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Psychological and Behavioural Sciences Tripos


Are there any required subjects?

For most Colleges there are no required subjects for PBS at A level (or equivalent). We do not require you to have studied Psychology before applying. The standard offer is a minimum of A*AA in any subjects at A Level (or equivalent), International Baccalaureate results of 40-42 out of 45, or 776 or 777 in Scottish highers.

Colleges will look closely at the Uniform Mark Scheme (UMS) scores of your best three relevant subjects at A Level (excluding Critical Thinking and General Studies). Some colleges may place more emphasis on science or humanities results than others. The University provides more information about the UMS here.

Are there any preferred subjects or subject combinations?

Useful subjects include those that indicate you will be able to develop and present arguments effectively, as in many of the humanities subjects. Also, subjects that show you can understand the scientific and mathematical basic of psychology would be very helpful. Candidates who have studied Biology or Mathematics may be at an advantage. Of those who applied to PBS in the last two admissions rounds, 54% applied with A-Level Biology with 60% of offers made to applicants with that A-Level. Similarly, 50% of all applicants had studied A-Level Maths or A-Level Further Maths with 57% of all offers made to applicants with one or both of those two subjects.

There are no prerequisite subjects for PBS but maths and biology are both useful. The standard offer is A*AA, but a few colleges (e.g., Downing) make slightly stiffer offers (A*A*A).

How should I write my personal statement?

You should write your UCAS statement to be appropriate for all the University and courses to which you have applied. In addition to the UCAS statement, Cambridge also asks applicants to complete the Supplementary Applicant Questionnaire (SAQ), which is only seen by Cambridge. You can use the SAQ to be more specific about the options within PBS that you might wish to study. Further information about the SAQ is available here.

When I apply, will I have to specify the options I expect to choose within the Tripos?

Some Colleges may ask you if you have any particular interest(s), for example whether you’d prefer to be interviewed by someone with an interest in biological or social theories of behaviour. This helps colleges to co-ordinate their interview process, and to ensure you have an interview that reflects your personal strengths. These choices will only be used for your application; you will not be required to stick with any choice that you make at interview, if a college makes you an offer.

What will be the typical interview arrangements?

Each College organises its own interviews and this means that the process will not be identical at all of them. The most likely arrangements will be that you may be asked to submit some written work to form the basis of interview discussion, and that you will meet interviewers from psychology and possibly from other disciplines covered within the PBS course. Please see College websites for details on the use of admissions tests and for other details.

Will there be tests at the time of interviews at some or all Colleges?

Some Colleges will ask you to take the Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA), and others may ask you to take part in another form of assessment within Cambridge at the time of your interview. These will be general academic tests, for example, writing an essay or answering questions on set reading. Details of any tests will vary by College, so you should check the websites of the Colleges to which you are considering making an application.

What combinations of papers can I take?

In the first year, students study two psychology courses, as well as two other courses from a range of the subject options. Some of these courses are taken from the first year of the HSPS Tripos (see; there are no restrictions on these choices. If you wished to study courses from the Natural Sciences Tripos (Evolution & Behaviour; Mathematical Biology; Neurobiology;) you would normally be expected to have science or maths A levels, and students wishing to study one or two of the courses from the Philosophy Tripos would need approval from those teaching Philosophy within the College.

Timetabling of lectures and examinations means that it may not be possible to combine any of the NST or Philosophy courses with every single one of the options from within the HSPS list of courses, but most combinations are possible. During the second and third years, there is the opportunity to choose from a range of courses alongside the ‘core’ psychology topics. Some Philosophy choices may require you to have taken specific papers in the first year.

What do I need to know about Psychology when I apply and come for interview?

We do not require you to have studied any specific subject to study PBS. The style of interviews will vary between colleges, but your interviewers will all try to ask questions that allow you to show that you have thought about the subject, and have an aptitude and enthusiasm for study in Psychology. For example, they may ask you to demonstrate awareness of the real-world application of the subject; an interview may focus on developing ideas from one of the subjects you have studied, particularly if you have already expressed a particular interest.

Interviewers are looking for a capacity to understand scientific concepts, develop ideas flexibly, and evidence of potential to thrive on the course.

Do you have a recommended reading list?

The following list of books will give you a good general background to the areas that the PBS Tripos will cover:

Pinker, S (2011). The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (Viking).

Kahneman, D (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux).

Hrdy, S (2011). Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding (Harvard University Press).

Damasio, A. (2010). Self comes to mind: constructing the conscious brain. (Vintage Books).

LeDoux, J (2003). Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are (Penguin).