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Natural Sciences (Physical and Biological)

The structure of the Natural Sciences Tripos is unique among science courses in British universities. It provides a very broad training in the first year (Part IA), in which you have to take three experimental subjects and one of the Maths options. The second year (Part IB) allows some degree of specialisation, but the third (Part II) and possibly fourth (Part III) years are usually devoted to a single area of science, sometimes one that the student may not even have met before coming to Cambridge, such as Astrophysics for example. With seven sciences available in Part IA (plus Mathematics), and twenty-one options in Part IB, the range of possibilities is huge.

Each year, students select their subjects through discussion with their Director of Studies. Students may want to change their main subject as their interests develop, especially between the first and second year of the degree. Your Director of Studies, consulting with relevant teaching staff, will let you know if this is a change you can make given your existing knowledge and your grades. This is important in order to ensure that all students achieve the best possible preparation and thrive on the Natural Sciences degree.

Trinity has a very strong tradition in Natural Sciences. From Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton onwards, many famous scientists have studied or taught here, among them 29 winners of Nobel Prizes in Physics, Chemistry or Medicine. The traditions of the past are reflected today in the size of Trinity’s teaching staff and their breadth of scientific interests. Those currently teaching Natural Sciences in the College are listed below, together with the subjects for which they are responsible.

Once you have applied to Trinity, we will ask you to specify your main subject interests. This is done only to guide us in arranging which interviewers you will see. If you are invited to interview, we will ensure that at least one of your interviewers is an expert in your main subject interest; however, you must be prepared to talk about any of your A-level subjects at interview. As in other subjects at Trinity, our interviews are strongly academic in character.

Everyone who is selected for interview will be asked to sit a short at-interview assessment, comprising a short test of fluency in mathematics and an ‘interview preparation paper’. The interview preparation paper contains a series of questions that you will then have the chance to talk through in the interview itself. Its purpose is to make the interview experience less daunting by giving you time to think through the questions before the interview starts, to see what you can do without any help and what needs to be discussed with your interviewers to help you to reach an answer.

A sample of the mathematical fluency test and several questions from the interview preparation paper, alongside further details of the interview process, are available here:

NST Admissions Guide

(Updated August 2023)

The typical conditional offer for Natural Sciences is A*A*A; we may also ask for a high grade in a relevant subject being taken only at AS-level. Comparable conditions are set for those taking the IB and other school-leaving examinations. We expect to admit roughly 30 people for Natural Sciences each year.

All applicants should take Maths A-level (or equivalent). For candidates with a main interest in Physics or Chemistry, we strongly recommend A-level Further Maths and two other sciences (including your main subject interest) as well as Maths. Physics students are advised to take the Mechanics modules in Further Mathematics. If Further Maths A-level is not available at your school, Further Maths can be taken at AS-level alongside A-level Maths. Those intending to study subjects in the first year that are primarily on the Biological Sciences side should ideally take two out of the Chemistry, Biology and Physics A-levels, although applications from those with only one of these three are not discouraged.

In each case, other qualifications at an equivalent standard to A-levels are welcome. If in doubt about the suitability of your choice of subjects to studying Natural Sciences, you are very much invited to seek advice from the Admissions Office before submitting an application.

Course Details

Course length: 4 Years
Typical offer: A*A*A
Preferred A-Level subjects: Maths plus two other maths/science subjects
Assessment Format: ESAT


Further information

To learn more about the Natural Sciences Tripos, visit the website below:

A course brochure is available here.

Admissions Assessment

All applicants are required to take the ESAT.


The ESAT is a computer-based assessment. It is made up of individual multiple-choice assessments lasting 40 minutes each. You will sit these back-to-back on the day of the test.

Mathematics 1 is compulsory for all candidates.

If you’re applying for Natural Sciences, you will complete Mathematics 1 and two additional multiple-choice assessments from the following list, making the test 120 minutes in total:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Mathematics 2

There is no pass or fail for ESAT. You should aim to do the best you can.

Your final scores are based on the number of correct answers you give. You do not lose marks for wrong answers, so it’s worth attempting all questions.

You must be registered in advance (separately to your UCAS application) to take the assessment – the registration deadline is 16 September 2024. 

You will take the test on 15 or 16 October 2024.

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