Skip to content ↓
MIT student blogger Natnael G. '15

Studying At Cambridge 101 by Natnael G. '15

An Expert's Guide To Tackling The Revision Process

Disclaimer: This blog post is fairly specific to Computer Scientists, other majors have drastically different course structures. One thing most of them have in common though are the scale and weight of the exams.

Another non-trivial difference between academics at Cambridge and MIT is the way exams and grades work. MIT runs under a continuous assessment school of thought. Throughout the semester you’ll take 1-3 tests + final and have quite a few problem sets/labs/papers that are continually assessing your knowledge. At Cambridge there is significantly less graded coursework. The supervision work I talked about last week is only graded for your benefit and doesn’t contribute to your final grade. With that said though the supervisors provide reports where they predict how you’ll do on the corresponding paper of the EXAMS. 1B Computer Scientists have 4 courses that do have graded coursework though.

  • Further Java – Six once a week labs during first term. Automatically graded via online ticker with a pass/fail system. (Similar to 6.005 but labs are all or nothing) Also have to orally defend your code in a short code interrogation.
  • E-CAD/Architecture Practicals – Similar to further java, two long term labs with a similar questioning.
  • C/C++ or Prolog – Lecture based classes with a programming assignment at the end of term where you have to meet with the corresponding professor to talk about your work.
  • Group Projects – A term long group project graded both individually and as a group.

One thing to keep in mind for all of this graded coursework is that they are all based on ticks, a pass/fail system where it’s all or nothing. And until early June that is all that is graded. Once June hits you take EXAMS.

Exam Structure

There are 4 papers that are each 9-10 questions long. You have 3 hours for each paper and choose 5 questions to answer on each one. What this means is that you can answer questions for subjects you’re more comfortable with and ignore classes (*cough*ComputerGraphics*cough) all together. These four papers will collectively cover 20 examinable subjects of which 16 have been covered already. Compsci exams are June 2nd-5th. Luckily we have two hefty 5 week breaks to revise all this material, which is exactly what everyone does.

Here’s what a day revising looks like.

8:00am Waking Up

It’s crucial that I wake up early because while I won’t BE productive for the next three hours, I’ll definitely FEEL productive(arguably more important). Now that I’m awake I can hit snooze for an hour.

9:00am Getting Up

After the umpteenth alarm goes off I’ll finally muster up the power to roll out of bed and grab some breakfast making materials. I swipe open the curtains and let out a small groan as my eyes blink themselves awake. With bagels, a tea bag and some peanut butter in hand I make the small trek to the kitchen to start my day.

9:15am Eating Breakfast and Interneting

Once breakfast is made I usually head back to my room to enjoy the actual eating portion. Because my hands are in use this is the perfect time to catch up on all the wonderful video content the Americans have released while I was sleeping. After that I’ll watch an episode of whatever TV show I’m following (currently Samurai Champloo) and make the mistake of going on Reddit. A short time warp later.

11:00am Fishing For Excuses

It’s about this time that any feeling of productivity I felt for waking up early is completely gone. I’ll usually glance over at my pile of papers

and desperately look for excuses to not start studying. A quick peek in the bathroom shows me that my body wash is going to run out! Well, I can’t have that now, better get dressed and cycle down to Sainsbury’s.

11:20am Sainsbury’s Run

Man, I’m feeling more productive already. Wait, is that Ernesto ’15 over there! We still haven’t planned our trip to Amsterdam, I wonder if he’s busy.

11:30am Planning A Trip

After a quick chat with Ernesto we’ve decided to plan the whole trip today. This is a day of productivity packed in a few hours, I’m so glad I was running out of body wash.

1:00pm Grabbing Lunch

I say my goodbyes, cycle back home and start to make lunch. 15 minutes later my delicious ramen is ready to be consumed.

1:15pm Eating Lunch and More Interneting

<See Eating Breakfast and Interneting>

3:00pm Getting Serious

At this point all the feelings of productivity have washed away. I’ve realized that planning the trip was productive but it also means that I’ll be out of comission for 3 full days. Time to start studying. But first I need to find some music/tv/movies for background noise.

3:15pm Actual Studying

Everyone studies differently but this is how I prefer to do it.

  • Go through all of the notes and summarize them.
  • Do practice problems and figure out what my weaknesses are.
  • Read solutions and mark my work.
  • LaTeX my summaries/problem answers(If I’m feeling particularly keen)

5:00pm Dinner And More Time Wasting!

<See Eating Lunch and More Interneting>

8:00pm Give Up

It’s around this point everyday that I realize how much of the day has been wasted. Once I’ve made this realization I slack off a little bit more and make some final attempt to feel productive. I’ll either go back to studying, start a blog post or take a walk. And then I’ll hype myself up for the CRAZY amount of work I’m going to get done tomorrow.

10:00pm Snack And TV

Well, if the day is shot anyway might as well watch another episode of Samurai Champloo.

12:00am Sleep

Need my beauty sleep to get up at 8 for the insane amount of work I’m going to get done.


And then repeat ad nauseum. At this rate I’ll be ready for exams by late September. October at the latest.

I know I used this joke on Facebook a few weeks ago. Forgive my lack of originality.