skip to primary navigationskip to content


For successful completion of the course, MPhil students must submit the following written work for examination:

  • An assessed research essay (set essay) of not more than 6,000 words in length (excluding footnotes, tables, appendices and bibliography), on a subject chosen by the candidate from a list published each year by the Division and related to the optional paper they are taking. The subject of the essay must not overlap the subject of the thesis.

    This assignment counts for 20% of the total marks.
  • Written examinations on:

    1. Paper 1 The Scope of Social Anthropology I: Production and Reproduction

    2. Paper 2 The Scope of Social Anthropology II: Systems of Power and Knowledge

    Each exam paper counts for 20% of the total marks.
  • A thesis of not more than 13,000 words in length, including footnotes, but excluding tables, appendices, and bibliography on a subject approved by the Degree Committee for the Faculty of Human, Social, and Political Science, which shall not fall within the subject of any paper or essay offered by the candidate.

    The thesis counts for 40% of the total marks.

The formal regulations for the MPhil in Social Anthropology can be found in the University’s Statutes and Ordinances.

On this page:

Set Essay


The Thesis

Submission Deadlines

Assessment Standards

Data Retention Policy

Set Essay

The set essay is a research-based essay but must be chosen from the list of subjects published by the Division - see MPhil Set Essay Topics. The subject of the essay must not overlap the subject of your thesis. You must notify the Division of your choice of essay title by submitting Form MP13 to the Graduate Administrator (via the MPhil Moodle Course) by Thursday of the third week in November.
Two paper copies of the set essay must be submitted to the Administration Office by noon on the first day of Easter term and a digital version must be uploaded to the MPhil Moodle Course.


Examinations last for three hours, during which you are expected to answer three questions (in essay form), from a menu of approximately 14-16 previously unseen questions. In preparation for these examinations, you should draw across material you have learnt in lectures, seminars, supervisions and through your own independent reading. Examiners are well aware that the papers cover more than individual students can master in one year. For individual questions we are looking for evidence that students are not simply repeating existing essays, but are engaging thoughtfully with the questions at hand. Copies of previous years’ examination papers are available on the MPhil Moodle Course.

Exam Skills: advice for Social Anthropology Students (PDF) 

The Thesis

The thesis (see Planning your thesis) is an exercise in original research. For those candidates taking the Museums or Medical options of Paper 3, the topic of the thesis should be within the general field of that option. For those candidates taking Papers 1 and 2, the only requirement is that the thesis is securely anthropological. In both cases the primary aim of the thesis should be the theoretical analysis of ethnographic material; it may also be a new synthesis of data, and/ or new interpretation of existing material.

All titles must be submitted for approval by the Degree Committee by returning form MP14 to the Graduate Administrator by the Division of Lent Term.

You are expected to attend all seminar classes, including those relating to the field in which your thesis falls. This is to ensure that you will have a broad background from which to approach the more specialised work involved in writing the thesis. Two paper copies of the thesis must be submitted to the Administration Office by the Division of Easter Term (early assessment) or the last Friday in August (late assessment), plus a digital version submitted via the MPhil Moodle Course.

For further information, including the Style Guidelines, please see Planning your thesis.

Submission Deadlines

Submission deadlines are announced in the MPhil Diary. Essays and theses must be submitted by noon on the day of the deadline. You are expected to manage your time to meet the deadlines. This includes, for example, preparing a draft well in advance, to allow reasonable time for feedback from your supervisor, and final revisions. Please note that sloppy presentation (bad spelling or grammar, incomplete bibliography etc.) will be penalised by the examiners.

No extensions will be given to the deadlines, with exceptions being made only for certified medical emergencies. Essays or theses submitted after noon on the deadline days will be penalised by 5 marks for the first day, followed by 1 mark for each day of delay thereafter.

If you experience personal or other difficulties that interfere with your work, you should consult your supervisor and/or College Tutor in good time for advice and assistance. In exceptional circumstances, a case for late submission may be made through these authorities, but it must reach the Graduate Administrator well before the deadline. In extreme cases personal problems may require periods of intermission of studies.

Please also note that the word counts for essays and theses are strict. There are upper limits and you must not exceed them. The Division reserves the right to request a disk copy of the essay or thesis to verify the word count.

Assessment Standards

Formally, this is a pass/ fail course. The standard for a pass begins at 60. Internally we note the difference between a pass (60-69) and a high pass (70-74), and a mark above 75 is awarded a distinction.

The thesis is weighted insofar as it is a separate element, which must be passed; a candidate may carry one fail mark in any element other than the thesis provided there are compensating marks.

If you wish to proceed to doctoral research you will normally be expected to achieve a strong high pass (73) overall. Your exact academic condition will be clarified if you are successful in your application to the PhD programme.

Assessment Descriptors

75%+ Distinction At the upper end this is work which consistently exceeds expectations and challenges received views. At the lower end it indicates work which is excellent in its range and its command of the material, and in the argument and analysis that it brings to bear.
70-74% High Pass Work showing evidence of a good, broad-based engagement with and understanding of the relevant material organised in a clearly-argued, well-illustrated and relevant fashion.
60-69% Pass At the upper end this includes work which, though competent and broadly relevant, is somewhat lacking in focus, organisation or breadth of reference. At the lower end it indicates work which, while demonstrating some knowledge of the material, is yet deficient in understanding, analysis and breadth of reference.

Data Retention Policy

Information on the HSPS Faculty Data Retention Policy.

Course Resources


For reading lists, additional teaching materials, past exam papers and reports please see the MPhil Moodle Course.

Please note teaching staff and students enrolled on the MPhil course will automatically be enrolled on the MPhil Moodle course and you will find a link to it in the ‘My Home’ section of Moodle.

If you are a member of the University of Cambridge and you wish to view the reading lists, past exam questions and exam reports then you can access the MPhil Moodle Course as a guest. For more information on how to access Moodle Courses as a guest please see Moodle Help.