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Department of Biochemistry


There are two elements to the assessment - unseen written examinations (there are 2 papers) and a project report (dissertation and viva)

General information about NST assessment is on the NST website

The formal structure of the examination is described in a form and conduct notice.


Examinations are sat in the Easter Term.

General advice on examination skills has been drawn up by the Faculty of Biology.

Criteria used for marking and classing are provided by the Management Committee for the Natural Sciences Tripos  for NST overall and more specifically for Part III.

Marking and classing criteria are also discussed on the Faculty of Biology website

The following informal information about the Part II examination next Easter Term is provided by the examiners to help you plan your timetable of work and revision.

Unseen written examinations

Paper 1

Paper 1 will be of 3 hours' duration. It will be divided into four sections, each containing four questions. Section A will cover the Michaelmas Term Module 1 (Molecular Recognition and Interaction). Section B will cover the Michaelmas Term Module 2 (Cell Fate). Section C will cover the Lent Term Module 1 (Contemporary Cancer Studies). Section D will cover the Lent Term Module 2 (Biochemistry & Biophysics of Neuronal & Metabolic Disorders). Candidates shall answer two questions from either Section A or Section B (but not both) and two questions from either Section C or Section D (but not both).

Paper 2

This paper has two equally weighted sections. Section 1 requires the critical evaluation of a short biochemical research article in response to a series of compulsory questions embedded in the text. Section 2 requires one integrative science essay from a choice of three

Project Dissertations

Students are required to submit a dissertation of not more than 8000 words in length describing their work on the project. Specific guidelines will be issued. There is a strict deadline for submission of the project dissertations. This will de advertised on Moodle and in the course handbook. Any dispensation to miss this deadline must be given by the University, and not the Department. In common with other Universities, Cambridge treats plagiarism very seriously and software for its detection may be used on any material you submit.


The written papers will be marked anonymously by an Examiner and an expert Assessor. The Research Projects will also be marked separately by an Examiner and an expert Assessor and there will be a short viva, at which both the Examiner and Assessor will be present. You will need to bring your laboratory notebooks to the viva. In addition, a report will be sought from your Research Project Supervisor. The final mark for the Research Project will thus be made up of four components (marks from Assessor, Examiner, Supervisor, Oral). Please note the importance of the contribution of the write up to the overall mark.


The overall weighting of the various parts of the marking will be: Paper 1, 25%; Paper 2, 25% and Research Project 50%.

In previous years the individual essays have been marked according to the following 12 point scheme:

12: High first 11: Mid first 10: Low first
9: High 2:1 8: Mid 2:1 7: Low 2:1
6: High 2:2 5: Mid 2:2 4: Low 2:2
3: High 3rd 2: Mid 3rd 1: Low 3rd

Aggregate marks (also out of 12) were then converted into the normal University percentages, e.g. first class marks of between 9.0 and 12.0 were converted to between 70 and 100%. The examiners may use the same scheme this year, but are not required to.

Please note that we are not bound to award particular percentages of individual classes.


Candidates called for orals are usually those (i) close to (but not necessarily below) a borderline, or (ii) representative of a particular class or division. However, you will not be brought down as a result of your viva. You will either stay where you are or be promoted.

Penalty for late submission of project dissertation

Students are required to submit a dissertation of not more than 8000 words in length (excluding references, figures etc) describing their work on the project. There is a strict deadline for submission of the project dissertations (current students see course handbook).   Any leave for extension can only be granted by the University Council, via its Applications Committee, in response to an application made by a student's Tutor. You are therefore strongly advised to allow a safety margin for technical problems such as computer or printer malfunction which might lead you to overrun the deadline. Contact your College Tutor immediately if it appears that late submission may be inevitable.


The Faculty Board of Biology has issued  this notice to students. Candidates are asked to pay close attention to it in relation to Prepared Essays and Dissertations, which should be accompanied by a signed Declaration as indicated in section 2 of the document on Part II Dissertations.

Plagiarism is attempting to pass off the work of others as if it were your own, irrespective of intention to deceive, and in the context of project dissertations might include:

  • - verbatim "lifting" of whole subsections of the Introduction, or Materials and Methods, or the Bibliography, from any other source, including a previous Part II project dissertation;
  • (even worse) making an electronic "copy-paste" transfer of whole subsections from previous dissertations or Internet sources; - including diagrams provided by your supervisor, or copied from publications, without acknowledging their source.

Thus, although you may be using past project dissertations as a model, your dissertation must be written in your own words. And although it is perfectly legitimate to copy a published diagram, or an unpublished one provided by someone in your host laboratory, the source must be acknowledged explicitly e.g. “Figure adapted from Smith et al. (2002)”.

See also departmental guidelines


For NST examinations candidates are permitted to use only the standard University calculator CASIO fx 115 (any version), CASIO fx 570 (any version) or CASIO fx991 (any version). Calculators must be marked in the approved fashion.


All queries about the format of the examination should be addressed by consulting the written information provided in the Introductory packs (also available on Moodle), via the Part II/III Examinations Secretary ( or via the Part II/III course co-ordinator.

Please direct any questions regarding the exam or deadlines to Christine Thulborn, not the examiners.