ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE
Version for Faculty Meeting
25 October 2010
Dr H Small
Classics & English Moderations
Dr L Morgan
Modern History & English Preliminary
Dr N Davidson
English & Modern Languages Preliminary
Dr R Robertson
Final Honour Schools
Dr H Barr
Professor J Boffey
Dr R Lyne
FHS External (and FHS E & ML)
Professor F O‘Gorman
Classics & English FHS
Professor M Leigh
Classics & English FHS External
Dr R Lyne
Classics & English FHS External
Professor B Gibson
English & Modern Languages FHS
Professor J Naughton
Modern History & English FHS
Dr P West
Modern History & English FHS External
Professor J Boffey
Modern History & English FHS External
Professor P Marshall
Dr J Johnson
M. St. External (650-1550)
Professor T Turville-Petre
M. St. External (1550-1780)
Professor B Cummings
M. St. External (1780-1900)
Professor P Fielding
M. St. External (1900-Present Day)
Professor A Thacker
M.St. English and American Studies
Professor I Bell
M. St. Women’s Studies
Dr T Whitmarsh
M. St. Women‘s Studies External
Dr R Langlands
M. St. Film Aesthetics
Dr A Klevan
M. St. Film Aesthetics External
Professor G Nowell-Smith
M. St Medieval Studies
M. St Medieval Studies External
MODERATIONS IN ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE
PRELIMINARY EXAMINATIONS IN ENGLISH AND MODERN LANGUAGES AND IN
HISTORY AND ENGLISH
Dr Helen Small, Chair of Moderators
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
2. Percentage of scripts marked at 70/70+ (Paper 1, period papers, plus over all papers)
9.6 [33 scripts]
0 [15 scripts]
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
little besides; Stevenson was almost exclusively the author of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
, James of The
Turn of the Screw
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-
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,
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
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
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
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 Brunanburh
, The Finnsburh Fragment
. 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 Judith
, Wulf and Eadwacer, The Wife’s
and The Seafarer
; as well as references to Elene
. 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
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
, though one would think
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.
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
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
Paper 4c: Beowulf
There were three candidates for this paper.
Paper 4d: Middle English Dream Poetry
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.
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
. 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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
PRELIMINARY EXAMINATION IN MODERN LANGUAGES (Covers ENGLISH AND
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-
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
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
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).
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.
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.
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
(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;
(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
(iii) in all papers in both subjects (a
) Language and (b
) Literature in either
German and in all three papers in subject (d
) Further Topics in the same language.
(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.
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
English and Modern Languages (23 cands.)
FRENCH (12 cands.)
Distinctions: 3 ( f, m)
GERMAN (6 cands.)
Distinctions: 1 ( f)
ITALIAN (2 cand.)
SPANISH (3 cand.)
PORTUGUESE (1 cand.)
RUSSIAN (1 cand.)
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
There were 239 candidates, 7 of whom took Course 2.
Percentages including recent years
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.
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:
(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:
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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)
Charles Oldham Shakespeare Prize:
Maria Mendez Hodes Pas (St Hilda‘s)
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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,
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 essay,
and 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
When students did attempt Ancrene Wisse
, 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
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.
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
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
) 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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
, 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
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
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
Average mark of 68.5 or greater.
At least two marks of 70 or above.
No mark below 50.
Average mark of 59 or greater.
At least two marks of 60 or above.
No mark below 40.
Average mark of 49.5 or greater.
At least two marks of 50 or above.
No mark below 30.
Average mark of 40 or greater.
Not more than one mark below 30.
Average mark of 30 or greater.
Not more than two marks below 30.
Number of Candidates and Gender
Total 239, comprising 147 (61.5%) female and 92 (38.5 %) male.
Number and Class Distributions by Sex
Number of Candidates for All Subjects
3 a & b
English Literature from 1100 - 1509
English Literature from 1509 - 1642
English Literature from 1832 - 1900
English Literature from 1900 to present day 19
English Literature from 1642 - 1740
English Literature from 1740 - 1832
The Beowulf Poet
N Town Cycle
7 i (i)
7 i (ii)
7 i (iii)
An Extended Essay
Medieval and Renaissance Romance
Scottish Literature pre-1600
8b (viii)(i) Classical Literature – Epic
8b (viii)(ii) Classical Literature – Tragedy
Lexicography and the English Language
Grub Street and Its Critics
Principles of Film Criticism
Life Writing: Critical Approaches
Modern Philology (by extended essay
Archaeology of Anglo Saxon England,
7th – 9th centuries AD
Old Norse Texts
Medieval French Literature 1100 - 1300
Medieval French Literature 1300 - 1500
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
FHS ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE
Dr Raphael Lyne, University of Cambridge
(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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
of fixed point for the monitoring of these decisions, so that there is some gradual accretion
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
FINAL HONOUR SCHOOL OF ENGLISH AND MODERN LANGUAGES
James Naughton, Chairman of Examiners
Numbers of candidates, by Modern Language
Classes awarded (previous two years’ figures in brackets where applicable)
- (- , -)
(- , -)
- (- , -)
(- , -)
- (- , -)
(- , -)
(- , 1)
(- , 1)
(- , - )
- (- ,-)
(4 , 8)
(- ,1 )
Classes awarded by gender (% of class for previous years in brackets)
Female = 16 5 = 83.33%
11 = 78.57%
Male = 4
1 = 16.67%
3 = 21.43% (
25%, 42.86%) none
Percentage of each gender in each class (previous years in brackets)
Female = 16
(25%, 58.33%) 68.75%
(75%, 33.33%) 0%
Male = 4
Distinctions in the oral use of the relevant foreign language were awarded to 6 candidates (4 female,
Distribution of these by language: French 3, German 1, Spanish 2.
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).
Conduct of the Examination
The Marking Conventions were unchanged from last year.
A Pre-Final Marks Meeting was pencilled in, following last year‘s procedure, but was not in the end
The Final Marks Meeting was held on 7th July 2010 at 5 pm. All Examiners were present to sign
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.
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.
FINAL HONOUR SCHOOL OF HISTORY AND ENGLISH
Dr Philip West, Chair of Examiners
All candidates, Numbers, and percentages in each class/category
All candidates, divided into Male (M) and Female (F)
Percentage (of that gender)
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]
– 5 candidates [1 First; 4 Upper Seconds]
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.
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
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
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.
M.ST. IN ENGLISH STUDIES (inc. M.ST. IN ENGLISH AND AMERICAN STUDIES,
M.PHIL. ENGLISH STUDIES)
Jeri Johnson, Chair of M.St. Examiners
Numbers and percentages in each class/category
( 29 )
( 25 )
( 40.3 )
( 40.3 )
( 43 )
( 37 )
( 0 )
( 0 )
( 0 )
( 0 )
*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.
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
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
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
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.)
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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‘.)
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
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
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 –
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
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
Review of grades by reference to gender:
Percentage: Female / Male
68 / 32
67 / 33
73 / 27
60 / 40
52 / 48
56 / 44
72 / 28
79 / 21
78 / 22
0 / 0
0 / 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
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
This part is physically separate.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
would have to be strict (e.g. only where the average is 75+), or else the Externals might be
reviewing too many cases.
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.
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
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.
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.
MST IN ENGLISH 1780-1900
Professor Penny Fielding, University of Edinburgh
These 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.
. 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
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
. 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
. 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.
Issues for wider discussion
. Oxford asks that the dissertation and course work both
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
M.St. WOMEN’S STUDIES 2009-10
Dr Tim Whitmarsh, Chair of examiners
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
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).
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.
(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.
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
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.
. 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
. 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.
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
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.
M.ST. IN WOMEN’S STUDIES
Dr Rebecca Langlands, University of Exeter
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.
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
3) To allow exam board members to suggest which work it might be appropriate for them to mark
in the summer
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
Not all the dissertations I read this year were accompanied by abstracts. They should be; this ought
to be a compulsory element.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.)
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
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
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.