English Reading List

If you have a passion for literature, we have a challenging course that will inspire you in your reading, and develop your critical and imaginative abilities. Over the centuries, many writers have studied in Cambridge: Spenser, Marlowe, Milton, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Tennyson, Forster, Plath, Hughes, Byatt and Zadie Smith. When established, the Cambridge course was considered daringly innovative and this ethos continues to shape teaching and research. Today’s course balances a strong grounding in the core of English literature with the chance to explore literature from around the world, other art forms, the English language, and related intellectual traditions.



Course Structure

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.

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 (in its Greek and Shakespearean dramatic forms, as well as in other media and cultural traditions). 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.

Undergraduates enjoy an outstanding programme of lectures and seminars in the Faculty, and in addition, Cambridge’s distinctive supervision system allows 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.

English at King's

English has long been a strongly-represented subject in King's, and has a history of innovative teaching and research. Our alumni include influential writers such as Rupert Brooke, EM Forster and Zadie Smith, but equally our graduates go on to pursue successful careers in a broad range of fields - from publishing and journalism to law, film, and international development.

King's College Library is well-stocked, available 24/7, and provides a very pleasant environment for studying and writing essays and dissertations. The Archive Centre at King's is particularly strong in the field of early twentieth century literature, with significant collections on Forster, TS Eliot and the Bloomsbury Group. 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.

Fellows at King's in English:

Ordinary Fellow

Shakespeare and Renaissance drama; psychoanalytic theory; scepticism; the history of the body; interpretations of early modern culture.

Ordinary Fellow, Graduate Tutor

18th century British literature; textual representation of sensory experience; written experience of religious belief.

Professorial Fellow, Keeper of the College Collections

Medieval and Renaissance literature; devotional writings in English, French and Latin; theories of idolatry and embodiment.

ProfessorPeter deBolla
Professorial Fellow, Wine Steward

18th century British literature and culture; history of aesthetics; visual culture of the enlightenment; history and theory of criticism.

Research Fellow

Digital/computational humanities; British literature of the long eighteenth century; historical semantics; prosody and rhythm; literary geography.

Applying for English at King's

We welcome candidates from all kinds of schools all over the world and from all backgrounds. Numbers vary, but we make roughly eight offers to undergradutes in a typical year.

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.

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. The ELAT is a 90 minute assessment where 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 to take the ELAT.

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.


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

Thinking of applying to Cambridge? See here for details of how to apply, and why King's might be the right College for you.
Find out about how to register for your pre-interview assessment and see specimen papers from previous years.
Candidates for some subjects are required to submit written work as part of the application process - see more here.
It's completely normal to be nervous about coming to interview, but here's some practical advice about how to prepare for the process.

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.

Reading, Resources and Events

Below are some links to further reading, resources and events that may be of interest to you. These include the English Faculty virtual classroom, which will give you a taste of some of the approaches to literary criticism used at Cambridge, and includes suggestions for further thought and reading. The English Faculty has also produced a website called Cambridge Authors, which was mostly written by Cambridge undergraduates, and offers a variety of materials relating to ten authors who studied at Cambridge, from Marlowe to Zadie Smith.

Events which may be of interest in the year before you apply (year 12 in the UK) include Oxford and Cambridge Student Conferences, CU Masterclasses and King's Open Days. Students from backgrounds where there is little tradition of entry to Higher Education might like to think about applying for the Sutton Trust Summer Schools or the CUSU Shadowing Scheme.

Preparatory reading for applicants who have already been given an offer, or prospective students thinking of applying.
Find out more about our Open Days, visiting King's at other times and informal meetings with our Admissions team, or take the virtual tour!

Recent News

H E Durham Fund 2021

Applications are open for small grants for projects related to the life sciences.


New gift to promote study of egalitarian capitalism

Pressing issues of inequality are driving research into new economic theories.


An update from our early-graduating medics

We caught up with three King’s medics, Dr Fanny Belais, Dr Adam Townson and Dr Chris Williams, to hear about their experiences over the past 12 months.