If you wanted to become an Olympic medal-winning gymnast, you would have to undertake a long and intensive training programme. You would need to learn unfamiliar skills and new physical movements of which you had known nothing before. You would think it rather odd if your trainer never introduced you to these new skills or told you how to perform those new movements, but instead would get you to come along once a week to perform a routine of your own invention and then simply say "No, that's no good. Do a better routine next week." To excel at something you need to be told what excellence involves, and how to go about trying to achieve it.
Too often, in the past, undergraduates coming to Cambridge have been put in a position similar to that of the aspiring gymnast with the unhelpful coach – they were expected to excel academically but not given a clear picture of how to do so nor given enough guidance with respect to the new skills they needed to learn.
This resource is an attempt to provide some guidance about the basic skills that you will need to have to succeed academically. This is only a starting point. During the course of producing your own essays and discussing them with your supervisors you will need to refine and polish these basic skills.
There is, of course, no simple formula that can guarantee academic success, nor any set of rules which, if you read them, could ensure that you would get a first. The advice and guidance contained in this resource should, however, give you a good idea of what is required and help you maximise your chances of success.
©Thomas Dixon 2001. This resource is based on a University of Cambridge, Faculty of Divinity document written by Thomas Dixon, entitled Reading, Writing and Taking Exams: A guide to academic success. See also the related publication: How To Get a First, available for purchase at various outlets and to borrow at the UL, Faculty and College libraries.