This is an HTML version of an attachment to the Freedom of Information request 'Request past exam papers for English Literature'.


 
 
 
FACULTY OF  
ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE 
 
 
 
 

EXAMINERS’ REPORTS 
2010 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Version for Faculty Meeting 
25 October 2010 

 

 
INDEX 
 

 
Moderations 
Dr H Small 

Paper 1 
 

Paper 2(a) 
 

Paper 3(a) 
 

Paper 3(b) 
 
10 
Paper 4 
 
11 
Classics & English Moderations 
Dr L Morgan 
14 
Modern History & English Preliminary 
Dr N Davidson 
16 
English & Modern Languages Preliminary 
Dr R Robertson 
17 
Final Honour Schools 
Dr H Barr 
21 
Course I 
 
 
Paper 1  
 
24 
Paper 2 
 
25 
Paper 3a 
 
26 
Paper 3b 
 
27 
Paper 4 
 
29 
Paper 4a 
 
29 
Paper 4b 
 
30 
Paper 5 
 
30 
Paper 6 
 
31 
Paper 7  
 
32 
Paper 8 
 
38 
Course II 
 
42 
FHS External 
Professor J Boffey 
46 
FHS External 
Dr R Lyne 
48 
FHS External (and FHS E & ML) 
Professor F O‘Gorman 
50 
Classics & English FHS 
Professor M Leigh 
52 
Classics & English FHS External 
Dr R Lyne 
53 
Classics & English FHS External 
Professor B Gibson 
54 
English & Modern Languages FHS 
Professor J Naughton 
58 
Modern History & English FHS 
Dr P West 
60 
Modern History & English FHS External 
Professor J Boffey 
62 
Modern History & English FHS External 
Professor P Marshall 
63 
M. St.  
Dr J Johnson 
65 
M. St. External (650-1550) 
Professor T Turville-Petre 
72 

 

 
M. St. External (1550-1780) 
Professor B Cummings 
74 
M. St. External (1780-1900) 
Professor P Fielding 
77 
M. St. External (1900-Present Day) 
Professor A Thacker 
79 
M.St. English and American Studies 
Professor I Bell 
80 
M. St. Women’s Studies 
Dr T Whitmarsh 
81 
M. St. Women‘s Studies External 
Dr R Langlands 
85 
M. St. Film Aesthetics 
Dr A Klevan 
88 
M. St. Film Aesthetics External 
Professor G Nowell-Smith 
89 
M. St Medieval Studies 
Awaiting 
 
M. St Medieval Studies External 
Awaiting 
 
 

 

 
MODERATIONS IN ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE 
PRELIMINARY EXAMINATIONS IN ENGLISH AND MODERN LANGUAGES AND IN 
HISTORY AND ENGLISH 

Dr Helen Small, Chair of Moderators 
 
PART I 
A. STATISTICS 
There were 237 candidates for English Moderations this year, 25 candidates for the Preliminary 
Examination in English and Modern Languages, and 5 candidates for the Preliminary Examination 
in History and English. There were also two candidates for the Preliminary Examination in English 
Language and Literature in September. 
Medical certificates and other submissions were presented on behalf of 18 candidates. All were 
taken into consideration. 
 
1. Numbers and percentages in each category 
Category 
 
Number   
 
Percentage   
 
2009/10  2008/09 
2007/08 
2009/10 
2008/09 
2007/08 
Distinction 
54 
  40 
  58 
22.8 
  18.0 
 17.5 
Pass 
182 
 188 
 188 
76.8 
 82.4 
 76.4 
Fail 

  0 
  0 
0.4 
  0 
   0 
 
2. Percentage of scripts marked at 70/70+ (Paper 1, period papers, plus over all papers) 
 
 
2010 
2009 
2008 
 
Paper 

26.5 
18.9 
18.7 
2a/4a 
28.9 
18.6 
23.5 
2b/4b 
28.2 
18.78 
19.5 
3a 
16.0 
18.3 
13.4 
3b 
9.6 [33 scripts] 
0  [15 scripts] 
24.3 
Overall 
24.1 
18.6 
20.3 
 
3. Preliminary Examination in English and Modern Languages 
The 25 candidates all passed. 7 achieved Distinctions in English. 
 
Preliminary Examination in History and English 
The 5 candidates all passed. 3 achieved Distinctions in English. 
 

 

 
4. Preliminary Examination in English Language and Literature (September). 
There was one candidate, for the Old English paper. The candidate passed. 
 
B. GENERAL REMARKS 
The performance overall was by some margin the strongest in recent years, with 24.1% of scripts 
marked at 70 or above, and 66.5% of scripts in the 60-69 band. Given the high number of prima 
facie Distinctions the Board chose not to reread borderline cases solely on the grounds of proximity 
to a Distinction. However, any paper for which a mark seemed aberrantly low after the collation of 
initial results (that is, any paper given a mark 7 or more percentage points lower than any other 
result in the candidate‘s profile) was reread. The most common reason for an aberrant mark was 
rubric infringement on Paper 3a, where 6 candidates failed to observe the directions prohibiting 
those students not taking Paper 4c (Beowulf and its Cultural Background) from writing on passage 
3, and prohibiting those taking Paper 4c from writing on passage 1—this despite revision of the 
rubric for clarity, and despite explicit warnings to candidates both in print and in lectures. In these 
cases the decision of the examining board was, as last year, that no marks should be awarded for the 
relevant question. The report for this paper recommends that this rubric be reconsidered: 
specifically, that we put an end to a practice of setting a third commentary passage taken by very 
few candidates each year, but which has consistently generated a rather larger number of candidates 
writing on that passage in error and consequently performing very badly on the paper. The Board of 
Examiners for next year (the last in which the paper will be set) is encouraged to find another means 
of preventing students from writing twice on Beowulf
The revision of the marking criteria to remove excessively onerous requirements for marks of 85 
and above may partially explain the increased number of Distinctions this year. The majority of 
individual candidates also seemed to be more consistent in their performance than last year, when 
very many achieved some marks of 70 or above in their profiles but failed to satisfy all the 
requirements for a Distinction. Regrettably, the change in the pass mark from 30 to 40 (restoring 
what was our practice, until a few years ago, and bringing us into line with all our joint schools) did 
not make it into this year‘s published criteria, though it was approved by UGSC. This should be 
corrected for next year, with early notification given to Moderations candidates. 
A number of candidates fell foul of the requirement on the Victorian and Modern Literature papers 
that they not write ‗substantially‘ on the same author in more than one answer. After discussion, the 
Board felt that the wording is as clear as it can be, but would wish candidates next year (and in 
future years) to pay closer attention. 
The examiners also observed a tendency, across all period papers, for weaker answers to involve 
scattershot ‗name checking‘ of writers, without displaying detailed knowledge of any one author or 
text in particular. Candidates would be better advised to focus their attention and to avoid the 
Cook‘s Tour approach. 
 
C. CONVENTIONS AND CLASSIFICATION CRITERIA (INCLUDING JOINT 
SCHOOLS) 

As last year, the criteria for classification were made known to students in the general circular from 
the Chair of Examiners. The criteria and conventions for English and all joint schools are clear and 
robust. Each joint school now has its criteria in the form of a single document. The average required 
for a Distinction on the English side in EML Prelims was raised last year from 67 to 67.5. As 
requested in last year‘s report, the criteria were published (minus those governing rereadings) in the 
EML Handbook and repeated in the Circular to Candidates. The criteria for History and English 
(which require a lower average mark, 66, to support a Distinction) were also clarified, and 
advertised in the Handbook and Circular. 

 

 
Last year‘s board requested that the fact that Prelims is a Pass/Fail examination be made explicit in 
the Criteria, the Handbook, and the Circular to Candidates from next year. This, too, needs to be 
enacted in the coming academic year. 
 
PART II 
A. ADMINISTRATION 
The third year of the Mark-It database and Oracle Student System (OSS) proved straightforward for 
Moderations. The only problem was a consequence of the entire Faculty network going down for 
much of the day on which results were to be posted. This left the Chair unable to check that the 
upload was correct and to authorize release of classifications until 6pm. The problem was a general 
one, not specific to Oracle, but it did produce an undesirable timelag between the signing of the 
class list and the posting of results on-line. The software itself is functioning adequately. That said, 
this is clearly a system devised for FHS and adapted for Mods, so that there are a number of 
presentational oddities, including the software‘s insistence on generating double columns of marks 
for a single-marker system (each mark and marker‘s initials therefore being printed twice and 
‗averaged‘). When the new system comes into operation in 2-3 years time, it would be good to see it 
reflecting the procedures and classification criteria for Moderations correctly, and to have results 
data for candidates and tutors that automatically include the candidate‘s average mark and their 
ranking within the Distinction or pass category. At present, this information has to be produced for 
each college by the Examinations Secretary independent of OSS. 
Absurd numbers of candidates continue to forget their candidate numbers, requiring the 
examination hall officials to research them. 
 
B. EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES REPORT AND BREAKDOWN OF THE RESULTS BY 
GENDER 

 
 
 
2010 
2009 
2008 
Total no. 
women 
155 (65.4%) 
143 (62.7%) 
151 (61.4%) 
Total no. 
men 
82 (34.6%) 
85 (37.3%) 
95 (38.6%) 
Distinctions  Both 
54 (22.8%) 
40 (18.0%) 
56 (22.8%) 
genders 
Of which: 
women 
29 (18.7%) 
24 (16.8%) 
34 (22.5%) 
 
men 
25 (30.5%) 
16 (18.8%) 
22 (23.3%) 
 
The substantial difference from recent years is, clearly, the greatly increased percentage of men 
achieving Distinctions overall: 30.5%—an increase of 11.7% on last year. That increase was 
primarily a consequence of a disparity of achievement on two papers: Paper 1 (Introduction to 
Literary Studies), where 31.7% of men achieved marks of 70 or above, by comparison with 23.9% 
of women; and Paper 2b/4b (Modern Literature), where 36.5% of men achieved such marks, as 
against 23.4% of women. The numbers of candidates taking Old and Middle English are less 
statistically significant, but (with that caution) the disparity remains marked: 10.7% of female 
candidates and 25.3% of male candidates achieved marks of 70 or above on Old English; 12.5% of 
female candidates for Middle English did so, but no male candidate on that paper achieved a mark 
above the II.i bracket. The picture is, however, more complex than this pattern suggests: 

 

 
performance on the Victorian paper showed no statistically meaningful gap between men‘s and 
women‘s results. 
It is not at all clear to the Examining Board why the overall performance of this year‘s cohort of 
male candidates should be so disproportionately better than was the case last year. The Gibbs Prizes 
(awarded to the top ten candidates) were shared equally between men and women, and the top 
performance in the year was by a woman. In percentage terms, the overall performance of women 
was, moreover, significantly better than in 2009, but their success is statistically put in the shade by 
that of the men. The disparity is not explained by the gender of the markers for particular papers. 
Anecdotally, there would appear to be a number of possible contributory factors, including the 
increased proportion of female to male candidates this year, but they are hardly sufficient 
explanations, and this Board has neither the information, nor the remit, to investigate them.  
 
REPORTS ON INDIVIDUAL PAPERS 
Paper 1: Introduction to Literary Studies 
237 candidates sat this paper. 63 achieved marks of 70 or above. All questions were answered by at 
least a handful of candidates, with the most popular being (from Section A) the Colin Radford 
question regarding the rationality or otherwise of weeping for Anna Karenina, ‗who never existed‘; 
the John Ashbery questions concerning the redundancy (or not) of a poet‘s ‗paraphrasing‘ 
commentary on his own work; Victor Hugo fulminating against the offence offered to genius when 
the ‗names of the dead are thrown in the face of the living‘; and the excerpt from James Naughtie‘s 
Booker Prize ceremony speech, detailing some of the problems of the literary marketplace today. 
Very few candidates attempted the Italo Calvino question, asking what valuation should be placed 
on the writer‘s literary labour, and how one might measure it; or the question (arising from 
Aristotle) about whether plot is a moral phenomenon. In Section B, the most popular passages for 
commentary were the extract from the start of Patrick White‘s Voss, and the Rexroth and Ledwidge 
laments for poets—though all passages attracted large numbers of students. 
The extension this year of the time allowed for the paper, from 2 ½ hours to 3, produced clear 
benefits. The signs, last year, that large numbers of candidates were running out of time had 
disappeared. Very few candidates misapportioned their time between the two Sections, and almost 
all appeared to have devoted significant time, as recommended, to reading the paper and planning 
their answers. 
At the top end, performance on this paper was hugely impressive: deft, independent minded 
argument on large matters for debate in the description or evaluation of literature and literary 
language. The most adept work on the commentary passages was genuinely outstanding: perceptive, 
technically accurate, and managing the work of comparative assessment purposively and 
intelligently. Individual candidates weighted their essays towards contextual argument or towards 
close criticism, as they chose, and there were exceptionally strong answers of both kinds. 
The weaker scripts, as last year, seemed determined to deposit a pre-prepared answer, along the 
lines of a highly selective survey account of the history of critical debate on a topic. The worst 
afflicted topics in this regard were in Section A: the Naughtie question, narrowly interpreted as an 
invitation to dump a survey answer on genre (with Fowler and Dubrow featuring prominently); the 
Ashbery question, widely considered as an opportunity to use prepared material on authorial 
intention without thinking at all about what ‗paraphrase‘ might mean; and the final question on the 
future of the canon—similarly narrowed to a survey answer on the status of ‗English‘ literature 
(Coetzee is relevant, certainly, but for some students seemed to have become almost the only author 
worth citing). 
In Section B: most candidates were able to write accurately about the genre of lament, and to offer a 
sufficiently full description of Rexroth‘s reworking of certain conventions (pleasingly, a number of 

 

 
students thought to make use of their work for Paper 3a on the ‗ubi sunt‘ trope). The attempts to 
describe his use of free verse were more unevenly successful, and only a minority of students 
thought seriously about the fact that this poem was performed to jazz accompaniment. Several 
candidates understood that the section on Thomas involved a tribute to Thomas‘s voice or style, but 
very few perceived that the same principle might apply to the earlier ‗Timor mortis‘ list of tributes 
to other poets of that American generation. Oddly few thought to remark on the Americanness of 
the poem, or the Welshness of Thomas and only a tiny number of candidates recognised the allusion 
to Cock Robin. The Ledwidge answers were comparatively weak: most remarked on its lyricism, 
and were able to describe acoustic effects fairly well, but very few perceived that there might be a 
typology at work in the use of the Poor Old Woman as a vehicle for the lament. Astonishingly few 
(perhaps 7 out of some 80 scripts) seemed to know that Derry is in Ireland, or to think this 
information relevant; had more done so there might have been the occasional candidate who 
understood that a politicised framework of allegory lay behind the references to ‗shame and blame‘. 
(It is to be expected that no-one knew the term Aisling, though the work of Muldoon and other Irish 
poets has been sufficiently popular on the Modern Literature paper in recent years for the principal 
examiner on this paper to have thought there might be one or two exceptions.) Several candidates 
understood that this might be a war poem, though very few thought about the double resonance of 
1916 in Ireland. Bizarrely, a few candidates suspected that the Poor Old Woman was a coded 
reference to POWs. Dunbar‘s ‗Lament for the Makaris‘ elicited some sound thinking about the 
genre of elegy, and more specifically the question of whether poetry may survive though the poet 
dies. The surprise here was that many of those students who did choose this option had very little to 
say about the religious elements in the poem, and several ignored them altogether. 
The Patrick White passage, probably the most popular overall, produced some excellent writing on 
narrative perspective. The majority of candidates writing on this passage were competent to talk 
about a qualified or contradicted omniscience, and to observe the degree to which the scene appears 
to be focalised through Laura Trevelyan. Fewer went into sufficient depth on those aspects of the 
passage which do not fit that description, or which give rise to ambiguity. Most wrote well on the 
animation of dress, and on the use of synecdoche and metonymy (‗the harelip‘). Most were also 
able to describe the disturbances to the conventional order of narration (so that description of 
location, instead of coming early on, is significantly delayed, and the names of Laura Trevelyan and 
Voss are given very late). Very few wrote in any detail at all on the description of the room—
despite the obviousness, one might have thought, of the references to heat, to sexuality, and to the 
probing of the interior by light. The difference between the strong answers and the weaker ones 
often came down to an ability to speculate intelligently about the purpose, or the overall effects, of 
these narrative and perspectival techniques. 
The passages on the essay form were in the main slightly less impressive, with a number of 
candidates content to pick out similarities and differences in approach between the four writers 
without going more deeply into style or context (sufficient information about the latter was given in 
the attributions to have prompted more thinking about the difference between an academic 
monograph/text, a nineteenth-century introduction to Montaigne written for the general reader, a 
foreword to The Penguin Book of Twentieth-Century Essays, 1999, and Clive James‘s website). The 
best answers were alert to these factors, and—pleasingly—alert to the play of humour and of 
stylistic self-display, or self-consciousness, in the pieces. 
The extracts from Michael Frayn and Margaret Edson produced some sound comparative writing, 
and some nicely detailed single-extract work. The best of these answers paid attention to the 
differences in the kind of theatre involved: Frayn‘s historical intellectual drama (devoid of stage 
directions) compared with Edson‘s metatheatricality. No one spotted, or speculated on, the 
relevance of the uncertainty principle to the form and style of Frayn‘s play—again, perhaps not a 
matter for surprise. Oddly few picked up on Edson‘s choice to make her protagonist a lecturer on 
the metaphysical poets—and not one commented on the title: W;t
 

 

 
Paper 2a: Victorian Literature 
228 candidates sat this paper. 66 achieved marks of 70 or above. The best essays—which were not 
infrequent—were a delight to read. They were wide ranging, thoughtful, and enjoyable. Perhaps 
most crucially, they showed a ready familiarity with a spread of pertinent primary works, and they 
offered well-argued interpretations of their texts, both in general but also in smaller-scale 
discussion. They typically demonstrated, as well, a relevant knowledge of secondary and sometimes 
biographical and historical material; and they were able to make telling comparisons with other 
works, both within and outwith the period. The less distinguished scripts, by contrast, let themselves 
down by treating only a very limited repertoire of writings and by a perfunctoriness of argument. 
Browning appeared in numerous essays as the author of ‗Porphyria‘s Lover‘ and ‗My Last Duchess‘ 
and not much else; Wilde was represented in too many answers by The Picture of Dorian Gray and 
little besides; Stevenson was almost exclusively the author of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, James of The 
Turn of the Screw
, Arnold of ‗Dover Beach‘. Despite, we are sure, their tutors‘ firm advice, many 
candidates evidently continue to feel obliged to open their essays with a throat-clearing page on the 
Victorian age as a period of ‗faith and doubt‘ or ‗transition‘ or ‗great upheaval‘, seldom to much 
purpose. The year produced some other curious idées fixes: particularly, many seemed to agree that 
the only way of approaching fin de siècle writing was through Nordau‘s concept of degeneration, 
variously understood. The impact of Darwinism was frequently adduced as especially important; 
but many accounts of what Darwin actually said were pretty approximate, and surprisingly few 
candidates quoted his own words. Most answers dealt with more than one author, which is wholly 
commendable; but too many were really mini-essays bolted together, with only a cursory attempt to 
connect the different parts of the discussion within a sustained comparison or as part of a 
continuous argument. Another risk run by multi-author essays, as demonstrated this year, is that 
many names are dropped but so many that no opportunity is left for the analysis of anything much 
in particular: the resulting tour d’horizon seldom shows the candidate to best advantage. Stronger 
answers varied the pace so that the genuine virtues of conspectus were not exercised at the cost of 
detail when it was telling and exemplary. Some single-author essays were excellent. Finally, 
quotation is always a good thing in an English Literature essay; but misquotation is, 
correspondingly, always a bad thing; and there were some bizarre misquotations this year, some of 
which suggested the candidate‘s tenuous grip on metre. Christina Rossetti‘s apparently memorable 
line from ‗Goblin Market‘, ‗Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices‘, came in for several inventive re-
writes. 
In time all questions were answered, with substitutes for religion (Q3), society and the artist (Q7), 
Victorian realism (Q9), women writers‘ self-awareness (Q10), representations of working class and 
urban experience (Q14), Victorian fear (Q18), and bitter utterances at the frustration of hopes (Q24) 
being the most popular. The most frequently recurrent authors were, at the top: Tennyson, George 
Eliot, and Dickens, followed a little lower down by, in rough order, Wilde, Stevenson, Hardy, 
Browning, James, Christina Rossetti, Stoker, Gaskell, Charlotte Bronte. It was refreshing to see, in 
addition, many other authors making appearances in scripts, including some American writers (Poe, 
Chopin, Whitman). 
 
Paper 3a: Introduction to Medieval Studies (Old English Literature) 
206 candidates sat this paper. 33 achieved marks of 70 or above, and there was one failure. Every 
question on the paper was attempted. As in previous years, a number of candidates breached the 
rubric which states that, if a third commentary passage is set, only candidates who are sitting 4 (c), 
Beowulf and its cultural background, may write on it. As a result, several candidates who would 
otherwise have done well on this paper received very low marks overall, even though the 
infringement was purely technical and did not involve any reduplication of material. Given the 
confusion caused by this rubric year after year, it would be worth rethinking current policy, and 
questioning the rationale behind setting a third commentary passage which only two or three 

 

 
candidates can take, at the cost of many more students writing on it by accident and losing marks in 
consequence. A bigger problem is the fact that candidates are permitted, in theory, to write a 
commentary and an essay on the same poem, and can therefore get away with writing on only two 
Old English poems on this paper. A number of candidates wrote an essay and a commentary on The 
Wanderer
 this year, and although there is at present no formal penalty for this, these candidates 
restricted their range significantly and, in most cases, repeated material across the two pieces of 
work.  
The most popular commentary passage by far was the extract from The Wanderer, although 
Beowulf also attracted some good answers. The vast majority of candidates understood the passages 
well and could explain their significance within the poem as a whole. While the weaker candidates 
tended to stick with paraphrasing and explaining what was happening, the stronger candidates were 
able to combine commentary on the context, meaning and significance of the passage with some 
excellent detail on repetition and variation, echo, alliterative collocations, and compounds. 
Commentary on metre was on the whole less successful; most candidates could not identify types of 
half-line correctly and tended to describe any line that looked longer than it should be as 
hypermetric. Likewise, most candidates did not use variation in its strict sense of grammatical 
apposition, taking it instead to refer to any sort of repetition within the passage. Still, the overall 
standard of commentary writing was high and it is clear that this exercise has been successful in 
getting students to engage with Old English poetry in the original and appreciate its styles and 
techniques. 
16 candidates chose to do the unseen translation, and it is encouraging to see this exercise grow in 
popularity. The standard, however, was mixed. The majority contained quite basic grammatical 
errors, for example, the mistranslation of personal pronouns and confusion between singular and 
plural nouns and verbs; some candidates were clearly trying to piece the words together on the basis 
of sense alone, rather than identifying the grammatical relationships between words. It looked as if 
most had not had any formal grammar training; perhaps centralised grammar classes should be 
arranged for candidates who wish to perform well on this exercise. 
Among the essay questions, the most popular were no. 3 on the Battle of Maldon and no. 6 on the 
cross in Dream of the Rood. In the first case, most candidates were familiar with the date and 
significance of the battle, and were able to refer to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles and (less often) 
Tacitus. Some of the best answers queried the statement that Maldon was ‗backward-looking‘, and 
compared it with other Old English heroic poetry, such as BrunanburhThe Finnsburh Fragment 
and Beowulf. However, more candidates seemed unfamiliar with any heroic poetry beyond Maldon 
and hence drew erroneous conclusions as to what was or was not ‗Germanic‘ or ‗modern‘ in the 
poem; arguing, for example, that a focus on individual heroism was modern, while patriotism and 
defence of one‘s homeland were Germanic. Likewise, it was clear from question 4 (on catastrophes) 
that few candidates were familiar with the concept of the heroic last stand; most equated heroism 
with victory rather than with valour shown against the odds, despite Byrthwold‘s clear statement to 
the contrary at the end of Maldon. No one mentioned Roberta Frank‘s argument that, far from being 
‗backward-looking‘, dying with one‘s lord appeared to be newly in fashion at the time the Maldon-
poet was writing.  
The questions on the Dream of the Rood elicited a number of standard answers on the role of the 
cross. The stronger candidates examined the speaking cross in the context of the riddle tradition, 
and many were able to quote from and compare other riddles they had read, as well as alluding to 
other ‗speaking‘ objects such as the Ruthwell Cross. The main problem was the wide-spread 
assumption that the Dream of the Rood was written for pagans or the newly converted in order to 
make the crucifixion accessible. Candidates were hampered by lack of knowledge/understanding of 
the theological background to the poem (one would think England was rife with Monophysites); 
and many asserted that the poem gave a simplistic account of the crucifixion, rather than reading it 
(as the best candidates did) as a complex and meditative poem that explores theological paradox. 

 

 
With a few exceptions, candidates did not seem aware of the manuscript context, and few ventured 
anything on the iconography of the cross.  
The range on most scripts was impressive, and most candidates did answer the questions in front of 
them, rather than ‗dumping‘ pre-prepared material. The overwhelming majority wrote only on 
poetry; but there were some good answers on prose saints‘ lives. Only Cædmon was relatively little 
mentioned, even by those candidates writing on dreams and dreamers. It was clear that candidates 
had read far beyond the set texts, and there were answers on JudithWulf and Eadwacer, The Wife’s 
Lament 
and The Seafarer; as well as references to EleneChrist and Andreas. In some cases, 
however, candidates stretched themselves too far in trying to show range: a perfectly decent essay 
on one or two texts would peter out into a list of other (often half-remembered) poems sharing the 
same characteristics; candidates would do much better to offer close and sustained analysis of fewer 
texts, with less name dropping. 
The weaker scripts – and even some of the middling ones – struggled with historical background. A 
number of candidates thought that Beowulf and The Wanderer (and, astonishingly, even Maldon
were originally pagan poems or were written in the very early years of Christianity. Many confused 
secular heroic with pagan values (particularly in question 11), and there was general ignorance of 
manuscript context. Birds seemed to cause particular problems for the memory: there were 
blackbirds and hawks flying through Edwin‘s hall, while crows and seagulls joined the eagle and 
hawk as birds of prey (frequently spelt ‗pray‘). Names were badly mangled and often forgotten (the 
tendency was, if in doubt, to call everybody Aelfric), and there was a range of different spellings for 
Old English words as central as ‗eardstapa‘. Some candidates seemed to think that they could get 
away with adding an Old English style ending to a modern English word to recreate forgotten 
quotations. Other typical misspellings were ‗transcience‘ (despite the word occuring correctly on 
the paper) and councils for counsels (translating larcwidum). 
 
Paper 3b: Introduction to Medieval Studies (Middle English Literature) 
31 candidates took this paper. Three produced marks of 70 or above, 21 the equivalent of upper 
second, two of lower second, and five of third class work. As these figures show, the overall 
standard showed much capable hard work, though the three Firsts, set against the five Thirds, out of 
a relatively small cohort, suggests that, amongst the majority of able candidates, this paper tends to 
be taken by weaker candidates, perhaps under the impression that it is easier than Old English. 
Many of the candidates, judged by their translations (offered as an obligatory part of their 
commentary on a passage from Chaucer) have a shaky knowledge of Middle English language, 
which did not in some cases inspire confidence in their interpretations of the rest of the material. By 
far the majority (20) chose to do the translation and commentary on the passage set from ‗The 
Manciple‘s Tale‘, rather than ‗The Nun‘s Priest‘s Tale‘, probably because it looked, superficially, 
easier. However, nearly all tripped over the translation of ‗lusty bachiler‘, though these words are 
two very well known ‗false friends‘. The best translations offered a thoughtful paraphrase, paying 
attention to the register and style of the original, but the majority wherever they could simply put 
Chaucer into modern spelling - this does not constitute translation. Some candidates appeared to be 
following an established template on ‗How to do a commentary‘, which produced dull work. 
It was disappointing to see the narrow range of texts and authors studied, especially when compared 
with work done for the Old English paper, where many had taken the opportunity to move beyond 
the set texts and had often studied this material in the original. Few candidates for Paper 3(b) 
showed wider knowledge of the Canterbury Tales than the two set texts (indeed only five chose to 
write essays on the Tales). Discussion of the drama did not in most cases stray beyond Mactacio 
Abel
 and Processus Noe among the Towneley Plays, and Mankind among the moralities. Hoccleve, 
too, with honourable exceptions, tended to be represented only by the two set texts. And discussions 
of Malory often passed judgement on him based just on Gareth and Balin, though one would think 
10 
 

 
that discussion of Malory‘s women (a popular choice) would require at least some account of 
Guinevere. Few other writers or texts were considered, though it was good to see that a few had 
looked at Henryson‘s fable of ‗The Cock and the Fox‘, in conjunction with ‗The Nun‘s Priest‘s 
Tale‘. The paper offered plenty of scope for wider discussion, as well as more focused work. 
A common problem, both in the commentaries and the essays, was a tendency to change horses mid 
stream. In the commentaries, where candidates are required to focus exclusively on a set passage, 
this invariably produced irrelevance, and quite often this was the effect in the essays, too. The bulk 
of an answer would be sensibly focused on one or two texts only for its force and cogency to be 
dissipated in the second half by scrappy accounts of some other texts, apparently resulting from a 
wish to show breadth of knowledge. Depth of knowledge resulting from close engagement with the 
texts is always to be preferred to haphazard and random generalisations. 
There was also a marked tendency among candidates for this paper to pay perfunctory attention to 
the terms of the questions asked—both which texts, exactly, are being asked about, and what the 
question itself might be getting at—raising the suspicion in some cases that prepared tutorial work 
was being ‗dumped‘. There was a marked preference for the catch-all general question at the end 
(no. 14), in part because an invitation to discuss ‗the Christian life‘ seemed to offer a chance to 
discuss both the Towneley Plays and Mankind together, rather than apart (few candidates attempted 
to consider what might have constituted ‗the Christian life‘ in the late medieval period, or what 
aspects of it might have been under review). Candidates attempting general questions of this sort 
need to be reminded that the onus is on them to provide an argumentative structure - it is too easy to 
fall into a mere listing of ‗another thing to consider‘. 
 
 
Paper 4b: Modern Literature 
202 candidates sat this paper. 57 achieved marks of 70 or above. All questions were answered, but 
the  two  most  popular,  by  a  large  margin,  were  the  questions  on  ‗identity  and/or  characterisation 
and/or  gender‘  and  ‗time‘  –  followed  by  ‗literature  and  politics‘  and  ‗the  struggle  for  verbal 
consciousness‘.  The  least  popular  question  was  the  question  about  ‗university  modernism‘, 
Kundera‘s  stinging  formulation.  This  is  perhaps  hardly  surprising,  since  the  question  invited 
candidates  to  offer  less  conventional  accounts  of  modernism  than  are  found  in  the  standard 
secondary literature. Another neglected question asked candidates to write about the second law of 
thermodynamics  and  therefore  the  whole  threat  of  an  entropic  universe  –  a  concept  once  at  the 
darkly anxious heart of intellectual life, to be found in Conrad, Joyce, Proust, Chekhov and Beckett, 
and  most  recently  in  Stoppard‘s  Arcadia,  but  now  lost  to  intellectual  history,  to  ‗university 
modernism‘.  Candidates  preferred  the  familiar,  however  inadequate  –  and  they  were  swift  to 
convert questions to something more in line with their preconceptions. 
For example, the question on Beckett‘s avowal of aesthetic exhaustion, his torpid contempt for the 
‗puny exploits‘ of art, produced many answers about the meaningless of life (not art) in Beckett‘s 
drama – a cliché like a comfort blanket. It was extremely rare for a candidate to have the gumption 
(the  brilliance,  it  came  to  seem)  to  point  out  the  obvious  –  that  Beckett‘s  position  is  a  grotesque 
libel on the extraordinarily various achievements of high modernism. Nothing ‗puny‘ about Joyce 
or several other of Beckett‘s predecessors. 
Another  notable  general  trend  is  the  way  deconstruction,  shorn  of  its  flamboyantly  rebarbative 
jargon, has quietly taken a permanent place in some undergraduate thinking. It was noticeable that 
intelligent  candidates  used  deconstruction  as  a  way  of  ensuring  flexibility,  a  goad  to  questioning 
implications  and  assumptions,  a  kind  of  permanent  revolution,  of  intellectual  restlessness  –  a 
guarantee against intellectual complacency. ‗On the one hand‘ demanded a look at ‗the other hand‘. 
An  idea  had  only  to  be  stated  to  be  interrogated  for  contrary  implications.  Of  course,  some  tyro 
deconstructionists perversely feigned not to understand the simplest phrases and tortured their texts 
into contradiction and unintelligibility.  
11 
 

 
There  were  also  brilliant  ‗conventional‘  essays  demonstrating  range  of  reference,  detail, 
intelligence, taste, lucidity. Equally, there were pedestrian  essays,  mechanically  going through the 
motions but lacking any spark of life.  
The conclusion must be that the approach in itself, theoretical or conventional, isn‘t as important as 
native intelligence and a willingness to think – not outside the box, but inside the box you happen to 
be in. Eliot in The Sacred Wood on criticism: ‗the only method is to be very intelligent.‘ 
The worst thing was a kind of gestural ‗close‘ analysis, identifying either obvious effects at great 
length  or  invisible  effects,  from  which  candidates  then  drew  unwarranted,  predetermined 
conclusions.  
Many  candidates  answering the question about  the power of the written  word eloquently, fluently 
and paradoxically denied the written word any power. It now seems axiomatic in some quarters that 
language  is  not  fit  for  purpose.  The  automatic  quality  was  illustrated  when  one  candidate  drew 
attention to the arbitrariness of the relationship of sign to signifier.  
A  surprising  number  of  candidates  used  Eliot‘s  allusive  method  to  answer  the  question  on  ‗the 
unpleasantness  of  great  poetry‘.  They  might  have  been  better  advised  to  tackle  the  later  question 
about poetry and learning. Is this an argument for giving the candidates 15 extra minutes of reading 
time? Or should that be ‗thinking time‘? 
A small but disconcerting number of candidates made no distinction between sentiment and 
sentimentality. Eroticism was as popular as the second law of thermodynamics was neglected. 
Henry Green was cited surprisingly often and Auden less written about than one might have 
expected. 
 
Paper 4c: Beowulf 
There were three candidates for this paper. 
 
Paper 4d: Middle English Dream Poetry 
No candidates. 
 
Paper 4e: Classical Literature 
Examiners were overall encouraged by the quality of work, which compared well with some 
previous years. There was little truly outstanding work but only one candidate achieved less than a 
II.1. Essays were generally well-structured and well-written, and for the most part (with some 
disappointing exceptions) answered the questions. The strongest work was distinguished by 
interpretative flair, the ability to draw on relevant textual detail from across the entirety of the texts 
in question and, crucially, a degree of sensitivity and attention to the contexts in which the texts 
were produced. A recurring problem was unexamined recourse to well-known but contentious 
critical views and clichés (e.g., Aristotle on Oedipus--not an oracle, just one theorist amongst 
many). The most popular questions were 1, 2, 5 and 6. The examiners noted with some regret that 
no candidate attempted more than one general question, even though those were often done best. 
 
Paper 4f Language and Linguistics 
There was one candidate for this paper. 
 
12 
 

 
Paper 4g: Introduction to Critical Theory 
There were 14 candidates for this paper, of whom 4 received marks in the low 70s, and the 
remainder marks in the 60-69 bracket. Of the 21 questions set, there were no takers for questions 1, 
2, 6, 13, 15, 17, 19, 20 or 21. The most popular questions—by some distance—were 10 (on gender 
and representation) and 16 (on power). The former was answered most often with reference to 
Butler's Gender Trouble, the latter with almost uniform regularity on Said's Orientalism. It would 
have been good to have seen discussion of more work written in the last decade or two, or written 
prior to 1980; in post-colonial theory, particularly, work other than Said's and work by Said other 
than Orientalism. With a few honourable exceptions, the papers demonstrated a relatively narrow 
range of reference. When this was supplemented with discussion of the critical debates around the 
work in question this paid off. Too often it left answers feeling rather thin. The best work combined 
a close focus on literary theoretical texts with a larger sense of the literary and theoretical debates in 
which those texts intervened.  
 
Paper 4h: Christina Rossetti 
No candidates. 
 
Paper 4i: Thomas Hardy 
Three candidates took this paper. 
 
Paper 4j: Virginia Woolf 
Five candidates took this paper. The majority of the essays were of an outstanding quality: incisive, 
widely read in the primary texts and in the critical literature on them, conversant with Woolf‘s life 
and the ways in which it informed her work (without making biography the sole explanation for her 
aesthetic choices). The most popular questions were on Woolf‘s views on language and knowledge; 
others were on her treatment of ―indecency‖, her realism, and the urban and pastoral in her work. 
Two candidates sought to answer the question on personality, but this proved difficult and 
challenging in the concept of ―disinfecting‖ mentioned in the exam quotation. The most successful 
essays combined an impressively wide and deep familiarity with Woolf‘s fiction with informed 
knowledge of her essays and other reflections on her own work (diaries, letters). Texts most 
frequently discussed were Mrs Dalloway, Between the Acts, To the Lighthouse, The Voyage Out, 
The Years, The Waves, Jacob’s Room, Three Guineas, Orlando, 
and a good selection of Woolf‘s 
short stories and essays.  
 
Paper 4k: Samuel Beckett 
There was one candidate for this paper. 
 
Paper 4l: Seamus Heaney 
Competent  rather  than  exciting  answers.  Too  often  candidates  off-loaded  prepared  answers  rather 
than addressing the implications of the question set. The best candidate/s responded directly to the 
poetry;  the  weaker  candidates  sought  safety  in  familiar  critical  positions  and  standard  polarities. 
There was a debilitating assumption that all Heaney‘s poetry was of equal merit. 
13 
 

 
HONOUR MODERATIONS IN CLASSICS & ENGLISH 2010 
QUALIFYING EXAMINATION FOR CLASSICS AND ENGLISH MODERATIONS 2010 
Dr Llewelyn Morgan, Chair of Examiners 
 
There were eight candidates for Mods., and one for the Qualifying Examination (Greek). Six of the 
Mods. candidates were Latinists, one a Hellenist and one with both Latin and Greek. There were six 
Seconds at Mods. (the Second Class is not divided), two Firsts, and no average lower than 64. 
The most serious issue this year was undoubtedly the Chairman‘s mistake of setting a passage of 
Propertius from a defunct syllabus. He apologised to the candidates before the following 
examination, and assured them that their performance would not suffer as a consequence of his 
mistake. To ensure that no injustice was done the Classics examiners paid special attention to any 
marks for Paper 6, the offending paper, and Paper 5, the paper that followed the next day, that fell 
below the candidate‘s average. In the final meeting the Chairman proposed that if the scores of any 
(Latin) candidates on the second half of Paper 6 were lower than their scores on the first half, they 
should be raised to match their first mark, and that proposal was accepted by the board. All these 
measures were subsequently sanctioned by the Junior Proctor. In communications with the Junior 
Proctor it had also been suggested that five passages of Latin should have been set in Section B 
rather than four, and the regulations are indeed ambiguous. But the examiners are confident that the 
measures undertaken to compensate for the incorrect Propertius passage were sufficient also to 
ensure that a putative candidate who had only, say, prepared Cicero was not unfairly disadvantaged. 
It is to be hoped that in the reform of Classics & English Paper 6 currently being proposed, which 
will bring it more closely into line with its theoretical counterpart at Modern Languages Prelims, in 
actual fact a much more demanding paper, any ambiguity in the regulations will be removed, and 
any inequality between Latin and Greek candidates avoided.  
An issue separate from concerns about Paper 6 was the generally poor performance in Paper 4, 
Unseen Translation. The average score in that paper, at 62, was low. But the same paper had been 
taken by candidates for ML Prelims, and the performance of ML candidates had been overall rather 
stronger, indicating that the cause was the level of linguistic ability of the candidates rather than any 
unusual difficulty in the paper or undue harshness in the grading. Given the criteria for 
classification, which insist on a certain degree of consistency, poor linguistic performance had 
consequences in certain otherwise very strong performances which the examiners were bound to 
regret. There was no doubt that the criteria are sound, however. 
 
Paper 1: 1509-1600 
Candidates who wrote on this paper showed range and knowledge. Particularly pleasing were those 
essays in which an understanding of classical literature was used to explain features of early modern 
writing. There were some strong, focused papers, which had good arguments and thoughtful close-
readings – these were very impressive. At the opposite end were the papers that ‗downloaded‘ 
tutorial essays or made vague generalisations about the history of the period. Candidates are 
reminded to read the question carefully and to attend to what it actually asks – rather than what they 
wish it asked.  
Paper 2: 1600-1660 
This was in general very capably handled by all the candidates. A wide range of authors, texts and 
themes were addressed, including the court masque, Ben Jonson (poetry and prose), Jacobean 
revenge tragedy, metaphysical poetry, early seventeenth-century prose (Browne, Bacon and Burton) 
and civil war poetry, notably by Marvell, Herrick and Lovelace. Nearly all candidates drew 
14 
 

 
attention to the links between classical literary texts and seventeenth-century writings. A number of 
the candidates made very good use of recent critical work in the field. 
Paper 3: Critical Commentary 
Candidates avoided the questions that allowed them to compare classical with early modern texts, 
so this exam became a close-reading exercise in English. For that, a knowledge of literary 
terminology was important. The best answers rooted their comparisons in style and content alike, 
and acknowledged what their chosen pieces did not have in common, as well as what they did.  
Paper 4: Unseen Translation 
The same paper was sat by Classics & English and Classics & Modern Languages candidates. All 
four passages were attempted, with candidates who have both Greek and Latin favouring the Lysias 
and the Ovid. Performances at the top end were impressive with only a small number of superficial 
errors while other candidates struggled seriously with the majority of sentences. Nevertheless most 
marks were in the II.1 range and none lower than a II.2. Examiners were conscious that all passages 
were challenging and graded accordingly. Candidates are reminded that it is always a mistake to 
leave words (let alone whole clauses) untranslated, even if they can make only an educated guess. 
In the Curtius Rufus passage both ‗hosts‘ and ‗guests‘ were accepted for hospites, as were 
constructions of quamvis with either Dido or fides in the Ovid. 
Paper 5: Essays on Latin & Greek Literature 
Almost all questions had at least one taker: only the second half of the Aeneid and changes in 
linguistic register failed to appeal. The most popular question by some distance was about Aeneas‘ 
psychological motivation, and although there were some good answers, many struggled with its 
central concept: being motivated by pietas is still psychological motivation, for example, as is 
reacting to Mercury‘s epiphany. Genre drew some well-informed answers; one hopes that Juvenal 
will sooner or later escape the dead hand of persona theory. In more general terms, strong papers 
will always be those with a pattern of citation independent of the secondary literature, and with a 
clear argument focused on the question. As always, there was a clear tendency for general questions 
to be better done than the author-specific questions, as candidates liberated themselves from their 
tutorial essays. 
Paper 6: Translation and Comment of Classical Literature 
For issues surrounding the setting of this paper this year, see the first section of this report. 
Notwithstanding the error in the setting, performances were typically stronger than in the essay 
paper. Translations, both Latin and Greek, showed in most cases clear evidence of good 
preparation, although not always a clear grasp of the grammar. In Latin there was again a violent 
preference for one passage of Virgil (Dido) over another (the Sibyl), with not a single taker for the 
latter. Cicero was the most popular of the other texts; in Greek the spread was wider. Candidates 
were commendably prepared to combine detailed analysis of the passages with broader 
contextualization, and an awareness of Roman rhetorical convention was especially well applied. 
 
15 
 

 
PRELIMINARY EXAMINATION IN HISTORY AND ENGLISH 
Dr N. Davidson (Chair of Examiners) 
 
5 candidates (1 male, 4 female) sat the examination. All passed, 3 with Distinctions. On the History 
side, candidates chose different periods of British History, though all sat one of the Optional 
Subjects; on the English side, 3 chose Victorian Literature, while Old English and Modern 
Literature attracted 1 student each. It was pleasing that students generally performed consistently in 
both subjects. Virtually no papers were marked below 60. 
In line with the recommendations of last year‘s Board, the guidance in the Handbook had this year 
been brought into line with the Classification Conventions, thus removing any ambiguity about the 
average required to secure a Distinction. 
16 
 

 
PRELIMINARY EXAMINATION IN MODERN LANGUAGES (Covers ENGLISH AND 
MODERN LANGUAGES) 

Professor Ritchie Robertson, Chair of Examiners 
 
This year‘s Prelims went smoothly in most respects. A total of 80 Distinctions was awarded to 270 
candidates (over the previous four years: 96, 78 and 97 Distinctions). Only three candidates failed a 
subject. A new Examinations Officer, Anna Staszewska, replaced Doris Clifton and Béné Adriaens 
and rapidly mastered a difficult job, with occasional help from her predecessors. 
 
1. Pattern of meetings 
As last year, two plenary meetings of Examiners were held: a first meeting on 20 October 2009, and 
the  final  meeting  on  8  July  2010.  Two  further  meetings  involving  only  the  Chair,  the  Vice-Chair 
and the Senior Examiners were held in Trinity Term: on 27 April, to finalize arrangements for the 
examination and to review the Chair‘s letters to candidates, examiners, and assessors; and the pre-
final meeting on 5 July to consider medical submissions and to review the marks for all candidates 
(including  Joint  Schools).  The  more  thoroughly  the  pre-final  meeting  does  its  work,  the  more 
expeditiously the final meeting can be conducted. 
 
2. Joint Schools 
The Chair of ML again  agreed to  chair the four  Joint  Schools (EMEL, EML, HML, PML) and to 
attend  the  final  meetings  in  each  Joint  School  accompanied  by  the  Vice-Chair.  History  has 
instituted  an  elaborate  set  of  rules  for  scrutinizing  their  marks  and  identifying  marking  patterns 
among  examiners,  and  are  unable  to  deliver  marks  until  the  day  before  the  HML  meeting. 
Successive History examiners may need to be reminded that candidates in HML are not considered 
as a separate cohort on the Modern languages side and that their marks are all scrutinized at our pre-
final meeting. 
 
3. Timetabling, location, and invigilation 
The  timetabling  was  organized  well  by  the  Examination  Schools,  except  that  the  dates  of  three 
papers (Russian I and III, Linguistics X) had to be changed after the first draft of the timetable had 
appeared. 
Arrangements for oral/aural examinations are still not ideal. The Russian aural comprehension test 
was  assigned  to  Room  3,  next  to  the  High  Street,  and  the  examiner  responsible  was  told  that  the 
room could not be changed. The same room was assigned to the Portuguese oral/aural examination. 
The  equivalent  Italian  examinations,  however,  was  conducted  in  Rooms  10  and  11  and  went 
smoothly. The Examination Schools need in future to be told that these examinations require a room 
that  is  not  only  remote  from  traffic  noise  but  also  distinctly  larger  than  the  number  of  candidates 
might suggest. 
The  trained  invigilators  at  Ewert  House  and  in  the  Schools  do  an  excellent  job.  The  new  Chief 
Invigilator at Ewert House, Mr Stephen Pix, is to be thanked for his meticulous work. Invigilators 
this  year included in  the packages  of scripts  blue sheets  listing all the candidates:  this made it far 
easier to check if a script appeared to be missing. The Chair and Vice-Chair should take copies of 
the  on-call  and  script  distribution  lists  with  them,  especially  when  going  to  the  Examination 
Schools, and also a summary of Special Cases (just in case information has not been transmitted to 
the Schools, though this posed no problems this year). 
17 
 

 
The  Chair  or  Vice-Chair  was  present  during  the  first  half  hour  of  each  examination  to  answer 
queries or telephone a setter. Examiners are asked, when the on-call list is being compiled, to give 
all the numbers at which they may be found: it is very inconvenient to make changes to the on-call 
list after copies have been sent to the Schools. When the script distribution list is being compiled, 
examiners  should  always  give  the  address  to  which  scripts  should  be  sent,  even  if  they  intend  to 
collect the scripts in person: otherwise, if they are detained by some accident, the Schools staff will 
not know what to do with the scripts. 
 
4. Setting of papers 
Papers  were  set  in  Michaelmas  Term  for  both  the  Trinity  Term  and  the  Long  Vacation 
examinations.  They  were  proof-read  by  the  Chair,  the  Vice-Chair  and  the  relevant  examiner, 
sometimes  also  by  the  Senior  Examiner  in  the  language  concerned.  However,  not  only  did  an 
unusual  number  of  typos  slip  through,  but  one  paper,  French  III,  was  disfigured  by  serious  errors 
and  even  the  duplication  of  a  line  in  the  commentary  passage  from  Racine.  The  most  likely 
explanation is that an earlier version of the paper was inadvertently substituted for the final version. 
The Senior French examiner sent a message to reassure colleagues that every precaution would be 
taken not to disadvantage candidates, and the Chair immediately reported this mistake to the Junior 
Proctor, who had meanwhile received complaints from two colleges and required a specific account 
of how the examiners would ensure that candidates were not disadvantaged. 
To avoid this and similar mistakes in future, it would be desirable: 
- to keep the final version of an exam paper separate from earlier versions; 
- to take over the previous year‘s template only for the cover sheet; 
- to ensure that each examiner checks the final proof of their paper; 
-  to  minimize  retyping  by  downloading,  whenever  possible,  texts  of  commentary  passages  from 
approved online sources. 
 
5. Special Cases 
A number of submissions  were  received,  even during the examination itself, about  the need to  sit 
the  examinations  in  a  separate  room  with  extra  time  to  allow  for  dyslexia  or  dyspraxia.  Seven 
medical  certificates  were  received.  A  candidate  was  knocked  down  by  a  motorist  outside  Ewert 
House when going to sit his second paper; he was accompanied to the John Radcliffe by a member 
of the Ewert House staff, and, though not severely injured, was so shaken by the accident that on his 
college‘s  advice  he  withdrew  in  order  to  take  the  examination  at  the  resits  in  September.  Of  the 
medical submissions, none needed in the event to be taken into account. 
 
6. Results summary sheets 
These  were  produced  by  the  Mark-It  programme.  Thanks  are  due  to  Dr  Naughton,  Chair  of  the 
FHS, for his help in testing the programme. However, while the defects noted in last year‘s report 
had been amended, it was discovered on checking the marks that the programme did not recognize 
that  the  further  subjects  taken  by  French  sole  and  German  sole  candidates  were  a  distinct 
component  of  the  examination;  hence  averages  were  given  on  the  basis  of  all  seven  papers,  and 
some  distinctions  were  wrongly  given  or  denied.  Fortunately  it  was  possible  to  rectify  the 
programme, and correct summary sheets were produced in time for the final meeting. 
The  programme  inconsistently  identifies  one  or  two  markers  for  each  paper.  In  future,  since  all 
Prelims scripts are single-marked, only one marker‘s name should be given. 
18 
 

 
 
7. Retention of records 
The  Chair  of  Examiners  is  now  required  to  receive  all  examiners‘  notes  on  candidates  and  all 
medical evidence. This material is to be deposited with a nominated administrative officer. 
 
8. Resits 
As the accident victim was a candidate for French sole, it was agreed that the seven papers should 
be  spread  throughout  the  week  beginning  20  September.  The  three  Spanish  candidates  should  sit 
their papers if possible on Monday 20 September. The final meeting should be held on the morning 
of 27 September. 
 
9. Examining conventions 
a) At the final meeting there was some discussion of the present examining conventions. The point 
was made that we have too many available marks. Whereas we used to have 10 (perhaps effectively 
8) grades to choose between, we are now encouraged to use the full scale of 100 and, even if we are 
cautious  we  still  have  at  least  from  30  to  85.  For  an  exam  where  single  marking  is  the  rule,  that 
implies  an  unreasonable  (and  unattainable)  degree  of  discrimination.  Moreover,  the  percentage 
scale  we  use  is  different  from  the  FHS  scale.  In  Finals  we  have  10  marks  per  class,  whereas  at 
Prelims we effectively have 15 (with 30 in the ‗distinction‘ bracket). This makes the adjustment to 
the Prelims scale difficult for everyone, examiners and students alike. 
In  discussion,  it  was  noted  that  the  scale  from  1  to  10,  though  perfectly  adequate,  could  not  be 
restored,  since  Modern  Languages  would  then  be  incompatible  with  other  Preliminary 
Examinations, and that a system whereby marks were multiples of 5 would create distortions when 
marks were raised. It was agreed that it would be desirable to have bands from 40 to 49, 50 to 59, 
and 60 to 69, and to make clear to candidates that the outcomes were not degree-type classifications 
as used in the FHS. 
b) The Academic Committee of the Humanities Divisional Board has approved, with effect from 1 
October 2010 and for first examination in 2011, a change in the regulations so that a candidate who 
is given a fail mark on a single paper will be required to resit that paper (whereas at present resits 
only  occur  if  the  average  mark  for  both  papers  constituting  a  subject  is  a  fail  mark).  The  revised 
entry in the Grey Book will run as follows: 
3. A candidate shall be deemed to have passed the examination if he or she shall have satisfied the 
Examiners 
either  (i) in all papers in both subjects (a) Language and (b) Literature in each of two languages, at 
least one of the languages being modern; 
or 
(ii) in  all papers in  both  subjects  (a)  Language  and (b)  Literature in  one  modern language 
(other than Czech (with Slovak) or Celtic) and in all papers in subject (c) Linguistics; 
or  
(iii)  in  all  papers  in  both  subjects  (a)  Language  and  (b)  Literature  in  either  French  or 
German and in all three papers in subject (d) Further Topics in the same language. 
or 
(iv) in all papers in both subjects (a) Language and (b) Literature in one modern language 
and in all papers in subject (e) Russian Course B (ab initio). 
Candidates  must  offer  all  the  papers  at  one  examination,  provided  that  a  candidate  who  has 
previously failed to satisfy the examiners in any  paper or papers shall not be required to resit any 
paper or papers in which he or she has already satisfied the examiners. The pair of papers IIA and 
IIB (and BIIA and BIIB) counts as a single paper. 
19 
 

 
 
10. Thanks 
Warm  thanks  are  due  to  Anna  Staszewska  for  taking  over  and  successfully  accomplishing  a 
demanding  task;  to  the  previous  Chair,  Christina  Howells,  for  her  advice  and  for  passing  on  the 
Chairman‘s Handbook with additional materials; and to Patrick McGuinness as Vice-Chair for his 
energetic help. 
 
English and Modern Languages (23 cands.) 
 
FRENCH (12 cands.) 
Distinctions: 3 ( f, m) 
Fails: 0 
 
GERMAN (6 cands.) 
Distinctions: 1 ( f) 
Fails: 0 
 
ITALIAN (2 cand.) 
Distinctions: 0 
Fails: 0 
 
SPANISH (3 cand.) 
Distinctions: 0 
Fails: 0 
 
PORTUGUESE (1 cand.) 
Distinctions: 0 
Fails: 0 
 
RUSSIAN (1 cand.) 
Distinctions: 0  
Fails: 0 
 
20 
 

 
FINAL HONOUR SCHOOL IN ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE  
FINAL HONOUR SCHOOL IN CLASSICS AND ENGLISH, ENGLISH AND MODERN 
LANGUAGES AND HISTORY AND ENGLISH 

Dr Helen Barr, Chair of Examiners 
 
1. Statistics 
There were 239 candidates, 7 of whom took Course 2. 
Outcome 
1st 
2.1 
2.2 

Numbers 
59 
177 


 
Percentages including recent years 
 
1st 
2.1 
2.2 

2003-5 
24.5% 
67.5% 
8.0% 
0.0% 
2006 
28.0% 
71.0% 
1.0% 
0.0% 
2007 
21.0% 
77.4% 
1.6% 
0.0% 
2008 
21.8% 
75.6% 
2.8% 
0.4% 
2009 
23.6% 
74.4% 
2% 

2010 
24.7% 
74.1% 
0.8% 
0.4% 
 
The slight increase in the number of firsts this year is reflected by comments in the examiners‘ 
reports on the high quality of work produced. 17 of the 34 candidates on the 1st/2:1 margin had their 
entire run of scripts monitored both by internal and external examiners. 9 candidates were raised to 
the first class. 
The margin between the 2:1/2:2 class was also scrutinised. The external examiners‘ reports remark 
on the patchy work in the scripts of those candidates at the bottom of the 2:1s, but overall, it was 
felt that their performance did merit an upper second. That said, the classification criteria which 
determine a candidate‘s outcome is both fussy, and a blunt instrument: fussy because the mix of 
profile (no. of marks above 70 or 59 for instance), and the need for a particular average (68, or 59, 
for instance), requires scrupulous checking. It‘s entirely proper to make sure there are no anomalies: 
discrepancies between first, second and third marks, or the marks across papers given that a 
candidate‘s classification can be affected by a single mark. But the process of getting these marks 
(and markers): first, second, and third, and in some instances fourth, and the hours it takes to police 
the mathematics, are hugely labour intensive. 
The classification criteria are blunt in that they allow for a candidate with 4 70+ marks with no 
mark below a 60 to be awarded the same degree classification as a candidate with 5 marks of 59 or 
below, with no mark higher than 67. These very different outcomes both fetch up with a 2:1.The 
reduction in the number of 2:2s awarded has been the subject of much comment over recent years. 
Here it may be salutary to compare the number of lower second marks given by individual markers 
with the number of 2:2 degrees finally classified. 
 
21 
 

 
70+ 
60-69 
50-59 
below 50 
Total 
24.3% 
63.08% 
11.78% 
1.0% 
100% 
 
The number of first marks given on individual papers tallies with the number of first class degrees 
awarded. Not so with marks in the second class. Examiners are giving 2:2 marks (there has been 
some concern in the past that they weren‘t), but the overall classification criteria do not produce 2:2 
degree results. Were the distribution of marks translated into the final degree outcomes, this would 
be the picture: 
1st  
2:1 
2:2 

 
58 
150 
28 

237 
 
(I‘ve rounded fractions have been rounded up, hence 2 candidates short). I have made these 
calculations not to argue that 26 of the 2009-10 cohort ought to have got 2:2s rather than 2:1s, but to 
illustrate the outcome produced by our current classification criteria. To my knowledge, most of the 
discussion that is taking place about changes to the classification criteria centres on the 1st/2:1 
border. If we are agreed that an examining process which awards nearly a quarter of its candidates a 
first class result, with the rest nearly all 2:1 accurately reflects the quality of the work of our 
undergraduates, then our current examination arrangements are luxuriously laborious.  
There has also been discussion about the range of marks in the first class. This is the picture from 
this year of the numbers of first class marks initially awarded: 
 
85+ 
80-84 
75-79 
70-74 
4151 

0.1% 
0.5% 
3.9% 
19.2% 
100% 
 
First class marks cluster at the bottom end of the scale. Final marks above 80 were awarded only for 
Papers 7 and 8, and on the Shakespeare paper. Other written examination papers do not score in the 
top range of the first class. 
This year 94 different assessors marked 56 papers. There were 15 bespoke papers for Course 2, 
though the quality of the performance by the 7 candidates was high. 
 
2. Medical and Special Cases 
Over the past three years, written minutes have been kept of the medical and special cases 
committee. These confidential records have created continuity of precedent and practice where the 
performance of candidates can clearly be seen to have been affected by adverse circumstances. 
Submissions still come in about candidates who have long-standing chronic conditions. It is almost 
impossible for examiners to make judgment about how performance could have been affected in 
these cases, especially when they are asked to consider achievement in all papers. There were some 
challenging special cases this year. Clarification is needed of the role of Education Committee, its 
relationship both to Proctorial determinations, and to the work of the Examining Board; also what 
role, if any, the Faculty Board should have in the discussion of individual cases. 
Candidates who have been diagnosed with a Specific Learning Difficulty e.g. dyslexia, dyspraxia, 
dysgraphia, working memory deficit, and attention deficit (hyperactivity) disorder (AD(H)D)) have 
a sheet attached to their scripts to bring this to the attention of examiners. In the majority of these 
cases, compensation has already been built in to the examination process with the provision of extra 
time and/or word-processing facilities. As the list of learning difficulties shows, however (and the 
22 
 

 
categories are taken directly from one of these cover sheets), it remains extremely problematic to 
know how to use this information, especially when examiners are expressly directed to ‗discount 
errors in spelling, grammar and sentence structure as these are considered to derive from the 
candidate‘s disability (though this does not apply in examinations where to do so would 
compromise the academic standards of the assessment, or where fitness to practise regulations 
apply). This is the case regardless of whether candidates have opted to take their examination with 
extra time‘. This is not an old issue: but it has become more complex with the expansion of the 
kinds of difficulties listed on one cover sheet. There are also problems with record-keeping in the 
case of candidates given special permissions in Mods which then carry over into Schools. 
 
3. Procedures 
This was the first year of the new Paper 8a which allows candidates to submit an extended essay on 
a subject of their choice. The practice of assembling small teams of assessors to cover particular 
parts of the course, with a ‗lead‘ examiner to co-ordinate assessors and to collate reports appears to 
have worked satisfactorily. It will help the future assembling of assessors to know areas/topics 
much earlier. The end of Michaelmas term made it hard to avoid over-burdening assessors who 
were already marking other papers. As anticipated, the bulk of these papers needed assessors for 
20/21st century and American choices. Tutors have been asked to send a list of candidate choices for 
paper 8 by the end of Trinity Term of the year preceding FHS. Advance planning is important in 
order to get balanced assessment for these essays – an issue that will become more pressing when 
the dissertation becomes a compulsory part of the course. 
This was the first year of shorter written examination papers: on each, an average of 20 questions 
with a mixture of themes or quotations which could be applied to any author(s) or work(s) unless 
the question specified otherwise. This led to a drastic reduction in the number of queries about 
wording and scope of questions in the exam room. While last year, there were as many as 10 
questions for one single paper, in the two weeks I was in exam schools, there were no more than 5 
in total. The examination reports also suggest improved quality. Shorter examination papers appear 
to have given candidates more time for the preparation and writing of answers, and to have 
facilitated innovative work. Candidates still need some guidance, however. Knowledge of the 
original context may well enhance an answer but candidates are not required to show knowledge of 
it. With longer quotations (though in future years, perhaps it would be better for setters to keep 
them shorter), it is not necessary to address all parts: see the guidance given in the Shakespeare 
report. Most importantly, answers should not simply isolate a single word from the context of a 
question/quotation to use as a hook for a prepared essay. To discourage downloading of prepared 
material, examiners are no longer setting questions with lists of words from which candidates 
choose one for the basis of an essay. Candidates will continue to be penalized for irrelevance if they 
treat quotations as if they were a single word. More detailed advice is contained in individual 
examiner‘s reports. 
This was the first year when candidates were required to submit a CD with their Paper 7 and Paper 
8 work (a practice adopted also for Paper 1 in Trinity 2010) which contained an electronic version 
of their essay identical to the written submission. Essays were run through ‗turnitin‘ to check for 
plagiarism.  
As in the last two years, some of papers 1-6 were assessed by 3 pairs of markers rather than 2. So 
long as assessors stick to the guidelines distributed, and meet to discuss the paper and to moderate 
marks, there appears to be no statistical reason why this practice could not be extended to all of 
these papers, thereby producing a more reasonable workload for assessors who are marking in such 
a short space of time during Full Term. For some papers, however, it is tricky even now, to find the 
two pairs of markers without trespassing on recent faculty guidelines about how much colleagues 
ought reasonably be asked to do. 
23 
 

 
Marks for one paper had to be scaled: one assessor‘s marks were wholly anomalous. There was a 
small adjustment made to one other paper to bring pairs of assessors into line in their distribution of 
first class marks.  
A change was made to the mark-it database this year to enable the production of spreadsheets for 
each paper. This made it much easier to check for anomalous markers, for discrepancies in the 
overall profile between pairs, and crucially, to know the consequences of attempting to rectify 
serious misalignment. A simple excel spreadsheet and a human being (with help from a GCSE 
schoolchild) can do what the master database will not. While mark-it is invaluable in producing 
overall statistics, and didn‘t collapse this year at the vital moment, it has grown up through a series 
of accretions that make it as flexible as a dinosaur in full body armour. It is dispiriting to ask for a 
small change so that fourth marks show up as such on the classification profiles only to find that it 
can take up to ten minutes to enter a single mark. The faculty deserves a better database than this. 
Many individual members of the Examining Board stepped in to deal with matters well above the 
expected course of duty, and we are indebted to them for doing so. The external examiners continue 
to offer invaluable insights and assistance. As in previous years, the Examination Schools operated 
with smart efficiency and were extremely helpful when difficulties arose, particularly Matthew 
Kirk, and the Senior Invigilator in the North School. I want to thank Angie Johnson for all her work 
this year and last as Examinations Secretary, and Katy Routh for vital statistical help with scaling. I 
especially want to thank Laurie Maguire for being such a fabulous Deputy Chair two years running. 
 
4. Prizes 
Gibbs Prizes:  
a) Best overall performance in Course 1 
Maximilian Bryant (St Catherine‘s) 
b) Best overall performance in Course 2 
Daniel Reeve (Trinity) 
c) Best extended essay in Course 1 Paper 7  Louise Stonborough (SEH) 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Joseph Zigmond (St Anne‘s) 
d) Best extended essay in Course 1 Paper 8  William Bowring (Exeter) 
e) Best extended essay in Course 2   
Josephine Livingstone (Lincoln) 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Rose Blackett-Ord (Somerville) 
f) Special prize for distinguished 
 
Chloe Stopa-Hunt (New)  
performance 
 
Charles Oldham Shakespeare Prize:   
Maria Mendez Hodes Pas (St Hilda‘s) 
 
INDIVIDUAL PAPERS 
Paper 1 The English Language 
The quality of answers on this paper has improved every year since the implementation of the new 
portfolio format. Greater numbers of candidates are increasingly producing first class answers, and 
the strongest candidates are now performing more consistently. Whereas in the past they often 
produced only one really outstanding answer, this year it was commoner to see two in the same 
portfolio. Many candidates (not just the outstanding), had undertaken adventurous reading and 
showed assurance in handling the secondary literature of English language/ linguistics. This may 
suggest that tutors as well as students are developing increasingly effective approaches to the Paper; 
including increasingly subtle usage of electronic resources to assemble and to analyse linguistic 
24 
 

 
data. The initiative shown by the majority of candidates in their selection of material both for 
essays, and for commentary, contribute to making the assessment of this paper a pleasure. 
Section A: 
In Section A all questions attracted some answers, though 1, 2, 4 and 9 were the most popular. Q1, 
on language and social/historical change, prompted some answers which displayed a level of 
scholarship well beyond expectations of a second year undergraduate: they systematically examined 
the historical development of particular lexical sets or fields, often making good use of on-line 
resources to construct a corpus. Less successful efforts tended to be general overviews of semantic 
change which might well have been good answers to a question on a 3-hour unseen paper, but 
which failed to exploit the opportunity this Paper offers for more focused research.  
Answers to Q2 were most successful when the candidate interrogated the question‘s key-term 
‗purism‘ rather than simply equating it with prescriptivism of all kinds. Q4, on the other hand, was 
tackled most effectively by those candidates who stuck to the actual subject of the Friel quotation, 
namely the linguistic reflexes of (post)colonialism. A few good answers focused instead on 
gender/sexism, but where candidates re-interpreted the question more radically they often ended up 
not really addressing it. Throughout, the better answers deployed candidates‘ selection of precise 
material for analysis rather than producing an illustrative collage from secondary materials. 
Section B: 
In Section B, Q12, on social/economic value, was the most popular choice. Some of the best 
answers to this question were also the subtlest, concerning texts whose connection with 
social/economic value was not obvious, so that a case had to be made for their aptness through the 
analysis itself. By contrast, answers to another popular question, 17 (taboo), were often let down by 
an over-literal approach to text selection—many of the texts chosen were not so much refractions as 
direct interventions in debate on a taboo subject, and this meant there was little of interest to say 
about the language as opposed to the content of the passage.  
Presentation: 
There are still some candidates who have no idea how to lay out a bibliography (e.g. that the 
references go in alphabetical order of author‘s last name), and some for whom three weeks is 
apparently not enough time to allow them to proof-read what they submit and clean up obvious 
errors (e.g. missing words, or whole passages pasted in two different places). However, these were 
the exception rather than the rule; the presentation of most portfolios was acceptable or good.  
 
Paper 2 Shakespeare 
The standard on this paper was considerably higher than in recent years, with imaginative work 
offered in response to the questions. This was the first year of the new format exam paper with a 
predominance of quotations over traditional questions. The quotations varied in length from two to 
a dozen lines. All quotations/questions were attempted; most candidates opted for the shorter 
quotations, presumably because they were unsure as to how much of a larger quotation they were 
expected to address. In the case of longer quotations – such as the extract from Henry VI, for 
example, which ends with a stage direction – it would be perfectly acceptable to write an essay on 
stage directions. In other words, there is no need to use all of a quotation: a 
phrase/idea/contradiction/element of style is enough. However, focusing on one word (as some 
candidates did) rather defeats the point of having a quotation; had examiners wished to invite essays 
on ‗authority‘ or ‗liberty‘, for example, it would have been easy to supply questions with lists of 
terms. A quotation brings other issues – such as context and vocabulary – into play; this is designed 
to help candidates in focusing and articulating their answers. 
Although the essays were imaginative and the standard high, some candidates received marks lower 
than they may have expected because they responded too freely to the quotation. In other words, 
25 
 

 
relevance is still as important in this quotation format as it was under the more traditional question 
format; examiners can still find grounds to penalise for irrelevance, even within such an open 
structure and candidates must make the essay relevant to the quotation or bit of quotation one 
chooses as a focus. Although the quotation is a springboard, and one‘s argument can travel a 
distance from it in the course of the essay, the best essays were those which never forgot what had 
launched their argument in the first place. This is not achieved simply by recurrent namedropping of 
a key word from the quotation (some weaker essays did this, as if repetition of a word functioned as 
an engagement with it). The chosen words/phrase(s)/ideas from the quotation should provide the 
foundation of the essay, not merely be appliqued on to it.  
This still gives candidates considerable latitude. For instance, some essays chose the quotation 
about time unmasking truth and bringing all things to light and applied it to the aims of various 
schools of theoretical thought. This is an entirely legitimate use of a quotation. It is possible to keep 
close to the terms of the quotation (as the rubric instructs) and simultaneously develop one‘s 
argument a long way from it. One must a) define the argument (i.e. devise one‘s own essay question 
from the quotation) and b) make the journey of the argument clear.  
The same caveats apply to the more traditional exam questions (of which there were a few) on this 
paper. Candidates who answered these questions fared badly when they failed to pay attention to the 
terms of the question. A quotation such as ‗there is no patriarchy without patriarchs‘ is not a simple 
cue to write on patriarchy: the two constituent parts of the symbiosis posited in the quotation must 
be considered. A question about the playing spaces of Shakespeare‘s theatres cannot be used to 
analyse directors‘ use of space(s) in film adaptations or metaphors of space in poetry or post 
colonial interpretations of travel: the question specifically asked about sixteenth- and seventeenth-
century playing spaces.  
 
Paper 3a English Literature (1100-1509) 
In common with 2010 Schools papers 2, 4, 5 and 6, Paper 3a was set according to a new format 
with a significantly reduced number of questions. Whereas in previous years candidates might have 
expected a paper with well over 30 questions, this year‘s 3a had only 21. The questions set were 
deliberately much more thematic and less text-specific than those on previous exam papers – 
candidates did not have, for example, the ‗Gawain‘ question, ‗The Owl and the Nightingale‘ 
question or the ‗Henryson‘ question which they have come to expect. Although amongst the 
weakest candidates the new format led to some unfortunately directionless or downloaded work, the 
examiners felt that on the whole this change in format had yielded positive results. It encouraged 
some thought-provoking and exciting work, putting the onus on the candidate to construct a well 
shaped and well argued essayand enabled candidates to combine and contrast texts in innovative 
and challenging ways. It was also felt that having fewer questions to choose from benefitted 
candidates by enabling them to spend more time writing the three essays for which they had opted. 
All questions other than 14 (heroic literature other than works on the Matter of Britain) were 
attempted. Amongst the most popular were 1 (genre), 4 (style, tone and vocabulary), 7 (‗Myn 
auctour Lollius‘), 9 (fables), 12 (spiritual writers), 13 (theology and creativity), 15 (courtly-chivalric 
idealism) and 17a (dream visions and their sources). There was some very good work done in 
response to these questions; amongst the finest answers to 4 were those based on excellent close 
readings of selected lyrics, and both 7 and 9 elicited stimulating material on medieval literary 
theory. 12 prompted some remarkably broad and knowledgeable responses on Middle English 
devotional and mystical writing, and candidates who wrote on 17a demonstrated an impressive 
grasp of sources and the complexities of their deployment in the literature of the period. The weaker 
responses to these questions tended to sidestep the precise issues raised by the questions and 
quotations; too many answers to 4, for example, took ‗style, tone and vocabulary‘ to mean ‗genre‘ 
and avoided the detailed discussion of language use for which the question really asked. 13 gave 
rise to some very broad interpretations of ‗theological complexity‘, with several answers avoiding it 
26 
 

 
altogether or making too easy an equation between the devotional and the theological. Many 
candidates took 15 as a chance to showcase a rather repetitive and predictable range of texts, 
predominantly the late Gawain poems with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight itself. 
 Beyond these popular questions, several others on the paper elicited some outstanding responses; 2 
gave rise to some very lively work on Mandeville, although some of the best essays in reply to this 
question were actually on the geographies of Arthurian literature. Most of the relatively few 
candidates who chose 3 demonstrated an extremely impressive grasp of social (specifically courtly) 
context and the impact that this had on literary production in the periods in question. There was also 
some inventive work done in response to 16, particularly amongst those candidates who applied the 
quotation not only to Ancrene Wisse but to other early and late medieval texts, and 18 (on 
interiority) prompted some exciting and provocative essays.  
Many of the canonical authors of the period had a thorough airing in this paper. There were a 
number of answers on Chaucer and on the Gawain-poet (some candidates answering on all four 
Cotton Nero poems) and several on Henryson (primarily the Moral Fables). A fair number of 
candidates wrote on the mystics, although there was a marked preference for Julian and Margery 
over Rolle and Hilton. Rather fewer candidates wrote on Langland and Malory, and there was 
surprising neglect of both Hoccleve and Lydgate. Romance was popular, but there was 
comparatively little done on older or more substantial texts. There was quite a lot of work on drama 
(both mystery and morality) but responses in this area were marred by a tendency to write only on a 
very limited number of cycle plays and to avoid detailed literary analysis. In the area of early 
Middle English, while there was some work on Ancrene Wisse, the Katherine Group (more of the 
former than the latter) and on The Owl and the Nightingale, there was very little on La3amon. 
In general, weaker answers tended not to engage with the texts in sufficient detail and to use 
minimal close reference and quotation; there were even some cases of candidates quoting modern 
translations, something which is very disappointing to see. Amongst the poorest essays were those 
that failed to respond directly or recognisably to the quotation/question, and those which responded 
to only part of the quotation/question. This was particularly the case amongst candidates responding 
to 11 (Sarah Beckwith on the body) and 21 (Judith Butler on gender). These two quotations both 
raised quite specific issues, and where candidates used them simply as prompts for very general 
‗body‘ or ‗gender‘ essays, they were inevitably penalised.  
There was, however, some work of real distinction produced in response to this paper. The strongest 
essays were very detailed and vigorously argued, uniting close reading, a tight structure and an 
understanding of the ideas and contexts driving a text. On occasion the best answers used very 
unusual texts and worked imaginatively across genres, although excellent essays were also written 
on canonical works and authors. Some of the most convincingly first-class work on the paper 
engaged intelligently and knowledgeably with manuscript context, something which is very 
pleasing to note. With an increasing number of medieval manuscripts becoming accessible in some 
form on the web, this is a promising area of investigation for undergraduates.  
 
Paper 3b English Literature (1100-1509) 
The general standard of work for this paper was reasonably high, with only a few scripts making 
errors in understanding the Middle English. The two Troilus passages attracted roughly equal 
numbers of candidates, and Pearl was the most popular of the other passages, by some distance, 
followed by Malory and then Henryson. There were few answers on Ancrene Wisse and Piers 
Plowman
.  
Most candidates had found an alternative to laborious seriatim commentary as a structure for their 
reading, and many were able to give a coherent sense of the passage while covering a good 
proportion of the detail. There were moments of real thoughtfulness and imagination (if also 
moments of eccentricity and drastic overinterpretation). In a few cases it was too obvious that 
27 
 

 
prefabricated blocks of learned information were being set down regardless of aptness to the 
passage. There was a tendency to comment on formal aspects of the poetry in a disconnected way, 
which did not particularly enhance the reading of the whole passage. A good number of students 
still suppose that punctuation is authorial, or that spelling variation or the use of Middle English 
word order is significant for meaning. Pragmatics of thou and ye were something many candidates 
were primed to look out for; however, a good number of candidates either got them the wrong way 
round or forgot that ye is obligatory in the plural. Similarly, many candidates made excessive claims 
for the significance of individual words‘ being derived from Old English (or even Old Norse) or 
from French. Rhetorical terminology (anaphora, chiasmus) was sometimes deployed with more 
optimism than accuracy, and some candidates were relentless in applying recondite technical terms 
to any kind of repetition at all. 
With regard to the Chaucer, the commonest ineffective strategy was to make points which are true 
of the text as a whole, but to adduce evidence for them which could not carry the weight being 
asked of it (‗Criseyde‘s fearfulness is apparent in her use of alliteration‘). Indeed, students need to 
realize that alliteration, repetition and other such minor local details cannot be made to carry serious 
interpretive weight (‗Diomede‘s lustfulness and force is communicated in the use of alliteration on 
d and b‘). Students should also try to comment on the whole passage, at least at some level; missing 
out a whole stanza strongly implies that it was not understood. Weaker answers on both Troilus 
passages tended to be indifferent to tone, in the pursuit of thematic significance or grander structural 
ironies. Quite a few readers seemed to have a good grasp of the themes of Troilus without really 
being able to talk about Chaucerian style. The knowledge of Il Filostrato displayed was generally 
impressive, allowing good discussions of Chaucer‘s additions/subtractions. However, in all the 
texts, classical and other references were frequently misunderstood, particularly in the cases of 
Alceste and Pygmalion.  
Answers on Pearl showed variation similar to the Chaucer answers: some people commenting too 
generally on the whole poem, others too narrow-mindedly on particular words and letters (whilst 
missing the crucial difference in the passage between the words for ―spotless‖ and ―matchless‖). 
‗Endless rounde‘ triggered descriptions of the structure of the whole poem, which felt downloaded. 
There is a valid point to be made here, but candidates were determined to display their knowledge 
of, for instance, where the extra stanza falls, regardless of relevance. There was some shrewd and 
well-informed commentary on the use of mercantile language by both speakers. However, too many 
candidates neglected the last stanza almost entirely. Timing seems to have been an issue in some 
cases, and it may be worth reminding candidates that all questions carry equal weight.  
Malory is a different proposition in terms of its relative linguistic and syntactic simplicity, requiring 
a firmer grasp on context and significance to draw the most out of the ironies of the passage; it was 
often very well done. This is a matter of balance, however, and less successful Malory answers 
were too plot- and character-based, some giving so much space to contextual material that the 
passage at hand almost disappeared from view. Not enough candidates were really equipped to 
discuss the styles of Malorian narrative and direct speech in any kind of detail (the tendency to talk 
in general terms about ‗parataxis‘ was sometimes in evidence), and key vocabulary (maintainer vs. 
destroyer for example, or male engin) was often neglected. There was a generally good sense, 
though, of the structure and thematic foci of the latter books of the Morte: good comments on 
shame, rumour, treason, queenship, law, fellowship and faction. Bors‘ own predicament, as well as 
the queen‘s, was generally well grasped.  
The Henryson drew some very bland accounts, but also some which combined attentive close 
reading with an eye for irony and tone. The best scripts showed a good level of understanding, with 
some sharp commentary on the relationship between tale and moral, the ‗moralizing‘ elements 
within the narration, and the use of Aesop as surrogate teller and moralizer. Not many answers 
really probed the deferential tone of the narrator towards ‗Esope‘, but there were some good 
readings of the political implications of the fable. 
28 
 

 
When students did attempt Ancrene Wisse or Piers, they often did very well with these difficult 
passages. Several candidates showed signs of serious and thoughtful preparation, deploying their 
knowledge and understanding to excellent effect; others evidently found the passages challenging 
and showed significant weaknesses of understanding. Piers commentaries sometimes showed an 
odd unresponsiveness to Langlandian humour. The best responses here got quite a long way with 
the theological substance and showed pleasing sensitivity to Langlandian style and tone. 
 
Paper 4 English Literature 1509-1642 
The general standard on Paper 4 was good. There were some surprising new topics: the epyllion 
showed up in many answers, and there were some strong essays on Nashe, Spenser, the Masque and 
the City Comedies. As usual, there were many essays on Donne and Revenge Tragedy, some at the 
top end showing originality and perception. Next most popular was Marlowe – though he is not as 
overused as he was in the past, and Greenblatt is not being mentioned as often; the new reference 
points for this paper are Bachelard and Targoff. There is still a worrying deadweight of weak essays 
on Donne. People who were determined to do the standard essay on Donne, using ‗The Flea‘, found 
a way to do so, and always will unless specifically told not to. On the other hand, there was some 
real expansion of the Donne canon in the direction of the sermons, the verse epistles and the 
anniversaries. 
Other frequently canvassed subjects were Webster, Jonson, Herbert (though one examiner thought 
Herbert appeared less often than in previous years), Sidney, Wyatt, and Spenser, including the 
minor poems. Answers on Herbert were generally disappointing. When discussing religious poetry, 
candidates often showed a lack of clarity and depth in their theological knowledge, although very 
good answers were also recorded on poetry and theology. Occurring more fitfully but still often 
were Bacon, women poets (largely Lanyer, Wroth and Cary), and Skelton. Milton is now being 
under-used, probably because candidates are afraid of an overlap with Paper 5. Taylor‘s work on 
Middleton has yet to be absorbed into the work of most undergraduates. It is odd that the enormous 
range of Jacobean and Caroline dramatists is not reflected in answers. 
Candidates taking the opportunity to use just Utopia as the foundation of an essay should be warned 
against it, and range throughout may become a problem due to the absence of rubrics, though 
overall there was if anything an expanded sense of the possibilities – for example, an essay on 
quotation number 4 took in More‘s Latin poems, Colin Clout, and Skelton. There was also a really 
striking number of candidates who used history of the book and mss circulation and staging at 
almost MSt level, and in a few cases above, and produced better answers than those who deployed 
less grounded ideas of context. Candidates were able to cite variations between Donne‘s 
manuscripts, and to refer to the presentation edition of Volpone. Conversely, someone needs to tell 
the candidates that they do not have to introduce the examiners to ‗essayist Montaigne‘, ‗or ‗the 
acclaimed Faerie Queene‘, in the manner of popular journalists. 
This paper is continuing to prompt a lot of excellent work. 
 
Paper 4(a): English Literature from 1832 to 1900 
There were five candidates for this paper. All of them produced perfectly acceptable work, but the 
overall level of performance was somewhat disappointing. There were competent analyses of 
realism, but too much critical commentary tended to be generalised and detached and, here and 
there, characters‘ names were misspelled, suggesting that material had not been properly absorbed 
in preparation for the exam. Strangely, no candidate wrote on empire, progress, religion, 
Mammonism, nonsense, the appeal of the Middle Ages, drama, nature or even Victorian poetry in 
general. So although all the candidates passed, it would have been uplifting to find more 
composure, detail, scope and ambition among the scripts.  
29 
 

 
 
Paper 4(b): English Literature from 1900 to the Present Day 
There were nineteen candidates for this paper. At the top end, the scripts were scholarly, thorough, 
well-written and heartening to read, but there was too much middling work that was little more than 
competent, dutiful and just about solid enough. Too many scripts betrayed a striking lack of 
ambition and comprised too few texts to really convince the examiners that enough reading and 
thought had gone into preparing for this culminating exam. Moreover, while it was satisfying from 
one angle to note the continuing popularity of Conrad, Eliot, Woolf and Joyce, the reluctance of 
candidates to explore the full range of these authors and, even more noticeably, to range beyond 
them into works of the mid-century and contemporary literature was just as conspicuous. Readings 
on these authors were typically very limited and hackneyed. Plath was also popular but often poorly 
read, and there was a conspicuous lack of interest, apparently, in contemporary poetry, drama and 
fiction, so for all the efforts of examiners and their rubric to encourage more scope and flexibility 
on this paper, a rather timid probing of the Modernist giants continues to be its most distinguishing 
feature. All nineteen quotations triggered at least one response apart from those about the tension 
between state funding, commercial theatre values and non-mainstream drama; the Ian McEwan 
quotation; (very surprisingly) `THE PLAIN READER BE DAMNED‘, and the Linton Kwesi 
Johnson quotation/question. The most commonly applied quotation was the first on the relationship 
between words and reality, a prompt that often led candidates into overly rehearsed material on the 
relationship between signifiers and signifieds. In general, we encountered a distinct sense of 
undeveloped critical thought, first year level work, or, at the lower end of the run, A-level style 
responses: information dumped but not critically tackled.  
 
Paper 5 English Literature 1642-1740 
The exam paper had nineteen numbered questions, allowing candidates to choose from a range of 
short quotation themes and specifically worded questions. All numbered questions on the paper 
were attempted and a wide range of materials was proffered by candidates. This was particularly the 
case for the answers given to the set themes where examiners were happy for candidates to apply 
the quotation themes in an appropriate manner - so some candidates chose to focus on the resonance 
of a specific phrase, others remarked on tone, some summarised the overall argument or identified 
the historical context within which a quotation sat. The best answers on the themes remained 
sensitive to the immediate context of the authorial quotation and remarked upon that either in 
conjunction with or in contrast to the approach found in their own chosen texts. (Contrast proved 
particularly helpful in providing a strong answer when applying the Thomson quotation to Miltonic 
theology, while those who noticed that the Oldham quotation was ironic were able to sharpen their 
own responses accordingly). Answers where a single word from the theme had been lifted from its 
context and exploited to provide an opportunity to download pre-arranged materials did not enthuse 
the examiners (e.g., the Thomson quotation included the word ‗language‘ within an overall theme 
which pointed towards poetic expression of the divine or other theological, spiritual, ontological or 
philosophical questions: a general answer on Restoration court discourse was therefore not valid). 
In a few cases, the quotations initiated no more than general discussion of the named author rather 
than a specific exploration of the quotation's themes and such answers were generally weak. Future 
candidates are encouraged to read quotation themes closely and to answer accordingly. 
Overall, the range of primary materials presented by candidates for discussion this year was 
pleasingly diverse and often provocatively comparative. Milton, Marvell, Rochester, Defoe, Swift 
and Pope remain the mainstays of Paper 5 but this year Margaret Cavendish, John Aubrey, Henry 
Neville, Ranter writings, Eliza Haywood and Stephen Duck all received attention. There was 
interest in scientific, theological, political, economic and philosophical contexts, as well as in 
questions of genre, style, narration, manuscript and print culture. Comprehension levels as regards 
these core themes was usually high, though on occasion examiners felt that individuals were leaning 
30 
 

 
too heavily on memory of an argument and set of examples (heard perhaps in a class discussion or 
lecture) rather than stretching beyond such taught work. As in previous years examiners noted 
reluctance on the part of candidates to consider texts in terms of genre or form, beyond well-
established points made with regard to the works of Marvell or Milton. Future candidates may wish 
to redress this but in particular the examiners would urge that all future candidates explore the 
literary aspects of the language of their own memorised quotations with care and rhetorical 
sensitivity. It is helpful to take into account structural or formal (narratological, poetic) aspects 
when commenting on the 'meaning' of a citation and such close reading also helps to stimulate a 
literary student‘s independent critical voice. In the weaker responses this year, authorial works were 
often paraphrased or given historical context without analysis of the language and formal qualities 
of making meaning but by contrast attention to the distinctive characteristics of the writers' literary 
method, style and form were present in the best essays. 
Comparative work (i.e., essays where the argument explores and explicates the work of more than 
one author in a comparative manner) is to be encouraged. It can give a certain freshness to an 
answer and often helps candidates focus their response more directly to the set exam question. 
However two caveats are worth making here. First, there was a tendency in some essays for a 
wealth of example to take the place of argument. Candidates need to understand that the mere 
rehearsal of information which has been rote-learned, while it can supply the scaffolding for an 
excellent answer, by itself does little to impress the examiner. Second, students should take care in 
essays on more than one author to acknowledge differences, and the reasons for these, in order to 
avoid superficiality and/or over-generalisation. In addition, all candidates should aim for a more 
precise and nuanced sense of period when attempting comparative work: whilst some are happy to 
compare the shifting political contexts from one decade to the next, others are still presuming that 
Defoe and Swift are Restoration writers. Future candidates should also really try to understand that 
texts first printed in the eighteenth century will have a publication date in the 1700s. This is not an 
esoteric point regarding print culture but rather a basic plea to candidates to get their dates right as 
there was much muddle over dates (and over the amount paid to Pope for his translation of The 
Iliad
) on scripts this year. Candidates would also be well-advised to check the spelling for authors‘ 
surnames (e.g., Etherege) and those interested in working on Restoration theatre should also be 
aware that essays which limited themselves to discussion of two or three mainstream Restoration 
Comedies usually failed to move beyond a standard answer. A similar self-limitation was 
identifiable within essays on prose fiction which worked with only one or two central Defoe novels. 
 
Paper 6 English Literature 1740-1842 
This paper had 235 candidates, of whom two withdrew without submitting scripts. All 20 questions 
were attempted. The standard of responses was generally high, although there were few outstanding 
essays. The best responded directly to the whole quotation, included detailed textual analysis, and 
showed independent thought, while the weaker ones revealed less familiarity with the primary texts 
and were content to rehearse received opinions. Some of the best writing was on late eighteenth-
century writers. The canonical male Romantic poets were well represented, as were Collins and 
Gray among eighteenth-century poets, Richardson, Fielding, Sterne, and Austen among novelists, 
and Goldsmith and Sheridan among dramatists. Burke was the writer most frequently discussed in 
response to question 9, on politics. The essays on Gothic fiction were rather weak, as in past years, 
and once again there was disappointingly little discussion of women poets. 
The length of many of the scripts suggests that the new format (with short quotations, little or no 
additional guidance, and no author-specific questions) allowed ample time for candidates to write 
their essays. The greater generality of the essay topics did however seem to encourage the use of 
recycled material: although the best essays took account of the contexts of the quotations and 
responded accordingly, a fair number chose one or two words out of context to use as a peg on 
which to hang a tangentially related and evidently pre-prepared essay. 
31 
 

 
 
7a (i) The Beowulf poet 
Eight candidates offered this subject, and the level of performance was high: three First Class and 
three good Upper Second class marks. The themes in the form of quotations from the poem were 
more popular (six candidates) than those in the form of quotations from scholars (two candidates). 
A couple of high marks went to candidates who wrote imaginatively ambitious essays, even if they 
may have aimed a bit higher than their knowledge could safely take them, but equally high marks 
were also achieved by a couple of candidates who were able to write in freshly thoughtful ways 
about such well-worn themes as treasure and Christianity in relation to Beowulf. Since one or two 
essays lost some marks as a result of their making, apparently in search of originality, unconvincing 
or inadequately supported interpretive claims, candidates should be aware that there is no automatic 
disadvantage to them in dealing with long-familiar issues. 
The best essays generally showed a good familiarity with a range of critical writing as well as a 
good knowledge and understanding of the poem. There were some signs at the other end of the 
range, however, that some candidates‘ grasp of Old English was less secure than might have been 
hoped. This is something that it may well be easier for weaker candidate to disguise in writing 
Extended Essays than it would be in timed examination. 
 
7a (ii) 7 Alfred 
There was one candidate for this paper. 
 
7a (iii) Exeter Book 
There were three candidates for this paper. 
 
7b (i) Chaucer 
There were three candidates for this paper. 
 
7b (iii) N Town Cycle 
There was one candidate for this paper. 
 
7c (i) Spenser 
There were six candidates; between them they attempted five of the eight themes that were offered. 
The lowest mark was a mid Upper Second, the highest well into the First Class. The quality of 
discussion and writing was high throughout the essays, though there were some weaknesses in 
argument (too much crammed in, too rapid shifts from one point to another). The Faerie Queene
quite properly, was the central concern of several of the essays, though there were interesting and 
sophisticated analyses of Spenser‘s other writings, e.g. the Shepheardes Calender and the letters 
and satires. The command of secondary literature was impressive in one or two cases, but there 
were surprising gaps that could easily have been filled with simple searches in bibliographies. The 
best candidates had a firm grasp of the historical settings (especially on Ireland and Reformation 
matters); there were learned accounts of providential history, kinds of Renaissance knowledge, and 
social and intellectual communities.   
 
32 
 

 
7c (ii) Milton 
For the most part, these were a pleasure to read; the best were lively, often very scholarly and also 
intelligent, close to publishable quality. Even the worst were diligent, though there was one case of 
critical overuse, nowhere near plagiarism, but perhaps a loss of balance. Even very recent criticism 
found a place, such as the new Oxford Milton Handbook. It was generally good to see both classical 
precursors and seventeenth-century politics, often in the same essays. Some of the weaker work was 
inclined to remake the wheel, or restate truisms with an assumed air of novelty, but almost everyone 
found something new to say, large or small.  
 
7c (iii) Jonson 
Six candidates took this paper; all essays were of a high standard. Candidates displayed very good 
knowledge of a wide variety of Jonsonian contexts: dedications and dedicatees; networks (the 
republic of letters); Jonson‘s correspondence; print history; revision; early modern London and its 
landmarks; biography; and different theatre spaces. All essays dexterously negotiated the Jonson 
canon, moving fluidly between poetry, masques and plays (as well as commonplace books and 
correspondence). Secondary material was impressively up to date with several candidates quoting 
books published as recently as 2009 and citing correspondence in the TLS in the term in which the 
paper was being studied. Overall, there was evidence of some exceptional knowledge for 
undergraduate level. 
Paradoxically, this exceptional knowledge sometimes got in the way of an essay‘s success. 
Historical context needs to be used in the service of an argument and not just presented as a series 
of (interesting) statements about who knew whom; and no matter how impressive knowledge of 
social contexts and literary networks may be, a literary essay should at some stage engage in literary 
analysis. Many of the essays lost all sense of Jonson as a literary writer or persona; Paper 7 is called 
‗Special Authors‘ – this is a literary paper. 
 The essays that included biographical material about Jonson tended not to handle biographical 
context very well. It is not enough to say that something is happening in Jonson‘s own life and this 
is parallel to things that happen in plays (e.g attitudes to women). It is more helpful to look in detail 
at how Jonson's work carries the traces of his professional and personal life: as, for instance, when 
the Epistle to Volpone repeats material first written in a letter from prison to the Earl of Salisbury. 
None of the essays attended to Jonson in the (post-early modern) theatre. This is a neutral 
observation rather than a complaint (it may reflect the small statistical sample of six essays) but 
future candidates may like to consider Jonson‘s reception after his own time and to be reminded that 
there are other ways of thinking about Jonson that are not confined to the early modern period.  
 
7d (i) Marvell 
There were 7 candidates for the Marvell option this year. The overall standard was high with each 
essay displaying a good range of primary materials, handled with confidence. This year‘s 
candidates managed to combine their knowledge of both Marvellian prose and poetics successfully 
and often made impressive use of the most recent critical materials to underpin their discussions. In 
the main, the essays were well-paced but occasional weaknesses in presentation and structure did 
sometimes obstruct the overall success of an argument. The best essays in this cohort showed strong 
evidence of independent research linked to clear textual analysis and thorough preparation. 
 
7d (ii) Dryden 
There was one candidate for this paper. 
33 
 

 
 
7d (iii) Haywood 
There were three candidates for this paper. 
 
7e (i) Wordsworth 
On the whole the quality of these essays was high. The candidates showed knowledge of a wide 
range of poetry and prose, making good use of close textual analysis to substantiate their arguments. 
Most of the essays engaged impressively with recent scholarship, and discussed Wordsworth's 
textual revisions well. The history of ‗The Recluse‘ was handled with sophistication by those who 
addressed it. There were signs of difficulty in places with the challenge of writing a long, sustained, 
argument. All the essays could have been improved by clearer structuring and signposting. 
  
7e (ii) Austen 
Many papers sparkled: well written, well proof-read, intelligent, critically clever, showing signs of 
close and wide reading and considerable research; they tackled the question head on, evincing 
strong interest in Austen‘s linguisticity, in history, context, topography, silence, and using new 
historical approaches with a certain deftness. Pleasing too was a certain critical combativeness, e.g 
about the narrowness of the Austen critical canon. On the other hand there were rather a lot of 
papers which were short on critical and theoretical vocabulary, and not at all acquainted with more 
recent and standard critical discussions. There was also too much simply bad writing, which was 
poorly thought-out, and critically inattentive. Discussion about free indirect discourse was frequent, 
though not always distinguished in quality. Candidates should be alerted to the need for proof 
reading and checking, especially of titles of works (Sandition and Love and Friendship, won‘t do). 
 
7e (iii) Byron 
There were 17 candidates for this paper and the general standard of the essays was high, though few 
achieved first-class marks. Most of the papers offered astute and persuasive close readings, but 
some lacked a coherent overall argument. The stronger papers addressed a range of Byron‘s works 
and made discriminating use of secondary sources, whereas the weaker papers tended to analyze a 
very small number of works and to use criticism only for isolated points (an over-reliance on the 
uneven Cambridge Companion to Byron was notable). It was disappointing that more papers didn‘t 
make use of McGann‘s edition of the Complete Poetical Works, but pleasing that many made good 
use of Byron‘s Letters and Journals and that most avoided biographically reductive interpretations. 
There was surprisingly little engagement with the political aspects of Byron‘s works. A number of 
papers were plagued by minor formatting errors, and candidates are reminded that names are not 
reversed in footnotes (as opposed to bibliographies). 
 
7f (i) Tennyson 
There were four candidates for this paper. While some essays focussed on a modest selection of 
canonical works, others were more ambitious in scope and drew on a wide range of Tennyson's 
poems, including variants and unpublished drafts. Close readings of individual poems, imaginative 
patterns that stretch across Tennyson's career, and the application of theoretical models were all 
fully represented, although there was a disappointing reluctance to attempt original lines of 
argument. Standards of presentation ranged from the meticulous to the sloppy; future candidates 
should ensure that the final essays they submit have been carefully proofread and follow the 
Faculty's guidelines on setting out footnotes and bibliographies. It was especially disappointing to 
34 
 

 
read essays that chose to comment on the formal aspects of Tennyson's verse (such as the ‗In 
Memoriam‘ stanza) without setting out the poems themselves accurately. 
 
7f (ii) Dickens 
The best papers were outstanding, critically sharp, and sharply written, full of critical intelligence, 
often nicely independent and innovative in critical angle and perspective. There was evidence of 
good close reading, wide casting of the reading net, and pertinent scholarliness. Texts and contexts 
were dug into with force. Candidates were well schooled in modes of publishing, and in relevant 
biographical and historical positions. On the other hand there was a certain amount of critical 
stodginess, simplicity, routination, a settling for an easy jog around well-tried courses. Some 
candidates‘ awareness of what‘s happening in now standard critical discussions was plainly 
deficient. In particular some hoary moral/political readings cried out for some freshening up with 
reference to more recent historical/political takes.  
 
7f (iii) Wilde 
There were sixteen candidates for this paper, and all but three themes were used (Questions 1 
(historicism), 3 (the zeitgeist), & 9 (plagiarism)), with essays principally paying attention to the 
plays, and the plays as texts rather than the plays as performances – very little mention was made of 
performance history – though the themes had been selected with an eye to their applicability across 
the whole range of Wilde‘s writings. This stated, the standard was very high, with nine candidates 
gaining first-class marks and seven gaining marks within the 2.1 category (with four of these on 
marks of 67/68). Only one candidate was adrift from the general field with a mark of 60 but it was a 
2.1 performance nonetheless. Ellmann‘s biography (1987) remains the major resource for the life; 
more use might be made of the Letters (2000), and of other differently emphasised critical readings 
of the life through the works. Writing about drama, students might consider more acutely what 
makes a text dramatic, and consider conceptual or theoretical differences between the drama (text) 
and theatre (performance). More reference to other playwrights of the period would have been 
welcome. There is a growing body of published work on Victorian drama that could have been 
engaged with to better effect, and the names of a range of authors surfaced in the essays whose texts 
might have been more closely read for a sense of the interplay of the theatrical world in the period – 
Ibsen, G. B. Shaw, Arthur Pinero, Henry Jones – to which might be added e.g., Brandon Thomas, 
Sydney Grundy, and William Gilbert, or, even, Henry James. These cavils, or hopes, aside, there 
was evidence of sophisticated conceptual arguments and close attention to detail. The very best 
essays showed clarity of argument, good selection and organization of materials, and exciting 
interpretations of core texts. Mastering the argument and materials at the opening of the essay is a 
rhetorical skill to which students should pay close attention, and proof-reading remains a task for 
which a necessary amount of time should be allowed in the process of submission. 
 
7g (i) Conrad 
There were 20 takers for Conrad this year. Much to the examiners‘ surprise and delight, the 
standard of the essays was on the whole impressive, with marks ranging from a low 2.1 to a very 
strong First. Where much work on Conrad in the past has been mired in moralism—Conrad as some 
kind of especially grumpy Victorian sage—this year students appear to have discovered that there is 
much to say about national identity, gender, popular culture, language, narrative experimentalism, 
and race. True, some of the weaker candidates still appear to see Conrad‘s tricky, multilayered and 
intricately faceted stories merely as a ruse, concealing what is essentially his message to the world. 
Yet many were able to show convincingly how his struggles with the novel or the short story, at the 
level of form, affected what he had to say and, more importantly, what sense we try to make of what 
35 
 

 
his writings do in the world. Having said this, it might be a good idea if we placed a moratorium on 
Ian Watt‘s now very ancient notion of ‗delayed decoding‘. As some of the best essays showed, there 
is so much more to say about Conrad‘s disruptive style and play with his own medium. Candidates 
should also be more scrupulous about matters of scholarly presentation. It is, for instance, 
unacceptable to cite potentially unreliable electronic editions of Conrad‘s works, especially when 
there are good, reputable print editions in most college libraries, not to mention the EFL and the 
Bodleian. Eight of the ten themes were attempted. 
 
7g (ii) Yeats 
There were 18 takers for Yeats this year. The standard of the work was generally good, though not 
distinguished, with marks ranging from a low 2.2 to a good First but with most in the solid 2.1 
category. Some candidates were overwhelmed by the enormous range of Yeats‘s writings, which 
was not helped by the sense they appeared to have that it was essential to bring in the essays, the 
poetry and the drama. While there is necessarily always a conflict between the imperative to fashion 
a coherent argument, on the one hand, and to demonstrate a wide range of knowledge, on the other, 
this year‘s Yeatsians clearly tried to solve the problem by privileging the latter, not always to their 
best advantage. In other cases, their arguments lacked the requisite critical sophistication and/or 
knowledge of the critical debate Yeats has attracted over the years and especially in the past two 
decades. This was especially evident in the many essays that discussed Yeats‘s ideas of ‗symbol‘ 
and ‗image‘. Though there was some good work on the broader historical, intellectual, and political 
contexts of Yeats‘s writing, it was very noticeable that few candidates were able to use this 
knowledge for literary ends. In fact, only a handful of essays attempted anything that might be 
called ‗close reading‘. Nine of the ten themes were attempted. 
 
7g (iii) Woolf 
There were 29 candidates for this option. Although all the themes elicited at least one response 
(except theme 5, which hinged on the tension between reticence and frankness in Woolf‘s writings, 
and was puzzlingly avoided by candidates), by far the most popular theme was number 1, on 
Woolf‘s rich, diverse and complex relationship with London. Many of the responses to this theme 
were inspired, resourceful and engaging. However, not all of those who responded to this theme, or 
the others on offer, were sufficiently deeply involved with it or attended to its nuances with enough 
rigour and primary material in play. Too many essays betrayed a tendency to stray into a prepared 
subject at the first opportunity, usually by the top of the second page, whereas the best essays 
returned to the selected theme more than once during their course and opened it up in illuminating, 
stimulating and innovative ways. To apply a theme in an unexpected way can be invigorating and 
highly commendable, but simply to use a theme as a random lift-off pad is not acceptable. Theme 7, 
about life-writing, was the second most popular of the set quotations. Again, the best answers on 
this topic were fresh, alert and rounded pieces of work which engaged with this aspect of Woolf‘s 
oeuvre in all its many dimensions, while the less successful responses tended to treat Woolf‘s 
interest in biography in isolation from the rest of her vision and so seemed comparatively narrow 
and compartmentalised. Overall, the best essays were highly resourceful in their engagement with 
their chosen theme, written with verve, and showed firm evidence of broad critical reading and a 
subtle familiarity with the full range of Woolf‘s writings. There was also a pleasing level of 
engagement with primary texts by Woolf's contemporaries, with students using a good range of the 
Bodleian's holdings of non-fiction and periodicals. Several candidates explicitly rejected contextual 
approaches in favour of what were sometimes termed formalist approaches. At their best, such 
essays contained perceptive insights into Woolf's works, but too often they recycled a predictable 
argument about perception, consciousness and novelistic form. Such arguments would be clarified 
if candidates demonstrated critical awareness of earlier critical work in the same vein. Themes 3, 4, 
8 and 10 only attracted one candidate each. 
36 
 

 
 
7h (i) Walcott 
Ten candidates opted for Walcott this year, and marks ranged from upper second to first class. 
Candidates attempted a variety of Walcott themes: linguistic hybridity and inmixing; ―guiltless‖ 
history; ekphrasis; Walcott and Modernism; the interplay of poetic and ordinary language; the 
carnivalesque. There was also satisfactory coverage of the different Walcott genres. A number of 
essays tried to reconcile Walcott‘s affiliation with the Western canon and metropolitan literary 
cultures to his filial ties to Caribbean literature and culture, as manifested in rhyme, St Lucian 
Creole and Caribbean English, and local theatre traditions. There was outstanding work on 
Walcott‘s figurative language and metaphorics, which draws on the ordinary realities of the 
Caribbean while also maintaining an aberrant relationship to its reference. The stronger essays 
masterfully combined the specificities of historical and cultural context with sustained analysis and 
critical interpretation. Less assured essays fell back on familiar readings of the postcolonial poet as 
representative of collective consciousness, and the allegorical charge and function of postcolonial 
literary production. Buzzwords such as ‗hybridity,‘ ‗Creolisation,‘ and ‗mimicry‘ were also 
deployed occasionally without context or further substantiation. On the whole, however, the 
standard of excellence was high, and candidates demonstrated ease and sophistication in formal, 
conceptual, and historical readings of Walcott‘s prodigious output.  
 
7h (ii) Roth 
For the 2009 Roth Final Honour paper (7 (h) ii), 12 students submitted extended essays. Of these, 4 
students wrote on question 8 (the relation between Roth‘s fiction and his life); 2 on questions 10 
(Roth and pornography) and 9 (Ross and old age); and 1 each on questions 2, 3, 5, and 7. 
Concerning quality, the standard was respectable but not as high as the previous year. Of the 12, 
two papers were awarded firsts and 10 papers 2:1s. The best papers constituted unified extended 
meditations built on clearly announced critical assumptions, acknowledged the different phases of 
Roth‘s long evolution as a novelist, addressed novels from each phase with close readings attentive 
both to thematic concerns and the texture of the prose; suggested something about Roth‘s affiliation 
with literary traditions including, but not limited to, 19th- and 20th-century American writing, 
Jewish writing, European experimental and political writing, etc.; stayed alert to the ironies and 
complexities of the fiction, and attempted to make an intervention into the accumulating critical 
literature on Roth. The worst papers focused exclusively on a few of Roth‘s more famous novels 
and relied on commonplaces about American history or writing that the novels themselves go out of 
their way to question. 
 
7h (iii) Friel 
There were seven takers for Friel, six in single English and one in EML. There were two firsts and 
the rest were 2:1s. The examiners were very impressed by the remarkable detail in which the plays 
(and to a lesser extent the short stories) were discussed. In the few cases where we felt too few 
plays were considered, those that were examined were known in great depth. Sometimes the focus 
seemed narrow, and it would have been good to see a wider branching out into the context of Irish 
drama, before and after Friel. Similarly, the historical context of the plays could have been drawn 
on further. But there was an unmistakeable sense of enthusiasm in the engagement with Friel, who 
again proved to be a very successful Paper 7 topic. 
 
7i (i) Emerson 
There were three candidates for this paper. 
37 
 

 
 
7i (ii) Dickinson 
6 students submitted extended essays. Of these, 2 students wrote on question 2 (Dickinson and 
perception) and 1 each on questions 5, 7, 9, and 10. Concerning quality, the standard was very high, 
considerably higher than the previous year. Of the 6, five papers were awarded firsts and only 1 
paper a 2:1. The best papers were built on clearly announced critical assumptions, developed their 
arguments out of sophisticated close readings of the poems, suggested something about Dickinson‘s 
affiliation with American literary and cultural traditions; exhibited awareness of the unusual 
conditions of the poems‘ composition and delayed publication; stayed alert to the ironies and 
complexities of the poetry; and attempted to make an intervention into the accumulating critical 
literature on Dickinson. The worst papers focused exclusively on a few of Dickinson‘s more famous 
statements and poems, and relied on commonplaces about American history or writing. 
 
7i (iii) Faulkner 
Twelve essays were submitted. Topics chosen were spread fairly evenly over the themes offered, 
with two essays each for questions 1 (Faulkner on ‗make-believe region of swords and magnolias 
[and] incest in clayfloored cabins‘), 6 (Sutpen‘s failure allows Faulkner to unmake the Father and 
expose what makes him), and 8 (on incest and miscegenation), and one essay each for questions 2, 
3, 4, 5, 7, and 9 (on representations of Negro characters; the methods of modern fiction; the legacy 
of the Civil War; Addie‘s monologue about words and deeds; time; and narrative structure) . The 
best essays succeeded in a variety of ways: in ranging widely across Faulkner‘s texts; in making 
sustained, well developed arguments about narrative strategies and their implications; in historically 
informed analysis of the intersections of race, sex, and economics in Faulkner‘s work; or in vivid 
and lively argumentation based on close attention to textual detail in dialogue with previous critical 
interpretations. Faulkner‘s published manuscripts were put to good use at times. The weaker essays 
tended to rely on unquestioned assumptions about (for example) gender or ‗the past‘, and to be less 
attentive (occasionally even superficial) in textual engagement, as well as displaying problems with 
focus and argumentation. 
 
Paper 8a An Extended Essay 
There were 193 takers for this paper. Candidates chose a wide range of topics and approaches 
across most periods, though the majority opted for the post-1800s. In broad terms, the distribution 
was as follows: 35.2% (20th Century), 21% (American), 18% (1550-1800), 15.5% (19th Century), 
3.6% (Pre-1550), 3% (Language), 2.5% (Other). 
The best essays submitted in the period band 1550-1800 were erudite and well balanced: they 
engaged with key and current critical debates as well as providing a nuanced interpretation of the 
primary materials. Nearly all the work was of a high standard and showed good application of 
contextual information as well as strong close reading skills. Topics were varied and included 
theatre history; manuscript culture; poetics; women's writing; as well as explorations of political, 
cultural and historical interfaces. The better essays had a well-defined purpose and were fully 
comparative. In some cases candidates let themselves down by thinking that primary research 
would be sufficient. They should bear in mind that a strong critical argument, which draws out the 
significance of their research, is indispensable. All candidates should be reminded to proof read 
their work (and to include page numbers) as presentation is a factor. They should also note that the 
word-limit is part of the overall assessment (i.e. examiners consider how the argument does or does 
not suit a 5-6,000-word essay).  
The topics chosen by those working on or across the nineteenth century were very varied, although 
the areas of Empire writing, Gothic, detective fiction, decadence & new woman writing occasioned 
38 
 

 
several essays each. The challenge (obviously) is range. Less able candidates failed to meet it by 
falling back on the mode of survey, often chronological; the weakest of all offered unsupported 
generalisations about categories that should have been questioned in Mods (e.g.: ‗Victorian 
Literature‘). More successful essays achieved argumentative reach and bite via unusual 
combinations of material (often across the boundaries of the Mods periods) and/or sharp close 
reading and/or strong original research – for instance in newspapers or the nether reaches of 
Tractarianism – and/or thoughtful deployment and testing of theoretical paradigms. The best essays 
of all did several of the above and were exciting to read.   
The average performance of those who chose to work on twentieth-century topics for this paper was 
high, suggesting that students are making the most of the new freedoms it affords. Author-based, 
literary-critical work, usually of a comparative kind, dominated, but some candidates were willing 
to explore less well-worn paths, including questions of genre, literary historiography, theory, and 
book history. British writers featured prominently, though many candidates used the geographical 
range the course now allows. There was some particularly impressive work focusing on India, the 
United States, and Ireland. The essays on drama showed a good understanding of dramaturgy, stage 
directions and extra-linguistic properties as well as an astute reading of the language and dialogue 
of the texts. On the whole, those candidates who achieved high 2.1 marks, and so narrowly missed a 
First, did so either because they failed to develop a good, coherent argument or because they lacked 
the critical sophistication necessary for their topic or materials. The most successful candidates 
were intellectually ambitious, choosing a title that enabled them to produce focussed essays while 
using strong transitions to broaden the argument. Some undertook original and independent 
research. At the top end some essays were of a near-publishable quality. As these essays showed, 
this paper provides a rare opportunity for students to think outside the parameters of the period or 
author papers. Many students could make more of this by coming up with projects that cross or 
question established categories and/or ways of thinking. 
For the American Literature component, which was for the first time not singled out as a defined 
subject in the syllabus, students wrote on topics including: the American short story; the American 
Renaissance; African-American Literature, early twentieth-century fiction, the Jazz Age, the 
Jewish-American novel; the literature of the Beats, modern American poetry, Southern and 
Sentimental fiction; and fiction after World War II. Concerning quality, the standard was a small 
but noticeable notch lower than last year. At the top of the range the essays combined insightful 
close analyses of particular texts with broader arguments about issues in American literature and 
culture and made sophisticated judgments about the kinds of evidence appropriate to each register. 
The best of them rooted their arguments in primary texts such as letters and historical documents, 
avoiding cultural and critical generalizations and building on insights proposed within the materials 
they were examining. The best essays also recognized the complexity and contested quality of the 
critical terms they deployed. The essays at the bottom of the range tended to start with historical and 
critical commonplaces, whether plucked from the air ('the American dream' remains a particularly 
popular platitude) or quoted from highly derivative historical or literary introductions (the 
Cambridge Companion series being a notable offender). Organizationally, the poorest essays tended 
to stitch together tutorial assignments without paying enough attention to a clearly defined overall 
argument, while the best papers not only sustained (and signposted) a single argument (and weighed 
what kind of argument could be made in 5-6,000 words), but acknowledged the place of that 
argument within current critical conversations about particular texts or authors.  
Six extended essays submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for Paper 8a dealt with various 
aspects of language: the specific topics addressed ranged from 18th century linguistic and 
philosophical ideas to the use of non-standard vernaculars in contemporary poetry. All were of a 
satisfactory standard, with the majority achieving marks in the mid-to-high 2.1 range. Those 
awarded 60+ were all well researched and showed a good understanding of the relevant issues, 
though some candidates did not do their material justice because they over-estimated the quantity of 
data it is possible to analyse satisfactorily in 6000 words. The best essays were ambitious in scope 
39 
 

 
but also realistic about what could be achieved; they also paid close attention to linguistic detail and 
handled the technical aspects of analysis with confidence.  
 
8b (i)/B4 Linguistic Theory 
There were five candidates for this paper. Performance ranged from satisfactory to excellent and 
there was a great deal of overlap in the questions answered (such as those relating to language 
change, and the contributions of individual linguists). Answers receiving high marks were argued 
with detail and relevant examples, while those receiving lower marks were typically less well 
argued, often relying uncritically on textbook treatments, and showing a tendency to twist questions 
to suit material that had obviously been prepared in anticipation of specific topics. 
 
8b (ii) Medieval and Renaissance Romance 
There was one candidate for this paper. 
 
8b (iii) Scottish Literature  
There was one candidate for this paper. 
 
8b (iv) Old Norse 
There were two candidates for this paper. 
 
8b (v) Medieval French Literature (1100- 1300) 
There was one candidate for this paper. 
 
8b (v) Medieval French Literature (1300- 1500) 
There was one candidate for this paper. 
 
8b (vi) Classical Literature Epic 
There were 3 candidates for this paper. 
 
8b (vi) Classical Literature Tragedy 
There was 1 candidate for this paper. 
 
8c (i) Lexicography and the English Language 
There was one candidate for this paper. 
 
8c (ii) Grub Street and its Critics 
This is the second year that this option has been offered. It is clear that again, the course has 
stimulated some engaging and innovative work, showing a clear and effective engagement with the 
concepts and material covered during the six weeks. All the candidates chose to focus on areas 
40 
 

 
related to, but distinct from, the topics covered in weekly classes and essays. In doing so, they 
demonstrated an impressive range of reference, and a confident grasp of the literary and historical 
contexts of the period. There were four candidates, and all produced work of at least high upper-
second standard, with two clear first class essays.  
 
8c (iii) Principles of Film Criticism 
20 students studied on the option: 9 students received a first class grade and the remaining 11 
received a mark in the sixties (6 were between 65 and 69). This amounts to nearly half the students 
receiving distinctions so the standard of work is accomplished. Students devised their own 
questions and the topics were various and challenging. Many students chose to study films that were 
not discussed on the course and produced original criticism. There was a high quality of close 
reading even in some of the less well-realised essays. There were very few differences between first 
and second marker before consultation (the few instances were easily resolved because they were 
clear cases of asymmetrical information) and I think this showed that the assessment criteria for the 
option are clear. It also showed that the assessment was in line with the literature papers and 
options. It is worth mentioning that the standard of observation and discussion in the seminars was 
high, and most students had no problems adjusting from tutorial to seminar format.  
 
8c (iv) Postcolonial Literature 
The postcolonial literature papers this year were, almost across the board, of a consistently high 
standard, with 9 out of 15 being awarded first class marks. A wide range of topics was developed by 
the students, many of them innovative and exploratory (history of the postcolonial book, 
investigations of postcolonial ecocriticism), moving beyond the standard issue themes like nation 
and narration, or the hybrid text. In most cases the range of cultural and literary reference was 
appropriately broad and informed, with the candidates' specific focus within the larger field well 
developed also.  
The best essays showed excellent facility not only with the terrain of postcolonial theory in all its 
variation, but with adapting the theory and criticism in culturally sensitive and even metacritical 
ways to develop their argument.  In short, the examiners had the pleasure of assessing what might 
be called a 'second generation' set of postcolonial essays, as one of them remarked, in relation to 
which the benefits of teaching postcolonial literature within the structured programme of a CTST 
were well attested. Two or three of the weaker essays demonstrated some problems with developing 
and consolidating the critical case they were making, or overcompensated on the side of 
demonstrating their arguments by citing too broadly and indiscriminately. But a very good year 
overall. 
 
8c (v) Life Writing 
This option produced an excellent run of marks. Out of 11 original candidates, one had previously 
submitted and one withdrew at the start of the course. Of the remaining 9, six gained First Class 
marks (one outstanding), and three gained 2:1 marks, a very good standard. The topics chosen 
ranged interestingly between different varieties of Life-Writing. Some essays were more theoretical, 
thematic and wide-ranging, dealing with topics such as memory, childhood, or illness. Some were 
genre-based essays on, for instance, travel-writing as a form of autobiography, or Mass Observation 
Diaries. There were several essays on autobiography, especially the treatment of fathers and sons, 
ranging across a group of mainly 20th century texts. Essays drew variously on historical 
conventions of, or developments in, auto/biography, the relation of literary to psychoanalytical 
texts, and on theories of autobiography. Overall the essays showed a good range of subjects and 
examples, and an intelligent relationship between broad themes and detailed analysis. 
41 
 

 
 
COURSE II 
A1 English Literature 600-1100 
There were eight candidates. Most of the scripts displayed good knowledge of a fairly wide range of 
Old English texts―with the exception of the homilies which elicited little interest―and of the 
secondary literature on them. Some creative interpretation of the questions impressed the 
examiners. The question on the construction of gender proved popular and the candidates who 
chose it looked at both male and female characters in the literature of the period, but none showed 
knowledge of modern critical theory on the subject. Few of the candidates could quote accurately in 
Old English. 
 
A2 English Literature 1100-1350 
This was an impressive set of scripts on the whole, produced by a cohort of candidates who were 
clearly committed to specialist work. The strongest candidates produced nuanced and wide-ranging 
answers that showed intellectual flexibility and a willingness to think freshly about the topics 
addressed. Most candidates achieved a good balance between being rigorously selective in their 
choice of examples and showing detailed knowledge of their primary materials in the course of 
developing an argument. Most answers were coherent and substantial, and informed by knowledge 
of the intellectual context in which these works had been produced. The weaker scripts were 
characterised by thin, poorly substantiated answers that circled around the texts and questions rather 
than engaging directly with them. Topics chosen for discussion by candidates included the Owl and 
the Nightingale
, major and minor prose devotional writings, alliterative poetry (including, but not 
confined to, the works of the Gawain-poet), Henryson, Arthurian and other popular romances, 
drama, Lydgate, Hoccleve and Wycliffite writings. 
 
A3a and A3b Chaucer, Langland and Gower 
There were seven candidates, of whom three were given first-class marks and four upper-second 
marks. The work on both parts of the paper was lively and well-informed, with several candidates 
able to make good use of their knowledge of Gower and Langland to compare them effectively with 
each other and / or with Chaucer. Some of the best scripts displayed a pleasing acquaintance with 
Gower‘s French and Latin writings or with the earlier and later versions of Piers Plowman
Unsurprisingly, given the small number of candidates, not all questions set were attempted, but 
there was ample evidence of interest in the political and religious dimensions of the authors where 
the opportunity arose. 
 
A4 Introduction to Textual Criticism 
There was some very good work on A4 this year, with approximately half of the scripts being 
awarded first class marks. Commentaries were fairly evenly divided between the four set texts, with 
Orfeo the least commonly remarked upon. The very best of the commentaries engaged 
knowledgeably and intricately with the precise terms of the task set and with the passage in 
question. The Exodus passage elicited some strong responses, with candidates demonstrating an 
impressive grasp of the text‘s editorial history and of the particular challenges involved in dealing 
with a text extant in only one manuscript. Many candidates proved themselves equally adept in 
broaching the Sermo Lupi and there was some informed analysis of the Ancrene Wisse extract, 
much of it focussing on the potential pitfalls of diplomatic editing as it related to the passage. As in 
previous years, however, the weaker commentaries often read as miniature essays, candidates using 
the extracts as an opportunity to discuss general editorial issues without paying sufficiently close 
42 
 

 
attention to the detail of the material in front of them. It was a shame that very few of the Wulfstan 
commentaries discussed the effectiveness (or otherwise) of the translation, and there was a tendency 
towards careless inaccuracy in some of the Ancrene Wisse commentaries, in which candidates 
became muddled over the identity of the Cleopatra scribes.       
The essay questions elicited some genuinely interesting and exciting work, with the majority of 
candidates dealing with (a) conceptions of authorship and the authoritative text. Most answers 
engaged extremely thoughtfully with these issues, and formulated some elegant and provocative 
arguments. There was also some very promising work on the potential and significance of 
electronic editions and it was a real pleasure to engage with such enthusiastic and energetic writing. 
Candidates do need to be reminded that the primary purpose of the essay is to demonstrate close 
knowledge of the texts set for this paper and the issues that they raise. Other material can of course 
be referenced, but the essay must be weighted towards the core texts; after all, candidates have 
papers A1 and 2 in which to showcase their wider reading. It would also be pleasing to see 
candidates writing more extensively on manuscript context and the impact that this might have had 
on ways of reading.   
 
A5 The Development of Standard Literary English 
There were 7 candidates for this paper. Performance and presentation were generally sound, 
revealing a good range of theoretical approaches and evidence of wide reading. Work for this new 
portfolio paper was on the whole engaged and interesting, and essays were well substantiated and 
well-referenced, with a good spread of answers across Section A. Section B, in contrast, attracted a 
relatively narrow response, tightly focused for many candidates on Biblical translation in Old 
English and Middle English. Answers here could be overly descriptive, rather than exhibiting the 
closely analytical skills might have brought higher marks. There was also a tendency to choose 
lengthy passages which meant that coverage could be over-general, lacking close and detailed 
textual engagement. Insecurities in terms of terminology and core language skills could be evident 
in weaker candidates in both sections of the paper while, in Section A the portfolio format could 
worrying lead to a heavy reliance on secondary quotation and paraphrase rather than engagement 
with the necessary primary texts and the development of independent conclusions. 
 
Marking Conventions for FHS 2009-2010 
First 
Average mark of 68.5 or greater.  
At least two marks of 70 or above.  
No mark below 50. 
Upper Second 
Average mark of 59 or greater.  
At least two marks of 60 or above.  
No mark below 40. 
Lower Second 
Average mark of 49.5 or greater.  
At least two marks of 50 or above.  
No mark below 30. 
Third 
Average mark of 40 or greater.  
Not more than one mark below 30. 
Pass 
Average mark of 30 or greater. 
 
Not more than two marks below 30. 
43 
 

 
 
Number of Candidates and Gender 
Total 239, comprising 147 (61.5%) female and 92 (38.5 %) male. 
 
Number and Class Distributions by Sex 
Class 
Female No. 
Female % 
Male No. 
Male % 
No. All 
% All 

31 
21.1 
28 
30.4 
59 
24.7 
IIi 
115 
78.2 
62 
67.4 
117 
74.1 
IIii 

0.7 

1.1 

0.8 
III 



1.1 

0.4 
 
Number of Candidates for All Subjects 
Paper 
Title 
Nos. 

Shakespeare 
262 
3 a & b 
English Literature from 1100 - 1509 
236 

English Literature from 1509 - 1642 
239 
4a 
English Literature from 1832 - 1900 

4b 
English Literature from 1900 to present day 19 

English Literature from 1642 - 1740 
239 

English Literature from 1740 - 1832 
251 
7 a(i) 
The Beowulf Poet 

7 a(ii) 
Alfred 

7 a(iii) 
Exeter Book 

7 b(i) 
Chaucer 

7 b(ii) 
Langland 

7 b(iii) 
N Town Cycle 

7 c(i) 
Spenser 

7 c(ii) 
Milton 

7 c(iii) 
Jonson 

7 d(i) 
Marvell 

7 d(ii) 
Dryden 

7 d(iii) 
Haywood 

7 e(i) 
Wordsworth 

7 e(ii) 
Austen 
29 
44 
 

 
7 e(iii) 
Byron 
17 
7 f(i) 
Tennyson 

7 f(ii) 
Dickens 
13 
7 f(iii) 
Wilde 
16 
7 g(i) 
Conrad 
19 
7 g(ii) 
Yeats 
18 
7 g(iii) 
Woolf 
29 
7 h(i) 
Walcott 
10 
7 h(ii) 
Roth 
12 
7 h(iii) 
Friel 

7 i (i) 
Emerson 

7 i (ii) 
Dickinson 

7 i (iii) 
Faulkner 
11 
8a 
An Extended Essay 
192 
8b (i) 
Linguistic Theory 

8c (ii).  
Medieval and Renaissance Romance 

8c (iii) 
Scottish Literature pre-1600 

8b (viii)(i)  Classical Literature – Epic 

8b (viii)(ii)  Classical Literature – Tragedy  

8c (i) 
Lexicography and the English Language 

8c (ii) 
Grub Street and Its Critics 

8c (iii) 
Principles of Film Criticism 
20 
8c (iv) 
Postcolonial Literature 
15 
8c (v) 
Life Writing: Critical Approaches 
10 
B3 
Modern Philology (by extended essay

Archaeology of Anglo Saxon England,  

B10 
7th – 9th centuries AD 
B15 
Old Norse 

B16 
Old Norse Texts 

B19 
Medieval French Literature 1100 - 1300 

B20 
Medieval French Literature 1300 - 1500 

B22 
Medieval Welsh Language and Literature II 1 
 
If a subject is not included in the table above it is because there were 0 candidates for that option. 
45 
 

 
EXTERNAL EXAMINER: FHS ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE 
Professor Julia Boffey, Queen Mary University of London 
 
This was my third and final year as an external examiner. I attended exam boards on 29 June and 6 
July, and a meeting about medical and other extenuating circumstances on 28 June. Between the 
two boards I read a selection of full runs of scripts from: (i) the bottom of the range (one third-class 
run and two lower seconds); (ii) the lower/upper second-class borderline; Course 2 (medieval). I 
was kept fully involved in the business of examination meetings throughout the year, and (as in 
previous years) was sent copies of draft papers at appropriate points.  
Appropriateness of academic standards set for awards 
Students at Oxford are tested on their knowledge of an impressively wide range of writing in 
English, and invited to discuss it in relation to its history, its language, and the critical approaches 
which may illuminate it. They are required to demonstrate the exercise of independent critical 
judgement, and the ability to construct and handle argument. A final examination system of the sort 
they face is unusual nowadays in UK universities, but at Oxford it seems to produce candidates who 
are broadly well informed and almost uniformly able to substantiate their arguments with detailed 
close analysis. Within the broad range of periods covered, there is adequate choice for 
specialization (notably Course 2 for those with early interests; but also within e.g. Paper 8). The 
range of writing on which candidates are assessed is not limited to exam-style answers, but also 
now includes extended essays and the commentary answers required for Paper 3b.  
Rigour, fairness and conduct of assessment processes 
These are all outstanding. Great care is taken over the setting of examinations, with reflection on 
coverage and the kinds of questions set. These matters were continually under discussion during my 
three years of externalling, with changes made in response to student comment about the number of 
questions and their nature.  
Guidelines for examiners are exemplary, with marking criteria fully elaborated. The anonymous 
marking process is exhaustive, relying throughout on double-marking, and with sensible procedures 
to be invoked to deal with wide discrepancies in first and second marks. Third-marking is frequent, 
and properly constrained by a ‗no leap-frogging‘ rule. Marking profiles are quickly and carefully 
reviewed, with provision for quick response to any anomalies. The scaling exercises used to correct 
anomalies in my last two years were scrupulously implemented; it would perhaps be helpful to 
include in the guidelines for examiners some reference to the possibility of scaling, and (for the 
purposes of consistency from year to year) some account of its operation. 
The Board‘s deliberations about final classification are commendably transparent. They are 
supported by full marking data which includes both agreed and raw marks on classification sheets. 
Given the exhaustive procedures for confirming agreed marks (third-marking, scaling, etc.) I was 
slightly surprised in my first year at the degree of readiness to adjust agreed marks for candidates 
whose overall performance is on a borderline, but the number of such cases is on the whole 
decreasing in the light of warnings from successive Chairs against too soft a line on borderline cases 
(especially those on the 2.i/1st borderline). Procedures for responding to such cases have also been 
regularized year by year, with the result that internal markers rather than externals now take on the 
bulk of the re-reading, and it is conducted explicitly without pressure to raise marks. 
The problem on the 2.i/1st borderline is that a number of candidates achieve an average below the 
68.5 necessary for a 1st while still gaining two or more (sometimes several more) marks of 70+ in 
their profile (the guidelines for a 1st class degree require an average of 68.5+ and at least two marks 
of 70 or above). It is reasonable to feel some sense of obligation about re-reading the scripts of 
those who come close to fulfilling the criteria with averages just a whisker away from 68.5, but 
perhaps unhelpful to drop too far in this process.  
46 
 

 
My impression over three years is that examiners are responding appropriately to the average-based 
classification system by using a wider range of marks at both ends of the markscale.  
Systems for dealing with medical and other extenuating circumstances are operated with fairness 
and rigour. It has proved helpful to have on record details of procedures from year to year, in order 
to establish precedents. Occasionally I have been baffled by the lines of communication between 
the Proctors and the Faculty or Examination Board (in relation to matters like late submission or 
plagiarism, for example): these matters are obviously less mysterious to those familiar with the 
system.  
Standards of student performance 
Standards of student performance have been consistently very high. Candidates demonstrate notable 
rhetorical skills, and the ability to deploy their knowledge to good effect. The largely exam-based 
system benefits those who can construct a clear argument.  
Overall, some of the work produced at the top of the range is of publishable standard. Even the 
work of candidates gaining good upper seconds is often distinguished in parts. The few 2:2 and 3rd 
class performances are in general from candidates who produce short-weight work (always falling 
down on the final essay in a three-question exam paper, for example). Poorer candidates are these 
days exposed by the challenge of exams – in ways that weren‘t always the case in the past. It is 
clear that some of the candidates who perform less well are still capable of producing high-quality 
extended essays. The standard of work for papers on Course 2 is especially high: this has been 
apparent in each of my three years. 
Comparability of the standards and student achievements with those in some other higher 
education institutions 

Standards and student achievement in English at Oxford compare favourably with many other 
institutions. Students are trained by exposure to a wide range of material and taught with more 
emphasis on writing and argument than seems the case in some other universities in the UK. 
Oxford‘s selection procedures for admission are surely bound to ensure that there will be smaller 
numbers of poorly-performing candidates than elsewhere. 
Issues to bring to the attention of the Faculty or University 
The relationship between the Examination Board and the Proctors‘ Office (in relation to e.g. late 
submission of work; plagiarism) is not always comprehensible to an external examiner 
Data: (i) enormous responsibility in relation to entering and checking marks seems to rest with the 
Chair and Deputy Chair of the Examination Board; I have been surprised that there is so little 
administrative support for this. (ii) there have been serious failures of support (particularly in 2009) 
with the computerized mark system.  
There has been heavy reliance each year on non-postholders for marking duties. If this work is to 
remain a worthwhile proposition for non-postholders the University will need to ensure that it is 
properly remunerated. 
Good practice 
Clear guidelines and full marking criteria; Extensive reflection on marking profiles; Examiners‘ 
reports quickly and carefully produced and available to students. 
The work of the Examination Board in the last three years has been overseen by a series of 
extraordinarily painstaking and humane Chairs and Deputy Chairs: Helen Spencer, Helen Barr, and 
Laurie Maguire. I would like to put on record my thanks to them for making the work of an external 
both agreeable and illuminating. I am also very grateful to Angie Johnson, who has supported the 
work of the Board throughout, and taken care of the practicalities of hosting external examiners 
with patience and good humour. 
47 
 

 
EXTERNAL EXAMINER:  
FHS ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE 
Dr Raphael Lyne, University of Cambridge 
 
English 
(a) Appropriateness of academic standards set for awards 
The division of labour among externals meant that I read runs of scripts on the 1st / 2.1 borderline. I 
remain confident that the students are being assessed appropriately. These runs of scripts all seemed 
to me appropriately placed around the borderline between classes. There was some inconsistency in 
their performances in the different papers, and I could see why examiners had opted for higher and 
lower classes when they did. 
(b) Extent to which assessment processes are rigorous, ensure equity of treatment, and have 
been fairly conducted 

Overall the comments made by examiners, the marks they awarded, the agreed marks they reached, 
and the procedures to deal with un-agreed marks and anomalies were all very rigorous and 
equitable. I am again confident that the candidates were assessed very well by a hard-working team 
of examiners. 
As before, business at the examiners‘ meetings was carried out with great care, and the Chair and 
Assistant Chair were very well prepared for some taxing situations. The meeting of the Medical and 
Special Cases committee again made a significant contribution to fairness for individuals and for 
all. 
This year, as last, there was some scaling of marks for particular pairs of examiners on certain 
papers. The issues were less clear-cut than last year and required even more careful analysis, and 
again the Board, and especially the Chair and Assistant Chair, handled things very well. I shall have 
more to say about scaling in general terms in my comments below. 
(c) The standards of student performance in the programme 
It was noted at one meeting that the number of 2.2s awarded is very low, and that it seems out of 
step with the number of 2.2 marks awarded for particular papers, and with some examiners‘ 
extrapolated impression that there are a larger number of students who falling below the 2.1 line. 
Having read some candidates at a different borderline this year, but in the light of reading low 2.1s 
last year, I think that the 10% or so of 2.2 marks given are given justly, but that the way these are 
cancelled out by the averaging of marks is also, in the end, just. Oxford FHS English candidates 
face a demanding challenge in bringing a wide range of work to examinations in one sitting, and 
when I read runs of scripts this impressed me each time: the sum of an individual‘s achievements 
across a range of papers adds up to a little more than its parts. As in previous years I think the 
standard of performance is very high. 
(d) Comparability of standards and student achievements with other HE institutions 
See under c) above; all I can really add to my comments there and in previous reports is that I still 
think standards at Oxford are comparable to other top institutions. The emphasis on what might be 
seen as survey papers leads to some notable strengths (e.g. rapid deployment and skilful 
arrangement of a high volume of sophisticated material). 
 
(e) Issues which should be brought to the attention of committees (in the Faculty) 
Under this heading I include a number of items for next year‘s examiners and/or for Faculty 
committees considering examination matters. 
Classing guidelines and re-reading 
48 
 

 
Same as last year here, as it happens: 
‗Having considered carefully the handling of borderline candidates, I come to two somewhat 
conflicting conclusions: that this was fairly conducted, equitable, rigorous, and consistent with last 
year‘s practice; but also that it would be a good idea to put rather more in the written guidelines. 
These are currently, I think, brief. The advantages of brevity are obvious. However, more detail 
about which candidates are to be re-read, how re-reading will be undertaken and by whom, and so 
on, will ensure continuity and will make procedures more demonstrably as well as actually robust.‘ 
I should emphasise that I felt that a list of practices and criteria produced by the Chair for the 
relevant meeting was very helpful. I also concede again that my taste for criteria might not be 
shared by many civilised people. However, I think it would make things clearer and more 
transparent if more were written down in the main examination guidelines. The Chair made a very 
good point, which is that the definition of a borderline (inherited from the Humanities Division I 
believe) results in an impossible potential load of re-reading in a school of 250 candidates. Perhaps 
the first step would be to reconsider that. 
Scaling 
I have not seen this done in my university, and my sense of how it has worked in Oxford is a 
decidedly positive one. However, in the light of my previous comment it will not be surprising that 
I think, again, that here too some more written guidelines could be useful. This year there were 
some very difficult scenarios which could not necessarily have been foreseen by any guidelines. 
However, I think it might be worth establishing (for example) what might be considered 
sufficiently anomalous to require scaling; whether marks could be scaled down as well as up; etc. 
Software 
I think the Mark-It software used to generate the markbook should really do a bit more for the 
Board and its officers than it does currently. For example, it did not identify some mandatory 3rd 
readings where the first pair of markers had agreed marks despite a broad initial difference: 
couldn‘t these be highlighted? More perplexingly, it designates some candidates as borderline, 
some not, at variance with the guidelines. 
Medical and Special Cases Committee 
At my university such cases are handled outside Faculties, so this was my first experience of seeing 
academic assessment and medical considerations brought together. Overall, I saw the benefits of 
doing so, and was impressed by the dedication of this committee to ensuring that the appropriate 
action was taken. I think at times a decision was taken (so that the committee could be satisfied that 
it had considered each case properly) to re-read a script or a group of scripts with an open-ended 
and potentially unclear purpose – to see if there were any signs that the performance had been 
affected. As I say, this is new to me, but I felt that at times the Committee might have decided to 
stand by the existing agreed mark where the class of a candidate was not in doubt. 
 
 
49 
 

 
EXTERNAL EXAMINER:  
FHS ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE 
 
 
 
 
 
FHS ENGLISH AND MODERN LANGUAGES 
Professor Francis O’Gorman, University of Leeds 
 
1.  The conduct of the FHS meetings, both of the examiners and of the special circumstances 
panel, was exemplary. Consistency was maintained, while matters of complexity were 
examined with rigour and fairness. Documentary material was of a high quality, though some 
problems remain with the database supplying mark information for classification. The chair and 
secretary of the FHS were exceptionally professional as well as good-humoured in the 
discharge of their duties. While administrative help was of a high quality, it seemed to me that 
they were surprisingly unsupported by further administrational assistance, not least in data 
entry and data checking (and minute taking). 
2.  The system of triple marking where the gap between the first two markers is 15 marks or more 
is valuable and principled, as is the decision to re-read a number of (seemingly) anomalous 
marks in a student profile when identified at the first examiners‘ meeting. 
3.  Special circumstances were treated with integrity and fairness, and very difficult cases 
occupied, rightly, a good deal of attention and time. It is sometimes difficult for the full 
examining board to understand the recommendations/decisions of such a panel because 
confidentiality needs to be maintained, and it may be necessary to be frank about this at the 
beginning. It appeared that clear advice from the special circumstances panel about a course of 
action was more appreciated than a seemingly general request to re-read a script (however 
justified that was to the panel who knew the full facts of the case). This seemed a reasonable 
position for the examiners to take. In order to support further the integrity of the chair and 
secretary of the special circumstances panel, it would be valuable, it seems to me, if the 
Proctors‘ office used only student identification numbers and not names for any contact with 
the examiners. This would visibly preserve anonymity throughout the system. 
4.  On the classification itself, I note a concern. The blend of a mathematical system (based simply 
on GPA) and a profiling system (i.e., requiring a particular profile of marks above and below a 
particular mark to permit a classification, in addition to the GPA), seems to me to throw up 
problems.  These are peculiarly exposed by the use of a compound GPA+profile to classify, but 
the use of GPA only to rank within the classification. The slightly uncomfortable blend of two 
different systems may lead, of course, to a situation in which, for instance, the highest 2.i in the 
FHS has a better GPA than the lowest 1st. There is a significant ‗theoretical‘ question here 
about what the examiners think the GPA actually indicates about the candidate‘s 
ability/performance. Certainly, if it gives enough information on which to rank, it seems to me 
that it gives enough on which to classify. 
5.  I note that the ‗borderline‘ (which is actually a kind of margin, rather than a dividing line) is 
substantial between Upper Second and First. 67.5 is low, in my experience, as a starting point, 
and it seems to me the University as a whole might wish to think again about this. What is in 
the margin or not for any individual candidate is of course potentially blurred by the blend (or 
at least the simultaneity) of a profiling system with a GPA system, and, in addition, by the 
question of ‗what marks are available‘ to consider when assessing if a candidate‘s class could 
rise. This is a complicated and multiple-route way of assessing whether a candidate can be 
considered for a higher classification or not, and again leaves open the tricky issue of 
candidates with higher GPAs being awarded a lower classification than someone with a lower 
GPA.  
6.  It was deemed crucial that decisions taken by one set of examiners are ratified (or otherwise) by 
the examiners the following year, and it seems to me that it would be good to have some kind 
50 
 

 
of fixed point for the monitoring of these decisions, so that there is some gradual accretion of 
good practice, rather than the current possibility of vagary, where one group of examiners over-
turns what had been scrupulously established as good practice a year or so before or, indeed, re-
invents what had already been perceived as a decent modus operandi at some point earlier. 
7.  The timing of meetings, as mentioned by an external, needs some attention. The brief (45 
minute) meeting of the Joint School with Modern Languages after the conclusion of FHS 
English required this external to remain in Oxford for 1 ½ extra days. 
8.  The quality of the highest candidates was outstanding: work marked in the highest end of the 
scale seemed to me publishable almost as it stood. The high number of 2.is in relation to the 
very low number of classifications below this again seemed to me justified and I had no doubts 
that the marking scales were used with meticulous care and accuracy. The blind double 
marking system is time-consuming, and it would be interesting to see what classifications/GPA 
would have resulted from taking the first markers marks only, and to compare this with the 
classification/GPA obtained from the current system to test, or indeed exemplify, the ‗value-
added‘ of this considerable labour. 
9.  My thanks to Dr Helen Barr for her promptness, professionalism, thoughtfulness, and 
efficiency in relating information to me as an external during the year, and during my time in 
Oxford. 
 
 
 
51 
 

 
FINAL HONOUR SCHOOL OF CLASSICS AND ENGLISH 2010 
Prof. Matthew Leigh (St Anne's), Chairman of Examiners 
 
There were eight candidates this year, of whom 1 got a first and the rest all got upper seconds. 
There was a lot of good work, especially in the Link papers. Seven candidates offered Latin and one 
Greek. Three had taken the 4-year course with a preliminary year of intensive Latin. Comments on 
individual papers follow below, though the Examiners‘ Reports for English and Lit Hum should be 
consulted for comments on papers in either of the parent schools. 
Epic 
The standard of commentary and essay work was high. The best papers showed real intensity of 
engagement, creative response and detailed knowledge of the texts. The examiners this year 
extended the scope of Section A essays on English epic so that candidates could write about authors 
such as Dryden and Pope as well as Milton. It is to be hoped that this precedent will be followed in 
ensuing years and that candidates will be able to prepare appropriately. 
Tragedy 
There were 7 candidates for this paper. Three achieved first-class marks, the others II.1s. The best 
answers combined detailed analysis of the primary texts (often quoted in Greek or Latin) with 
thoughtful reflection on larger literary and historical issues. The weaker candidates tended to get 
bogged down in quotation of secondary literature for its own sake, whereas the best applied their 
knowledge of scholarship to the question at hand while still maintaining their focus on the works 
that matter. Some of the weaker answers were characterized by inaccurate or reductive historical 
generalizations. 
Comedy 
There was only one candidate for this paper. 
Rhetoric and Literary Theory. 
There was only one candidate for this paper. 
Passmore Edwards Prize 
This was awarded to John Mark Philo of Oriel College. 
 
Organisation 
This year there was close co-ordination between the joint school examiners and the English and 
Classics examining boards and organisation ran more smoothly. Comment sheets were used for all 
papers and the English Examinations Secretary received the marks and prepared the mark sheets. 
There was a meeting of examiners in February to agree the draft Link papers, the circular to tutors 
and candidates, the instructions for theses, and the marking and classification criteria. First and 
second readers were generally able to arrive at agreed marks without difficulty though marks for 
one Classics paper were finally decided by the external examiner in Ancient History after the 
internal examiners failed to reach agreement. One borderline candidate was subjected to systematic 
rereading by the external examiners.  
We are grateful to our externals - Prof. Bruce Gibson and Dr Raphael Lyne - for their help, and to 
Angie Johnson, the English Examinations Secretary, who prompted the Chair of Examiners to take 
necessary action on more than one occasion, kept an impressively accurate record of all decisions, 
and was a model of humour and humanity. 
 
52 
 

 
EXTERNAL EXAMINER: FHS CLASSICS AND ENGLISH 
Dr Raphael Lyne, University of Cambridge 
 
(a) Appropriateness of academic standards set for awards 
Having read mostly runs of scripts from the upper end in the past, this year I read a wider range. It 
was illuminating to see both negative and positive assessments by examiners from the two 
Faculties. Again I felt that the standards being applied were entirely appropriate. 
 
(b) Extent to which assessment processes are rigorous, ensure equity of treatment, and have 
been fairly conducted 

The individual markers were again consistent, insightful, and accurate in their assessments. The 
business at the examiners‘ meeting was clear and efficient. 
 
(c) The standards of student performance in the programme 
This year I noted and appreciated the different demands of examiners from Classics and English. I 
saw how the candidates in their link papers sometimes satisfied one more than the other, and were 
for the most part impressive in satisfying both. In my admittedly small sample I saw English 
examiners with a taste for energetic argument and effortful prose; and I saw Classics examiners 
with a taste for seasoned knowledge and contextual acumen. It seems to me a hallmark of the 
course that in these link papers (and across their runs of papers) candidates demonstrate a wide 
range of achievements – a distinctive part of the high standards in evidence here. 
 
(d) Comparability of standards and student achievements with other HE institutions 
I am confident that the standards are comparable with other top institutions. 
 
(e) Issues which should be brought to the attention of committees (in the faculties) 
Again, the scripts I saw were not always accompanied by both examiners‘ comments. These are 
very helpful indeed, and always appreciated. This year (as requested last year) I had the provisional 
classing list at the point I read my sample scripts. This was helpful. 
 
 
53 
 

 
EXTERNAL EXAMINER'S REPORT: FINAL HONOUR SCHOOLS OF LITERAE 
HUMANIORES, CLASSICS AND ENGLISH, CLASSICS AND MODERN LANGUAGES, 
CLASSICS AND ORIENTAL STUDIES 

Bruce Gibson (University of Liverpool) 
 
It is a pleasure to submit my external examiner's report for 2010, covering Classical Language and 
Literature papers within the Final Honour Schools of Literae Humaniores, Classics and English, 
Classics and Modern Languages, Classics and Oriental Studies.  
Formal meetings I attended took place as follows: 
2 July: preliminary marks meeting in Classical Languages and Literature for Literae Humaniores. 
5 July: second marks meeting for Classical Languages and Literature for Literae Humaniores; 
meeting of sub-committee of Literae Humaniores board of examiners to consider medical cases. 
6 July: final meeting of examiners for Literae Humaniores; final meeting of examiners for Classics 
and Oriental Studies. 
7 July: final meeting of examiners for Classics and English; final meeting of examiners for Classics 
and Modern Languages. 
I should add that all the meetings were excellently chaired, and conducted in an entirely appropriate 
fashion. Ample opportunities for discussion and comment were available to all examiners, internal 
and external. This is an appropriate place to thank the Chair of Examiners in Literae Humaniores, 
Gregory Hutchinson, for his wisdom and guidance, and also the Literature convenor, Bill Allan, and 
the other Literature examiners, Angus Bowie and Matthew Leigh, as well as Gregory Hutchinson, 
for making the whole process an agreeable and efficient one.  
In terms of scripts read, I was asked to provide third readings of a good selection of scripts from 
candidates whose average performance fell very close to a class borderline (mainly the I/II.1 
borderline, but also from one candidate who fell on the II.1/II.2 borderline), and I was also asked to 
read a small selection of scripts for sampling purposes (which I supplemented with further scripts, 
in order to get a wider sense of performance across the range of papers). 
I have structured my comments according to the suggested headings given in the central University 
guidelines for external reports. 
(i) 
whether the academic standards set for its awards, or part thereof, are appropriate; 
There is no doubt that the standards for excellence which are set within Literae Humaniores and in 
Joint Schools involving classical papers are appropriately rigorous, and reflect the remarkable 
strengths of the academic and intellectual environment of Classics teaching at Oxford. Inevitably, 
much of the third reading of scripts concentrated on the I/II.1 borderline, and it is worth noting how 
well in general candidates even on the margins of a first-class degree performed. I also looked at a 
sample of scripts reflecting performances across a wider range, and am entirely satisfied that 
marking is taking place at appropriate levels. In the sample of first-class performances which I 
looked at, there was ample evidence of truly outstanding work, for instance in areas such as Greek 
Hexameter Poetry, and in textual criticism; the standard of assessed coursework such as essays and 
theses is also very high. 
(ii) 
the extent to which its assessment processes are rigorous, ensure equity of treatment for 
students and have been fairly conducted within institutional regulations and guidance; 
A particular strength of assessment practice that I observed is the use of double blind marking: I 
must commend the extraordinary effort which is put into marking scripts. In particular, the core 
papers for Latin Literature of the 1st Century BC were provided with full sets of comments from 
54 
 

 
both markers, in which the reasons for marks awarded were well documented, even in the 
translation papers, where complete transparency in the decisions made by individual markers was 
evident. For the future, one suggestion that I would offer is that all comment sheets for all papers be 
made available to externals in the script room (as is recommended in the guidance notes for 
markers): given the quality and detail of annotation, it is a pity if this evidence of excellence in 
examining is not uniformly made available. 
I would also commend the efficient way in which third readings of scripts within the Final Honour 
School of Literae Humaniores was organised. The initial meeting on the Friday identified 
candidates whose overall performance left them just below borderlines, and ample time was 
provided to examiners to read the scripts requiring a third reading. (In Joint Schools, it would be 
most useful if other Faculties could release information regarding marks at an earlier stage in the 
process, to avoid scripts from borderline candidates being presented for third readings immediately 
before final meetings.)  
Given that two initial marks are generated by the rigour of double blind marking, I am satisfied that 
this is a fair means of providing a range of marks within which a third mark (whether provided by 
an internal or external marker) might fall. I should also add that it was welcome to be asked as an 
external to examine borderline cases, especially as I am aware of more than one HE institution in 
the UK where externals are in fact prevented from suggesting marks at all: the continuing emphasis 
on the primary role of examiners as providers of fair assessment of candidates, rather than as 
overseers of institutional quality management, is to be applauded.  
Translation elements in Literae Humaniores 
The Faculty may wish to consider evaluation of performance in translation in Literae Humaniores. 
Under the rules in force, translation in papers in Classical Literature is integrated into the overall 
mark for the option: in the core options in Greek and Latin literature, for example, a separate 
translation paper is set, contributing 25% of the overall mark. In History and Philosophy, translation 
elements only affect the overall mark for an individual option if they are outstanding, or very poor: 
bonus marks are added to the overall mark if performance in translation is 70 or above, and penalty 
marks are assigned on a progressive scale if translations are lower than 50 (History), and 40 
(Philosophy). In addition, the overall mark for a Philosophy or History option cannot be more than 
20 marks above the performance achieved in translation. Finally, overall fail marks (below 30) for 
an option can be awarded if the mark for translation is 20 or lower. 
This system admirably aims to ensure that candidates read set texts in the original, and are rewarded 
for excellent translation and penalised for weak translation. The method used in Literature seems 
particularly sound, since translation is counted on every occasion, and can improve or adversely 
affect overall performance at all levels: thus a candidate whose mark on non-translation elements of 
a Literature option is high II.2 could achieve a II.1 for the overall mark on the basis of translation at 
mid/high II.1 level. In History and Philosophy, it is only translation performance in absolute terms 
above 69 or below 50 (History) or 40 (Philosophy) which affects a mark. There is consequently no 
reward e.g. for a candidate who achieves a mark of 59 on the non-translation element of a 
philosophy paper with a translation performance of 69, a whole class higher: the final overall mark 
is 59. It is unclear why translation performance in the third-class band attracts no penalty in 
Philosophy (unless the main non-translation mark is over 20 marks higher), when History does 
penalise third-class translation (this appears to have been introduced in History papers in 2009). 
Thus a candidate with marks of 40 for translation and 54 for non-translation elements could be 
awarded different marks as follows in the different subject areas: an unchanged 54 (Philosophy), 
52.5 (History), 50.5 (in a core paper in Literature). 
A more consistent approach to the drafting of the sections relating to translation in guidelines to 
candidates and markers might be useful in future. In its current form, the guidance for markers 
technically requires an overall fail mark for an option to be considered in the event of very poor 
translation performance (20 or below) on an individual question. This seems problematic in the case 
55 
 

 
of a translation paper with several passages: translation of the other passages might indicate some 
text reading in the original. It would also be good to clarify in full the criteria by which examiners 
would decide whether to award an overall pass or a fail mark (and what such marks might be) for an 
option in cases where a candidate's translation has a mark of 20 or below; the official circular to 
candidates (and the 2011 online Greats handbook — the 2010 version does not offer general 
discussion of translation elements) in particular implies that a pass mark is as likely as a fail mark, 
or more so. The guidance given in the two documents for candidates and markers (and in 
handbooks) should ideally be made to conform.  
There is a wider issue here. There is a risk that candidates who translate at a low level are 
effectively liable to multiple (and cumulative) penalties. A candidate with an original mark of e.g. 
55 for non-translation elements in History, who achieves a performance of 19 in translation, is at 
first penalised by being reduced to a mark of 39 (on the basis that no overall mark can be 20 marks 
higher than the translation mark), which also penalises the candidate's overall average for 
classification. If a fail mark of 29 is awarded, there is a further penalty, both to the mark for the 
option, and to the overall average used for classification. But there is also another effect of the 
award of a fail mark of 29, since the candidate is unable to be classified higher than a third (see the 
requirements for a II.2 in the guidance to markers document, p. 12).  
There are other anomalies. Penalties for translation scoring 20 or below in fact have more effect on 
candidates the higher their performance is in the non-translation element. A candidate with marks of 
60 (non-translation) and 19 (translation) could presumably still be reduced to an overall fail mark of 
29, but so too could a candidate with a marks of 45 (non-translation) and 19 (translation) — there 
are no guidelines at all on whether and how marks below 29, the highest mark which still fails, 
might be awarded by examiners in this situation. Moreover, a candidate with e.g. a mid-II.2 
performance of 55 in non-translation elements and a translation performance of 21, above the 
threshold of 20, would under the rules receive an overall mark of 36.5 in History and 38 in 
Philosophy (on the basis that the initial overall mark, which cannot be more than 20 marks higher 
than performance in translation, is 41, and with further penalties then imposed for low translation), 
and 46.5 in a Literature paper (e.g. Latin core) where the overall mark is integrated from translation 
and non-translation elements in a ratio of 25:75. The difference in overall marks in these cases and 
the case of another candidate obtaining a mark of 20 for translation (in any subject area), alongside 
a mark of 55 for the non-translation element, which could bring the mark down to a fail mark of 29, 
seems hard to justify. 21 is a poor performance on a translation paper by any criterion, but the single 
extra mark on translation produces an overall mark for the option 7.5 marks higher in History, 9 
marks higher in Philosophy, and 17.5 marks higher in a Literature paper, with corresponding benefit 
to the overall average, and with no penalty effect in terms of classification arising from a fail mark.  
For all these reasons, I would urge some reconsideration of the rules regarding translation elements. 
The principle of penalising candidates who have not read the texts properly should certainly be 
maintained, but it may be worth considering small adjustments that would bring about a more 
consistent scheme which does not in some cases impose cumulative penalties and produce 
anomalous effects at the lowest level. It might also be good to take account of translation across the 
whole range of performance, as is the case in the Literature papers: there is a risk of blurring the 
message that it is important to read e.g. Thucydides or Plato in the original when for so many 
candidates in History and Philosophy translation performance has no effect on the final mark 
awarded for an option. 
(iii) 
the standards of student performance in the programmes or parts of programmes which they 
have been appointed to examine (those examining in joint schools are particularly asked to 
comment on their subject in relation to the whole award); 

Students taking options in Classical Literature in Literae Humaniores and Joint Schools show a very 
high level of performance across the range of options in this area. The high number of first and II.1 
degrees in Literae Humaniores, with only a few II.2 degrees awarded and no thirds, reflects the 
56 
 

 
overall excellence of the teaching and academic environment and the high quality of the students 
themselves. At the highest level, I saw some outstanding work from some of the best candidates, 
but I would repeat here my comment from section i) above on the excellence of work even from 
candidates who were on the I/II.1 borderline. In the Joint Schools, candidates performed well in 
classical papers, and at levels consistent with performance in non-classical options. 
Two small points to mention: it was striking how many candidates, even at the high II.1/I level, 
seemed to have difficulties with proper names in prepared translation of set texts. Secondly, 
performances in essays and commentary in the Ovid paper on occasion appeared to reflect strong 
engagement with the texts on the level of content or story, but showed less in the way of direct 
engagement with the Latin. 
(iv)  
where appropriate, the comparability of the standards and student achievements with those 
in some other higher education institutions; 
Judged as a cohort, the academic performance of students on the degrees for which I was an 
examiner must be regarded as outstanding both within a UK and in an international context. 
Students leave Oxford with an extremely fine classical education, which leaves them well equipped 
either for further study or a very wide range of non-academic careers. The examining of the 
students is conducted rigorously and fairly, and to the highest standards. 
(v) 
issues which should be brought to the attention of supervising committees in the 
faculty/department, division or wider University: 
I would encourage consideration of how translations papers / questions might best be treated within 
the overall assessment process (see under ii above). 
The range of options offered to students in Classical Literature (and indeed in other areas of Literae 
Humaniores) is an especially impressive feature of the teaching provision at Oxford. There is some 
bunching of choice in terms of the options that are actually chosen by students (Ovid, Greek 
Hexameter Poetry, and Tragedy are especially favoured), and I would urge colleagues to consider 
how to encourage students to take some of the excellent options which attract fewer takers (such as 
Comedy, papers in textual criticism, Hellenistic Poetry, Augustine). 
(vi) 
good practice that should be noted and disseminated more widely as appropriate. 
I would note here once again the excellence of overall student performance, reflecting outstanding 
teaching; the admirably wide range of literary options available (in both First and Second Public 
Examinations); the diligence and attention to detail shown by markers in double blind marking. 
 
 
57 
 

 
FINAL HONOUR SCHOOL OF ENGLISH AND MODERN LANGUAGES 
James Naughton, Chairman of Examiners 
 
1. 
Statistics 
1.1 
Numbers of candidates, by Modern Language 
 
 
2010 
2009 
2008 
2007 
2006 
French 

13 

 9 
14 
German 





Italian 





Spanish 





Portuguese 



 1 

Russian 





Celtic 





Total entries 
20 
20 
16 
20 
26 
 
1.2 
Classes awarded (previous two years’ figures in brackets where applicable) 
 
 
    I 
  II.1 
  II.2 
French 
3 (3, 3)      
(10, 5) 
 - (- ,1) 
German 
1 (1, 4)     
(2, 1) 
 - (- , -) 
Italian 
- (- , -)     
- (1, -)   
 - (- , -) 
Spanish 
2 (- , -)     
(3, -) 
 - (- , -) 
Portuguese 
 - (- , -) 
- (- , 1) 
 (- ,-) 
Russian 
 - (- , 1) 
(- , - ) 
 - (- ,-) 
Total  
6 (4 , 8)  
14 (16, 7) 
 - (- ,1 
Total (%) 
30% (20%, 50%) 
70% (80%, 44%) 
 0% (0%, 6%) 
 
1.3 
Classes awarded by gender (% of class for previous years in brackets) 
 
 

II.1 
II.2 
Female = 16  5 = 83.33% (100%, 
11 = 78.57% (75%, 
none (none, 
87.5%) 
57.14%) 
100%) 
Male = 4 
1 = 16.67% (0%, 12.5%) 
3 = 21.43% (25%, 42.86%)  none (none, 0%) 
 
1.4 
Percentage of each gender in each class (previous years in brackets) 
 
58 
 

 
 
I  
II.1 
II.2 
Female = 16 
31.25% (25%, 58.33%)  68.75% (75%, 33.33%)  0% (0%, 8.34%) 
Male = 4 
25% (0%, 25%) 
75% (100%, 75%) 
0% (0%, 0%) 
 
Distinctions in the oral use of the relevant foreign language were awarded to 6 candidates (4 female, 
2 male).  
Distribution of these by language: French 3, German 1, Spanish 2. 
 
2. 
Examiners 
The Examiners for English were: Professor Bradshaw, Dr Reynolds, and Mr Schmidt. The External 
Examiner for English was Professor Francis O‘Gorman (Leeds) 
For Modern Languages: Dr Naughton (Chair), Dr Swift (French), Dr Louth (German), and Dr de 
Ros (Spanish). The External Examiner for Modern Languages was Dr Peter Dayan (French). 
 
3. 
Conduct of the Examination 
The Marking Conventions were unchanged from last year. 
 
4. 
Marks meetings 
A Pre-Final Marks Meeting was pencilled in, following last year‘s procedure, but was not in the end 
required. 
The Final Marks Meeting was held on 7th July 2010 at 5 pm. All Examiners were present to sign 
the list. 
For more efficient recording of marks, it would be good if the EML marks programme (currently 
maintained in-house by Modern Languages) could allow for the input of marks by examination 
paper, rather than by candidate. 
5. 
Chairman-elect for 2010-11 
In accordance with the Standing Committee‘s decision that the Chairmanship of this School should 
always be held by a Modern Languages examiner, next year‘s Chairman will be either the Chair or 
the Vice-Chair of the FHS in Modern Languages.  
 
 
 
59 
 

 
FINAL HONOUR SCHOOL OF HISTORY AND ENGLISH 
Dr Philip West, Chair of Examiners 
 
All candidates, Numbers, and percentages in each class/category 
Class 
Number 
Percentage 
 
2009/10 
2008/9 
2007/8 
2009/10 
2008/9 
2007/8 




22 
25 
43 
II.1 



78 
75 
57 
II.2 






III 






Pass 






Fail 






             
All candidates, divided into Male (M) and Female (F) 
Class  Number 
Percentage (of that gender) 
 
2009/10 
2008/9 
2007/8 
2009/10 
2008/9 
2007/8 
 




















29 

37.5 
100 
33.3 
II.1 






100 
71 
100 
62.5 

66.7 
II.2 












III 












Pass 












Fail 












 
Nine candidates were entered this year. There were no withdrawals. After classification, two 
candidates were awarded Firsts, and seven Upper Seconds. There were two medical submissions in 
respect of coursework, but none relating to performance in examinations. One candidate submitted 
an extended essay at Schools after the deadline had passed, and was fined £50 and penalised one 
mark for that paper. 
As in previous years, Humanities Division criteria for marking and classification were used. 
Scrutiny Procedures from the School of History applied in the final stages. There were two other 
changes this year. One was that there were no Optional Theses, these having been phased out last 
year. The other was that the Bridge Papers were examined by extended essay only, rather than as 
previously by either extended essay or 3-hour paper. (This was a change recommended by the 2007 
Board of Examiners.) 
Candidates chose the following Bridge Papers (two per candidate), with the results bracketed: 
Lit. & the Public in England, c. 1350-1430 – 5 candidates [2 Firsts; 3 Upper Seconds] 
Representing the City – 8 candidates [3 Firsts; 3 Upper Seconds; 1 Lower Second, 1 Third] 
Postcolonial Historiography – 5 candidates [1 First; 4 Upper Seconds] 
60 
 

 
As noted by previous Examiners‘ Reports, overviews of this Joint School are difficult for logistical 
reasons arising from the number of options within the course. That said, examiners felt that Modern 
History and English continues to attract highly able, adventurous candidates with a wide range of 
interests and abilities. The number of firsts was down on past years, and it is fair to say that the 
performance was very strong rather than outstanding. The standard of work in the Upper Seconds 
was higher than the number of firsts might suggest, however; and Examiners noted with approval 
candidates‘ equal, strong achievement on both sides of the school; there were no signs of concern 
that either side was unduly favoured or neglected. At the very top there was evidence of enviable 
ability and effort across the entire range of papers sat, while two thirds of candidates achieved at 
least one first class mark in their profile. 
There were two men among the nine candidates this year. The two Firsts were achieved by women, 
making this the second year in a row that the entire First Class was female. 
Candidates chose a total of thirty-three options including the Bridge Papers. Though slightly fewer 
than in previous years, this should still act as a reminder of the considerable scale of the 
examinations process for this Joint School. Thirty-seven different Examiners and Assessors set and 
marked papers and scripts. The Examiners are especially indebted to those Assessors who so 
helpfully agreed to set and mark coursework. Discrepancies between raw marks were very few, and 
mostly straightforward to resolve. Third examiners acted only in the case of some Bridge Paper 
marks. In one case a fourth mark was needed in order to comply with the Scrutiny Procedures of the 
History School, but this was all easily managed. 
Dr P. West (Chair) 
Prof J. Blair, Prof J. Boffey (External), Dr M. Kean, Prof P. Marshall (External) Dr M. Misra, Dr A. 
Sutherland, Dr J. Watts. 
61 
 

 
EXTERNAL EXAMINER:  
FHS HISTORY AND ENGLISH 
Professor Julia Boffey, Queen Mary University of London 
 
This was my third and final year as external examiner for this degree. As in previous years I 
attended a short final examiners meeting (6 July). I also read third-read an extended essay 
(Representing the City). 
At the final marks meeting the classification of 9 candidates for this degree was reviewed and 
confirmed: there were 2 firsts, and seven upper seconds (this compares with three firsts and nine 
upper seconds from the twelve candidates in 2009).  
As with the English Language and Literature, candidates for this joint degree are assessed with care 
and rigour. They are able to choose their papers from a stimulating range of options, and to 
construct programmes of study which seem intellectually coherent and properly challenging. They 
are assessed by a reasonable mixture of written exam papers and extended essays. 
As in previous years, the pattern of marks suggested that most candidates perform fairly 
consistently in both English and History papers. As is to be expected (and is also the case in FHS 
English Language and Literature) there is occasional variation in the standard of individual 
performance between exam scripts and extended essays. 
Over all three years I have been impressed by the standards of performance on this programme. It 
attracts small numbers of candidates but clearly offers an interesting and challenging experience. It 
is well worth preserving – even perhaps selling rather harder to students at the point of 
application/admission. 
 
 
62 
 

 
EXTERNAL EXAMINER:  
FHS HISTORY AND ENGLISH 
Peter Marshall, University of Warwick 
 
This was my first year as examiner of this joint degree, with responsibility for oversight of the 
History elements, and sitting alongside an English external. My comments here will, perforce, to a 
considerable extent duplicate those I made in the FHS History report, in so far as they relate to 
assessment practices in History courses, and scrutiny procedures produced by the History Faculty to 
govern the conduct of classification in this degree.  
(i) Academic Standards 
The academic standards of the History and English degree seem entirely appropriate. 
(ii) Assessment Processes 
Assessment processes are transparent, well-documented and rigorous, and so far as I can tell seem 
to be conducted within both the letter and spirit of the appropriate regulations and guidance of the 
university. The examination meeting was performed very efficiently and expeditiously. 
A handful of issues relating to assessment process may require attention, or at least further 
consideration. There is currently some confusion over the treatment of poor presentation in assessed 
work. A History Faculty rubric specifies that this should be dealt with via a separate penalty applied 
by the board after marking has taken place, but ‗presentation‘ also appears as a criterion of 
assessment in faculty marking guidelines, which may produce some inconsistency in how the issue 
is dealt with in individual cases. While procedures for the classification of borderline degree 
performances are in general very good, I am perplexed by the distinction between a ‗remark‘ (a 
final summative assessment on an exam script or essay) and an external examiner‘s ‗adjudication‘, 
which is given the same status as an internally agreed mark, and is in principle open to remarking 
(by a fourth assessor) at the immediately pre-classification stage. It would, I think, help to avoid any 
impression of ‗fishing‘ for marks if all third readings were regarded as equally definitive. Under 
current scrutiny procedures, candidates on the 2.1/1st border are entitled to two remarked papers, 
while those on the 2.2/2.1 border can only expect one. I suspect the rationale here is to help 
preserve the spread of marks, but there is an issue of equity and parity to consider, and given the 
importance to students of achieving an upper second, scrutiny at the lower border should be as 
rigorous as at the higher. These remarks are, however, somewhat academic, as within this cohort 
marks were reread only on the 2.1/1st border, and the marks in question had not been previously 
adjudicated. As a new external, I feel I might have benefitted from some more explicit briefing 
about the structure and rationale of the degree (though I‘m sure I could have been more proactive in 
seeking this information out). This was not, however, a problem for the smooth running of the 
classification meeting, or my ability to make a constructive contribution to it. 
(iii) Standards of Student Performance 
Standards of student performance are, as one would expect in Oxford, extremely high. Students take 
a mixture of English and history papers, with the interdisciplinary nature of the degree well 
addressed by two ‗bridge‘ papers. On the History side, students take both broad survey courses and 
specialist options, with a balance of assessed and examined components. In general, they perform 
well across the range. There was quite sharp disparity between initial markers on a couple of the 
bridge papers, which might point towards differences of expectation from History and English 
markers. But in other cases, at both top and bottom ends, the markers were very much in line, and 
the sample here is far too small to suggest any kind of systemic problem. Of the 9 candidates, 7 
achieved 2.1s and 2 were awarded firsts (one after a re-read of a critical paper). This suggest that 
candidates here perform just as well as those on the single honours history degree. 
 (iv) Comparability of Standards and Achievements 
63 
 

 
Standards of assessment and levels of student achievement compare favourably with the other 
institutions where I have examined undergraduate degree courses (Warwick, St Andrews, 
Lancaster), though my experience of History and English degrees is largely limited to one on offer 
at Lancaster. On the History side at least, standards of internal marking may be very slightly stricter 
than elsewhere, but given the quality of Oxford‘s undergraduate intake that does not strike me as 
anomalous or problematic. All of the institutions where I have examined operate a system of double 
(or first-and-second) marking. But Oxford is to be commended for the particularly rigorous way in 
which this is carried out, with much evidence of careful independent judgement.  
(v) Issues for Attention 
I would refer here to my recommendation for the handling of special circumstances outlined in the 
main History report. Medical and other special circumstance conditions might well of course affect 
performance in both History and English papers: it would be desirable in such cases for the relevant 
exam officers and externals to liaise in advance of the classification meeting. 
(vi) Examples of Good Practice 
I refer here to comments made in my History report.  
64 
 

 
M.ST. IN ENGLISH STUDIES (inc. M.ST. IN ENGLISH AND AMERICAN STUDIES, 
M.PHIL. ENGLISH STUDIES) 

Jeri Johnson, Chair of M.St. Examiners 
 
PART I 
A. 
STATISTICS 
(1) 
Numbers and percentages in each class/category   
(a) 
Unclassified Examinations  
Category 
 
Number 
 
 
Percentage 
 
 
2009/10 
2008/09 
2007/08 
2009/10 
2008/09 
2007/08 
Distinction 
35  
( 29 ) 
( 25 ) 
43.2 
( 40.3 ) 
( 40.3 ) 
Pass 
43  
( 43 ) 
( 37 ) 
53 
( 58.3.) 
( 59.7) 
Fail 

( 0 ) 
( 0 ) 

( 0 ) 
( 0 ) 
Incomplete 
3*  
 
 
3.8% 
 
 
*Three  students  (3.8%)  have  yet  to  complete  as  work  originally  submitted  failed  to  reach  the 
standard required for a ‗pass‘ (60 or above); each piece of ‗failed‘ work can be re-submitted once 
(by  Monday  of  0th  week  of  Michaelmas  term);  should  re-submitted  work  not  pass,  and  any 
candidate(s) therefore not pass, this should be reflected in a change to the ‗Fail‘ figures. 
(2) Vivas 
Vivas were not used. 
(3) Marking of scripts 
All essays were double-marked. 
 
B. NEW EXAMINING METHODS AND PROCEDURES 
There were no changes to examination methods or procedures. 
There is still great pressure of time on the marking of dissertations: there are just over two  weeks 
between the time of dissertation submission and that of the final Examiners‘ Meeting (giving one 
week  for  internal  marking  and  agreement,  and  a  week  for  Externals  to  adjudicate  and  scrutinize). 
This carries over from a previous calendar when results had to be known early for the AHRC. With 
the move to new arrangements for the selection of those to be put forward for AHRC sponsorship, 
this no longer obtains.   A later date for the final  Examiners‘ Meeting might  be considered for the 
future to relieve the intense pressure on Examiners who might be marking many dissertations in one 
week. 
 
C. Please list any changes in examining methods, procedures and conventions which the 
Examiners would wish the faculty/department and the divisional board to consider. 

There were none. 
 
D.  Please  describe  how  candidates  are  made  aware  of  the  examination  conventions  to  be 
followed  by  the  Examiners  (Please  attach  to  the  report  a  copy  of  the  conventions  and  any 

65 
 

 
other  relevant  documentation  [including  the  relevant  standing  orders  –  see  Examination 
Regulations
, 2006, p. 17, ll. 31-36]). 
The  attached  document,  ‗Marking  and  Distinction  Criteria‘,  was  sent  to  all  candidates  early  in 
Michaelmas term. 
NB Another document covering the specific criteria for the MPhil should be drawn up and sent to 
MPhil  candidates  separately.  (See  comments  below  on  the  ways  in  which  the  criteria  for  a 
Distinction in the MPhil differ from those of the MSt.) 
 
PART II 
A. GENERAL COMMENTS ABOUT THE EXAMINATION 
M.St. and M.Phil. in English, Chair of Examiners’ Report for 2009-10 
This year, a slightly higher percentage of candidates received Distinctions (35 candidates of the 81 
who  took  the  degree  (43%)  as  did  last  year  (29  (40%)).  This  is  a  very  creditable  performance 
overall and not out of line with performance in equivalent Humanities Master‘s courses across the 
University.  
The  number  of  External  Examiners  was  increased  by  one  this  year  and,  with  the  exception  of 
Professor  Turville-Petre,  all  were  new  to  the  experience:  Professors  Brian  Cummings,  Penny 
Fielding,  Andrew  Thacker  and  Ian  Bell.    They  all  again  remarked  the  high  achievement  of  the 
candidates,  and  the  very  high  quality  of  work  at  the  top  end  of  the  range.  We  were  again  able  to 
keep the final Examiners‘ Meeting to a single, morning, session. The internal Examiners owe the 
Externals  profuse  thanks  for  the  care  and  attention  they  paid  to  scrutinizing  borders  and 
adjudicating (the very few) disagreements and for offering acute observations on the entire process.  
The  first  two  Examiners‘  meetings  were  convened  again  by  conference  call.  This  worked 
exceptionally well. Each of these was preceded by an internal Examiners‘ meeting dedicated to, in 
the first, approving the timetable and, in both, assigning markers across the various strands. Again, 
as  mentioned  above,  we  managed  to  keep  second  marking,  for  the  C  and  B  essays,  within  the 
internal Examiners, and reserved assessors for second marking of dissertations. (Course convenors 
are first markers in every instance for the C essays.) This worked extremely well. 
Emily  Richards  and  Shaun  Derby  deserve  thanks  for  their  oversight  and  administration  of  this 
year‘s examination.  
Administration 
Administrators need to remember to seek agreement from proposed markers of the dissertations as 
soon as the March (internal) Examiners‘ meeting has been held. A delay this year in asking markers 
to  mark  resulted  in  a  small  crisis  late  in  the  day  when  proposed  markers  had  already  committed 
themselves to other activities and so were unable to mark. 
Tests Administered in the St Cross Building 
Most  candidates  for  the  MSt  650-1550,  and  for  the  MPhil  in  Medieval  Studies,  as  well  as  all 
Candidates  taking  a  B  paper,  are  required  to  sit  tests:  various  Medieval  papers  require  that 
candidates sit a translation paper as well as submit essays; the B paper requires that candidates pass 
a palaeography/transcription test. Since the inception of the MSt, these tests have been sat in the St 
Cross Building and invigilated internally (typically by the setter of the papers). This year a problem 
arose with one paper: the invigilator failed to appear and the test was unavailable to distribute to the 
(two) candidates. (The test had been locked away and the person with the key and information as to 
its  whereabouts  had  forgotten  to  inform  others  of  its  location  and  was  away  from  the  office  for 
training on the day of the test.) This resulted in the Chair having to get Proctoral permission for the 
test to be re-scheduled, in one candidate having to apply for Proctoral permission for an extension 
66 
 

 
to the deadline for the submission of an essay (which was due at the same time that the test needed 
to be scheduled), distress to the candidates and, not surprisingly, a Proctors‘ enquiry.  
Administrative procedures have been tightened up, and this should prevent a repetition of anything 
like this happening again in the future.  
The Proctors, however, queried why tests which were an official part of the examination were being 
administered  in  such  a  ‗casual‘  manner,  i.e.,  why  they  were  not  being  formally  scheduled  in  the 
examination  timetable,  sat  and  invigilated  in  the  Examination  Schools.  (Candidates  must  pass  – 
with a mark of 60 or above, though the result is recorded merely as a ‗pass‘ or a ‗fail‘  – and are 
allowed only one re-sit if they do not pass on the first attempt.)  
The Chair has had no formal response to the report she submitted on 30 June to the Proctors, but she 
has had a brief email from the Senior Proctor promising ‗a more formal response in due course‘ and 
stating that he ‗accept[ed] that the difficulties experienced were the consequence of human error, 
and not systemic‘. 
If a formal response arrives, it may well require the Examiners to bring the administration of these 
tests  within  the  purview  of  formal  examining  procedures  (as  administered  by  the  Examination 
Schools). Next year‘s Examiners may well wish to decide to do this even without such a report. The 
Faculty Board may want to express a view or take a decision on the matter. 
There are still a small number of candidates who fail the paleography / transcription test on the first 
attempt, but all passed on the second attempt. A date for re-sits must continue to be included in the 
calendar as published in the Handbook, even if the larger shift of pulling all tests within the formal 
examination procedures within the Examination Schools.  
Internal Marking and Comment Sheets/Feedback Forms 
All  of the pressures  of time, need for care and  attention to  the technicalities of marking, collating 
feedback and release of marks that have been remarked repeatedly in previous Examiners‘ reports 
still hold. In continuing to release marks and feedback to candidates across the course of the year, 
we make serious demands on the Examiners, the assessors, the course tutors, the period convenors 
and  our  administrative  staff.  In  order  for  all  of  this  to  have  a  chance  of  working,  Examiners  and 
assessors simply must complete full comments, justifying the mark given in terms of the assessment 
criteria.  The  section  of  the  assessment  form  asking  how  the  two  initial  markers  agreed  the  final 
mark  must be completed with  precise information.  The  first  marker  must  collate  full feedback for 
the candidate, feedback that is in accord with the final mark awarded. 
A request has gone forward from the Graduate Studies Board for feedback to be able to be provided 
on  the  dissertation.  This  would  not  come  into  force  next  year,  but  is  on  the  horizon.  It  would 
probably  come  principally  in  the  form  of  a  pre-prepared  sheet  listing  characteristics  that  the 
dissertation either reached or failed to reach. This would add to the administrative (and Examiners‘) 
burden  but  would  be  pedagogically  justified  for  those  who  are  continuing  to  the  DPhil  and  may 
assuage some of the dismay at the final mark actually awarded. 
Candidates  need  to  be  reminded  of  the  requirement  to  provide  titles  and  descriptions  of  their 
dissertations  in  good  time,  and  if  in  collaboration  with  their  supervisors  they  wish  to  alter  their 
topics, they must get approval from the Chair of Examiners in good time.
 Examiners are assigned to 
mark  because  of  their  expertise  in  the  relevant  areas;  change  to  topics  may  require  change  of 
markers, and this is difficult to do late in the day. 
Marking and Distinction Criteria 
These were retained from  last  year. The classification criteria for a Distinction  in  the MSt  require 
that  candidates  achieve  both  a  mark  of  70  or  above  on  the  dissertation  and  an  average  across  all 
four elements (three essays and the dissertation) of 70 or above.  
67 
 

 
The classification criteria for the MPhil are different. As candidates for the MPhil are not required 
to complete a dissertation (they may opt to take an extra paper instead of doing a dissertation), they 
cannot  be  required  to  achieve  a  Distinction  in  the  dissertation  in  order  to  get  a  Distinction  in  the 
degree.  If  candidates  who  do  complete  a  dissertation  are  required  to  get  a  Distinction  in  the 
dissertation, then two separate (and variably difficult) sets of criteria would maintain for candidates 
taking the same degree. This could not be required. Thus, a Distinction in the MPhil requires merely 
an average across all elements of 70 or above. 
So,  a  different  weight  is  given  to  the  dissertation  in  the  two  degrees:  it  forms  a  distinctive,  even 
crucial part of, and of the assessing of, the MSt; it is only one of several equally weighted elements 
of the MPhil. (Historically, since the inception of the MSt, a Distinction in the dissertation has been 
required for a Distinction in the degree.) 
These criteria for the MPhil have given rise to no complaints, nor to disquiet among the Examiners, 
either internal or external, nor have they led to complaints from the candidates. However, the fact 
that the first and second years of the MPhil (the first year being the MSt) require different criteria 
might be thought to be anomalous. Perhaps the Board should discuss this. 
With the MSt, however, the criteria – and the examination procedures themselves – have resulted in 
what have repeatedly been seen as problems in the MSt. 
The examination procedure, briefly, is as follows:  
1) at the end of Michaelmas term, candidates submit a C essay; it is double marked, marks are 
agreed,  the  external  Examiners  scrutinize,  the  marks  (and  agreed  feedback)  are  released  to 
candidates. 
2)  at  the  end  of  Hilary  term,  candidates  submit  two  essays  (a  C  and  a  B,  or  two  C  essay(s)); 
these are double marked, marks are agreed, the External Examiners scrutinize, the marks (and 
agreed feedback) are released to candidates. 
Obviously, these marks, comprising three of the four components of the MSt, are fixed at this point 
and cannot subsequently be changed at the final Examiners‘ meeting. 
3)  at  the  end  of  Trinity  term,  candidates  submit  their  dissertations;  these  are  double  marked, 
marks are agreed, the External Examiners scrutinize; marks are fixed. (This constitutes the first 
part of the agenda of the final Examiners‘ meeting in the summer.) 
4)  only  once  the  dissertation  marks  are  agreed  and  lodged  are  the  candidates‘  entire  runs  of 
marks  scrutinized  for  final  classification,  and  classifications  determined.  (This  constitutes  the 
second part of the agenda of the final Examiners‘ meeting.) 
It is frequently the case that candidates fail to achieve a Distinction because they fail to meet one of 
the two criteria: (i) they fail to achieve a mark of 70 or above on the dissertation or (ii) they fail to 
achieve an average over all four elements of 70 or above. 
This is not an uncommon event: this year, of the 81 candidates, 18 (more than 22% or nearly ¼ of 
all candidates) fell into one or the other of these two categories: 12 (15%) achieved the average but 
not a distinction in the dissertation (i); 6 (7.5%) achieved a distinction in the dissertation but failed 
to achieve the overall average (ii).  
This has occasionally meant that candidates with a high average have nevertheless failed to achieve 
a  Distinction,  and  has  given  rise  to  frustration  and  threatened  appeals.  It  is  particularly  hard  on 
candidates who  achieved (often very high) distinction  marks in  all the essays  and who just fail to 
achieve  the  same  in  the  dissertation.  (Too,  all  this  seemed  to  be  especially  strongly  felt  this  year, 
perhaps because all three candidates who failed on one component, and five of the 12 who had the 
average but  failed to  achieve a Distinction  on the dissertation, came  from the same period strand. 
This may well have brought a group sense of being ‗hard done by‘.) 
68 
 

 
The Examiners have taken the view consistently over at least the last three years that the marking 
of,  and  fixing  of  final  marks  for,  the  dissertation  is  as  discrete  an  activity  as  the  marking  of,  and 
agreeing finals marks for, the C and B essays. At the point of the final Examiners‘ meeting, the only 
mark which is not already public is the dissertation mark.  
By this point, the dissertation has been blind marked by two examiners. Those two examiners have 
met,  discussed  the  work,  and  agreed  a  final  mark.  If  they  have  been  unable  to  agree  a  mark,  the 
piece is sent to the External Examiners with an explanation of the reasons for the disagreement, and 
the External Examiner adjudicates and assigns a final mark. External Examiners also scrutinize all 
pieces  of  work  where  the  first  marks  of  the  two  internal  examiners  have  fallen  either  side  of  the 
69/70 borderline, no matter what the final agreed mark is. They also read the work that achieved the 
highest and the lowest marks in a strand. 
Further,  all  examiners  (including  External  Examiners)  are  aware  that  if  the  dissertation  is  not 
awarded a mark of 70 or above that candidate will not be able to achieve a Distinction no matter 
what their average.
 This, of course, means that extra care has been taken in marking the dissertation 
in the first place. The integrity of that marking has been guaranteed precisely because examiners do 
not  know  whether  the  dissertation  in  question  is  that  of  someone  who  already  has  a  high  average 
(and  so  might  get  a  Distinction)  or  someone  with  a  low  average  (who  might  get  a  mark  of  70  or 
above on the dissertation and still fail to get a Distinction overall).   
Remember  that  this  year  already  43%  of  all  candidates  met  both  (i)  and  (ii)  and  were  without 
problems classified with Distinctions.  
The  Examiners  have  understood  the  frustration  of  candidates,  but  have  taken  the  view  that  in  the 
total circumstances of the examination – the marking, scrutinizing and publication of marks for, the 
C  and  B  essays;  the  care  and  attention  given  to  marking,  and  scrutinizing  the  marks  of,  the 
dissertation – and to preserve the integrity of the marking and examination system, no adjusting of 
marks  (which  could  only  apply  to  the  dissertation)  in  phase  2  of  the  final  Examiners‘  Meeting 
would take place. 
Of course, the Faculty Board may wish to consider several issues arising from all this.  
The MSt (a supposed research degree) puts strong weight on the dissertation. Is this right?  
Is  sufficient  time  allowed,  and  supervision  provided,  for  the  preparation  of  the  dissertation? 
While candidates are meant to begin research on the dissertation early in the year, the fact that 
two  long  essays  are  due  in  Hilary  term  means  that  few  seriously  begin  research  on  the 
dissertation until after the point of their submission. 
Are  candidates  sufficiently  aware  of  the  weight  that  the  dissertation  carries  in  the  final 
classification?  
Are  our  students  better  at  preparing  essays  arising  from  taught  courses  than  in  conducting 
independent research and preparing dissertations? 
All these are not matters for the Examiners, but do arise from the examining process itself. We refer 
these to the Faculty Board for consideration. 
(As a reminder that this is not a new problem, the following is excerpted from last year‘s report:  
‗The  Examiners  were  strict  in  the  observance  of  the  Distinction  criteria.  After  full  double 
marking by course convenors, internal Examiners and assessors, and External Examiners‘ third 
readings, adjudications of internal disagreement and scrutiny of the borderlines through reading 
of all work receiving high and low marks within the strands, no additional rereading was done. 
So, there was no further rereading of the work of candidates who but for a single mark, or but 
for  a  single  point  needed  in  the  average,  would  have  achieved  a  Distinction.  (Of  the  72 
candidates  who  completed  the  course,  29  achieved  Distinctions.  A  further  13  achieved  the 
required average of 70, but had a Dissertation mark below 70; a further 10 achieved a mark of 
69 
 

 
70 or above on the Dissertation, but an average below the required overall average of 70. This 
ought  to  make it clear that  rereading of all these candidates‘ work across  its range would be 
onerous,  and  –  given  the  serious  and  close  scrutiny  of  that  work  up  to  this  final  stage  – 
unjustified.‘)  
Beyond  this,  candidates  and  supervisors  need  to  realize  the  importance  and  weight  of  the 
dissertation in the final  degree result. This is another matter for the Board, not for the Examiners, 
but we felt more than once that candidates simply did not take due care or pay sufficient attention to 
the requirements that the dissertation attend closely to matters of scholarly form and presentation. 
External Examiners’ Remarks and Concerns 
External  Examiners  were  divided  on  the  matter  of  classification  described  at  length  above:  one 
described the awarding of a ‗Pass‘ to candidates with high averages who just missed the 70 mark 
for dissertation as contrary to ‗natural justice‘; another thought the strict adherence to the marking 
criteria,  and  the  discrete  marking  of  the  dissertation,  right  and  justified.  They  wondered,  though, 
whether  it  might  not  be  possible  for  the  External  Examiners  to  scrutinize  the  work  of  those 
candidates  whose  dissertation  mark  below  70  prevented  them  getting  a  Distinction  despite  a  high 
average. One also pointed out that the criteria for such scrutiny would need to be carefully thought 
through: an average of 75+ was suggested. One, but only one, stated that he would like to see more 
work to get a better sense of the full range of candidates. (How much work an External sees results 
directly  from  the  application  of  the  rules:  high  and  low  marks  in  a  strand;  work  where  the  two 
internals disagreed in their first marks across the 70 borderline; work where no agreed mark could 
be found between the two internals. More work will be seen by Externals if there is less agreement 
between the internals. This was the case in one strand, and there the External remarked how unusual 
and undesirable it was to have internal markers disagreeing by so large a margin.) 
Several  remarked  that  the  quality  of  the  essays  (arising,  of  course,  from  taught  courses)  was 
significantly  better  than  that  of  the  dissertations,  and  wondered  whether  it  might  be  possible  to 
provide  more  time  for  the  preparation  of  the  dissertation.  (This  might  also  result  from  our 
candidates  being  less  comfortable  with  independent  research  than  with  producing  an  essay  from 
taught material.)  
All were consistent in their praising of the quality of the work produced by candidates, and by the 
evident quality of the teaching in the course. To quote one, ‗There is no doubt that this is one of the 
most  competitive  and  well-taught  programmes  of  its  kind  in  the  country.  The  programme  clearly 
offers first-class training for doctoral study.‘ Several stated that at the upper end they read work that 
was approaching publishable quality.  
They also praised the efficiency of all the procedures 
 
B. EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES ISSUES AND BREAKDOWN OF THE RESULTS BY 
GENDER 

Review of grades by reference to gender: 
 
Category 
Percentage: Female / Male 
Examination Year 
2009/10 
2008/09 
2007/08 
MSt School 
68 / 32 
67 / 33 
73 / 27 
Distinction 
60 / 40 
52 / 48 
56 / 44 
Pass 
72 / 28 
79 / 21 
78 / 22 
70 
 

 
Fail 
0/ 0 
0 / 0 
0 / 0 
Incomplete 
100/0† 
100* / 0 
0 / 0 
 
†See note * above; three candidates will re-submit work that initially failed by Monday of 0th week, 
Michaelmas  2010;  should  they  pass  on  re-submission,  the  Incomplete  figures  will  convert  to  0/0; 
should one or more fail, the Fail figures will convert to 100/0. 
*One candidate initially failed, and passed on re-submission. 
 
Looked  at  closely,  these  figures  reflect  that  though  32%  of  the  candidates  were  men,  40%  of  the 
Distinctions  went  to  men  (68%  of  the  candidates  were  women;  they  gained  60%  of  the 
Distinctions).  Fourteen  (14)  of  the  26  male  candidates  (54%)  received  a  Distinction;  21  of the  55 
female candidates  (38%) received  a Distinction; i.e. more than half the male candidates achieve a 
distinction  and  just  over  a  third  of  female  candidates  do.  In  short,  men  were  significantly  more 
likely  to  gain  a  Distinction  than  were  women.  Further,  100%  of  those  who  failed  one  or  more 
component(s) on the first attempt were women. 
Please see Appendix 2 that gives a full breakdown by strand of the results achieved by candidates. 
 
C. DETAILED NUMBERS ON CANDIDATES’ PERFORMANCE IN EACH PART OF THE 
EXAMINATION 

N/A for M.St. 
 
D. COMMENTS ON PAPERS AND INDIVIDUAL QUESTIONS 
N/A for M.St. 
 
E. COMMENTS ON THE PERFORMANCE OF IDENTIFIABLE INDIVIDUALS AND 
OTHER MATERIAL WHICH WOULD USUALLY BE TREATED AS RESERVED 
BUSINESS 

This part is physically separate. 
 
F. 
NAMES OF MEMBERS OF THE BOARD OF EXAMINERS 
Ms Jeri Johnson (Chair)                
Professor Malcolm Godden            Professor Thorlac Turville-Petre (External)  
Professor Valentine Cunningham        Professor Brian Cummings (External) 
Mr Tom Paulin                      Professor Penny Fielding (External) 
Dr Sue Jones 
                    Professor Ian Bell (External) 
Professor Kathryn Sutherland           Professor Andrew Thacker (External) 
 
Professor Richard McCabe 
71 
 

 
EXTERNAL EXAMINER:  
MST IN ENGLISH 650-1550  
MPHIL IN ENGLISH STUDIES  
Professor Thorlac Turville-Petre 
 
This has involved marking scripts in January, April and June 2010, with a Final Examiners‘ 
Meeting on 1st July 2010. 
Academic Standards and Student Performance 
This is my final year as external examiner for the MSt course in English Studies 650-1550 and the 
MPhil in English Studies (Medieval Period). Over the three years academic standards have been 
high or very high. As far as I recall, not one student has failed either course. The courses are 
demanding and the choice of subjects wide ranging. The 20,000-word Dissertation for the MPhil is 
particularly challenging; it allows the best students to write very impressive and original work, 
some of it publishable. On the other hand the weaker candidates inevitably produce dissertations 
that, though competent and usually well presented, are a bit dull. My impression is that this current 
year was the least impressive of the three, with all candidates competent but very few outstanding. 
This has nothing to do with the quality of the teaching, but is the inevitable variation from year to 
year. 
Assessment Processes 
At the two telephone meetings and the final meeting we had full discussion of all differences of 
marks awarded, and I am confident that all issues were resolved fairly. Though there were some 
cases where the internal markers differed considerably, this was always explained and was 
understandable. In my report last year I noted that the comment sheets from internal examiners were 
sometimes illegible, and even where legible, were sometimes too brief to be helpful. I‘m glad to say 
that there was a great improvement this year, with comments sometimes extensive. This is helpful 
to the candidates, and furthermore is reassuring for external examiners as evidence of the care 
devoted to marking. 
Every year there has been unease in cases where an MSt candidate has performed at good 
distinction level as an average but has failed to gain a distinction because the dissertation did not 
quite reach that level. It seems right to give extra weight to the dissertation, since it is the 
candidate‘s final piece of work and it is longer than the essays. However (unlike the 20,000 word 
dissertation for the MPhil), the MSt dissertation is not much longer (10,000 words against 6000). 
Two years ago I suggested that where the average was a clear distinction but the dissertation missed 
that by a mark or two, the external examiner should be asked to judge the complete run. The Board 
turned down this suggestion, but the problem continues to cause disquiet among examiners, and I 
suspect among candidates also. I suggest the issue needs to be discussed again in the hope of 
finding some resolution. 
The Chairman and administrative staff did everything possible to ensure the smooth running of the 
assessment processes, and corresponded with me promptly and helpfully. 
Comparability 
Marking standards are entirely in line with marking standards elsewhere. That there were more 
Distinctions awarded than in other Universities where I have examined is a comment on the quality 
of the best Oxford students. The less distinguished were the same as anywhere else. In other 
universities there are postgraduate students for whom English is a second language, but I had the 
impression that this was not often, if ever, true of students I was examining. 
72 
 

 
Issues for Wider Dissemination 
There is nothing that needs to be discussed more widely. I am fully confident that the academic 
standards were appropriate, and the assessment processes were fair and rigorous, and conducted in 
line with institutional regulations. 
73 
 

 
EXTERNAL EXAMINER:  
MST IN ENGLISH 1550-1780 
Professor Brian Cummings, University of Sussex 
 
This is the first year of my stint as External Examiner. Over the three terms of the year I have been 
able to oversee the full range of work done on the programme, including coursework, 
bibliographical exercises, and dissertations. I would like to record here that it has been a pleasure at 
all times to conduct this work, in a friendly and professional atmosphere. I have read some excellent 
work, often a pleasure to read and sometimes straightforwardly rewarding from a point of view of 
the scholarship on display. I was not able to attend the Final Meeting of the board in person, due to 
a prior engagement to speak in Munich, but the Chief Examiner made arrangements to co-ordinate 
the meeting with me by telephone conference, and in a model case of Anglo-German cooperation I 
was able to participate fully in discussions and decisions.  
1. 
Appropriateness of standards for examination and qualification 
The mark scale is in line with comparable Masters courses in English in the UK (my own 
experience is based on periods as External Examiner in London and Cambridge as well as in my 
own institution). The pass mark is 60 and the mark for distinction is 70. Markers are, however, 
encouraged to use the full scale up to 100, and marks as high as 85 were sent to me. I was able 
almost always (except in cases where a mark had not been agreed internally) to confirm the mark 
within a very narrow range of the internal examining. The standards both for Pass and Distinction 
are well understood and scrupulously scrutinized within the marking system. I am especially 
impressed by the procedure for sending to the External any scripts where the internal marks cross 
the borderline for Pass and Distinction. This ensures both parity between candidates and a highly 
sensitive understanding among internal examiners of the meaning of their marks. This is reflected in 
marks sheets, which include comments on how an agreement has been made in relation to a 
borderline. I was also impressed that failure was recognised in those cases where it was deserved. 
Standards are strictly applied and the Oxford degree therefore imposes stringent tests of its students, 
which ensure that the degree carries weight nationally and internationally. The best work, over 80, 
shows signs that postgraduate students are approaching publishable quality even at this early stage; 
I saw several examples.  
The work that is being produced shows that students understand the requirements made of them. 
There was some very high quality work in all parts of the programme, including bibliography, 
where I saw one quite exceptional piece. There is no doubt that this is one of the most competitive 
and well-taught programmes of its kind in the country. The programme clearly offers first-class 
training for doctoral study. 
One area where discussion might be held was in relation to the rules concerning the award of a 
Distinction. These demand a threshold in both the overall average and in the Dissertation mark. 
This rule happens to be the same as applies in my own university, and every year we have 
discussions about the outlying cases where a student has just missed the criteria on one component, 
while meeting it in the other. My own view is that such a rule is entirely justifiable, and I routinely 
argue in favour of it in my own university. It is entirely proper to award a Distinction only in the 
case both of general high quality and a particular achievement in the Dissertation (which 
corresponds to the work pursued at doctoral level). However, in one case this year a student did 
miss out with a quite exceptionally high overall average (75). As it happens, I was sent the 
Dissertation as part of my batch, and confirmed the mark independently just below the 70 level, but 
it would have been quite possible, within the rules, for the Dissertation to have been marked without 
being seen by the External. It is perhaps desirable that a procedure might be introduced whereby a 
check is made at a very late stage to ensure transparency on this rule (for instance the External 
could look at a Dissertation on the evening before the meeting). But I can also see that the criteria 
74 
 

 
would have to be strict (e.g. only where the average is 75+), or else the Externals might be 
reviewing too many cases. 
2. 
Comparability of standards  
The structure of the degree and the methods of the assessment are in line with those found in other 
Masters programmes in the UK. The emphasis is placed on discursive essays and dissertations 
which prepare the student for doctoral work, but there is also some room for technical skills such as 
in textual bibliography. Perhaps there might be a little more room for manuscript work in view of 
the special riches of the Bodleian; but not every student has skills in this area.  
I was sent full information concerning course outlines, Exam Board regulations, a breakdown of 
overall marks, a representative sample of written work, including borderlines, and examiners‘ 
comments. I received a commensurate number of dissertations to moderate in line with other 
elements of the programme. The External sees a range of scripts across the marks reflecting the full 
scale of marks awarded. Every script marked on both sides of a borderline is seen by the External. 
The examiners‘ comments struck me as the most professional I have seen. They are almost uniform 
in length and in style; they adjudicate precisely in relation to borderlines; they indicate why 
agreement has been made, and if not, they give an argument for each interpretation. 
I was, though, a little surprised at the number of quite large-scale disagreements between internal 
markers. In the Hilary exercises I saw five cases where disagreement was by a discrepancy of 10 or 
more marks. This strikes me as quite unusual and worthy of comment. It was especially surprising 
to me to find that about half of the bibliography exercises showed such a discrepancy. In my 
experience, a technical exercise usually produces a very narrow range of marking, as examiners 
know exactly what they are looking for. Here there seemed to me to be some uncertainty between 
examiners as to what standard to apply. The procedures were followed scrupulously, and I could 
follow the reasoning of both examiners; it seemed to be a question of what standard to expect at 
such a stage of postgraduate work. My experience may have been a statistical aberration, but it 
would appear to be an area where internal discussion at Faculty level could profitable be made. The 
examining criteria are phrased in ways more appropriate to discursive essays than technical 
exercises; some additional phrases may be needed to guide examiners in this exercise.   
One other matter came to my attention. This was that sometimes considerable leeway was given 
over poorly presented scholarly apparatus. In one or two cases, a mark of over 70 was given when 
the bibliography or footnoting was not up to this standard. The marking criteria are very explicit on 
this point and in my view ought to be applied properly: this encourages good practice as well as 
transparency between candidates. There is no excuse for poor practice when undergraduate 
programmes now give plenty of prior experience. I can sympathise with some leeway being shown, 
but in my experience it is best if candidates are fully aware of this component in preparing their 
work. This is a postgraduate degree programme and scholarly referencing is an essential component 
in a professionalized degree award.  
3. 
Processes for assessment, examination and determination of marks 
The procedures went very smoothly this year. I would like to thank both the officers of the Exam 
Board and the highly efficient administrators of the English Faculty for their help at all points. I was 
given sufficient time to undertake all tasks, and clear guidance in the application of the rules. I was 
kept informed both by the Office and by the Chair (Jeri Johnson) of everything needed to ensure 
equitable standards.  
 
The Exam Board was conducted in an exemplary fashion and allowed ample time for discussion of 
substantive issues. The Board meeting gives the Externals a sense of the programme in action, 
which it would be impossible to gain from scripts alone.  
75 
 

 
In conclusion, I would reiterate that this is an excellent programme. The work of Oxford 
postgraduates is very often a pleasure to read, and their teachers work energetically and inspiringly 
in training them. 
76 
 

 
 
EXTERNAL EXAMINER:  
MST IN ENGLISH 1780-1900 
Professor Penny Fielding, University of Edinburgh 
 
i) 
Academic standardsThese are rigorous but fair. The amount of work, variety of 
challenges, and academic expectations presented by this programme are all appropriate and clearly 
draw the best out of the students on the M. St.  
ii) 
Assessment procedures. These are very satisfactory. Double blind marking is rigorously 
practised and the students‘ work is clearly carefully scrutinised. My only reservation is that there 
are a small number of cases where examiners‘ comments take the form of brief notes that are 
extremely difficult to understand. In such cases, third readers are not able to assess marking 
disagreements on equal terms. Marking was nevertheless very accurate and in the few examples of 
extensive disagreement (on both occasions that I saw, in idiosyncratic student work) the case was 
clear put. 
All regulations and guidelines were adhered to. The amount of written work sent to me as an 
external and the method of selection were appropriate. The exam office functioned very efficiently 
and the work was very promptly sent. Difficult cases were given proper attention. I felt I had a fully 
representative overview of the work undertaken for the programme. 
There were two cases that surfaced in the final exam board in which a student missed a distinction 
by one or two marks in the dissertation with considerably higher marks for course work. As it 
happened, both of these dissertations were seen by an external examiner, but if it were possible for 
externals to see all such cases (I appreciate that this is limited by time) this might be a valuable 
safeguard.  
ii) 
Student performance. This is very good indeed. I examined a range of intelligent, 
thoughtful, substantial and largely very well presented work. There was a pleasing ambition in 
many student essays, nearly always justified in their performance. Research methods were largely 
excellent and there was an impressive historical groundedness. The only area in which slight 
weaknesses congregated was a tendency to use theoretical approaches that were not always fully 
researched or, in a few cases, understood. I was particularly impressed by the imaginative range of 
topics and the excellent scholarly practice on display in the bibliography course. 
In some cases, the course work was more assured than the dissertation and I have commented on 
this in (v) below. There were a few examples of over-ambition in the dissertation and the rare cases 
of weaker presentation or scholarly practice were found here. 
The very best work was quite outstanding, with some real originality, and examiners should be 
encouraged to use the full marking range at the top of the scale. There is a tendency for marks to 
cluster around the 70-72 point and in many instances I felt there was a little over-caution in the 
marking. 
iv) 
Comparability. The standard of student achievement is as high as any institution in which I 
have examined and wholly appropriate for a major research University. .  
The pass mark is quite high at 60, when compared with other universities, and this means that some 
perfectly satisfactory work is only a couple of marks above the fail line. However, given the general 
high standards and the importance of identifying those candidates suitable for proceeding to Ph D, 
the higher pass mark is appropriate. 
v)  
Issues for wider discussion.  Oxford asks that the dissertation and course work both be 
marked at 70 or over for the award of a distinction.  This is a perfectly justifiable practice, although 
other institutions allow the distinction to compensate for a slightly lower coursework average in 
77 
 

 
order to give full weight to the dissertation. The Oxford dissertation is shorter and completed in less 
time than institutions which hold the final Taught Masters exam board at the end of the summer. 
This has the advantage of knowing final results before students proceed (or not) to Ph D, but it also 
restricts the scope of the dissertation. In some cases, I could not see an appreciable difference 
between course work and dissertation. As the M. St. is in part preparation for a higher research 
degree, it would be worth debating at University level whether more time might not be spent on the 
dissertation. 
78 
 

 
 
EXTERNAL EXAMINER:  
MST IN ENGLISH 1900 to PRESENT DAY 
Professor Andrew Thacker, De Montfort University 
 
It is with pleasure that I report for the first time upon the M.St. course in English (period 1900-
present day). I have been very impressed with the quality of work, the organisation of the course, 
and the attention paid to assessment during the year and am happy to confirm that standards for this 
course are equivalent to or higher than those of comparable universities. 
I saw a range of essays from various options across the first two terms and then a sample of 
Dissertations from the Trinity Term. The overall quality of the work was excellent, with some 
outstanding essays, particularly those upon modernist poetry, cinema and modernism, and a quite 
superb piece of textual editing upon MacNeice. Some of the High Distinction work did indeed 
contain ‗publishable elements‘, as specified by the marking criteria, and even the low pass work 
that I saw demonstrated a good grasp of the basic issues and were appropriate for Masters level. I 
did not see any work that failed. I read some impressive essays that took a traditional close reading 
approach to literary texts, along with others that took a more innovative line in their combination of 
different cultural theories. The range of options available to students in Michaelmas and Hilary 
terms is excellent, and clearly draws upon the wide-ranging research strengths of the staff.  
The standards of the marking at all times seemed appropriate with staff being diligent and precise in 
their comments and when there was disagreement between first and second markers it was helpful 
to have some notes to explain how they resolved the matter. Standards of marking also seem fair 
and comparable across the different option essays. On a few occasions I felt that consultation of the 
published marking criteria might have helped internal markers resolve disputed grades: this was 
particularly important in the case of work that straddles the distinction/high pass border and which 
might make a difference to the overall award the student receives. It would also be useful to have 
clearly written reports from both internal examiners on all pieces of work (a very few were missing 
or only available in poor handwriting). I appreciate that there are pressures upon staff due to the 
examination timetable and the volume of work that needs to marked: however, reports do not 
necessarily have to be lengthy but they are necessary for an external to see how a particular mark 
has been reached. Perhaps some extension of the deadline for marking would help in this respect 
and the departmental committee might discuss this issue. 
I read a number of dissertations, including two for which an agreed mark had not been reached by 
internal examiners. Although I did see some impressive work here (particularly one on colonial 
film) I felt that overall the work here was slightly disappointing in comparison to the essays and this 
issue was discussed at the examiners‘ meeting in July. At 10,000 words the length of the 
dissertation is somewhat shorter than in many other HEIs and the students do not seem to be able to 
match their ambitions for a dissertation to the length required. It is an important issue to consider 
given the weighting of the dissertation when awarding a distinction. The departmental committee 
might, therefore, consider either an increase in the word-length or for supervisors to offer more 
guidance upon an appropriate, more narrowly focussed topic for a 10,000 word dissertation.  
Overall, then, I was extremely happy with conduct of the examination process for this course and 
look forward to reading the work for next year. I would also like to commend the Chair of the 
Examiners, Jeri Johnson, for the efficient, friendly, and helpful way in which she ran the meetings, 
and to thank Emily Richards, the Graduate Studies Officer, for her excellent administrative support. 
 
79 
 

 
 
EXTERNAL EXAMINER:  
MST IN ENGLISH AND AMERICAN STUDIES 
Professor Ian Bell, Keele University 
 
My first experience of examining on this programme has been instructive and pleasurable. Its 
academic standards are commensurate with other HEIS (my benchmarks are similar programmes at 
Cambridge and UCL) as are those student performance, and the assessment processes match the 
criteria of rigour, equity and fairness. 
The work I examined (three dissertations and nine essays from a cohort of ten) was invariably 
interesting, even at the weaker (relatively) end, and I was impressed particular by the adventurous 
range of topics covered. What came as something of a surprise to all of the Externals was the degree 
to might the essays tended to score more highly than the dissertations (a reversal of which might be 
expected customararily). Of the three I looked at, one was simply superb – taking on an important 
subject, engaging it with gusto. The research base was strong and judiciously chosen, the reading 
lively and astute, marking an advance on discussions of material form. Here was a real sense of 
authority, combined with a freshness of apprehension and some subtle discriminations. One of the 
Internals thought it was ‗potentially publishable‘, and I agree. The other two fell into the category of 
‗low pass‘ in that, while perfectly efficient and competent, firmly argued and decently researched, 
contained little to surprise. The essays, on the other hand, were much spritelier, frequently going 
against the grain and willing to take things on. There was, again, an adventurousness to the choice 
of topics with a sense of commitment to their cause. Students have revealed themselves to be 
knowledgeable, conceptually astute and able to develop arguments of some sophistication. 
In the light of this discrepancy between essay/dissertation, the Exam Board suggested that, given 
the additional weighting afforded the dissertation (where a Distinction grade is mandatory), some 
consideration might be given (marking schedules permitting) to extending the dissertation deadline. 
The Board was presented with a (mercifully) few borderline cases where we felt that there was a 
potential for injustice as a consequence of the GSC requirements for a Distinction (a ‗mark of 70 or 
over on the Dissertation and an average of 70 across the four elements of the course‘). The problem 
here was a student gaining an average of 70+ across the course, but falling slightly short on the 
Dissertation grade. Nine candidates fell into this category, the two most glaring of which had a 
course average of 75 (75,84, 73) but a dissertation mark of 68, and a course average of 71.5 (74, 
70,74) with a dissertation mark of 68. I believe that such a scenario was counter to the principles of 
natural justice, and I would recommend a more sophisticated algorithm for the calculation of a 
Distinction. 
Clearly, the M.St. is in very good shape (the overall rounded up average for the entire programme at 
70.028 is slightly down on the average of 70.2 for the previous year, but the average for 
Distinctions at 43.6% is significantly up on 2009‘s 38.4%) and as an Americanist, I was pleased 
especially to see this pathway coming in at an overall average of 70.83 and a Distinctive percentage 
of 50%. 
There remain two comments I should like to make: first, that in common with everyone else, 
Oxford makes insufficient use of the marking range at Distinction level and, second, I‘d like to see 
a little more of the students‘ work. This may mean a relaxation of your high/low template, but the 
size of the cohort this year makes it rather difficult to arrive at a full judgement. 
80 
 

 
 
M.St. WOMEN’S STUDIES 2009-10 
Dr Tim Whitmarsh, Chair of examiners 
 
1. Statistics: 
There were sixteen candidates (15 women, 1 man) for examination. In addition, one candidate 
resubmitted a dissertation that was failed last year, and one candidate from an MSt in Public Policy 
wrote a Women‘s Studies option essay. One candidate applied for an extension to the dissertation 
deadline on medical/personal grounds, and was granted an extension until 16 July. All candidates 
submitted their dissertations on time. In one case, a penalty of 5 marks was applied for an 
overlength dissertation. 
Of the sixteen candidates, four were awarded a Distinction (3 women, 1 man), and none failed. The 
candidate from Public Policy was awarded 59, and consequently failed that particular MSt course. 
No viva voce examinations were held.  
By comparison with the previous three cohorts, more Distinctions were awarded this year (20% of 
the women candidates, and the single male).  
 
Grand 
Year 
Gender 
Distinction  Pass 
Fail 
Unclassified  Total 
2006-07 
Female 

11 


13 
  

15 
85 


100% 
  
Male 




 0 
  

  
  
  
    
2007-08 
Female 

15 


17 
  

12 
88 


100% 
  
Male 




 0 
  

  
  
  
    
2008-09 
Female 




12 
  

17 
75 


100% 
  
Male 





  

100 



100% 
 
2009-10 
Female 

12 


15 
  

20 
80 


100% 
  
Male 





  

100 



100% 
 
81 
 

 
2. Examination Board: 
The Examination Board consisted of representatives from each of the participating faculties, plus an 
extra examiner from English and one from Social Sciences: Dr Maria Jaschok from International 
Development, Dr Pamela Anderson from Philosophy, Dr Marie-Chantal Killeen from Medieval and 
Modern Languages, Dr Tim Whitmarsh (Chair) from Classics, Dr Sally Bayley and Dr Lynn 
Robson from English, and Dr Jane Garnett from History. Dr Rebecca Langlands of the Classics 
Department, University of Exeter, acted as External Examiner for the second time this year, and 
once again showed judiciousness and thoughtfulness – and considerable patience, in light of the 
administrative problems this year (see (5) below). The Board would like to express its warm 
gratitude to her. As ever, a large number of assessors were also involved. To ensure consistency, 
each piece of work was marked by at least one member of the Board. In the case of the 
Theory/Methods essays, one examiner marked the complete run, except where she had supervised 
candidates. There was remarkable consistency of marks overall, with only a few cases of 
divergence. Like previous Boards, we remain convinced that the best model is for Board members 
to be involved wherever possible in marking all pieces of work; it is also desirable to use assessors, 
within the bounds of feasibility, who have had some involvement with the course. (Having said that, 
there were some excellent new assessors this year.) The course is not just broad in its disciplinary 
range but also presents specific conceptual and methodological challenges, of which assessors need 
to be aware (see 4(b) below). In cases where new assessors were used, the Chair briefed them 
carefully as to the specific goals of the course, and challenges for the students. 
 
3. Procedures: 
(a) Approval of titles: 
The first scrutiny role played by the Exam Board was the review of the proposed essay titles 
submitted by the candidates by Friday of 6th week of Hilary Term. This year, this process occurred 
by Chair‘s action, rather than by circulation. The proposals were much more substantial than they 
had been last year, the result of changes made last year. In only one case was clarification sought 
from the supervisor; no adjustment to the proposal was needed.  
(b) Marking:  
The marking process went much less smoothly than in previous years, the result of a combination of 
time pressure and administrative confusion (see below). It was noted, once again, that the deadline 
for the submission of dissertation marks was very tight. The Board took the view that the deadline 
for dissertations of Friday of 8th week is probably too late since it gives a turnaround period of only 
2 weeks for both marking and external examining. Given that many internal markers did not receive 
their dissertations before the end of 9th week, it is miraculous that everything was marked in time. It 
is acknowledged that students do not have much time on a 9-month MSt, but students on other 
Oxford programmes manage with an earlier submission deadline. Friday of 7th week would be 
reasonable. The External Examiner read all of the borderline and problematic dissertations and 
essays, in many cases on the morning before the meeting of the Board. 
(c) Exam Board:  
Dr Maria Jaschok was unable to attend the meeting, thanks to a rescheduled conference in China. 
She signed the list on her return. 
 
4. General Comments: 
(a) Word counts. It became clear that more guidance is needed in the handbook in relation to 
appendices and word counts. P. 26 on appendices states that ‗If the appendix takes you over the 
word limit, you must seek formal approval to exceed that word limit well before submission‘. This 
82 
 

 
implies that appendices do count towards the word count; but there is no mention of them on p. 36, 
on word limits. 
We also recommend the introduction of formal penalties for overlength essays and dissertations, as 
in other MSt programmes. 
 
Last year‘s recommendation that footnotes be included in the word count appears not to have been 
implemented; we repeat our recommendation. 
(b) Guidance to markers. It was felt that more explicit guidance about the appropriate expectations 
should be given in the ‗note for markers‘, particularly in view of the ongoing problem of 
inexperienced assessors expecting comparability with specialist MSt work. The circulated marking 
conventions contained an error (which is not replicated in the Handbook): the range for ‗work that 
fails to reach the Pass level‘ should be 50-59 not 50-58. 
(c) Classification. The criteria for classification of a distinction were altered in the light of the 
external‘s comments last year. Those adopted for this Board read ‗To achieve a distinction, an 
average mark of 70 or above across the three elements is required, with marks of 70 or above in at 
least two elements, one of which will normally be the dissertation (the mark for which much not in 
any case fall below 68)‘. The Board recommends that this or a similar wording be integrated into 
the Handbook for next year. The Board also recommends a reconsideration of the criteria for the 
award of pass, which should (like the new distinction ruling) be based on an average of the 
elements. Finally, the Board also recommends double-weighting the dissertation in the calculation 
of average for classification purposes. 
(d) Information provided by students. This year it was not always possible to tell by looking at it 
whether a piece of work was an option or a theory essay; there were also some traces of confusion 
among markers between dissertations and option essays. The Board recommends the adoption of a 
pro forma coversheet for essays, with a tick-box for option / theory / dissertation, as well as spaces 
for other relevant material (which could include word count, both for the main body of text and for 
any appendices). 
 (e) Content. There was some dissatisfaction expressed over the quality particularly of literary 
analysis, with some candidates opting for a rather limited analysis of a single text. Other markers 
identified as a weakness what they perceived as a rather predictable set of theoretical frameworks, 
drawn from French feminism and deconstruction or from Judith Butler. In future years, examiners 
might be asked (perhaps in the guidance: above, (b)) to supply brief reflections on the strengths and 
weaknesses of the cohort they have marked, which could then be processed into a report for the 
benefit of future students. 
(f) Extensions. The Board would like to remind colleagues that requests for extensions should be 
made officially through the Proctors. 
 
5. Administrative support: 
Administrative support was provided first by Stephen Lay and then by Padraig O‘Connor in the 
Humanities Division. Both were cheerful, helpful and diligent in the face of the many problems 
with the administration of the examining process, and are to be thanked. 
The administration remains, however, highly problematic. At times this year it approached chaos. It 
is clear that, despite the amount of income that the Women‘s Studies MSt generates, Modern 
Languages have not made available sufficient administrative resource. Stephen Lay was attempting 
to administer Women‘s Studies on top of his existing work, and was not able to do this. He 
therefore handed over to Padraig O‘Connor in Humanities. This was unsatisfactory, for a number of 
reasons: it meant that Padraig was not fully briefed (in particular, he did not have the updates to the 
83 
 

 
list of assessors, so several were sent to people who had declined to mark); it made for delays, 
disastrous in view of the short timescale, while materials were rerouted from Stephen to Padraig; it 
was often unclear where materials physically were (for example, one package of marks went 
missing, and was only located on the Friday before the Board meeting); and the fact that Padraig 
only works Tuesday to Thursday also had the effect of slowing down the process, while also 
meaning that preparation for the Board meeting on the Monday was extremely difficult. The Board 
was not consulted on the transfer of administrative support, nor was it even informed of it straight 
after it had taken place. These difficulties, coupled with the disappearance in the post of all of the 
materials sent to the external examiner, made for extremely adverse circumstances. This situation 
must not be allowed to recur: the programme relies heavily on the good will of academics, which 
was severely tested this year. It is essential to the future of the programme that the Faculty create 
the requisite administrative capacity. 
84 
 

 
 
EXTERNAL EXAMINER:  
M.ST. IN WOMEN’S STUDIES 
Dr Rebecca Langlands, University of Exeter 
 
Overall standards 
This is my second year acting as external examiner for the Women‘s Studies MSt. Once again I was 
impressed by the quality and nature of the work submitted for this degree, which makes it clear that 
Women‘s Studies is still a vibrant subject area. Its theoretical underpinnings allow students to bring 
a particular approach to the material of their choice which is often very productive. At the top end 
there were dissertations which constituted genuinely exciting contributions to the field, and I was 
especially pleased to see work that showed how complex theory might be applied to policy-making 
and addressing practical issues on the ground.  
Responses to last year’s comments 
I was very happy with the Board‘s energetic responses to my suggestions and comments from last 
year. The marking criteria and mark sheets have been amended as I suggested, as have the 
examination conventions relating to how an overall mark of distinction is calculated. It may be that 
this process needs further refinement, and I suggest that the Board consider whether the dissertation 
ought to be weighted more than the essays when calculating the overall average for the degree. It 
also emerged from this year‘s examination process that there is a need to clarify the penalty for 
work that goes over the word limit, and to make sure that word limits and penalties for exceeding 
them are communicated clearly to students (see on Cover Sheets, below). 
Administration of the process: 
Last year I also mentioned some minor administrative mishaps and had some suggestions for how 
they might be avoided in future. However, this year the examination process suffered an 
extraordinary level of disruption, for much of which, I am afraid to say, the unsatisfactory 
administrative provision must be blamed. It seems clear that the level of administrative support 
afforded to this MSt. course is inadequate, such that this year it was almost impossible to proceed 
with the exam board at all. I commend the Chair, Tim Whitmarsh, and the team of markers and 
examiners involved throughout the process for their hard work in ensuring that all the work was 
marked in time and conscientiously, despite the disruptions. Much of the work that should have 
been carried out by an administrator (such as organising work for the external to look at and 
calculating marks) had to be undertaken by the academic chair, under considerable pressure. In 
addition, as I understand it, extra pressure was laid on many of the markers due to the work being 
disseminated to the wrong people in the first instance. In my own case I was caused considerable 
inconvenience by the fact that the majority of the scripts that I needed to read did not reach me 
before I arrived on the day of the examination board, despite the fact that there had been two 
batches of material sent. A first batch that was sent has gone entirely missing in the post, but since it 
was not apparently sent recorded delivery it is not clear why. The second batch was sent recorded 
delivery to my house, but did not arrive until after the examination board had taken place because it 
was incorrectly addressed, meaning that I spent two days at home on the Friday and Saturday in 
vain waiting for delivery. All material relating to external examining ought to be sent recorded 
delivery. Once it is sent an email should be sent to the external examiner confirming that it has been 
sent and when it may be expected to arrive; the sender should always check the address via email 
with the intended recipient. In a situation where everybody is already working to a very tight 
deadline it is imperative that this course is offered adequate administrative support in the future. 
85 
 

 
Marking and interdisciplinary work 
For the most part, as last year, the process of double marking and agreeing marks worked well and 
the dialogue between markers (especially where one was a subject specialist) produced fair agreed 
marks. It is noticeable, as it was last year, that, in an interdisciplinary degree such as this, markers 
from different disciplines often have rather different expectations of work, and this is reflected in 
the variation in the marks awarded. This is a difficult line to tread because clearly one expects a 
different level of methodological expertise and depth of knowledge from students coming from 
different backgrounds: the treatment of Plato‘s ideas on politics by a student of ancient philosophy 
would differ considerably, for instance, from that by a student of political science. Nevertheless, it 
is important that students are able to do justice to the material, approaches and ideas that they 
choose to study, to show adequate knowledge of secondary literature, and it is vital that their 
treatment is not wrong-headed or overly superficial. It is not possible to lay down hard and fast 
guidelines about how markers should assess interdisciplinary work. My feeling is that by and large 
the discussion that takes place when two marks diverge for reasons of specialism is a useful and 
productive one that results in a fair mark for the student. However, it is clearly an issue that needs to 
be at the forefront of every marker‘s mind, and some generic guidance for markers that highlights 
this might be desirable (see below). 
The challenge of interdisciplinarity goes beyond marking, as we discussed during the examination 
board. It is important that students too are aware of the potential pitfalls of working in less familiar 
areas and with less familiar methodologies, and that they are given appropriate guidance when 
choosing topics and undertaking their work. 
 
1)  More use could be made of the Approval of Titles process (on which more below) to 
scrutinise the proposed methodologies and content (e.g. scope of source material to be 
covered) and consider their implications. 
2)  An introductory talk at the start of the year might emphasise to the students the particular 
challenges arising from undertaking interdisciplinary work 
3)  Written guidance could be produced for markers, flagging up these issues so that all markers 
bear them in mind and work to ensure a fair balance between subject knowledge and the 
Women‘s Studies angle. 
In addition, while most markers provide clear comments indicating how they have reached their 
mark, which are especially useful when the material covers such a range of subjects and specialisms 
in ensuring parity between markers, not all do, and the expectation that markers will provide a 
paragraph or two of explanation – especially when the mark is very high or very low – should be 
outlined to markers in these brief guidelines. 
 
Approval of Titles: 
This year the Approval of Title sheets were not circulated in Hilary term when they are submitted. It 
is certainly good practice that they should be, together with the course handbook with outline of the 
topics taught in the Theory course and a list of candidates with their Option courses and the tutors 
for each piece of work (including, if possible, an indication of which Faculty or subject area the 
tutor works in). Making this stage a rigorous element of the examination process will also provide 
an opportunity to address a couple of issues that arose this year.  
1) As above, to ensure that students are using appropriate methodologies, secondary literature, 
breadth of source material etc., especially when they are working outside their primary discipline  
2) To take an overview of each student‘s portfolio so that any overlap between essays or odd 
juxtaposition of subjects etc. can be seen at this stage & students can be advised accordingly 
86 
 

 
3) To allow exam board members to suggest which work it might be appropriate for them to mark 
in the summer 
 
Cover Sheets 
A couple of issues (relating e.g. to word length, Option choice) that arose during this year‘s 
examination process might be addressed by introducing pro forma Cover Sheets for each piece of 
work submitted (which could be circulated in electronic form via email to the students). You could 
have a different Cover Sheet for each kind of work so that it is immediately clear what we are 
reading. If so the essay type (Theory, Option or Dissertation) would be indicated on it. Each Cover 
Sheet could also give the word limit for that piece of work & the penalty for exceeding it, and a 
space for the student to indicate their word count. In addition, for an Option essay, there would be 
space where a student would have to indicate which Option course it was written in conjunction 
with. 
Not all the dissertations I read this year were accompanied by abstracts. They should be; this ought 
to be a compulsory element. 
87 
 

 
 
M.ST. FILM AESTHETICS 
Dr Andrew Klevan, Chair of Examiners 
 
Twelve students started the course and one intermitted. That student will return to complete this 
year. All eleven passed the degree and three received distinctions. The work was good without 
being exceptional. However, the averages this year were similar to 2008-9 (apparently a stronger 
cohort) with the marks bunching in the mid to high 60s. Given that many of the students found the 
course much more demanding and requested a lot more meetings and tuition than the students of the 
previous year it was pleasing to see that the final marks were buoyant. Similarly, it was also 
pleasing to see that three distinctions resulted from the group, the same as the previous year. They 
distinctions were in the low 70s (all 71) but the external agreed that were definitely distinctions and 
there was no doubt over the class. The fact that we have now had high and low distinction marks on 
the degree shows that the mark range is being used effectively and that discrimination is 
successfully operating within the distinction range. 
The marks were as follows: 71,71,71, 69, 68, 68, 67, 66, 66, 66, 65 
The draft essay system again worked effectively with some students quite considerable improving 
their marks for the final submission. All the essays spoke clearly to the aesthetic concerns of the 
degree and the aims and objectives are now consistently being met by students. As in the previous 
year, essays were either ‗close readings‘ of film style or analysis of theory (usually film specific), or 
else they were conversations between films and philosophical texts. 
Most students selected the same question for the three hour examination. Nevertheless, there was 
quite interesting variation in the answers and in the handling of the theoretical materials, illustrating 
imaginative individual responses which we encourage. The material submitted here were quite 
different from the essays and the dissertation and therefore showed that it was a distinct form of 
assessment within the degree. Once again the students concentrated on theoretical texts but there 
was better integration of film examples this year (something I mentioned in my report last year as 
lacking and something we therefore encouraged). 
The dissertations were uniformly interesting: with topics including digital animation, the 
performances of Isabelle Huppert, the close-up, the heist films of Jean-Pierre Melville, the 
ambiguity of Yasujiro Ozu‘s narratives and fictional film worlds. All of then were focused and had 
appropriate, manageable parameters for the 10,000 word limit and for the tight time scale 
(submission in Trinity Week 6). 
The external examiner did not suggest any changes in his report 2008-9, although we did send him 
the examination paper to comment on and ratify this year. 
88 
 

 
 
EXTERNAL EXAMINER:  
M.St. FILM AESTHETICS 
Professor Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, Queen Mary University of London 
 
I am pleased to send in the following report, starting with brief comments under the headings 
recommended in the university guidelines. 
(i) 
Whether the academic standards set for its awards, or part thereof, are appropriate 
In the case of the MSt film Aesthetics, they are entirely appropriate 
(ii) 
The extent to which its assessment processes are rigorous, ensure equity of treatment for 
students and have been fairly conducted within institutional regulations and guidance 
The processes are rigorous throughout, ensure equity of treatment, and follow best practice in 
relevant respects (e.g., in the case of this year, the application of conditions for registered dyslexic 
students) 
(iii) 
The standards of student performance in the programmes or parts of programmes which 
they have been appointed to examine 
Student performance throughout was of a high standard overall 
(iv) 
Where appropriate, the comparability of the standards and student achievements with those 
in some other higher education institutions 
Standards were higher than I have encountered elsewhere, in relation to the award of both Pass and 
Distinction grades; achievements were also high, with all students completing the course and 
comfortably achieving the (already high) pass mark and with distinctions being awarded only in 
cases where a distinction was thoroughly merited 
(v) 
Issues which should be brought to the attention of supervising committees in the 
faculty/department, division or wider University 
There are no contentious issues to be raised. I understand that my recommendation last year that a 
mark of 70% or above in the dissertation component of the degree should not be a prerequisite for 
the award of a distinction if the overall mark was 70% or above across the board was adopted by the 
Faculty for future years. (This did not in fact make any difference this year.) 
(vi) 
Good practice that should be noted and disseminated more widely as appropriate 
I do not know if the practices employed in the teaching and assessment of this particular degree are 
unique or general throughout the Faculty/University for the Master of Studies but I noted with 
approval the thoroughness with which the marking was carried out, with both markers reading the 
work with close attention and differences in mark being reconciled conscientiously. I also consider 
that the use of an unseen exam as part of the assessment (not very fashionable at graduate level 
these days) worked well in the context of the degree, since it both provided a trial of students‘ 
performance in exam conditions and specifically tested their ability to handle core ideas from the 
taught part of the programme – neither of which is properly tested in coursework essays or 
dissertations. 
 
Other comments 
Two things about this year in comparison to 2008/9. 
As can happen with courses with a small number of students, the intake for 2009/10 was different 
from the previous year‘s and this undoubtedly had an effect on group dynamics. There were no 
89 
 

 
cases of students producing exceptional work. Distinctions awarded were earned by hard graft 
resulting in marks in the 68-73% range. There were also no students in any way at risk of failure – 
at least not by the time final work was submitted. Marks on first-draft versions of some essays (I 
saw the marks but not the drafts themselves and the marks did not form part of the final assessment) 
suggest that some students may have struggled a bit in the early stages, but by the end they were all 
producing work in the mid-60s, comfortably about the Pass/Fail borderline. 
Secondly, the dissertations were more cohesive. Last year I commented on the case of a student 
who had taken on a topic rather beyond her capacity and also at some distance from the core of the 
course. This year the topics selected were all closer to the core and well within the range of what 
students could manage in the format required. 
Finally I should like to express my pleasure at what I have seen of the way the course has developed 
over the first three years of its existence. The decision to make it an MSt in Film Aesthetics rather 
than generic Film Studies has been thoroughly vindicated. It now has definite intellectual coherence 
and remains, as far as I know, unique in the country in it focus on aesthetic issues. On the evidence 
of the last two years in particular, it has also shown itself capable of attracting excellent students 
and giving them a rewarding academic experience. 
 
 
90