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Mathematical Biology A and B options

Mathematical Biology A and Mathematical Biology B

An A level in Mathematics (or equivalent) is highly recommended for this course. Students with this background – or with an equivalent level of preparation – should take the default version of the course “Mathematical Biology B” (MB-B). Any student who did not study mathematics post-16 will study a more restricted version of the course, “Mathematical Biology A” (MB-A). Almost all students who have studied mathematics post-16 will be able to follow MB-B, but students with qualifications other than A Level should see below for guidance.

Students taking MB-A will attend separate lectures in the final two weeks of the first (Michaelmas) term, to allow them to follow the material based on calculus in the second (Lent) term. These students will also not be expected to attend the fifth lecture of the first series on probability the first time it is lectured – since this lecture depends on knowledge of calculus – the material will be repeated in a single lecture for MB-A students only at the end of the Michaelmas term.

Students of both MB-A and MB-B will sit the same written examination in June; MB-A students will have a restricted choice of questions.

Which option is appropriate?

Experience proves that almost all students who have studied mathematics at the post-16 level already have adequate preparation to perform very well on this course. In particular AS Level Mathematics, Scottish Highers, German Abitur, Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus and a number of other qualifications all provide sufficient background to follow the Mathematical Biology B course, although in some cases a little independent study will be required. For students coming with the International Baccalaureate, Higher Level Mathematics is preferred, but students with Standard Level Mathematics will also have adequate preparation for the Mathematical Biology B course (perhaps again with some additional self-study and/or help from supervisors).

Students who are likely to do MB-A will be asked by their College to self-study the first four chapters of Mathematics for Biological Scientists by Aitkin, Broadhurst and Hladky before coming to Cambridge, as well as to have looked at the additional online resources at To access these materials before coming up to Cambridge, you will need to be granted access: please contact the to do this. This material - as well as the knowledge of calculus that will be developed by attending the lectures for Block X - is what is required to successfully follow the Mathematical Biology A course. Colleges will almost certainly arrange for additional supervisions for such students.

Any student who is concerned about their background – and in particular which of Mathematical Biology A or B would be appropriate – should discuss this with their Director of Studies before or soon after arriving in Cambridge. In borderline cases it is possible that their College will be able to make extra support available (e.g. extra supervisions). Students can also discuss their background with the lecturer and/or practical demonstrators during the first week or two of term. Please note that prior study of statistics is definitely NOT necessary for this course; statistics is less than a quarter of the material you will be learning, and we teach all necessary concepts from scratch.