Select Page

So you’re thinking of applying for Natural Sciences at Cambridge? Well, naturally you’ll want to know more about the course. Here we provide a breakdown of each of the physical science subjects included in this fascinating degree.

Maths, Physics and Chemistry

These subjects follow on from the respective A-Levels studied at school. Here is an outline of what you will study in the first-year course of each of these sciences, and how the content relates to that of A-Level. 


To study Physics in your first year at Cambridge, you must have Maths and Physics A-Level, or Maths and Further Maths A-Level (with three units of mechanics.) The first year is assessed through one written examination and regularly-assessed practical work. 

The first-year course aims to bridge the gap between school and university physics by covering all the key content of the foundations of physics. In your first year, you will study:

  • Mechanics
  • Relativity
  • Oscillations and waves
  • Quantum mechanics
  • Fields

The aim is to convey the scope and breadth of physics, and to give you a basis to work from before you specialise in certain fields as the degree progresses. 

For more details of the sorts of topics addressed in these courses, read our blog post about Oxbridge physics.


As with Physics, the aim of the first year (Part IA) of Chemistry is to give you a broad overview and strong foundation from which you can decide whether and where you want to specialise. The necessary prerequisites for studying this course are A-Level Maths and Chemistry. In your first year, you will study the following courses: 

  • Shapes and structures of molecules. This course aims to answer the questions, ‘how do we find out the shapes and structures of molecules?’ and ‘why do molecules have the shapes and structures that they do, and how does this affect their chemical properties?’
  • Reactions and mechanisms in organic chemistry
  • Kinetics of chemical reactions
  • Chemistry of the elements. This course goes through the elements of the periodic table, and the different properties of all of the elements. 

For more details about the sort of topics addressed in these courses, see our blog post about Oxbridge Chemistry.


A-Level Mathematics is a prerequisite for this course, and Further Maths is highly recommended. 

You have to make a choice to do either Course A or Course B. Course A focuses entirely on mathematical methods for the sciences, while Course B also incorporates maths as a discipline in its own right. Therefore, Course B has more complex pure maths, but less applied probability and statistics. 

Students are encouraged to take Course A unless they did Further Maths A-level and have a very strong understanding of the content and a desire to pursue maths further. Course B moves at a significantly faster pace and covers a wider range of content. 

Some of the content covered by both courses includes:

  • Vector calculus
  • Vector algebra
  • Matrices
  • Complex numbers
  • Ordinary and partial differential equations 
  • Elementary probability theory
  • Computing techniques

Earth Sciences and Materials Science

If you choose to do Earth Sciences or Materials Science, they will be taught from the very foundations, not presupposing any prior study. However, they do require skills from the A-Level Courses. 

Earth Sciences

The first year of Earth Sciences is a general introduction to the planet, and is an overview of what we know and what we do not know. Cambridge describes it as a ‘fully interdisciplinary field with ample room for geologists, biologists, climatologists, chemists, mathematicians, and many others.’ It does not follow from any specific A-Level course (except for the usual prerequisites for Natural Sciences), and relates to all of the sciences and maths. 

In your first year, you will study key topics such as the origins of the Earth and major events that have occurred since, such as the ice ages, and the currently pressing issue of climate change. It also involves lab work, where you will study different types of natural rocks and minerals. 

Materials Science

Similarly, materials science is a physical natural science you can pick up in your first year with no specific prerequisites beyond the usual Natural Sciences admissions criteria. 

Materials Science studies the diversity that arises between materials due to their atomic and molecular structures. It studies the physical properties that follow as a result, and the different manner in which materials behave. In your first year, you will study an overview of Materials Science, including courses on: 

  • Atomic structure of materials
  • Materials for devices
  • Diffraction
  • Microstructure
  • Mechanical behaviour of materials
  • Biomaterials
  • Materials under extreme conditions


Book free Year 12 Oxbridge Programme Consultation
Book free Year 13 STEP 2/3 Programme Consultation
Book free Year 12/13 Medicine Mastermind Consultation