option in the natural sciences course.

Students specialize further in the second year (Part IB) of their Tripos, taking three subjects from a choice of twenty, and completely in their third year (Part II) in, for example, genetics or astrophysics, although general third year courses do exist – Biomedical and Biological Sciences for biologists and Physical Sciences for chemists, physicists, etc. Fourth year options (Part III) are available in a number of subjects, and usually have an entry requirement of obtaining a 2:1 or a First in second year Tripos Examinations, and is applied for before the commencement of the third year. As of 2008, options with an available Part III option are: Astrophysics; Biochemistry; Chemistry; Earth Sciences; Materials Science[7] and Metallurgy; and Experimental and Theoretical Physics. As of 2018 the tripos is delivered by sixteen different departments including:


The University of Cambridge believes that their course's generalisation, rather than specialisation, gives their students an advantage.[8] First, it allows students to experience subjects at university level before specialising. Second, many modern sciences exist at the boundaries of traditional disciplines, for example, applying methods from a different discipline. Third, this structure allows other scientific subjects, such as Mathematics (traditionally a very strong subject at Cambridge), Medicine and the History and Philosophy of Science, (and previously Computer sciences before it had been removed for 2020 entry) to link with the Natural Sciences Tripos so that once, say, the two-year Part I of the Medical Sciences tripos has been completed, one can specialise in another biological science in Part II during one's third year, and still come out with a science degree specialised enough to move into postgraduate studies, such as a PhD.

Student enrolment[edit]

As a result of this structure, the Natural Sciences Tripos has by far the greatest number of students of any Tripos.[citation needed] Undergraduates who are reading for the NST in order to gain their degrees are colloquially known in University slang as 'NatScis (pronounced "Nat-Ski's"), being broadly nicknamed physical science ('phys') or biological science ('bio') NatScis, according to their course choices. (Of course, many students choose both physical and biological options in first year.) The split tends to be about 50:50 between the physical and biological sciences.[citation needed]

In 2018, 2594 students applied and 577 were admitted to the Natural Sciences Tripos.[9]

In order to be accepted to study on the Natural Sciences course, students must sit the NSAA (Natural Science Admissions Assessment) exam in the year of their application.[10] This is a test required by Cambridge to assess their candidates.


  1. ^ a b Bettany, G. T. (1879). "The Cambridge Natural Sciences Tripos". Nature. 21 (526): 86–87. Bibcode:1879Natur..21...86B. doi:10.1038/021086a0. ISSN 0028-0836.
  2. ^ a b Anon (1865). "The Natural Sciences Tripos, Cambridge". The Lancet. 85 (2160): 66. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(02)69618-7. ISSN 0140-6736.
  3. ^ a b Liveing, G. D. (1874). "The Student's Guide to the University of Cambridge". doi:10.1017/CBO9780511694158.008.
  4. ^ "Programme Specification: Introduction". 3 December 2012.
  5. ^ "Natural Sciences Tripos". University of Cambridge. 2020. Retrieved 5 January 2020.
  6. ^ "IA Mathematical Biology Site". Archived from the original on 31 October 2008. Retrieved 8 June 2010.
  7. ^ "What Is Materials Science?". Retrieved 4 November 2022.
  8. ^ "Is Natural Science Right For You?".
  9. ^ "Undergraduate Study: Application statistics". University of Cambridge. 2020. Retrieved 5 January 2020.
  10. ^ "NSAA Cambridge: The Definitive NSAA Starter Guide For 2022". Exams Ninja. 25 September 2020. Retrieved 7 November 2022.