Revealed: The Tabkins Table

In the first Tab Investigation this term, GEMMA OKE uncovers the truth about whether how you spend your spare time really affects your exams.

2.1 acting emma first First and Third gemma oke investigates journalism politics Rugby student journalism the cambridge reporter the tab third tompkins table

Does the way you spend your spare time affect your degree? Turns out: it really does. After a long investigation involving hours of trawling through every ‘class list’ edition of The Cambridge Reporter along with every crew, cast and team list we could get our hands on – The Tab can officially tell you how the way you spend your evenings and weekends will affect your exams.


Having cross-referenced hundreds of records, we can reveal that last year:

– 1/3 of Cambridge Union bigwigs walked off with firsts

– Student politicos scored almost twice as many thirds as firsts

– Nearly half of Cambridge’s student journalists scooped firsts – 10% more than the whole of Emma last year

The Tabkins Table works on the basis of just one simple rule: each extra-curricular activity has to take up an average of 10 hours a week or more in practices, rehearsals, admin etc. The rest is just numbers – one grade, one box ticked.

The Tabkins Table


Figures from a special edition of The Cambridge Reporter show that in 2010, 2,357 firsts were awarded across all examinable Tripos papers, representing just over 1/5 of students. Only 3% of undergrads scored thirds – over half of these were 2nd year NatScis.

‘Student Opinion: is a first worth the effort?

“Probably not; I haven’t really felt the benefits yet, though a good room next year might be nice.

“If I’m not spending eight successive hours in the laboratory (once a week last term), I usually have about four hours of lectures, supervisions etc. Other time is  taken up solving a seemingly endless succession of examples questions.

“I usually manage to accommodate everything fairly well. That said, extracurricular activities seem to have passed me by, and I do very little outside of work; though this may be more me than the subject.”

Alistair, 2nd year. Got the 2nd highest mark in his year in the NatSci Tripos.


What’s even more impressive is how much some students actually do alongside their academic commitments. Almost half of the students who took part in our investigation are involved with more than one intensive activity outside of their degree.

Arts students dominate extra-curricular hobbies: an astonishing 85% of students on the editorial teams of Varsity and The Cambridge Student study English, History, or other social science subjects. Only rowing bucks the trend, with a bias towards Maths, Science and Engineering. Surprisingly, not all rugby players are Land Ecs: 11 of the Blues team do ‘proper’ subjects like Economics and Engineering.

Last year, one student journo managed to pick up a first with distinction, while one thesp averaged two plays per term, acting and directing.

The new and improved Tompkins table, according to % of firsts

If extra-curricular activities were ranked alongside college results, student journos would top the table, with Union bods tying with Emma for second place. Boaties would fall in just below and Trinity would come in fifth place. Meanwhile, thesps would sneak into the top 10 between Tit Hall and Magdalene. Rugby players would sit at the bottom of the table.

‘Student Opinion: is a first worth the effort?

“I never expected to get a first, and actually, I think it’s probably a bad idea to completely focus on getting one. It puts so much pressure on you, and because it depends on so much else you might be setting yourself up for a fall if you don’t get it. A good 2.1 closes virtually no doors anyway.

“Personally, I’d rather get a 2.1 and do a range of exciting things, because Cambridge gives you some pretty unique opportunities to do things that you might not get to do otherwise. Getting a first isn’t an absolute guarantee for a lot of jobs, especially as employers take a rounded view of you – they seem to worry about people who are just academic, and can assume they’re quite bookish

“How much I work changes from term to term – five hours of work a day is a good day. I’ve never been the type who can pull an all-nighter.

“Things do pile up from time to time, like they do for everyone, and sometimes it does have an effect through things like getting tired. Last year, for example, I was out rowing the day before my criminal law exam!

“In exam term, I do focus on studying, and come exam term in my final year I’ll be working hard – I think there’s a part of you that’s reluctant to risk it. Eventually you find your limits for work and play. I heard someone say once that Cambridge gives you academics, hobbies and friends, but you can only pick two: it’s not entirely true – but it is to an extent. Honestly, I’d rather get a good 2.1. and have my memories of friends, rowing and the Union.”‘

Calum, 2nd year, rows for Downing M2, Executive Officer of the Union, got a first.