Life at Cambridge Part II

This is a long overdue follow on from my previous post Life at Cambridge, and details my experience of the Cambridge Economics Tripos for 1st year Lent and Easter terms.
The Course



This term we began by looking at Game Theory, where we cover the basics such as Nash Equilibrium, before moving on to more sophisticated games, looking at 3×3 matrices as well as 2×2. Simultaneous games are considered, along with Cournot and Bertrand games and models of business strategy and the notion of game theory is applied to matters such as externalities and public goods. There are also references to evaluation, such as how game theory isn’t the best model of real-life situations; for example in a finite game, theory tells us that if it pays to cheat in the last round (i.e. not co-operate) then it would pay to do this in the nth-1 game, and in the nth-2 game etc so that players shouldn’t co-operate at all, even if this leads to a sub-optimal outcome. Yet research has shown that in reality people do co-operate, even in the last round, with people co-operating with a probability of 30% despite having nothing to gain from co-operating in the last round. Research has also shown that people don’t like unfair inequalities, for example in a game of 2 people where 1 person proposes to the other the distribution of £1 we would expect him to offer £0 to the other person and for the other person to accept this: he is no worse nor better off. Yet most people would reject this amount. This goes against the theory.


In Lent term we move towards looking at the economy in the short-run, taking a more Keynesian approach, versus the Classical long run approach we took in Michaelmas. I found this course a lot more agreeable, as I have fewer contentions with Keynesian economics than I do Classical economics (though this isn’t to say that Keynesian economics – or what it has becomes – doesn’t have its detractions).


Stats looks into regression and gives a fairly comprehensive view of how to complete regressions, and when not to use this tool. I found the lectures a little underwhelming as they didn’t seem detailed enough, and instead we spent a lot of time looking at the data from one particular event (income based on educational attainment), rather than actually looking at how to compute data.


Politics moved to Development this term, looking at what development is, how it is measured and why it is important. This is quite a broad paper, and would take a lot of time to fully understand, instead it is designed as mainly an introduction to the second year course of International Trade and Development (which I am likely to take). I decided to play my exams strategically and so put minimal effort into my development supervisions, and didn’t include it in my revision, instead taking a punt on hoping that suitable Governing Britain and Labour exam questions would come up; which they did, although the Labour question wasn’t as favourable as I’d hoped. We also had a supervision on the European Union course, a lot of my fellow supervisee’s chose not to complete this essay (to my supervisor’s ire), but I did so as a back-up, not that I used this in my revision.

Furthermore, there were some lectures given my Lord John Eatwell and Lord Richard Wilson, about their time in government and how politics actually works.


History has probably been my joint favourite paper this year (along with Macro), as I find it incredibly useful, and have learnt a lot of real-world practical macro from this paper. I also believe it is a lot more pluralist, as it can’t follow the neo-liberal model as this doesn’t best explain real-life. For example, Solomou, the course lecturer, believes that free trade may not always be good, and believes the General Tariffs of the 1930s were beneficial to the economy (although Crafts and Broadberry disagree). There is a lot of scope for debate, and own opinion in the paper overall. In this term we looked at Victorian Decline and Britain in the Interwar Years (which inevitably covered the world). Unfortunately the Interwar Years is such a large topic that it is difficult to pack it all in, in the final term before exams. I decided to ignore this section in my revision and focus on getting my Industrial Revolution, and Victorian Decline essays up to scratch.



Lectures covered an outlook of Macroeconomics in Britain, looking at statistics of the composition of the economy, and looking at some specific markets such as housing. A general overview to give a good background, but most students who have done the required reading of Mankiw and keep up-to-date with the news, and perhaps read the Economist will already know most of this. Supposedly, this module comprised 1/6th of the macro examination marks, but this wasn’t easily observable.


These were revision sessions for mathematics and more classes in Statistics. Fairly useful to go over what we have learnt and do some examples of past examination papers as there are so many to choice from and the Faculty have a policy of not releasing mark schemes to students (for some bewildering reason). Pay close attention to what the lecturer goes over in these revision sessions as it is usually a good guide for what they will examine you on; remember, they want you to get the best mark possible and will do all they can to achieve this, short of showing you the examination paper!


There are no Easter lectures in Microeconomics, Politics or History. Supervisions continued to cover left over topics from Lent. In Politics we started Development and looked at Europe, before a final 3 hour revision supervision which was a nice summary, but I found pretty useless. In History we continued with supervision essays on the Inter-War period and were given the opportunity to hand in a further 2 essays of our choice for detailed feedback. We had a 3 hour revision supervision which was incredibly useful.


The notion of Cambridge Economics sound scary, and I thought it was going to be a lot more draconian that it actually was. Econ exams took place in the lecture room block – where normal lectures take place – and all 6 rooms are used. Unfortunately, with my surname ending in W I was on the top floor, entailing numerous flights of stairs to ascend every morning. All exams took place at 9AM and lasted 3 hours, Paper 3 included a 20 minute preview of the paper. It seems a little peculiar that the mathematics paper has a preview slot – this would have been better allocated to the Politics or History paper to allow one time to mentally prepare an essay structure – but it still shouldn’t be wasted.

There are no stringent checks of what you take into the exam hall, people took food and drink to consume and the invigilator (maintaining some Cambridge tradition, was donned in his finest robes) only went round to check the ID of candidates. The paper co-ordinator was also available in the building so any technical queries could be directed to him/her. Candidates are free to go to the toilet so long as they inform the invigilator, and unlike A-Levels you aren’t escorted there.

For first years the exams take place in one week, with Micro first, then Macro, History, Politics and finally Maths/Stats. The exams are also in the final week of the Cambridge exam season. Whilst this gives more time to revise, it also means that other people are out enjoying themselves (making revision more difficult). Some people found it tough, all the exams taking place over 5 days, but I was glad to get them all done and out of the way with. After our final exam our DoS held a College Garden Party for Girtonian and Caiusan economists.

My worst paper – at least in my mind – was the Microeconomics paper. I made a mistake on the first question, which was supposed to be a simple game theory, elimination solvable method, but I was unable to see that a particular row was dominated by another, and hence proceeded to use a mixed strategy method on a 3*3 matrix, which took a long time and derived an inconclusive result. This put me in a bad mood for the rest of the paper. For the study of the paper as a whole, I would recommend focusing on the game theory section. I spent too long on consumer and business, thinking that these were difficult, whereas in hindsight I was just putting a mental block on it. As long as you understand Lagrange then these sections are easy, you just need to ensure you consolidate all this info over the Christmas holiday. Then you can focus on the game theory, where some of the difficult questions come. I made the mistake of thinking that I was an expert in game theory (because I had read and studied a lot about it at A-Level), and so rested on my laurels. I also neglected the competitive equilibrium situation, and was therefore unable to fully answer a compulsory question on it. Because this was such a small part of the course I tried to ignore it during revision: don’t do this!

As it turns out, Micro wasn’t my worst paper, but this was Stats and Maths. I found this surprising because I didn’t have many difficulties completing the paper (although I have always found Paper 3 my week point). I certainly didn’t revise enough for the paper, but I feel that I did so poor because everybody else did so well: I should have spent more time getting to the core of this paper.


The turnaround from exams to results was quick – only 3 weeks for 7 examiners to mark and check 180-odd scripts (*5 for the different papers). The results are released on CamSIS, and my DoS was then available for a phone call to discuss my results and give me a break-down in my papers. It isn’t possible to get your paper back, although you can request to see the front page (at a cost), to see if the examiner left any comments.

It isn’t a straightforward procedure to find out your overall grade (bearing in mind that first year grades don’t count, except for prizes and internship applications). In each paper a mark above 70 gives a 1st, between 60 and 70 a 2:1, between 50 and 60 a 2:2, between 40 and 50 a 3rd and below that is considered a fail. My understanding is that anyone who gets a fail in a paper is capped at receiving a max of a 3rd (even if they get 100 marks in all 4 other papers). They are also likely to be dragged before their college superiors to see why they failed, and the student has to explain why they should remain in Cambridge. Don’t let this put you off, I don’t know anybody who has failed, this is only likely if you don’t attend the exam! I should also point out that it is very rare to get high marks like 100. The head invigilator told us that she had never known anyone to get above 90 marks in her 10 years of marking and it was rare to exceed 80. This is often because marks are capped so that boundaries can be moved.

To achieve a first a candidate can do the following:

• Four First-class marks and an average above or equal to 64.0

• Three First-class marks and an average above or equal to 66.0

• Two First-class marks and an average above or equal to 68


I achieved my first through 3 1st class marks and an average of 66, so luckily my poor performance in Paper 1 and 3 didn’t cost me too much. My college (Girton) was quite generous in scholars prizes: I received £400 from the college fund (Emily Davies, the founder), £100 from the economist fund (Joan Robinson) and £500 for the economic historian prize (Ellen MacArthur). Other colleges have different prizes, but I don’t think the faculty award their own prizes until 3rd year.

You can read Part I here.

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