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Cambridge University Library


In nearly all cases an examination for honours, usually in 2 parts, the first part sometimes divided into 1A and 1B. Some triposes, e.g. mathematics, now have three parts, of which the third is surplus to the requirements of a BA and is more or less the equivalent of a post-graduate certificate of research. The origin of the expression requires explanation. Before the distinction between honours and ordinary degrees had been formalised, and before the course for the BA had offered a choice of subject, it was the custom at the commencement for BAs for the candidates to dispute against a senior BA who was seated on a three-legged stool [tripod/tripos]. The functions of this individual gradually became less serious academically, until his role was simply to provide an entertaining speech, or mock-disputation. These performances evolved into satirical compositions in Latin, or occasionally Greek, verse, and were printed for circulation among those attending. From 1748 it became the custom to print the names of the successful candidates on the back of these verses, so that the tripos verses were backed by the tripos list. There verses were last published in 1894, but by this time the name ‘tripos’ had long since been transferred from the list of successful candidates to the examination itself.