Five exciting challenges launched for Year 12 students

  • 20 March 2020

Could you imagine how the English language might change in the next 500 years? How about devising a sustainable long-term strategy for freight transport in the UK? Or could you write an object biography to bring history to life?

These are just three of the five exciting challenges Gonville & Caius College have launched this week for Year 12 students in any UK school. This year set in Engineering, History, Linguistics, Modern Languages, and Natural Sciences, our Schools Prizes are designed to prompt lower sixth form students to think creatively and individually about the subjects they love. Each competition carries a first prize of £600, to be split equally between the winning candidate and his or her school or college, and a second prize of £400, which again is to be shared equally between the candidate and his or her school or college.

This year’s Engineering Challenge asks you to put yourself in the shoes of a senior civil servant in the Department of Transport to evaluate the efficiency and environmental impact of two freight transport options in the UK. This very topical challenge will require you to consider a variety of aspects about the capacity and number of trains needed, power requirements and future expansion in order to devise a sustainable long-term strategy for transport to and from the international shipping ports into and out of the UK.

For the History Challenge, you are required to write an object biography about any object you choose – from an ancient Roman mirror to an early modern leather shoe; from a Georgian royal bed to an IKEA sofa! The biography will bring the object to life, exploring all aspects of it: who made it, how was it made, who bought or owned it, and what is its place within history. The judges will be looking for creativity, perceptive analysis, and effective and expressive writing.

The Linguistics Challenge invites you to consider how language changes over time with the influence of social and geographical factors. We ask you to imagine how English might change in the next 500 years, perhaps concentrating on a particular social group and/or a particular context in which the language is used, and provide a sample text written in the language of 2520AD.

For the Modern Languages Challenge we ask you to write a critical essay on a recent work of literature or visual art, which is in one of the main languages taught by the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages at the University of Cambridge (French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian or Portuguese). The judges will be looking for precise observation and attention to detail, original ideas, perceptive analysis, and expressive and effective writing.

And finally, this year’s Natural Sciences Challenge asks you to develop a classroom presentation or activity on a scientific topic within either the Behavioural Sciences, Earth Sciences, Evolution, Materials Science or Physiology – subjects offered in the first year of the Cambridge Natural Sciences course.

The closing date for the Schools Prizes is Friday 5 June 2020. All the details and coversheets needed for submission can be found on our Schools Prizes webpages. We welcome entries from students of all schools and all backgrounds.

Good luck and we look forward to seeing your work.

Any queries about the prizes should be directed to

Share Share