Choosing Options

Sections on this page:

  • Mods/Prelims
  • Finals


The way options are offered for the First Public Examination varies too much from one subject to another for me to be able to make any useful generalizations. It is quite likely that many of the options will be chosen for you according to the college’s policy in your subject. If you have any control over the number of papers offered, it is probably a good idea to go for the minimum: in military parlance this is known as concentration of forces and it is a strategic principle that you should apply throughout your studies.


What principles might guide your choice of Finals papers?

Firstly, if you are thinking of doing postgraduate work, you should aim to choose papers in the general area in which you plan to specialize. Even if you are not thinking of carrying on with any academic study after Finals, you may find it helpful to concentrate your options in one subject area, both because this will form a more intellectually coherent course of study, and because it will probably make it easier overall (since papers in the same general area will tend to be mutually reinforcing). However, if you have no ambitions to go on to postgraduate work the choice of options is not so crucial, and you may prefer to be guided simply by what looks interesting.

Secondly, it is worth looking at past papers in the subjects you are thinking of taking, since this is probably the best means of fleshing out the rather sparse descriptions given in the Examination Decrees. The question to ask yourself is then “Am I interested in answering (or in finding out how to answer) the sort of questions the Examiners like asking in this subject area?”

Thirdly, it is of course worth talking over your subject choices with a number of tutors and fellow-students.

Fourthly, it is almost certainly a good idea to delay your choice of options until you have covered most or all of any “core” or compulsory papers you have to offer, since that way you can make an informed decision on the basis of some idea of what each of the subject areas involves.

Finally, if your Honour School allows you to replace one of your papers with an Extended Essay, this is an possibility you should seriously consider, both because you can choose your own ground and do the essay in your own time and because if you get it done in good time (say over your second Long Vacation) it can substantially reduce the work load in your third year, including your Finals revision; and when you come to sit Finals you may be heartily glad that you’ve got one less paper to write!