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Department of Computer Science and Technology


In the period between receiving exam results and arriving in Cambridge, it is all too tempting to sit back and relax. However, it can be beneficial to take a more active role in preparing to start your studies, and this page is intended to assist.

The Pre-Arrival Online Course

For students starting Computer Science in October 2023 there is an OPTIONAL online pre-arrival course for you to complete before term starts. Although it is optional, we strongly recommend you do it since it covers some basics. If you already know the content, you should be able to complete the course very quickly (a few hours)

The course is available at this link and if you do wish to complete it, we suggest you do so before the start of term on 5 October 2023.

Step 1: Get Your Login Details

To log in you must have your Raven ID and Password. The Raven ID, more commonly called a CRSID, is your username for all computer services in Cambridge. A CRSID is composed of your initials followed by a number (e.g. rkh23). The password is set by you as part of the online student registration process that you must complete before arriving.

The process will therefore go as follows:

  1. Wait until you receive your email invitation to register as a student. We expect these to be send at the very end of August/start of September. Unfortunately you cannot start the course until you have received that email.
  2. Complete the registration process to get a Raven ID and password.

Step 2: Log Into Moodle

The course is delivered through the University's Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) which is called Moodle and is available at

  1. Log into using the "Raven" link in the top right and the credentials from the previous section.
  2. You will be prompted to change your password and to fill in your profile.

Step 3: Locate the Course

Once the preliminaries are done, you will find yourself looking at a page summarising your profile.

  1. Find the Navigation menu on the left of the screen and click "My Home".
  2. You should now see a welcome box, possibly above a list of courses that you have already been enrolled on in the Moodle Platform.
  3. If there is a course entitled "IA Computer Science Pre-Arrival Course" then click on it. Else go to Step 3a.

Step 3a: [Optional] Get Enrolled on the Course

If you do not see the "IA Computer Science Pre-Arrival Course" option in the previous step, you have not been enrolled for it yet. We will be auto-enrolling all CST students so if you don't see that course, please email to get that fixed.

If you are not a Computer Scientist and just want to do the course for interest, you can enrol on the course page with the enrolment key PreArrival-Interest-2022 (please do not do this if you are a Computer Scientist, since you will end up in the wrong internal group).

If you have any problems please email providing your full name and your CRSID/Raven ID. Remember that your Raven ID or CRSID was the one assigned to you in Step 1 above.

Step 4: Get Going!

The moodle pages should lead you through what you need to do. You can log in and out at any time. You must complete the course by the first thursday of term (i.e. the day 'lectures' start).

Getting Help

If you need any assistance in getting access to the online course, please email us in the first instance. Once you have access please use the online forum within the Moodle course to ask for help or guidance.

This online course has two components: an introduction to the Fundamentals of Computer Science, and a first course in programming with Java.  It ensures everyone is starting the course at the same point. There are a series of exercises that are automatically assessed online and must be completed before arrival. The course will be administered through the University's online teaching system.

The Maths Workbook

The Computer Science course in Cambridge builds on a strong mathematical foundation. Therefore we also require students complete the maths workbook before arrival in October.

Please attempt all the exercises in the Mathematics for the Natural Sciences Workbook produced by the University's Faculty of Mathematics before you arrive. The Isaac Physics website offers an online version of the workbook, and videos and tutorials.


It is not a requirement to have a laptop. The entire course can be done using only the University and College computing facilities. However in recent years most, if not all, undergraduates have come with a laptop. Following this trend, we are moving to a model where much of the assessed practical work can be completed on personal computers.

You may therefore find it useful to have a personal computer. A basic laptop is sufficient since substantial computation can always be performed on University machines via an Internet connection.

Active Learning and Skill Building

CamGuides for Undergraduates provides useful information for all students.

Many elements of computer science are 'hands on', and this is often an excellent way to learn.  Learning new languages or extending your knowledge of those you already know can be helpful. Similarly, acquainting yourself with modern tools can be an advantage e.g. command line tools, UNIX tools, debuggers, compilers, shell scripts.  You may find playing around with a Raspberry Pi or similar of value for this.

General Reading

The most important preparation is to build up a broad background understanding of issues in computer science. There are a variety of useful books to this end: an excellent informal collection of accessible and relevant articles is:

  • The new Turing omnibus, A Kee Dewdney, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003, ISBN 978-0805071665.
    Remember to try the exercises at the end of each chapter.

Computer science relies heavily on mathematics,not only for formal proofs but also as the language used to describe almost every aspect of the subject. You will need to be fluent in mathematics and familiar with the ideas of formal proof. An excellent introduction is:

  • How to think like a mathematician, Kevin Houston, Cambridge University Press, 2009,ISBN 978-0-521-71978-0.
    Don't be misled by the title; this book is absolutely relevant for computer scientists. It includes many worked examples and also illustrates common mistakes.

It is worth keeping up with advances in science more generally. Magazines like Scientific American and New Scientist cover a wide range of topics in an accessible style, and often have articles relating to computer science. Of course, there are also many web sites that carry technical news.

Finally, you might like to look at some recommended text books for first-year lecture courses. Follow the link to Part IA and click on the Syllabus page for any of the lecture courses listed. Several books are included for each major course and you might like to look at more than one to find which suits you. Printed notes will be handed out for most courses, and college libraries will have copies of these books, so you do not need to buy all of these.

More Information

The Department for Computer Science and Technology's web pages at carry a lot of information about the course. The Director of Studies at your college will also be pleased to advise you. If all else fails, the Student Administration Secretary in the Department should be able to help.