English students chatting

English students having lunch at the outside tables in Chetwynd Court

Welcome to the English subject page at King’s! Here you will find an overview of English at King’s, what it is like from a student perspective, the Cambridge English course, the people who teach and research in English at King’s, plus information about applying to study here as an undergraduate.

English at King’s

English student chatting with a Tutor

Nicky Zeeman (Director of Studies) chatting with Kate (2nd year)

English has long been a strongly represented subject in King's, and has a history of innovative teaching and research. The substantial number of teaching Fellows combined with a thriving graduate community make King’s a vibrant place for undergraduates committed to the study of English literature.

Recent Fellows of the College who have helped to shape the discipline include John Barrell, Norman Bryson, Maud Ellmann, Colin McCabe, Frank Kermode, and Tony Tanner.

King's College Library is well-stocked, available 24/7, and provides a very pleasant environment for studying and writing essays and dissertations. You can look around it using the virtual tour (when you're using it, note the button top left which lets you move to different parts of the library). Students also have easy access to further libraries, as the College is one of the closest to the Faculty of English and English Library on the Sidgwick Site, as well as the University Library by the Garden Hostels (see map).

Forster in his room

EM Forster in his rooms in King's

King's Archive Centre is particularly strong in the field of early twentieth century literature. Rupert Brooke, EM Forster and TS Elliot are especially well documented there.

Our graduates go on to pursue successful careers in a broad range of fields. In recent years, these have included publishing, the art market, journalism, Hollywood, international development, creative writing (you will have heard of Zadie Smith), law, drama, corporate recruiting, arts administration, and teaching at both school and University level.

The Cambridge English Tripos

English Faculty

The Faculty of English is on the Sidgwick Site, very close to King's

In the Faculty of English, undergraduates enjoy an outstanding programme of lectures and seminars. In addition, Cambridge’s distinctive supervision system allows English students to write and discuss a weekly essay with an expert in the field. The Fellows at King’s provide supervisions for the majority of compulsory elements in the English Tripos, and we can draw on expert supervision from across the University.

The English Tripos starts with an intensive two-year programme of reading (called Part I) that extends continuously from Chaucer well into the twentieth century. It then continues with a third year (or Part II) in which each undergraduate designs much of their literary curriculum by choosing from a wide array of subject- or period-based options.

David Hillman with Daniel and Benedict

David Hillman (Director of Studies) with Daniel and Benedict

Part I also includes a term devoted to Shakespeare, plus substantial work on practical criticism (i.e. detailed readings of previously unseen literary texts) and, for those with good existing skills, optional work on a foreign literature and language. Students also research and write a Part I dissertation, i.e. a long essay, on a subject of literary interest.

The two compulsory elements in Part II of the Tripos are practical criticism and a term’s work on tragedy (ranging from ancient Greek drama to contemporary writing. Beyond that, students pursue a combination of optional papers and write one or two substantial dissertations.

Though the course does not involve continuous assessment, the place of dissertations in Parts I and II ensures that English students undertake extensive and independent literary research. Details of the course and its options are available on the Faculty of English website.

Student Perspectives

Bryony and Arran have written about their experiences of studying English at King's, including their reasons for applying, what it was like starting at King's, the course and different kinds of teaching, extra-curricular activities, and the application process. These accounts are well worth reading to get a sense of what studying English at King's is really like.

Fellows in English at King’s

See below for details of the English fellows at King’s and their areas of teaching and research.

Laura Davies

Laura Davies (Director of Studies) studies British literature of the long eighteenth century with a particular interest in the textual representation of experiences and ideas that resist language or narration, including sound, time, death, spiritual visions, and dreams. She works on well-known figures such as Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, as well as a range of non-fiction prose including philosophical, religious, and medical texts.

David Hillman

David Hillman (Director of Studies) is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of English, and teaches Shakespeare at King’s. He has published on Shakespeare and Renaissance drama; psychoanalytic theory; scepticism; and the history of the body. He is particularly interested in the ways in which ideas of embodiment can bring together literary, historical, philosophical and psychoanalytic interpretations of early modern culture.

No photo available

Peter de Bolla is a Professor of Cultural History and Aesthetics. His publications are primarily focused on eighteenth-century British culture. His other interests include the history of aesthetics, conceptual history, philosophical aesthetics, and digital knowledge

Nicolette Zeeman

Nicolette Zeeman (Director of Studies) is Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English. She works on medieval literature and devotional writings in English, French and Latin: Piers Plowman, spiritual and pastoral works, allegorical narrative, medieval ‘literary theory’, song and lyric, Chaucer, theories of idolatry and embodiment in the later Middle Ages.

To apply to study English at King’s

applying to study english

Applying with limited support?

We welcome candidates from all kinds of schools all over the world and our most common offers for different qualification systems are listed on the entrance requirements page. Numbers vary, but we make roughly eight offers in a typical year.

The application process and timetable for all subjects is explained on our how to apply page, which we advise applicants to read thoroughly in combination with the details below about the English subject requirements, the ELAT pre-interview-assessment in early November, written work, small class and interview.

Subject requirements

Applicants for English should be studying English Literature at school. A qualification in English Literature alone provides the best preparation for the Cambridge course, but candidates at schools which do not offer this course can apply with a combined English Language and Literature qualification. Further advice on subject choices is available on the Faculty website and in our general subject advice

You should already have a strong background in literary reading (whether in or outside your school curriculum), though we will also be interested in what you may have read in other fields (e.g. in history, philosophy, or the other arts). It is equally important that you have the curiosity and motivation needed to develop your abilities during this demanding course of study.

Although we have no fixed expectations about your range of reading at the point of application, you should have read and considered materials from several different periods and genres, including prose, drama, and poetry.

pre-interview assessment

All candidates for English are required to take the ELAT, a pre-interview written assessment for English, which will take place in schools and other assessment centres on 2 November 2017. The ELAT is a 90 minute assessment. You will be given six passages of poetry, prose or drama, from which you choose two or three to compare in an essay. You must be registered in advance (separately to your UCAS application) to take the ELAT. The registration deadline is 15 October 2017 and there is a deadline of 30 September if you normally get exam adjustments for a disability/Specific Learning Difficulty/long-term illness. Your assessment centre must register you for the ELAT (you can't register yourself).

The ELAT pre-interview assessment for English
Brief information about written assessments
Important: If you're not registered by 15 October (30 Sept for special arrangements) you won't be able to take the assessment. Unfortunately, this would mean that your application is not valid.

Your performance in the ELAT will not be considered in isolation, but will be taken into account alongside the other elements of your application.

written work

Once English candidates have applied through UCAS, they are asked to submit two recent essays or equivalent pieces of school work on a subject of literary interest. For those looking early, written work guidelines are published in September as part of the Applicant Information. All applicants will receive an email shortly after the 15 October deadline sending you to this information. The deadline for written work will be in early November (see how to apply) and essays must not be sent before 15 October.


Most (but not all) candidates are asked to come to Cambridge for an interview with two Fellows in English at King's in early December. You may find the general information about interviews helpful. Information about the interview options for international candidates are in the International Students section.

additional assessment

Before your interview, you will also be asked to discuss a specified literary text in a small class with other English candidates. English candidates who are interviewed overseas do not have the small class. 

Resources and events

The Fellows' Garden

King's has a large garden - popular for quiet reading in the summer

Further information

English students at a Formal Hall

Group photo at 'halfway dinner'

If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact King's Admissions Office at .

Subjects | Undergraduate study | Back to the top