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Department of Social Anthropology


Essay Writing Advice

The supervision essay is the medium in which, in answer to a question from a supervisor, you develop your views about what you have read and heard. Of course, the object, as in every piece of written work, is to say what you want to say as clearly and persuasively as you can. But there is no one way of doing so. Different people write in different ways on similar subjects, and different subjects may prompt you to write in different ways. For detailed advice, see the Essay writing guide.



Each of the three examinations (Part I, Part IIA and Part IIB) is a full Tripos examination. This means that they are compulsory and that students will be examined on the relevant year’s work. Each Part of the HSPS Tripos is fully examined at the end of the academic year and no marks are carried forward from year to year. However, there is a progression in terms of knowledge and intellectual content from Part IIA to Part IIB.

Please note all students should contact their Director of Studies at their college to register for examinations.

For more information about Examinations please see the HSPS list of FAQs.


Marking and Classing Criteria

Marking and Classing Criteria apply across the HSPS Tripos.


Correct Use of Ethnographic Materials in Exams and Essays

The Department often receives queries about the correct use of ethnographic materials in supervision essays and exam answers. Each DoS and/or supervisor is entitled to devise working practices as they see fit, but for the purposes of exam preparation, the following points about using the same ethnographic materials across different answers might be helpful.

The instructions on each Social Anthropology Tripos paper include the words, ‘Candidates will be expected to demonstrate a range of ethnographic knowledge in their answers, and to show a depth of knowledge of some specific ethnographic examples’. Examiners would feel entitled to interpret the use of only a very limited range of ethnographic cases across several or all of a candidate’s papers, or use of the same ethnographic material to make the same argument in more than one essay, as evidence of a lack of breadth of knowledge. This in no way implies that a negative view would be taken of the creative use of a single ethnography, to make different arguments, in more than one paper. On the contrary, the creative use of material covered in one paper to make relevant points in an argument in an essay on a different paper would be seen as evidence of a firm command and depth of knowledge of those ethnographic data. The problem arises when the examiners detect undue replication, and naturally if the same ethnography plays a big role in several of your essays, the examiners may start to suspect that it is because you have not read sufficient amounts of other material.


Examination Resources

For previous Exam Question Papers and Internal Examiner Reports, please see the relevant Social Anthropology Moodle Course.