The First Year – 50% Option

(option no longer available from 2020 entry onwards)

The 50% Option involves studying 50% computer science, 25% mathematics and a companion subject option worth 25%. The companion subject is selected from a range of courses, listed at the bottom of this page. You sit two Computer Science papers (Papers 1 and 2), the Natural Science mathematics paper, and the exam paper for your chosen option.

Computer Science Papers 1 and 2 are the same as for the 75% Option. These core Computer Science papers cover topics including foundations of computer science (taught in ML), Java and object-oriented programming, operating systems, discrete mathematics, algorithms, and digital electronics. These papers are designed for students with a wide range of backgrounds and experience and do not assume much, if any, prior knowledge or programming skills.

Students taking the 50% Option will study paper 3 in their second year and paper 7 in their third year.

The CS component of the 50% first year is designed for students with a wide range of backgrounds and experience, bringing everyone up to the same standard by the end of the year. You'll be taught how computers work from top to bottom and get a grounding in digital electronics (theoretical and practical). You'll also meet at least two programming languages (don't worry if you haven't programmed before: many we teach haven't); get a grounding in the mathematical underpinnings of computing and the art of software design; and take a good look at how to evaluate and design algorithms (essentially puzzle solving).

Pre-Term On-line Course

You will be registered for an on-line course in the September before the October when you come up into residence in Cambridge. This contains fundamental material that those who have taken A-level CS will already be familiar with. It also includes set-up information for the programming environments that will be used in the first year, including Java and ML. It includes a moderated forum where people can post questions if they get badly stuck. The course materials and chat room are hosted on the University's Moodle platform.

Getting hands-on with CS

In the first year, you will take practical classes. Each week we provide computer facilities and demonstrators to help you through a series of assessed exercises across a broad range of topics. This includes hands-on programming experience in ML and Java as well as building a series of electrical circuits in the hardware practicals. As well as time-tabled practical classes, an online chat room is available 24/7 for you to discuss any issues with your peers. It is moderated by demonstrators who will provide help should the discussion go off course and also ensure that outright solutions to exercises are not posted!

Each practical contains a core set of tasks that everyone completes as well as a few optional exercises to challenge you if you found the core task easy. In this way we cater for all levels of prior experience.

For the full course details for the current year, see the syllabus booklet

First Year Companion Subjects

Under the 50% Option, when you apply, we ask you to specify which companion subject your would like to study in your first year from one of the following:

  • Computer Science with Mathematics
  • Computer Science with Physics
  • Computer Science with Chemistry
  • Computer Science with Earth Sciences
  • Computer Science with Physiology
  • Computer Science with Evolution and Behaviour

Note that all of these courses carry the same UCAS course code, so there is potentially room to change your option when you arrive. However, it is important to think carefully about your option for the following reasons:

  • If you wish to do CS with Mathematics, you must specify it on your application. This option has different entry requirements (A level Further Maths and STEP in mathematics).
  • Some options have entry requirements (see the specific web pages for those courses for more details).
  • Colleges may use the specified option when selecting your interviewers so it is important to choose something appropriate.

If you go for CS with Mathematics but don't make the STEP part of your offer, most Colleges will still admit you for CS with one of the other options. You should check this is the case for your College of choice by contacting their Admissions Office.

Let's look at the companion subjects more closely:

CS with Natural Sciences

With this option, 25% of your first year will be spent studying the mathematics course given to physical scientists as part of the Natural Sciences Tripos. This leaves 25% of the year that can be filled with any of these Natural Science options: Physics, Chemistry, Geology, Physiology and Evolution and Behaviour. Check out the Natural Sciences web page for more information.

CS with Mathematics

This option means you complete 50% of the first year of the Mathematics Tripos, sitting Mathematics Papers 1 and 2. This is an ideal choice if you have a love of mathematics and gives a great grounding for the more theoretical aspects of CS. Depending on your choice of College, selecting this option may mean that you will also need to take STEP Mathematics exams. More information is available on the entry requirements page.