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4th May 2021

Oxford and Cambridge School Examinations History

This month, we will be looking at the Oxford and Cambridge School Exams that we have in the collection. We will also be challenging you!

The history of these exams begins in the mid 19th century. Oxford and Cambridge each had separate exam boards: the University of Oxford Delegacy of Local Examinations and the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate. These two bodies created exams for schools across the country. In 1873, both universities collaborated and created the Oxford and Cambridge Schools Examination Board in order to better meet the needs of schools and pupils who wanted to go on to study at university.

From 1885 onwards, the board created exams for higher, middle and lower levels and School Certificates.

The Oxford and Cambridge exams that the archives hold in their collection date from the late 1800s. They include Greek, Latin, Religion, Maths and French.

Below are some of the topics you could encounter in each.


  • Multiplication, division, fractions, decimals
  • Working out debts/ money/interest
  • Cube/ square roots
  • Distance/time/ speed
  • Quadratic equations
  • Simplifying equations
  • Solving equations
  • Binomial Theorem
  • Logs
  • Bisecting angles
  • Diameters, area, perimeters
  • Pythagoras and trigonometry
  • Comparing shapes

Maths Exam


  • Conjugations of verbs
  • Feminine and masculine nouns (singular and plural)
  • The difference between similarly spelt words
  • Translation – including conditionals, questions
  • Etymologically
  • Molière
  • Translation
  • Metaphors
  • Comprehension

c.1888. Oakham School Archives, CUR/6/1/2/2. 


  • Translation
  • Use of words
  • Comprehension
  • Athens and Sparta
  • Peace terms of Nicias
  • History of Thirty Tyrants at Athens
  • Geography and maps of the Ancient Greek World
  • Age of Despots
  • Delian League

c. 1888. Oakham School Collection, CUR/6/1/2/4.


  • Virgil
  • Unseen passages
  • Translating from English into Latin

c. 1888. Oakham School Collection. CUR/6/1/2/4.


  • Old testament
  • Gospels

Unknown Date. Oakham School Archives, CHA/2/3/2.

The 20th century saw a lot of change regarding examinations in schools. 1918 saw the first national exams introduced (the School Certificate and High School Certificate). In 1951, O and A Levels were introduced with single subject examinations and replaced the more general School Certificate. The last major change was in 1987 when GCSE (a hybrid of the O Levels and CSEs) were introduced and made mandatory for all 16 year olds in the UK.

Lower Certificate from 1891.

Today, Oakham School pupils are entered into a variety of qualifications including GCSEs (form 5), BTECs, A Levels, Pre U, and the International Baccalaureate Diploma.

Now it’s your turn!

The Oxford and Cambridge exams were intended for those aged between 16 and 18. How well would you have faired?


1)      Translate: There are fifteen thousand inhabitants in this town.

2)      What rule is wrong with this sentence: Le cheval sur qui vous me voyez monte.

3)      Write down the third person singular of the past definite future indicative, and present subjunctive of devenir, devoir, maudire, appeler.


1)      What were the terms of the Peace of Nicias? Account for the speedy resumption of hostilities.

2)      Compare and explain the relations of Agesilaus and Lysander with Persia.

3)      What reasons were there for Alexander’s confidence that he could overthrow the Persian Empire? What steps did he take to make his conquest permanent?


1)      Translate: Et, si fata deum, si mens non laeva fuisset, Inpulerat ferro Argolicas foedare latebras, Troiaque nunc staret, Priamique arx alta, maneres.

2)      Translate: Lucus in urbe fuit media, laetissimus umbrae.

3)      Translate: Praeceptisque Heleni, Dederat quae mazuma, rite Iunoni Argivae iussos adolemus honores.


1)      If 90 men can dig a ditch 50 yards long in 4 ½ days, how many men can dig a ditch 360 feet long in 27 days?

2)      Simplify 

3)      If from the ends of the side of a triangle there be drawn two straight lines to a point within the triangle, these shall be less than the other two sides of the triangle, but shall contain a greater angle.

Prove that the sum of the straight lines joining any point to the angular points of a quadrilateral is greater than half the perimeter of the quadrilateral.


1)      Describe the position of the following places. With what events are they conntected? Shechem, Mount Gilboae, Jabesh Gilead, Rabbath Ammon, Jazreel, Nazareth, Nain.

2)      Compare the religious condition of Israel and Judah during the continuance of the two kingdoms.

3)      What facts recorded in the Gospels throw light on the character of St. John, St. Peter, and St. Thomas?



  • ‘Our Heritage’, Cambridge Assessment, [accessed 25/02/2021]
  • ‘Oxford and Cambridge Schools Examination Board’, https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/194956/Oxford-and-Cambridge-OC.pdf [accessed 25/02/2021]
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