This is an HTML version of an attachment to the Freedom of Information request 'HSPS Part I 2017-18 Examiners reports'.


 
Dr James Knapton 
Information Compliance Officer 
 
 
 
 
Derrick Chua 
 
By email 
 
 
Reference: FOI-2018-639 
31 October 2018 
 
 
 
 
Dear Mr Chua, 
 
Your request was received on 4 October 2018 and I am dealing with it under the terms of the Freedom 
of Information Act 2000 (‘the Act’). 
 
You asked: 
 
Please provide the 2017-18 internal and external examiners' reports for the following HSPS Part 
I subjects: POL1, POL2, SAN1, SOC1.  

 
The requested information is attached. 
 
Please note that the attached documentation should not be copied, reproduced or used except in 
accordance with the law of copyright. 
 
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complaint or request an internal review of this decision, you should contact us quoting the reference 
number above. The University would normally expect to receive your request for an internal review 
within 40 working days of the date of this letter and reserves the right not to review a decision where 
there has been undue delay in raising a complaint. If you are not content with the outcome of your 
review, you may apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a decision. Generally, the 
Information Commissioner cannot make a decision unless you have exhausted the complaints 
procedure provided by the University. The Information Commissioner may be contacted at: The 
Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF 
(https://ico.org.uk/)
 
 
 
 
The Old Schools 
Trinity Lane 
Cambridge, CB2 1TN 
 
Tel: +44 (0) 1223 764142 
Fax: +44 (0) 1223 332332 
Email: xxx@xxxxx.xxx.xx.xx 
www.cam.ac.uk 
 



 
 
 
Yours sincerely, 
 
James Knapton 
 

POL 1 
EXAMINER’S REPORT 
2017-2018 
 
178 undergraduates in HSPS, 38 in History & Politics and 13 in other Triposes 
were registered to sit this paper.  The quality of the scripts was generally good 
as was their presentation: 38 achieved Firsts and the average was 65.  Most 
were easily legible; ‘separation’ was the only word that was repeatedly 
misspelled. 
Most candidates chose at least one question from Section 1.  The question on 
Hobbes attracted by far the most responses (86), that on Weber (78), Constant 
(29), Violence and Power (27), Hayek (22), and Schmitt (9).  
 In Section 2, Question 9, ‘Can the people ever rule in democracy?’ was the 
most popular (53 responses), followed by Question 7, ‘Does the American 
constitution offer an effective means of containing the problem of 
factions?’(34), Question 12 on the political influence of income and wealth in 
representative democracy (27), Question 11, ‘What does the form of 
government in modern politics explain about national economic outcomes’ (23), 
Question 8 ‘Does democracy require a socially united society?’ (11), and 
Question 10, ‘Does democracy sacrifice good policy outcomes to partisanship 
and irrationality’ (8).  
In Section 3, Question 14, ‘How did Gandhi understand the connection between 
modern politics and modern technology?’ dominated (with 50 responses), 
followed by question 15 ‘Why did Nietzsche think that democracy was a slavish 
form of politics?’ (28), 13, ‘Was Marx right to think that the modern state 
would eventually face a crisis it could not overcome?’ (26), and 16, ‘Why is 
politics so tribal?’(8) 
The average mark for each of the questions was between 64 and 68.  The most 
interesting essays genuinely engaged with the questions and the issues they 
raised, demonstrated careful reading of the primary texts and relevant literature, 
referred to them succinctly and precisely, and revealed further reading.  Those 
essays provided specific pertinent political examples or illustrations to bolster 
their argument, which was made clear from the onset. They were well-
structured and balanced, flowed well to the end and the argument was evenly 
sustained throughout.  

The attractiveness of questions from Section 1 did not mean that candidates 
knew the primary texts.  All too few candidates seemed to have read them. In 
some cases, Hobbes or Constant’s very own and most famous pronouncements 
were attributed to the lecturer for POL 1; thus Professor Runciman became the 
author of the description of life in the state of nature ‘as nasty, brutish and 
short’. Many of the answers on Hobbes consisted of disproportionately long 
descriptions of his account of the state of nature thereby leaving little time to 
reflect on life in civil society and its specific character.  Only one candidate 
reflected on Hobbes’ view of the relationship between states and violence 
between states.  Too few answers on Weber assessed the relative importance of 
the qualities of responsible political leadership.  Many answers on Hayek lacked 
specificity.  Too many answers to the question of state violence gave what was 
deemed to be Arendt or Fanon’s treatment of the subject rather than answering 
the question using these or other relevant authors.  All too often, it was not clear 
what controlling the violence of the state might be taken to mean. 
Similar comments might be made about many of the answers to the questions in 
Section B and C.  What could be understood by a ‘socially united society’, ‘the 
people ever rul[ing]’, ‘good policy’ or ‘irrationality’ was not explained in a 
number of scripts.  Answers to questions 11 and 12 were often little more than a 
precis of one or two key texts on the subjects, and these were not always 
accurate. The answer to the question on Gandhi required a specific assessment 
of his views of modern technology and politics and of his view of their 
interconnection.  That on Nietzsche called for more than a summing up of his 
view of Christianity and morality.  Answers to questions 16 needed to probe the 
various ways in which politics might seem tribal and the ways in which it might 
not. 
This said, there were some exceptionally good scripts; indeed, some exceeded 
even the highest expectations one might have of first year undergraduates.  
Beautifully written, they showed their authors to have benefitted from the 
lecture series as a platform from which to explore the literature and the issues 
for themselves, thereby enabling them to respond to the questions in a nuanced 
and informed manner, but also a personal and distinctive one. 
 
 
 

Internal Examiner’s Report 
POL2 
 
There were 177 candidates for the paper in HSPS; marks ranged from a high of 73 to 
a low of 46, though most marks were between the 60-70 range.  The distribution of 
marks is thus well within Cambridge norms.  
 
The exam was changed last year. This year kept those changes, including the 
introduction of a cross-cutting question, of which the students selected one of four. 
Students were specifically directed to draw on material from more than one module 
in their answers, which they were able to do very effectively. The introduction of a 
cross-cutting question continues to be a useful way to get the students to draw 
common themes out of sometimes disparate material across the paper. Last year’s 
examiners reports noted that the students were disproportionately answering some 
of the cross-cutting questions. Though there has been some improvement in this 
regard, there is room for more. 24 students answered Q1; 47 answered Q2; 73 
answered Q3; and 27 answered Q4. The most popular question (Q3) was the 
broadest of the cross-cutting questions. Next year’s exam setters may want to keep 
that in mind. Another way to improve the spread would be to write the cross-cutting 
questions before lectures start and to actively gesture to each of the cross-cutting 
themes over the course of the year. Some of these answers were excellent; however, 
it would be hoped that students might take the cross-cutting questions as an 
opportunity to think and write more creatively about the themes uniting different 
parts of the course. Indeed, the answers that took risks to draw less obvious 
connections among diverse material generally scored highly. We also welcome the 
external examiner’s suggestion that the students should also aim to draw from other 
papers in their answers.  
 
For questions 5-16, there was generally an even spread of answers, except for Q10 
(‘Are drones effective tools in counterinsurgency?’), which only 5 people answered. 
This question also had the weakest answers, with a 59.6 average. Though not 
statistically significant, the unpopularity of this question when coupled with the 
weakness of answer should be kept in mind during the 2018-9 year both in the 
design of the lectures and the exam. The second least popular question was Q15 
(‘Are we undergoing systemic change now?’), which got only 12 answers. This is 
likely because that module (5) was condensed as a result of the strike. Nevertheless, 
the two questions from module 5 were answered by 37 students in total (with 
averages of 62.1 and 65.5), so the strike did not have an inordinate impact. 
 
What distinguished strong and weak answers was similar to last year: those that did 
best were those essays that explicitly drew on specific authors, texts, or schools of 
thought from the relevant literature; that framed a clear debate around the question 
and provided well-reasoned and thoughtful counterarguments; that drew on 
relevant empirical material in enough depth so as to avoid becoming a “current 
affairs” essay; and that showed a breadth of readings but were able to focus on a few 
key texts and critically engage with their ideas and arguments. Some students drew 

on material from other papers, in particular POL1, SAN1, or SOC1; those that did so 
generally scored highly, not because drawing on readings from other papers was 
rewarded for its own sake, but rather because drawing on texts from outside the 
paper’s core reading required that students develop original approaches to the 
ideas. Thus, those essays that entailed diverse readings were also generally the 
essays that showed a particularly thoughtful engagement with the material and so 
were able to construct insightful arguments of their own as a result. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Internal Examiners’ Report, 2018.

SAN1. Social Anthropology: The Comparative Perspective.

Overall, the scripts this year demonstrated a good knowledge and understanding
of the material covered in the course. The better scripts showed breadth of
knowledge, and generally tackled questions from different parts of the course.

Answers did tend to bunch on a few topics, often to the disadvantage of
candidates who chose them, because they often wrote out pre-prepared answers
to questions on those topics, which were not answers to the questions actually
asked in the examination. The most conspicuous case here was the economic
anthropology question on ‘embeddedness’. A large number of candidates wrote
an essay on gifts (usually gifts-vs-commodities) which were very poor answers
to the question set, and many showed no knowledge of the concept of
embeddedness or the literature in which it figures. They generally received poor
marks, in consequence. Many of the answers on kinship and gender were
similarly disappointing, being reproductions of lecture notes and/or supervision
essays on a different question. On politics, there were some good answers on
order (Q9), but the question about ‘human scale’ (Q8) seemed to throw the few
candidates who attempted it. In sum, many candidates suffered from over-
cautiousness, and would have done better to depart more from their prepared
scripts, and think on their feet to answer the questions on the examination
paper. The best candidates did this consistently, drawing on material from
across the paper, rather than confining themselves to conventional ‘topics’, as
they did so.

Some of the best scripts tackled the questions that were least often attempted:
the relatively few answers on theory (Qs 1 and 2) were generally very good, as
were answers on the set texts, where several essays were quite original, and
most showed thorough knowledge of the texts, so they answered the questions
asked in an original and substantive way. In fact, a high proportion of the best
essays for this paper were on the set texts.

Although few candidates attempted questions on theory, many did show
evidence of a broad understanding of the history of anthropological theory in
their answers to other questions; this was given due credit.

A very few scripts displayed exceptionally poor judgement, such as an
intemperate attack on an important theorist, based on his physical appearance.
This childish, offensive, and fatuous writing did not receive much credit.



Jam



 
Part I, Soc. 1 Examiners Report, 2017-2018 
 
The overall performance on this paper was quite good this year. One hundred fifty five 
students sat the exam. Forty four students received firsts, one hundred received 2:1s, and 
eleven received 2:2s. The mean mark was 65. The most popular question on the exam 
was on Marx which was selected by 79 students. The next most popular questions were 
those on intersectional feminism (66), Weber (64) and class (64). The least popular 
questions were those on world culture (5), the state (11) and digital technology and war 
(14). Other questions were answered by a range of students that stretched from 25 to 40. 
The best scripts were those that succeeded in: a) synthesizing an exceptionally wide 
range of the relevant literature into a coherent and methodical answer to the question; b) 
provided detailed exposition of the arguments of all major figures in a given literature 
and the array of critiques that have been levied against them; c) took a position such that 
the essay exhibited both whether and why the candidate agreed or disagreed with the 
arguments presented. 
 
Some of the more common weaknesses that brought candidates’ marks down were: a) 
reliance on superficial summaries of the literature; b) answers that while exhibiting an 
acquaintance with the relevant literature, failed to remain consistently on point with 
respect to the specific question asked; c) omissions of relevant authors, arguments, or 
critiques, and d) factual errors.    
 
 
       
 


 
Vice-Chancellor of the University, 
University of Cambridge,  
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx@xxxxx.xxx.xx.xx 
26 September 2018 
Dear Vice-Chancellor, 
 
Re: External Examining of HSPS Part 1, Papers POL1 and POL2 
This is my second year as external examiner for the Part One Politics papers. I remain 
impressed by the organisation of the process, the speed, efficiency and helpfulness of the 
administrative staff. 
 in particular is to be commended.  
 
With regard to the material I reviewed I remain confident that the standards are appropriate for 
the examination and the qualification is most certainly comparable with similar programmes in 
other UK institutions with which I am familiar. The two papers for which I have responsibilities 
(POL 1 and POL 2) provide first year undergraduates with a strong, broad grounding in the 
subject on which they can build in the second year. POL1, taking The State as a theme, is able 
to combine political theory and wider political analysis in interesting ways while also focusing 
students’ attention on aspects of contemporary political change. POL2 provides an excellent 
introductory combination of conceptual and methodological approaches to IR with study of key 
issues. In other universities such courses might include more on the study of particular political 
institutions (parties, legislatures and so on) but I think that these are well-covered in later years 
and appreciate the original and distinct aims of both papers.  
 
With regard to the material I reviewed I remain confident that the assessment was fair, and that 
the determination of awards was soundly and fairly conducted. Of the scripts I reviewed quality 
was often high and the best were truly excellent. I would note, however, that the procedure for 
selecting scripts for me to see was different on the two papers. It might be sensible to 
standardise this to some degree to aid comparability between them. That might necessitate a 
decision on exactly what you want the external examiner to do. It is common today for 
institutions to ask External Examiners to look at a sampled range of marks in order to comment 
on standards overall, and for split decisions to be resolved before reference to the examiner. In 
this case I was asked to adjudicate splits but also, in one paper, to look at all the scripts with a 
mark of 75 or over, and those which were 68/9 or 58/9 with some marks in the higher class; on 
the other paper I was asked to look at 68/9 and 58/9 and those below 55. Clarity as to what you 
want me to do for you would be helpful. 
  
When reviewing marks, and especially split decisions, it was very helpful to see all the marks for 
the cohort and all the comments made by markers. This gave me a clear sense of the range 
and of the approach. Moderators are doing a difficult job well, ensuring that there is 

commonality across markers. I saw a couple of scripts with short answers for the third question 
and in one case moved the mark down in line with the criteria provided (which refer to answers 
that are ‘radical y incomplete’). Colleagues were, I think, marking on what they thought they 
could see coming. Some further guidance for examiners here might be helpful.  
 
I did notice that some splits turned on judgements of the importance or quality of the use by 
candidates of primary texts and of secondary sources. Some also turned on judgements of the 
appropriateness of candidates applying political theories to contemporary examples. It may be 
that colleagues have slightly different expectations when marking. I am not convinced that all 
the students who did quite well are really very familiar with the original texts by Hobbes, Weber 
or Schmitt to which they referred in their answers. I also noticed that the published criteria don’t 
say anything explicit about the use of sources. It might be worth the Department and the various 
Directors of Study or relevant supervisors reflecting collectively on – I hesitate to use the phrase 
– the ‘intended learning outcomes’ of the first-year papers, and perhaps clarifying the marking 
criteria which are a teaching as well as a marking tool.   
 
In a similar vein it might be worth reflecting on the breakdown of the questions attempted. On 
POL 2, of the four questions in Section A, 70 answers were to Q3 (on Global Optimism), the 
next highest being Q2 (on International Law) with 46. On the second section only 5 answered 
Question 10 (on domestic and international counterterrorism) with most choosing questions 5, 6, 
& 11 (9/11, War on Terror and Bolton on the ICC). On POL1 Section A from a choice of six, 151 
of 209 answers were to Q1 and Q3 (Hobbes and Weber). There is a clear bunching around 
certain questions. This may well not matter. It’s certainly common for students to focus on a few 
topics (often those which came earlier in the course). But if we are to be happy with it then it 
should be because we made the conscious choice to be so.  
 
Finally, as last year, I am not convinced that the scripts always show the depth of critical 
analysis one might like and that one can fairly expect of Cambridge undergraduates in their first 
year. The bunching of marks at the mid 2.1 level may reflect the fact that a number of students 
are quite good writers and have learned well how to present in summary form the key ideas and 
arguments from lectures and supervisions. They are able to prepare for the examination 
knowing that each core topic has a specific question attached to it (answers which tended not to 
refer to other material taught on the same paper). The students then produce scripts which 
deserve their 2.1 but which could have been much better. Of the questions on POL1 only one 
explicitly asked for an evaluation of a key thinker as opposed to merely explaining them. This is 
the question on Marx (an odd discrepancy which I remarked upon when reviewing the papers) 
and it produced some good, interesting, answers. The Department might like to consider: 
including more questions which invite students to be evaluative or to develop a critical 
argument; including questions requiring reference to more than one theory or key concept; 
including open questions which invite the best students to demonstrate their learning from 
across the paper.  
 
I also noted, as I did last year, that there was little to indicate that students on these courses 
were also studying Social Anthropology or Sociology. Question 1 on the Sociology paper and 
Question 13 on POL1 both ask about Marx and crisis so, presumably, there is some overlap in 
learning here. While we wish to avoid students being able to reproduce answers in different 
exams we might want them to draw on their wider reading and learning. But one could not tell 
that students answering the question on Weber had read or been taught anything other than the 
essay on politics as a vocation. Similarly students on POL2 answering questions about race and 
international politics or colonialism might have drawn on material form their learning in Social 

Anthropology but rarely did so. It would be interesting to know in this context if there is anything 
different about the scripts for these exams written by candidates for the History and Politics 
Tripos and which I did not see. Do they apply their historical studies in their answers to 
questions about politics?  
 
In closing I want to reiterate my conviction that the standards are high. I raise the issues I have 
raised as things that the Department might like to think about. They are neither requirements 
nor recommendations on which I insist. The scripts I reviewed were often very impressive and 
indicative of the great quality of the curriculum, the teaching and the overall organisation.  
 
 
Yours sincerely,  
 

 
FULL REPORT 
This is my first year as external examiner for HSPS Part 1 SAN1 paper. Processes for assessment and 
determination of awards are sound and fairly conducted. I am grateful for the administrator’s efficiency. 
My comments on overlaps between the draft exam questions were fully taken into account, and the 
exam questions seemed fair and challenging, although there seems to have been an uneven spread in 
the exam questions attempted, with a combination of four particular questions attempted in most of the 
17 scripts I reviewed, so it might be worth trying to standardise the apparent accessibility of questions. 
Students generally appeared to be very well-read, writing well-referenced essays and made good use 
of ethnographic material. Weaker essays appeared to reflect lectures and/or supervision essays; 
stronger essays showed originality and insight, reflecting considerable independence of thought. 
This year there were fewer disputed scripts in which the two markers had not been able to come to 
agreement (6 compared to 12 last year). Essay splits were provided in some but not all disputed 
scripts. Rationales were provided only for unresolved disputes, and some of these were in the 3rd 
person, implying that they arose out of a discussion at that stage rather than having been copied and 
pasted from the markers’ original notes. As discussed at the exam board, it would be preferable to 
provide the SAN1 external examiner with a) marks by essay and b) markers’ original rationales.
 
This year the three POL1/POL2, SOC1, and SAN1 external examiners were put in the same room 
together, which was good as it enabled us to compare exam questions and identify some differences in 
how exams are marked and the data provide to examiners: 
1. EXAM QUESTIONS. There were overlaps in similar questions being asked on different papers, 
which might encourage students to think beyond the unit and across disciplines, but makes it 
technically possible for students to replicate substantially the same work in two papers, and it seems 
from marker comments (on a POL script) that candidates might have been marked down for drawing 
on material prepared for another unit. As discussed at the exam board, exam convenors from the 
constituent parts of the HSPS Tripos should feel empowered to alter questions set by lecturers 
should it transpire during the exam setting meeting that some questions are too similar.
 
2. MARKING DATA. We found the following differences in the data that we were asked to look at: 
 
SOC1 provides two markers’ marks and rationales for each mark, with some evidence of 
discussion leading to moderation of marks. 
 
POL1 and POL2 provide three essay marks from the 1st marker and one overall script mark 
from the 2nd marker, who is in effect a moderator rather than a 2nd marker. 
 
SAN1 provides two markers’ marks per script, with essay splits provided in some but not all 
disputed scripts (see above), and rationales provided only for unresolved disputes (see above). 
3. There are two substantive differences between the POL1/POL2/SOC1 and the SAN1 marking 
criteria. It makes sense to refer specifically to ethnography in the SAN1 marking criteria. However, I am 
not convinced that it makes sense to refer to “A script (in the SAN1 marking criteria) rather than “An 
answer” (in the POL1/POL2/SOC1 marking criteria). Indeed, this focus on a ‘script’ may be what gave 
rise to at least three examples of inflated marks for scripts in which candidates only attempted one or 
two rather than all three questions. As discussed a the exam board, I recommend replacing “A 
script” with “An answer” in the first sentence for each grade profile, and referring only to “a 
script” in the final sentence (about use of ethnography across all answers on a script).
 

 
 
School for Policy Studies 
 
15th July 2018 
 
Dear Vice Chancellor, 
 
In my first  year as an external examiner for this Tripos the procedures were robust and 
standards high  across the board.  I have noted  below  some more detailed  comments  for 
reflection by the exam board. 
 
Questions and Marking Standards 
The questions posed for examination  were formulated well and encouraged students to 
analyse  critically  rather  than  just  describe  knowledge:  the  range  of  material  covered 
included both classic texts within the discipline and contemporary debates that reference 
current social issues. This may have been responsible for the good spread of responses. 
The comments provided by markers were brief, but helpful in explaining why a mark had 
been awarded. From discussion with externals examining other papers on the same Tripos 
it seems clear that there are a range of difference practices going on and the Sociology 
paper had the best examples of good practice. For example, the overview of the internal 
examiner ensured consistency in style and standard of questions asked. However, not all 
of the scripts had comments from both markers which made it harder to reconcile when 
there was large discrepancy and I would ask for this to be checked for next year. 
 
Marking Process 
The current marking process is to use double blind marking which has often been referred 
to as the gold standard ensuring the fairest and most robust marking. This is becoming 
increasingly  uncommon  at  other  institutions.  Partly  due  to  the  pressure  of  time  -  not  a 
good  pedagogic  reason  for  change  -  but  also  due  to  questioning  over  whether  it  does 
produce fairer results (see the research of Susan Bloxham). In the first year papers while 
all scripts are double marked there are different combinations of pairings. Given the large 
number of scripts to mark it could be that a moderation system with one or two members 
of staff having an overview of all the work would ensure consistency. While not arguing 
for a particular system I would suggest that the programme board considers the advantages 
and  disadvantages  of  maintaining  double  marking  versus  other  systems  such  as 
moderation or non-blind double marking. 
 
Quality of Answers 
In general candidates were well read and able to reference a good range of literature in 
their answers: there were very few weak answers. There is strong evidence then that the 
first year teaching had provided students with a sure foundation for Part 2 papers and the 
lecturing  staff  and  tutors  should  be  commended  for  this.  The  very  best  really  strong 
answers took a clear position on their response to the question and the very best did so by 
drawing on different examples and deviating from standard positions. Where there were 
discrepancies  in  marks  it  seemed  to  be  the  relative  weight  given  to  the  clarity  and 

originality of the argument that made the difference. There were some really outstanding 
essays that, as would be expected, are some of the best in the country and these could have 
been awarded higher marks. Nevertheless, sometimes marking on the first class borderline 
was slightly generous with coverage of debates rather than engagement with them given 
a lot of credit and some first class marks were awarded that did not go much further than 
this.  
 
Yours Sincerely, 
 
 

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