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The examination

The examination for Physiology of Organisms at the end of the academic year forms part of the Natural Sciences Tripos Part IA examination, taken by all first-year Natural Science students in the University. Candidates receive overall grades (Class I, Class II, Class III, Fail) based on their performance in all three science subjects plus maths, considered together. You will be entered for the NST IA Tripos examination automatically by your College, and will in due course be informed of your encrypted candidate number (all marking is anonymous). Candidates are individually informed of their marks in each subject by their Colleges. The date and time of every examination is published in a special edition of the official University newsletter The Reporter, usually towards the end of April, and it is up to you to ensure that you know when they are. The Physiology of Organisms exam is usually held around the beginning of June.

Download a description of what the Examiners want from a Physiology of Organisms essay.

General information on marking and classification is provided on the Faculty of Biology website: See also:

Some of the past examination papers for Physiology of Organisms are available within Colleges, and collected essay questions from previous years are to be found on the CamTools website. The latest multiple choice papers (2010 onwards) have been withheld by the examiners.

Structure of the Physiology of Organisms exam

The following is intended as a helpful guide rather than the "official" examination policy for the current academic year. If there are changes for the current year, the examiners will make them clear to you during the Michaelmas Term.

The 3 hour examination consists of a single paper, divided into three sections. Students and supervisors should be aware that the format and weighting of each section was adjusted in 2011- 2012.

  • Section A will normally consist of a number of compulsory multiple choice questions on the material dealt with in the lectures. It carries 25% of the marks, and this allocation is reduced from 35% of the total mark, found in representative past papers from 2001- 2011.
  • Section B will normally consist of a number of compulsory multiple choice questions and some short-answer questions to examine basic understanding of practical class concepts and outcomes. This section will make up a slightly higher proportion of the total mark (25%, up from 20%), to that awarded in representative past papers from 2001- 2011.
  • Section C will be based on essay questions, of which candidates should answer two out of a choice of usually 5 or 6, with each question worth 25% of the total mark. The choices have traditionally included several "compare and contrast"-type essays, in which the candidate must compare the physiology of different types of organisms. This section carries 50% of the total marks, and this allocation is increased from 40% found in representative past papers, from 2000- 2011.

The examiners will report the marks in the IA NST markbook showing the mark allocated to Theory (75% for MCQ plus 2 essays) and Practical sections (25%). The examiners will distribute a draft "mock" examination paper with representative questions and the revised weighting of marks between sections in Lent Term.

Approved calculators

The only calculator that may be used in the end-of-year exam is one stamped as approved by the University: programmable and graphing calculators capable of storing a data-base of facts and several ready-made exam answers are obviously unacceptable in the exam room. You can buy the standard approved model (they are extremely good value for money) from the Department of Chemistry Part IA Preparation Room at the beginning of the Michaelmas Term, or you can get your existing calculator checked (and hopefully approved and stamped!) by taking it to any member of the Technical Staff in the Physiology Experimental Laboratory.