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The Prelim year is the first year of a Four Year Degree, a course designed to give access to the detailed study of the Ancient World to students who have not studied Latin or Ancient Greek to A level (occasionally we have students who have Ancient Greek at A level standard or equivalent but have not studied Latin). This first year has two main aims: (i) to give you a secure grounding in the Latin language so that you can understand and enjoy original Latin texts; (ii) to start you thinking about other areas of the ancient world and the tools and skills that a Classicist needs to investigate them. The core of the language teaching is a programme of reading and grammar classes taken by our language specialists.


Language classes

As new first years studying the Four Year Degree, you will have attended a Latin Summer School. This is language-based and designed to introduce you to the basic structure of the Latin language and to begin or enhance your experience of it. The term-time course takes you on from there. One of our most important aims over the course of this year is to start you on the road to becoming a confident reader of original Latin, so that you can read the works of Roman authors with accuracy and pleasure. A substantial part of the first year course is built around the reading of a group of Latin texts, and you will begin with your first author around the middle of the first term. The language classes you attend are designed to teach and support your language learning in a variety of ways. On one level, they will be teaching you the grammar and syntax basic to the functioning of the Latin language; on another level, introducing you to the support materials and tools which students need to develop their understanding of Latin (for instance, dictionaries, commentaries, IT learning resources and others), and at a third level, they will be helping you to read the texts in a structured way.

Learning to read an ancient language is a complex and challenging business and is at the core of much of what we do as Classicists. There is a huge difference between reading the works of Roman (and later, Greek) authors in translation and reading them in the original language, where the pattern and structure of the language itself provide a vital insight into the thought processes and cultural assumptions of the writers and society which produced them. This centrality to the task of the Classicist – which is to find out as much about the Ancient World as possible and to interrogate and respond to what has been discovered – is why language learning is at the heart of the first part of our degree, whether you are approaching it as a Four-Year or as a Three-Year candidate. Four-Year Degree students take Latin first to enable them to concentrate on one language and culture before taking on the next.


The Lectures

Four Year Degree students have their own programme of lectures. These introduce candidates to the breadth and variety of what we study in the Classics Faculty in Cambridge: literature, history, art and archaeology and philology and linguistics. They will focus on a central period of Roman history, but with a consciousness of a Greek background where appropriate.


Teaching and learning

A central element of the teaching and learning experience of Cambridge is the dovetailing of Faculty teaching with College provision: and this is no different for the Four Year Degree. You will have supervisions organised by your Director of Studies in your College. Some of these supervisions will be designed to support and extend the work you are doing in your Faculty language classes. Others will be essay supervisions. Using material gained from lectures and from guided reading you will be working to write essays about different aspects of Roman culture, piecing together evidence and developing arguments about the material and ways to think about it.

The dovetailing between Faculty and College teaching may – and should – take on a number of different forms during the first year of the Four Year Degree, and indeed, during your time in Cambridge. Sometimes the connection between them will seem almost seamless: at other times, there may be a noticeable difference of approach. For instance, a supervisor may see a particular problem very differently from the way a lecturer has presented it and want to offer a very different argument for the way to apply the evidence. This has a number of benefits: it means that you get to have different points of view put before you and discussed; it can mean that you feel more confident about expressing your view – if there is no strict 'orthodoxy' then why shouldn't your views on a question be just as valid as other people’s?; it can mean that the teaching and learning, in both content and style, can be tailored to individual needs. Your College Director of Studies is there to keep an overall view of what teaching you are receiving and to be ready to deal with problems if they arise. Four Year Degree candidates also have the Four Year Degree Course Co-Ordinator (Dr R S Omitowoju) in the Faculty to ask for advice.

The teaching for the Four Year Degree falls broadly into five kinds:

  1. Faculty Latin language and reading classes
  2. Faculty lectures on Latin literature and the Target Texts
  3. Faculty lectures on Roman culture
  4. College language supervisions
  5. College essay supervisions


The Preliminary Examination

Four-Year Degree candidates sit the Preliminary Examination during their first year. This exam consists of three papers. Papers 1 and 2 are in the form of traditional examination papers and take place in the first week of Easter Full Term. Paper 3 consists of a portfolio of the two essays done in Easter term. It is to be submitted by the seventh Tuesday of the Full Easter Term in which the examination takes place (7 June 2022).

Papers 1 and 2 are language exams and are intended to reflect and test the level of reading reached by this time in the course. Like all language papers in the Classics Faculty, these papers are marked positively: i.e. you will gain credit for what you do well, rather than just losing marks for what you do less well. The different passages will aim to test a variety of skills, so that everyone has the best chance to show what they can do. Paper 1 will focus primarily on translation and appreciation of passages from the Target Texts. Paper 2 will contain two unseens, a passage from the Target Texts for linguistic comment and English sentences for translation into Latin. Passages for unseen translation may come from other works by the same authors as the Target Texts, or they may be from others: however, passages will be chosen to avoid, as far as possible, an accumulation of rare vocabulary or idiosyncratic syntax.


Schedule of Texts

  • In Catilinam 1.1-5, 11-19, 25-33
  • Ovid Metamorphoses 3
  • Catullus, a selection of shorter poems (1,5,6,7,8,10,11,15,29,32,35,48,50,51,58,70,72,75,76,83,85,87,100,101)
  • Augustus Res Gestae


The Portfolio of two essays

Part of the first year work is examined by means of a portfolio of essays which is submitted in the second half of Easter term. The portfolio contains two essays on subjects relating to the two target texts which will be studied in the Easter term: a selection of Catullus’ poems and the Res Gestae of Augustus. One of the essays is to be broadly literary in approach; the other may approach the target text from the standpoint of any of the sub-disciplines within Classics.

The titles are to be decided upon by the student in consultation with his or her supervisor. The titles are then to be countersigned by the student's Director of Studies and the Four Year Degree Co-Ordinator. The Director of Undergraduate Studies will circulate forms to students at the beginning of Easter term. It is the student's responsibility to submit the completed form, countersigned by their Director of Studies and the Four Year Degree Co-Ordinator, to the Director of Undergraduate Studies of the Faculty by the fourth Monday of Full Easter Term (23 May 2022).

There is a word limit of 4,000 words for each essay, including notes, but excluding bibliography. For these essays, students should receive two hours of supervision on each of the essays. In the first supervision, detailed feedback, constructive criticism and advice about both content and structure will be offered by the supervisor. The second supervision enables the supervisor to see and comment on the work that the student has done in response to the suggestions made in the first supervision. The supervisor should not normally see the essay again. Alternatively either or each of the two supervision hours could fall more naturally into two half-hour sessions: supervisors and Colleges are free to do what seems best here.

The portfolio is conceived as a way in which students may demonstrate the development of their skills in essay work over the year, and as such should not be thought of as a wholly different form of exercise. Rather, it is aiming to be a ‘normal’ essay, but with the benefit of one additional opportunity to respond to detailed comments and one additional opportunity to ‘polish’ the essay. Qualities which will be looked for will be: a good knowledge of the texts and an ability to comment on their language and style where appropriate; knowledge of the most relevant secondary material and the capacity to offer some level of close reading and criticism of this material; the ability to construct a coherent argument.

The portfolio is to be submitted by the student to the Director of Undergraduate Studies of the Faculty by the seventh Tuesday of the Full Easter Term (7 June 2022). Students are required to sign a declaration that the essays in their portfolio are their own work, and do not contain material already used to any substantial extent for a comparable purpose. All essays must be word processed (1.5 spacing) unless permission has been obtained from the Faculty Board to present them in handwritten form. The style of presentation, quotation and reference to books, articles and ancient authorities should be consistent and comply with the standards required by a major journal (such as Classical Quarterly). Two copies of each essay should be submitted: if bound, each copy must be bound separately.


Calendar for portfolio

Easter term week 0: after exam papers 1 and 2, students receive their copy of the portfolio form from the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Easter term weeks 1 and 2: students have initial discussions with their supervisors about titles for the two essays. They may also seek advice from their Director of Studies and the Four Year Degree Co-Ordinator. By the fourth Monday of Full Easter Term (23 May 2022) the completed form with the titles, signed by the student and countersigned by the student's Director of Studies and the Four Year Degree Co-Ordinator, is submitted to the Director of Undergraduate Studies of the Faculty. It is the student’s responsibility to ensure that this is done by the relevant date.

During the subsequent weeks the two essays are completed, including all supervisions for each essay. By the seventh Tuesday of the Full Easter Term in which the examination takes place (7 June 2022) the two essays are submitted to the Director of Undergraduate Studies of the Faculty.

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