University Challenge breakdown — Q: Students of which subject are most likely to be winners?

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By Will Buckley on

Clue: It’s not geology, philosophy or zoology


Anyone tuning in to the final on Monday night who was on top of their University Challenge stats would have known the result before Paxman even asked a question.

It was an all-Oxbridge quiz-off between St Johns, Oxford (history, theology, history & Russian, chemistry) and Peterhouse, Cambridge (history, history, geology and history) and it turned out to be a comfortable win for the Cambridge team. Proving once again that when it comes to University Challenge the golden rule is that if you want to get ahead, get a historian.

The more historians you have on your side the more likely you are to prevail and Peterhouse with double the number of historians won comfortably by 215-30 (incidentally, the equal lowest score in a Paxman hosted show).

Analysing the composition of the winning teams since the first contest in 1963 reveals the following subject-by subject leaderboard:


A second giveaway was that Charlie Clegg was bidding to become only the second pure Theology student to win the competition in 53 years (trivia obsessives will know that Colin Telfer from Durham in 2000 is the sole theologian to lift the UC trophy). God may work in mysterious ways but it seems he is not too concerned with performing his wonders on the prime-time BBC quiz show. The silver rule when it comes to UC is that theology students should be turned away at the auditions door.

The nation’s student lawyers will doubtless scoff and cavil at the list, perhaps claiming that they are too busy studying or politicking away at the Union or the Law Soc to have time for trivia. Certainly, the fact the lawyers pipped the equally hard-working medics by half-a-student (and what a classically lawyer way to win that is) and that engineers do not even make the top dozen (do they even know UC exists?) might support such a claim.

It could, however, be that the scoffers and cavillers are mistaken. After all, The mighty Ted Loveday (Vine below) who last year became the first lawyer to lift the Adrian Moakes designed stainless steel UC trophy in 32 years (32 years of hurt never stopped the wooly-jumpered law student dreaming) has just secured a £60,000 a year pupillage at Maitland Chambers. That’s more than five grand a pop for every starter question he answered correctly in the final. Nice corn.

Perhaps with pupillages ever harder to come by barristers are starting to note that an ability to make a swift and plausible stab at an answer might be an invaluable asset in a potential member of chambers. If you can handle Paxman, you can handle any man.

What’s more, you don’t even necessarily have to know that much trivia as long as you have the luck of the draw. How hard can it really have been to beat the Manchester side of 1975 who, whatever the question, restricted their answers to Karl Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and Che Guevera?