A Cambridge Glossary

The Cambridge system contains a lot of bizarre terminology which doesn’t mean much to people ‘outside of the bubble’. Hopefully this page will explain some of these and give you a better understanding of Cambridge.



Rowing is very popular at Cambridge and especially at Caius. It would be a good idea to try it out during Michaelmas since this has less commitment and gives you a taste, as a novice, of what it is like to row. Bumps are the major rowing races at the end of each term. The boats are staggered up the river and the aim is to catch up with and ‘bump’ the boat in front of you before the boat behind does the same to you. It is a highlight of May Week.


Otherwise known as Ballare, this is the most popular student club in Cambridge. Wednesday night is student night and is very popular despite the cheesy music that plays. Everyone has a good time because it is great to get out with your friends after a stressful week.


Your college is essentially like your halls of residence but with so much more! It is the place where you live, study, have dinner and make friends which is why it is essential that you consider your college carefully. All your supervisions are organised by the college however all your lectures and practicals are organised by the university. Therefore you have lectures/practicals with students from several different colleges but supervisions with only those from your college. There will be a group of Natural Scientists at your college and it is essentially like a ready-made set of friends within your course. You can go to lectures with them and discuss supervision problems with them as well as socialise with them in the evenings.

Director of Studies / DoS

Your DoS is the person in charge of the group of students studying your subject in your particular college. They will organise all the supervisions within college and will have termly meetings with you to discuss your progress. If you have any problems work-wise then they are the best people to go to.

Easter Term

This is the third term in Cambridge (ironically after the Easter holidays).


This is where you go to eat each night. There are two sittings, First Hall and Formal Hall, which need to be pre-booked in the morning. Each sitting is essentially the same with a 3 course meal served by waiters except in Formal Hall you have to wear your gowns as there are fellows present. On Saturdays there is Cafeteria Hall which is more informal. Hall is a key part of the day at Caius where you get to catch up with friends.


As Natural Scientists you will typically have 3 lectures per module per week which results in 12 hours of lectures per week. Unfortunately this also means having Saturday lectures. Do not worry as you soon get used to it. For lectures it is important to read over the notes beforehand so that you can get the most out of the lecture. After the lecture condense your notes so that they are ready for revision at the end of the year. Lecturers will often provide you with a reading list. This is important to read if you are aiming for a first but often there is not enough time so it is more important to prioritise understanding the lecture content.

Lent Term

This is the second term in Cambridge.

May Week

This is the week after the end of Full Term in Easter Term. As Natural Scientists (whose exams are quite late) this will also be the week after your exams finish. This is the week when Cambridge students let their hair down. There are May Balls, Garden Parties and several other events celebrating the end of a year at Cambridge.

Michaelmas Term

This is the first term in Cambridge.

Minimum Dining Requirement (MDR)

This is the number of meals that are prepaid so that you go to hall a minimum number of times per term. This is a great way to make friends.


Moodle is the web-based learning tool used by Cambridge students and professors. This is where you will find all the past paper questions, lecture notes, lecture PowerPoint slides and practical information.


As a Natural Scientist you are going to have practicals. These typically take place in the afternoon and involve a one hour lunch break. They are a lot longer than the practicals you did at school but you soon get used to it. It is important to read over the practical notes beforehand and to complete the practical work to the best of your ability. In Biology of Cells and Physiology of Organisms the practicals are not continually assessed and so you have a practical exam at the end of the year. It is important to practise past tripos questions after you complete the practical to see if any problems arise then rather than just before the exam.


Supervisions are two-on-one opportunities for you to go through lectures and anything you do not understand with a research fellow. Your supervisor will typically set you work which you will need to hand in for marking. This means that you will get feedback on your work throughout the year which should help prepare you for the exam. This work may be an essay, problem sheets or past tripos questions. It is important to prepare questions for supervisions so that you get the most out of that hour. This is often difficult in first year so do not worry if you feel you have no time for this.


Once a term you get to dress up for a 4 course meal called Superhall.


Cambridge has 3 eight week terms (Michaelmas, Lent, Easter) which are called ‘Full Term‘ as this is when you will have all your lectures and university work. However, you are likely to stay in Cambridge for longer than this (approximately ten weeks) as this is the length of your rental period. Full term always begins on a Tuesday with lectures starting on a Thursday.


Tripos is another word for exams. You will take exams at the end of first year, second year and third year but it is typically only the exams taken in third year that contribute to your degree mark. First year and second year exams are important for understanding how university exams work and for entry into the following year.


Your tutor is there for pastoral care. You will have meetings with them twice a term and they will be around throughout term for you to drop in for a chat. They are there to make sure you are okay. They are not a fellow in your subject so they cannot help you with work-related queries but they can help you with dealing with the stress of work.


Cambridge weeks do not start on a Monday! Instead, the week starts on a Thursday and ends the following Wednesday. This is probably why the most popular student club night is on a Wednesday.