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Preliminary Examination in Human Sciences


The examination shall be under the supervision of the Social Sciences Board in accordance with the same arrangements as those established under clause 3 of the decree concerning the Honour School of Human Sciences.


  • 1. The subjects of the examination shall be the five subjects listed below.

  • 2. All candidates must offer all five subjects at one examination:

    Provided that a candidate has passed in three (or more) subjects but failed in the other subject (or subjects) they may offer at a subsequent examination the subjects (or subject) in which they have failed. Candidates who pass in one or two subjects only will be required to re-sit all five subjects at a subsequent examination. 

  • 3. Candidates shall be deemed to have passed the examination if they shall have satisfied the Moderators in all five subjects either at one and the same examination or at two examinations in accordance with the proviso to clause 2.

  • 4. In the case of candidates who have satisfied the Moderators in all five subjects in a single examination, the Moderators may award a distinction to those of special merit.

  • 5. The examiners will permit the use of any hand-held pocket calculator subject to the conditions set out under the heading ‘Use of calculators in examinations’ in the Special Regulations concerning Examinations.

Paper 1. Ecology and Evolution

Principles of ecology: ecological systems from global to local, plant and animal communities and numbers, biotic interactions, the impact of humans on the biosphere.

Principles of evolution illustrated by examples from human and other organisms. Mechanisms of evolutionary change: selection and adaptation, evolution of sex, altruism, kin selection and co-operation. Alternative models of evolution, emphasising changing perspectives in evolutionary biology. 

Principles of Human Evolution, including a theoretical and practical introduction to palaeoanthropology and major evolutionary trends during the ca. seven million years of hominin evolution.

One paper will be set.

Paper 2. Physiology and Genetics

Principles of mammalian physiology: the cell, body fluids, the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, reproduction, hunger and thirst, movement, the senses, and the integrative organization of the central nervous system. 

The genetic material—its nature, mode of action, and manipulation: the chromosomal basis of heredity; molecular genetics; mapping the human genome; sex determination; mutation at the level of the gene and the chromosome.

Mendelian inheritance; genetic variation in populations and its maintenance; quantitative variation and its genetic basis.

One paper will be set. Candidates must submit exercises which will be made available to the examiners, showing the extent to which each candidate has pursued a satisfactory course of practical work.

Paper 3. Society, Culture, and Environment

Social and Cultural Anthropology: the comparative study of the world's civilisations and peoples, including cross-cultural, power-based, and gender perspectives upon social practice and theories of human life. Specific topics will include production and consumption; transactions and modes of exchange; elementary aspects of kinship and marriage; belief systems and social control; political and social organization; classification; technology and social change; material culture and ethnographic resources; the impact of colonialism; space, place and culture; environment and cultural landscapes in transition; land and property rights. Candidates will be expected to be familiar with appropriate ethnographic monographs.

Human Geography: Approaches to understanding contemporary international migration – from neo-classical to post-structuralist; forced migration, changing international, regional and national legislation and policy; diasporas and transnationalism, especially issues of identity, home and belonging; social divisions and the experience of migration and integration addressing gender, class and ethnicity; cosmopolitan or ‘superdiverse’ cities; and state policy and the influence of nationalism, xenophobia, economics, and ethics.

One paper will be set, on which candidates will be required to answer four questions. The paper will be divided into two sections: (A) Social and Cultural Anthropology, and (B) Human Geography. Candidates will be required to display knowledge of both sections, and will be required to answer at least two questions from section (A) and at least one question from section (B).

Paper 4. Sociology and Demography

Sociology: Current and classic discussions of explanatory strategies and social mechanisms, models of individual action and the consequences of aggregation. Empirical research involving these approaches in areas of substantive sociological interest such as social class, ethnicity, religion, the family, politics.

Demography: Elementary aspects of population analysis. Comparative study of fertility, mortality and family systems in selected human societies. The long-term development of human population and its relation to habitat and resources. The demographic transition.

One paper will be set. The paper will be divided into two sections: (A) Sociology and (B) Demography. Candidates will be required to display knowledge of both sections.

Paper 5. Quantitative Methods for the Human Sciences

As specified for the “Introduction to Probability Theory and Statistics” paper for the Preliminary Examination in Psychology, Philosophy, and Linguistics.