Preliminary Examination in English Language and Literature


  • 1. The subjects of the examination, the syllabus, and the number of papers shall be as prescribed by regulation from time to time by the Board of the Faculty of English Language and Literature.

  • 2. A Candidate shall be deemed to have passed the examination when he or she shall have satisfied the Examiners in all the papers specified in the regulations.

  • 3. Candidates must offer all the papers at a single examination, provided that: (i) a candidate who fails to satisfy the Examiners in one or two papers may offer those subjects at one subsequent examination, and (ii) a candidate who fails to satisfy the Examiners in three or four papers must offer all four subjects at one subsequent examination.

  • 4. The Examiners may award a distinction to any candidate of special merit who has satisfied the Examiners in all the papers at a single examination.


Each candidate shall offer four papers, as set out below. Paper 1 shall be examined by portfolio submission in the third term. Papers 2, 3, and 4 shall be examined by written examinations of three hours’ duration.

  • 1. Introduction to English Language and Literature

    The paper will be examined by a portfolio of work, comprising one commentary answer and one discursive essay, of not fewer than 1,500 and not more than 2,000 words each. Footnotes will be included in the total word count, but bibliographies do not count towards the limit. The list of questions for this paper will be divided into Section A (Language) and B (Literature) and will be published on Monday of the fourth week of the Trinity Term of the first year. Candidates must select one question from Section A and one question from Section B.

    Questions in Section A (Language) invite candidates to make their own selection of texts or passages of texts for commentary, in accordance with the terms of the particular question chosen. Copies of the texts or passages used must be included as an appendix to the portfolio. The combined length of all texts or passages chosen must not exceed 70 lines. The texts or passages used will not count towards the word limit for the commentary answer.

    Two typed copies of the portfolio must be delivered to the Chair of Examiners for the Preliminary Examination in English Language and Literature, Examination Schools, High Street, by noon on Thursday of the fifth week of the same Trinity Term. A certificate, signed by the candidate to the effect that each answer is the candidate's own work, and that the candidate has read the Faculty guidelines on plagiarism, must be presented together with each portfolio.

    Following the publication of themes for this subject on Monday of the fourth week of Trinity Term, the candidate must neither discuss his or her choice of themes nor the method of handling them with any tutor. Every portfolio must be the work of the candidate alone, but he or she may discuss with his or her tutor the subjects and approach to the essays up until the stated publication date of the portfolio themes.

    Portfolios previously submitted for the First Public Examination in English Language and Literature may be resubmitted. No answer will be accepted that has already been submitted, wholly or substantially, for a final honour school or any other degree of this University, or degree of any other institution.

    Work deemed to be either too short or of excessive length may be penalised.

    Candidates must avoid duplicating material used in this paper when answering other papers. In addition, candidates are not permitted to duplicate material between Section A and Section B of the portfolio.

  • 2. Early Medieval Literature 650 – 1350

    The examination for paper 2 will be divided into Section A and Section B.

    • (a) Section A will consist of four passages for critical commentary: two passages from Old English texts and two passages from Early Middle English texts. Candidates should write on one passage only.

      Passages will be set from texts specified in the English Preliminary Examination Handbook for the year of examination.

    • (b) Section B will consist of essay questions that are thematic in nature and may be applied to any texts from the period. Candidates should answer two questions from section B.

  • 3. Literature in English 1830 – 1910

  • 4. Literature in English 1910 – present day