Institute of Astronomy

Part III Examinations - 2021-22


Course Choices

Students offering courses for examination which are given as part of Part III Physics must complete and return their college examination forms by the appropriate deadline. Please ensure that one copy of the form is submitted to the Course Secretary in the Institute of Astronomy during the Michaelmas Term. Further information about procedures for examination entries will be made available at the beginning of the Michaelmas Term.  Students must register on the Physics TIS in order to receive important emails from the Teaching Office. Failure to do so will result in not being informed about lecture timing changes due to unforeseen circumstances and supervision allocation.

Students are required to submit notification of which courses they will be offering for examination given as Part III Mathematics no later than noon on 2nd Thursday of Easter Full Term, i.e. Thursday, 5th May 2022.  Three copies of your choice of courses must be submitted, one to your College Director of Studies in College, one to the DAMTP Faculty Office and one to the Course Secretary at the Institute of Astronomy. Your Director of Studies needs to check, approve, sign and forward your nomination form to DAMTP. Make sure you allow your DoS at least 3 week days to complete the process.

Students may be examined in up to a maximum of 21 units, including 6 units for the compulsory project.  The Examiners will base their decision on 17, 18 or 19 units consisting of 6 project units plus the most favourable combination of examination units.  The majority of courses should be selected from the recommended list.  Courses amounting to 3 units or fewer may be selected from the full suite of Part III Mathematics courses or the allowed list of Part III Physics courses or a mixture of both.

[NB students are not allowed to offer  1/RAC (Physics) with either Cosmology or Advanced Cosmology  (Maths) for examination credit.]

Click here for the reports of the External Examiner.


The use of electronic calculators will NOT be permitted in any papers set for the Mathematical Tripos.

NST Part III Physics - Major and Minor Options
For the above examinations the following calculators marked in the approved manner are permitted:  

CASIO fx 991 (any version)
CASIO fx 115 (any version)
CASIO fx 570 (any version)

It is the responsibility of each student to equip themselves with a suitable calculator as described.

Each such calculator permitted in an examination must be marked by the Department in the approved fashion so that they are clearly identified as being permitted during the examination.  No other calculator may be brought into the examination.

Sale of approved calculators
Approved calculators, marked in the approved fashion, will be on sale from:

Department of Physics, Bragg Building (Natural Sciences Tripos)

Approved calculators bought elsewhere will need to have the approved marking applied by the Department.

Criteria for Marking

The Part III Mathematics and Physics examination papers are marked by Assessors (who are normally the course lecturers) appointed by the relevant department and these marks are relayed to the Part III Astrophysics Examiners who consider them in conjunction with the marks obtained on the project.

The Institute of Astronomy Teaching Committee recommends that the degree class be allocated according to the following criteria.  An explanation of the marking scheme can be found here.

First class marks

A candidate placed in the first class will be able to demonstrate a full command and a secure understanding of the examinable material. Scripts will contain substantially correct solutions to most of the quantitative parts of a question, showing a good grasp of mathematical skills. For questions of an essay nature, first class marks will be awarded for work which is excellent, both in range and in depth of knowledge and in the argument and analysis that it brings to bear.

A project gaining First Class marks will demonstrate an excellent understanding of the methods and results obtained and an ability to argue for the significance of these results in terms of their wider scientific context. Reports awarded First Class marks should demonstrate excellent organisation and clarity of thought; an Oral Presentation awarded First Class marks should likewise demonstrate outstanding organisation and clarity and the response to questions should exhibit a commanding grasp of the subject matter and wider context.

Upper Second class marks, II.1

A candidate placed in the upper second class will be able to demonstrate a good command and some understanding of the examinable material. Scripts will contain solutions to most of the quantitative parts of a question, thereby demonstrating the basic skills involved. For the essay and questions of an essay nature, II.1 marks will be awarded for work that demonstrates knowledge, but which does not provide as impressive a display of understanding, argument and analysis as those in the first class.

A project gaining an upper second class should demonstrate a good understanding of the methods and results obtained and an ability to synthesise these results in their wider scientific context in a well organised report. Oral presentations in this category should be well organised and attractive. The response to questions should demonstrate that the student has understood the subject material, but would not demonstrate the same critical flair as candidates awarded a First class in this category.

Lower Second class marks, II.2

A candidate placed in the lower second class will be able to demonstrate some command of the examinable material but with limited understanding. Candidates should demonstrate the ability to make good attempts at the straightforward parts of questions but limited ability to tackle any of the more challenging topics. Answers to questions of a mathematical nature will show an indication of what is required, but fail to proceed sufficiently far into the later parts to demonstrate the skills involved.

A project gaining a lower second class would demonstrate a sound understanding of the methods and results obtained, but would not exhibit the same originality of approach or grasp of the connection to the wider field as projects awarded higher class marks. Reports in this category are expected to be reasonably well organised, to clearly set out the work undertaken and to contain appropriate references. Oral presentations in this category will make clear what the student has accomplished but the response to questions may indicate that the understanding is relatively shallow.

Third class marks

A candidate placed in the third class will be able to demonstrate some knowledge, but have a poor command of the skills expected and very limited understanding of the examinable material.

A project gaining a Third class mark would demonstrate relatively poor progress with pursuing the research topic and/or evidence of incomplete understanding of the methods or results obtained. A report gaining a Third class mark may be poorly structured and unable to fully justify and explain the results obtained. Likewise an oral presentation in this category may be incoherent, with the response to questions indicating a poor grasp of the material.


A fail mark will be given when a candidate demonstrates little or no knowledge of the material and little or no ability to begin to tackle questions of a mathematical nature.

A project would be awarded a fail mark in the case that the student had failed to achieve any of the significant objectives of the research topic and had failed to provide a reasoned account of why this was the case. A report in this category would provide little evidence of engagement with, or understanding of, the research topic or its relation to the wider field. Likewise an oral awarded a fail mark would fail to communicate the results and relevance of the project work and the answers to questions would reveal a lack of understanding.

Examiners' Criteria for Marking the Project Report and Oral Presentation

The project element of the NST Part III Astrophysics course constitutes one third of the course (equivalent to the marks assigned to two 24-lecture Mathematics Part III lecture courses). Approximately 15% of the marks for the project will be assigned on the basis of the assessed oral presentation that takes place in the Easter Term. The balance of the marks will be assigned on the basis of the written project report. The Examiners will award marks under three broad headings,  i) scientific understanding, ii) quality of the research, iii) presentational and communication skills.

The format and timetable for submission form part of the Examination process. In their assessment of the project, the Examiners will take account of any breaches of the guidelines, including exceeding  the word limit and late submission of the report.

Oral Presentation

The Examiners assessment will take into account the following:

•             Visual Material: including relevance, clarity, attractiveness

•             Oral Presentation: including overall structure, clarity, time keeping

•             Response to Questions: including grasp of subject material, precision of answers

Students should be aware that the set examination timetable will be adhered to.  In the case of genuine illness college tutors should make a proper representation to the Senior Examiner via the course secretary (, which would be taken into account, otherwise no marks will be  allowed for students who fail to attend the oral presentation examination.

Written Project Report

The Examiners will assess the report under the following headings:

•             Overall structure and clarity of the report

•             Planning, organisation and prosecution of the research

•             Understanding of the physics and the general scientific content

•             Technical proficiency

•             Analytical and Interpretational skills

•             Significance of the results

Special Examination Arrangements

Any student who believes there are circumstances that require special treatment by the examiners must ensure that this information is communicated to the Course Secretary by their College at the earliest opportunity and well before the project presentations, see

Institute of Astronomy Prize

The Institute of Astronomy Prize is awarded annually to that candidate for Astrophysics in Part III of the Natural Sciences Tripos or Master of Advanced Study in Astrophysics candidate who has in the judgement of the Examiners shown the greatest distinction in that examination, provided that his or her work is of sufficient merit. The value of the Prize for academic year 2021/22 is £500.

Examination Results

Examinations are a University matter and covered by strict regulations. Whether you have a complaint or not, you should not, under any circumstances, seek to discuss your examination result with your examiners. The University has a standard procedure for dealing with complaints about examination results.
Any complaints or requests for reconsideration must be made in writing by your College (usually via your Senior Tutor) to the Chairman of the Examiners. You should therefore discuss the matter with your College Tutor who will advise you further. You should note that any investigation by the University will usually confine itself to seeing that the examiners acted correctly (for example that all the marks you received were entered into the mark book) and not try to second guess the examiners by re-marking your papers.

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Page last updated: 1 November 2021 at 16:31