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FACULTY OF  
ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE 
 
 
 
 

EXAMINERS’ REPORTS 
2009 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Revised 3rd November 2009 
 



























THE FACULTY OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE 
EXAMINERS’ REPORTS CONTENTS 2009 
Page 
Moderations 
Dr H Small 

 
  Paper 1 
 

  Paper 2(a)/ 4(a) 
 

  Paper 2(b)/ 4(b) 
 

  Paper 3(a) 
 

  Paper 3(b) 
 
10 
  Paper 4(c) 
 
10 
  Paper 4(d) 
 
10 
  Paper 4(e) 
 
11 
  Paper 4(f) 
 
11 
  Paper 4(g) 
 
11 
  Paper 4(h) 
 
11 
  Paper 4(i) 
 
12 
  Paper 4(j) 
 
12 
  Paper 4(k) 
 
12 
  Paper 4(l) 
 
13 
Classics & English Moderations 
Dr S Palfrey 
14 
Modern History & English Preliminary 
Dr H Small 
16 
English & Modern Languages Preliminary  Dr C Howells 
17 
Final Honours Schools 
Dr H Barr 
18 
Course I 
 
 
  Paper 1  
 
24 
  Paper 2 
 
25 
  Paper 3a 
 
26 
  Paper 3b 
 
27 
  Paper 4 
 
27 
  Paper 4a 
 
28 
  Paper 4b 
 
28 
  Paper 5 
 
29 
  Paper 6 
 
30 
  Paper 7  
 
30 
  Paper 8 
 
38 

















 
Course II 
 
 
  Paper A1 
 
43 
  Paper A2 
 
43 
  Paper A3(a) 
 
44 
  Paper A3(b) 
 
44 
  Paper A4 
 
44 
  Paper A5 
 
45 
  Paper B1 
 
45 
  Paper B2 
 
45 
  Paper B3 
 
45 
  Paper B4 
 
45 
  Paper B10 
 
45 
  Paper B15 
 
46 
  Paper B16 
 
46 
  Paper B17 
 
46 
  Paper B19 
 
46 
  Paper B20 
 
46 
FHS External 
Professor J Boffey 
50 
FHS External 
Dr R Lyne 
52 
FHS External 
Professor S Fitzmaurice 
55 
FHS External 
Professor N Corcoran 
59 
Classics & English FHS 
Dr H Moore 
61 
Classics & English FHS External 
Dr R Lyne 
63 
Classics & English FHS External 
Dr A Sharrock 
64 
English & Modern Languages FHS 
Dr M Nicholson 
68 
English & Modern Languages FHS External  Professor N Corcoran 
72 
English & Modern Languages FHS External  Dr N Harris 
72 
Modern History & English FHS 
Dr S Brigden 
74 
Modern History & English FHS External 
Professor J Boffey 
77 
Modern History & English FHS External 
Dr A Walsham 
77 

 
M. St. 
 
82 
M. St.  
Dr J Johnson 
82 
M. St. External (650-1550) 
Professor T Turville-Petre 
89 
M. St. External (1550-1780) 
Professor G McMullan 
91 
M. St. External (1780-1900) 
Professor C Lamont 
95 
M. St. External (1900-Present Day; English & 
Professor P Nicholls 
98 
American)  
 
M. St. Women’s Studies 
Dr J Garnett 
100 
M. St. Women’s Studies External 
Dr R Langlands 
104 
M. St. Film Aesthetics 
Dr A Klevan 
107 
M. St. Film Aesthetics External 
Professor G Nowell-Smith 
111 
M. St Medieval Studies 
Dr G Rosser 
113 
M. St Medieval Studies External 
Dr M Cohen 
118 
Appendix 1: Exam Criteria (Students) 
 
121 
Appendix 2: Exam Criteria (Examiners) 
 
123 
 

MODERATIONS IN ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE 
PRELIMINARY EXAMINATIONS IN ENGLISH AND MODERN LANGUAGES, 
HISTORY AND ENGLISH, AND ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE 
2008-9 
Part I 
A. STATISTICS 
There were 228 candidates for English Moderations this year, 23 candidates for the 
Preliminary Examination in English and Modern Languages, and 10 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 15 candidates. All 
were taken into consideration. 
 
1. Numbers and percentages in each category 
 
Category 
 
Number   
 
Percentage   
 
2008/09 
2007/08 
2006/07 
2008/09 
2007/08 
2006/07 
Distinction     40 
   58 
  56 
   18.0 
  17.5 
  22.8 
Pass 
  188 
 188 
 189 
  82.4 
  76.4 
  76.8 
Fail 
   0 
   0 
   1 
    0 
     0 
   0.4 
 
2. Percentage of scripts marked at 70/70+ (Paper 1, period papers, plus over all 
papers) 

 
 
 
Paper 
2009 
2008 
2007 

18.9 
18.7 
16.3 
2a/4a 
18.6 
23.5 
21.7 
2b/4b 
18.78 
19.5 
24.4 
3a 
18.3 
13.4 
21.9 
3b 
0   [15 scripts] 
24.3 
8.0 
Overall 
18.6 
20.3 
20.8 
 
 

 

3. Preliminary Examination in English and Modern Languages 
The 23 candidates all passed. 8 achieved Distinctions in English. 
 
Preliminary Examination in History and English 
The 10 candidates all passed. 4 achieved Distinctions in English. 
 
4. Preliminary Examination in English Language and Literature (September). 
Both candidates passed. 
 
B. GENERAL REMARKS 
 
Although the overall number of Distinctions awarded this year was lower than in recent 
years, the number of Firsts awarded per paper had not substantially changed. In other 
words: candidates performed ‗collectively‘ as well as in the past (with small variations on 
particular papers), but first class work was found to be distributed more widely, and the 
consistency of performance necessary to achieve a Distinction was less in evidence. All 
candidates with some showing of 70+ work in their profile and who were within two 
marks or one percentage point of a Distinction were reread on the relevant papers. All 
aberrant marks in candidates‘ profiles were also scrutinized carefully. The most common 
reason for an aberrant mark was rubric infringement on Paper 3a, where 9 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. In these cases the decision of the examining board 
was that no marks should be awarded for the relevant question. There were also two cases 
of students failing to observe the rubric for Paper 1, by writing two Section A answers 
rather than one. In these cases the higher of the two Section A marks was awarded and 
the other answer disregarded. 
The examiners would  have been glad to see Paper 1 work making more impact on 
candidates‘ writing for other papers. All members of the Board observed a curious 
tendency to ‗theoretical flat lining‘ on these other papers, despite clear evidence on Paper 
1 that these same candidates were capable of good, complex conceptual thinking about 
the relationship between author, text and audience, about meaning, value, and so forth. 
As remarked by last year‘s Chair of Moderations, there are a number of instances in 
which practice for Mods examining departs, unhelpfully, from the practice observed in 
FHS. Prominent among these is the treatment of short weight. Examiners for Moderations 
this year were instructed to decide by what proportion an answer falls short of the 
expected or acceptable weight and to penalise at the point of marking (rather than mark 
the quality of what is there but put (SW) in the mark sheet ‗Notes‘). For example, if an 
answer was half the acceptable length, and would have been marked at 60% had it been 
double the length, it received ‗30 (SW)‘. It is, obviously, a matter for individual 
examiners‘ judgement what length would be acceptable, and how short a given essay is—

 

taking into account size of handwriting. There is no category for ‗underweight‘ work in 
Moderations (i.e. work that is ostensibly complete but too short). It seems desirable that 
this difference from FHS be removed in future. 
The Mods Board or Examiners also noted the absence of any marks above 86, and would 
ask UGSC and Faculty Board to discuss whether the agreed criteria for work in this band 
are feasible—especially at Mods, but also perhaps at FHS. As currently stated, they 
require that ‗An essay marked in this range will be truly outstanding. Such marks will be 
used rarely and only for work that shows remarkable originality of mind and depth of 
understanding.‘ It seemed to this year‘s board that such wording is excessively inhibiting 
to examiners wanting to reward excellence. 
We would also ask UGSC and Faculty Board to look again at the pass mark—currently 
30 for English, but 40 for all our Joint School partners. Is it possible to remove this 
difference? Is it desirable? 
 
C. CONVENTIONS AND CLASSIFICATION CRITERIA (INCLUDING JOINT 
SCHOOLS) 

 
As last year, the criteria for classification were made known to students in the general 
circular from the Chair of Examiners. The criteria and conventions for English are, with 
the possible exception of short weight, clear and robust. Some questions arose, however, 
regarding the criteria for Joint Schools. 
The conventions for EML turned out not to have been incorporated into a single 
document (though they were on record in email form and in last year‘s Chair‘s Report). 
They also seemed to this year‘s Board to be oddly out of line with practice in the parent 
schools. With the permission of the Clerk to the Proctors, they were therefore revised at 
the Examiners‘ Meeting, raising the average required for a Distinction on the English side 
from 67 to 67.5 (as in English Single Honours). From next year the main criteria (minus 
those governing rereadings) will be printed in the EML Handbook and repeated in the 
Circular to Candidates. 
The criteria for classification in Modern History and English were clear and readily 
available. The Examining Board noted, however, that the Handbook (HENG Prelims, 
2008-9
) is non-specific about the average mark required for a Distinction. It states that 
‗Candidates who do well in the Preliminary examination, achieving two First Class marks 
and a high overall average mark on the four papers, will be awarded Distinctions by the 
Examiners‘. We would recommend that, from next year, ‗a high overall average mark‘ is 
defined in the Handbook, as in the Conventions, as 66%. Given that the average required 
for a Distinction in English Single Honours and EML is 67.5%, this should prevent any 
mistaken assumptions by a candidate reading the Handbook but not the Conventions in 
detail. 
The particular conditions applying to one of the two candidates sitting Prelims in 
September also gave rise to the question of whether a candidate who has had to withdraw 
part way through Moderations on grounds of ill health may be eligible for a Distinction at 
Prelims. The decision of the Proctors was that a candidate who withdraws after sitting 

 

one paper should not have any mark for that paper, as withdrawing means that all exam 
work is null and void. There are no Distinctions awarded for Prelims. as it is a pass/fail 
exam. This should be made explicit in the Criteria, the Handbook, and the Circular to 
Candidates from next year. 
 
PART II 
A. ADMINISTRATION 
 
The second year of the Open Source Software (OSS) system proved much simpler in 
operation than was the case last year. The administrative staff in all Faculties were by 
now familiar with its workings and it presented no problems. Our requirements from 
Mark-It were revised late in the academic year, to enable the production of complete 
class lists. With the help of the Mark-It support staff, and some spreadsheet editorial 
work from the Examinations Secretary, this was fairly easily achieved. 
Significant numbers of candidates continue to forget their candidate numbers, requiring 
the examination hall officials to research them. 
 
B. EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES REPORT AND BREAKDOWN OF THE RESULTS 
BY GENDER 

 
 
 
2009 
2008 
2007 
Total no. 
women 
143 (62.7%) 
151 (61.4%)  152 (61.8%) 
Total no. 
men 
85 (37.3%) 
95 (38.6%) 
94 (38.2%) 
Distinctions  Both 
40 (18.0%) 
56 (22.8%) 
56 (22.8%) 
genders 
Of which: 
women 
24 (16.8%) 
34 (22.5%) 
33 (58.9%) 
 
men 
16 (18.8%) 
22 (23.3%) 
23 (41.1%) 
 
Paper 1: Introduction to Literary Studies 
 
228 candidates took the paper. Performance was, over all, impressive, with a high 
number of 70+ marks awarded, and only 11% of candidates marked at below 60% (none 
below 50%). Anecdotal reports suggest that the paper was experienced as harder than 
expected this year. That perception notwithstanding, candidates seemed to be thinking 
with some independence, and in the main answering questions which did not permit the 
straight downloading of information from lectures (though a few responses to the 
question on canonicity were of that kind). There was some excellent critical work on 
emotion, on the role of critics in establishing value, and on Plato and the literature of  a 

 

nation. Many candidates showed either an impressive knowledge of the writings of 
Barthes or an ability to think intelligently on the spot about the implications of his 
metaphors, and of metaphor in critical writing more broadly. One question presented a 
surprisingly common difficulty: the quotation from Mieke Bal (widely assumed to be 
male) was grammatically misread by several candidates, who failed to understand the 
suspended clause and took this to be a question about narrative involving a relationship 
‗between people‘ rather than ‗between people and their language‘. In so far as there was a 
‗prepared answer‘ in evidence for Section A, it took the form of a quick comparativist 
tour through New Criticism, the intentional fallacy, Roman Jakobson on poetic 
defamiliarization, a glance at deconstruction, and a longer look at New Historicism—all 
this turned variously to definitions of the role of affect in criticism, the authority of the 
critic, the role of the unconscious in establishing literary meaning, and the social 
constructedness (or otherwise) of art. Answers on poetic form and on tone and 
implicature were in the main strong, well supported by wide reading in primary and 
secondary sources. Students seemed to struggle more when a full answer required them to 
give some thought to the social or material aspects of literature‘s production and 
reception. Responses to the passages set for Section B varied more widely in quality than 
the Section A answers. Weaker answers either recapitulated a Section A-style answer 
without sufficient reference to the text, or were simply inaccurate in their account of 
content, form, and tone. But there was much good writing and some outstandingly astute 
and closely perceptive work—perhaps most strikingly so on Chaucer, Carson, Perelman 
and Green. For the record, Alphabet City is a real place. 
There was some evidence that candidates were under pressure to do this paper justice 
within 2 and a half hours (i.e. clear signs that many were running out of time). Given that 
the paper weighs the same as the three hour papers, it would be worth UGSC discussing 
whether the time allowed for the examination should not be extended to 3 hours. 
 
Paper 2a/4a (Victorian Literature) 
 
221 candidates took this paper. As in previous years, the general level was good, with 
several sophisticated, theoretically and historically informed essays at the top end. 
Weaker answers, though, tended to be limited in ambition and scope and to rehearse well-
known arguments with little evidence of independent thinking. ‗Downloading‘ was a 
fairly widespread problem this year again: too many candidates failed to engage with the 
questions fully, preferring instead to reproduce pre-packaged material which they tried to 
adapt to the question with varying degrees of success. Many essays on religious doubt, 
aestheticism, empire and the industrial novel fell into this category. 
Among the weaker essays there was a regrettable tendency to flatten literary texts, 
ignoring or erasing their complexities in order to make them fit simple arguments (is The 
Picture of Dorian Gray
 really just an example of brilliant, hedonistic aestheticism and 
nothing else?). Many candidates used texts as historical documents, bypassing literary 
analysis entirely, and producing dull essays full of generalisations about ‗the Victorians‘ 
instead of concentrating on how preconceived notions about the period and its literature 
might be complicated by the material under discussion. Too many essays were 

 

descriptive, rarely (if at all) venturing beyond character appreciation. The questions on 
gender attracted many such answers, which merely described a series of instances in 
which Victorian women appeared marginalised or oppressed in literary texts. The same 
was true of many essays on the condition of the poor or the industrial working class. 
Many weak essays also failed to build a proper argument, starting from clichés about the 
period (industrialisation, the sexual double standard, etc.) and presenting a series of 
readings that were intended to confirm that cliché. Very different works (such as, for 
instance, Barrett Browning‘s Aurora Leigh, Hardy‘s Tess and Stoker‘s Dracula) were 
sometimes bought together into a single answer with little or no awareness of 
fundamental discontinuities. Candidates must be reminded to pay proper attention to the 
questions: if a question explicitly asks for discussion of fictional works, for instance, 
answers based on poetry are not acceptable. One further problem was the indiscriminate 
use of terms such as ‗performative and ‗subversion‘ so that they became meaningless.       
The strongest answers combined persuasive and original readings of the texts with 
evidence of a wide knowledge of the literature of the period. They engaged with issues of 
language, style and genre and presented thoughtful, coherent arguments elegantly written 
and put together. Some of the best essays made use of sophisticated theoretical 
approaches. 
Candidates engaged with a broad variety of authors and works. The most popular authors 
included the Brontës, the Brownings, Clough, Collins, Conrad, Dickens, Eliot, Hardy, 
Hopkins, James, Gaskell, Pater, Christina Rossetti (‗Goblin Market‘ being a particular 
favourite), Stevenson, Stoker, Tennyson and Wilde. Arnold, Carlyle, Gissing, Kipling, 
Mill, Rider Haggard, Pinero, D.G. Rossetti, Ruskin, Schreiner, Shaw, Swinburne, 
Thackeray and Wells also attracted a fair number of answers. All questions attracted at 
least one answer. 
 
Paper 2b/4b: (Modern Literature) 
 
182 candidates took the paper, including one History and English candidate, and eight 
EML candidates. 
The strongest essays showed depth of understanding of the chosen authors and 
knowledge of a wide range of their texts; they were aware of critical debates surrounding 
the author, and were willing to engage with them; they made good use of telling textual 
detail, and had the sense to include no more textual analysis than was necessary to 
advance the argument.  
Very few candidates did well when they attempted to cover a large number of authors: 
the vast majority of these answers read like received literary histories or heavily 
annotated reading lists, and were unable to demonstrate critical insight into any one text.  
Very often the distinctive literary qualities of the texts were flattened and they became 
merely windows on thematic content. A mainstream theatrical farce, a novella, a poem, 
and a piece of experimental theatre were treated as identical because they all addressed 
the same issue.  In the few successful examples of this approach, a wide range of texts 
provided a context for a more sustained reading of a single one, or comparisons between 

 

texts were sustained throughout the essay. 
Where candidates treated only two authors, the strongest essays undertook a continual 
comparison, and remained aware of differences of form and historical context.  The 
weakest essays very often consisted of two separate discussions in which the account 
given of one author did very little to illuminate the other.  Candidates wishing to write on 
two or more authors would do well to take ‗compare and contrast‘ as a tacit instruction. 
Some potentially strong candidates disadvantaged themselves by not reading the question 
carefully enough, or by stretching the terms of the question into something so capacious 
that the essay failed to demonstrate an analytical approach.  A surprisingly large number 
of candidates failed to read Q4 correctly.  The question clearly demanded that the 
candidate discuss morals and/or politics in relation to the body, and the quotation from 
Pat Barker made this doubly clear; but the erring candidates took it to be a question 
simply about literature and politics, and made no mention of the body.  The marking 
criterion for a fail mentions 'failing to engage with the questions set'. The decision of the 
Examiners was that this criterion was relevant in this case, and such responses were 
heavily penalised. 
More typical errors included failing to address the key words of the question, so that, for 
instance, Q11a ('How elusive is personal identity ...') was translated into 'Discuss 
personal identity', or, in stronger scripts, prompted a demonstration of the elusiveness of 
personal identity (e.g. Jacob Flanders), without any balancing consideration of the 
convincing representation of personal identity.  Q20b ('turmoil, uncertainty, and death') 
probably proved popular because of its very openness, but the words ―turmoil‖ and 
―uncertainty‖ in particular were too often reduced to meaninglessness through 
indiscriminate application; only the strongest candidates realized that the openness of the 
question required them to find a distinctive angle or approach.  Q10 elicited many 
answers about the use of language, but in the majority it was merely implicit that writers 
had 'drawn attention to' language, and the purposes for which they had done so were not 
clarified. 
Other difficulties arose because candidates did not understand key terms in the question.  
The examiners were lenient according to their sense of the strength of consensus about 
such definitions, but several candidates answering Q14 seemed to have little idea what 
'diction' means, and equated 'flamboyance of diction' with any aspect of a text that 
seemed complex; several answering Q19 took 'primitivism' to equate to anything to do 
with desire, the unconscious, or uncivilized behaviour.  Answers to Q2a made some 
surprising extensions of the postmodernist canon, but these were treated leniently.  A 
significant number of candidates answering Q17 also stretched the term ‗mechanization‘ 
to refer vaguely to anything to do with modern life. 
At least ten candidates think that T. S. Eliot's poem of 1922 was called 'The Wasteland', 
and a similar number think that 'transience' is spelt 'transcience'. 
Most of the questions earned their keep and attracted a respectable number of candidates.  
The most frequently attempted were, in descending order: 11a (personal identity), 18 
(national identities), 8 (gender identity), 10 (language), 7 (form and reality), 20b (turmoil, 
uncertainty and death), 24 (tradition & transiency), 4 (the body), 1a (the city), 3 

 

(literature of the past), and 19 (primitivism).  There was only one question which no 
candidate attempted, namely 26c. 
The most frequently discussed authors were, in descending order, Virginia Woolf, T. S. 
Eliot, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, D. H. Lawrence, W. B. Yeats, E. M. Forster, Joseph 
Conrad, W. H. Auden, Philip Larkin, Evelyn Waugh, Angela Carter, Sylvia Plath, Harold 
Pinter, Seamus Heaney, George Orwell, Tom Stoppard, and Ted Hughes.  This list 
slightly over-represents the dramatists, who were often compared or at least juxtaposed in 
a single essay, and Eliot, who was often found alongside other authors in essays treating 
modernism, modernity, and the city. The answers on Beckett were relatively 
disappointing: very few candidates knew anything of his prose; some seemed to know 
only Waiting for Godot; he attracted more than his fair share of woolly generalisations 
about ‗meaninglessness‘.  An encouraging and enjoyable feature of this year‘s scripts was 
the wide range of other English and Irish writers given serious discussion; Scottish and 
Welsh writers were thin on the ground, though there were several essays on Dylan 
Thomas, and a few on Iain Banks and Irvine Welsh. Literatures in English from beyond 
‗the Isles‘ were represented by J. M. Coetzee, Margaret Atwood, Chinua Achebe, and 
Derek Walcott, among others.  Relatively few candidates had taken advantage of the 
new-found legitimacy of American writers, but essays included discussion of William 
Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth, Raymond Carver, Don 
DeLillo, and Dave Eggers, as well as time-honoured exceptions such as Eliot, Plath, and 
Pound. 
  
Paper 3a: Introduction to Medieval Studies: Old English Literature 
 
213 candidates took the Old English paper this year. The general level of linguistic 
knowledge and engagement with the texts was good: this paper clearly allows candidates 
at a range of levels to develop their skills in close language study and to explore a 400-
year period of literature and culture that would otherwise be opaque to them. There is 
evidence that many candidates had made good use of Faculty lecturing provision and the 
Old English Coursepack available on Weblearn, alongside their college-based teaching. 
While this is encouraging, there was also a tendency for some candidates to gravitate 
towards what they might have seen as safe or ‗authorized‘ topics for discussion. This is 
not a problem unique to this paper, but it may be worth repeating that the candidates who 
performed best were those who could ally close reading of Old English texts with an 
ambitious critical and scholarly scope. 
About half a dozen candidates chose the unseen translation question. Most produced 
fluent and accurate translations showing a good understanding of grammatical structures. 
The commentary question attracted some excellent answers that managed to balance 
detailed and creative analysis of the language, style and structures of their chosen passage 
with an understanding of its various contexts. Close attention to alliterative patterns; 
repetition and variation; register and vocabulary choice; rhetorical devices; significant 
fields of imagery; focalization; syntactical structures and patterning; and metre were 
discussed thoughtfully and sometimes illuminatingly in some of the best commentaries, 

 

and their interaction with, for example, theological or manuscript contexts was 
highlighted. Too many answers, however, showed insufficient knowledge of style and 
poetics. The Mods Handbook specifies that candidates ‗show a good understanding of 
Old English as a literary language by discussing such poetic devices as occur in the 
passage‘. Passing references to alliteration or belles-lettristic remarks on individual words 
are not enough to demonstrate this, and candidates were marked down if they produced 
no more than a series of thematic musings based loosely on the given passage. A number 
of candidates also showed some frailty in their grammatical understanding (for example, 
number and case in ‗Beheoldon †ær engel Dryhtnes ealle / fægere †urh for∂gesceaft‘ 
(DrR 9–10) were often misunderstood). The runaway favourite choice for commentary 
was the extract from The Dream of the Rood
The rubric for the commentary question was broken by a number of candidates. When a 
passage of Beowulf is set for commentary, a third, non-Beowulf commentary passage is 
also included in the paper, but is only available to candidates who are also sitting Paper 
4(c), ‗Beowulf and its Cultural Background‘. This is the third year in which the current 
rubric has applied, and candidates who incorrectly chose to answer the passage from The 
Battle of Maldon
 were heavily penalized. This rubric has, as predicted, created more 
problems than it has solved. It may be that since this paper will be changed soon with the 
new syllabus, we should retain the current rule but make the rubric even clearer on the 
exam paper itself to minimize confusion. Another solution would be a fresh, non 
Beowulf-specific Old English topic for the Paper 4(c) slot, whose benefits would include 
obviating the need for this rubric (see Moderators‘ reports from 2006 and 2007). 
The essay questions were often answered competently and conscientiously, showing a 
good knowledge of a limited number of texts. All the questions were attempted. As an 
‗Introduction to...‘ paper, and given the linguistic challenges of learning Old English in 
one year, candidates should in the main be congratulated on their knowledge and 
enthusiastic engagement with Old English literature. The best scripts showed outstanding 
levels of detailed analysis and critical thought, whether dealing with the recommended 
texts for the paper, or ranging more widely across genres and contexts, including 
discussion of saints‘ lives, riddles, heroic verse, ‗Alfredian‘ prose or biblical narrative. 
One attribute that many candidates need to foster more consistently is the ability to 
analyse a question and its implications clearly, and to organize their ideas in a coherent 
argument in response to that question. Too many answers, even ones showing a good 
amount of knowledge, were not sufficiently focused. Many candidates had clearly read a 
substantial amount of scholarship on Old English, but in some scripts there was a 
tendency to invoke a scholar or a critical position as an alternative to, rather than a 
starting point for discussion. In some cases, there was a clear attempt to reproduce pre-
packaged material, for example on Byrhtnoth‘s perennial ofermod, or on The Wanderer‘s 
pathetic fallacies. Answers that did not sufficiently engage with the question were 
penalized. While the exam paper included questions that could be answered in relation to 
a wide number of texts, many candidates plotted a well-worn path through question 3 (on 
heroism) and question 9 (on elegies), even when their material might have been better 
suited to one or more of the other questions. Nevertheless, the Old English paper 
continues to elicit good work, and the best candidates show an admirable commitment to 
and enthusiasm for pre-Conquest language and literature. 

 

Paper 3b: Introduction to Medieval Studies: Middle English Literature 
 
There were 15 candidates for this paper, including one candidate taking English and 
Modern Languages. A generally good standard was achieved overall. Future candidates 
for this paper should note that it would be to their advantage to take as much care over 
the short passage stipulated for translation as with the other aspects of commentary and 
essay work, since some translations offered this year were very literal indeed (e.g. in the 
case of the extract from The Manciple‘s Tale: ‗Forgive me of it, I beseech you‘; 
wholesale retention of individual words such as ‗lemman‘ in the modern translation 
offered; literal translation of certain words without further consideration of a more 
idiomatic modern rendering [e.g. ‗knavyssh‘ rendered simply as ‗knavish‘]). Several 
candidates translated into prose, which is not only acceptable but often preferable, since it 
can make a fluent, idiomatic rendition of the sense easier to achieve. In some cases, the 
translation exercise also revealed some candidates‘ unfamiliarity with the original. 
Commentary work was at its best when it demonstrated a willingness to deal with the 
language and style of the passages freshly (while drawing, where necessary, on relevant 
contextual knowledge); weaker commentaries took refuge in established critical opinions 
or generalised observations of no particular relevance to the passages set. A wide range 
of essay questions was attempted and treated seriously. The best answers combined wide 
textual and contextual knowledge (e.g. of the French background to Malory‘s work) with 
a good sense of what was relevant to the particular question asked. Equally, there were 
very good answers on set texts (e.g. the Nun‘s Priest‘s Tale) that achieved the impressive 
task of keeping all facets of the text in view and under control in coherent but wide-
ranging essays. 
 
Paper 4c: Beowulf and its Cultural Background 
 
There were three candidates for this paper. The general level of work was good; some 
was excellent. Candidates answered a reasonable range of the essay questions, and the 
commentary elicited some well-informed answers. The concept of ‗cultural background‘ 
is rather dated and potentially confusing; the paper might better be called ‗Beowulf and its 
Cultural Contexts‘. 
 
Paper 4d: Middle English Dream Poetry 
 
There was one candidate for this paper. 
10 
 

Paper 4e: Classical Literature 
 
There were eighteen candidates, three of whom achieved a first-class mark, eight II.i, and 
the remainder lower. The relatively high number of weak performances reflects two 
recurrent shortcomings in scripts: a superficial knowledge of the texts under discussion, 
and a simple failure to answer the question set. It did not seem to the examiners that the 
prescription was excessively large, yet in many cases there was an obvious lack of 
familiarity, illustrated by faulty citation, with the text under discussion. The point about 
answering the question does not need to be laboured. These remarks should not obscure 
the achievement of candidates at the upper end of the scale, however, who produced 
some impressively subtle and well-informed answers, on Seneca‘s Thyestes especially. 
 
Paper 4f:  Introduction to the Study of Language and Linguistics 
 
There were no candidates this year. 
 
Paper 4g: Introduction to Critical Theory 
 
Ten candidates sat this paper, with half receiving marks of 70 above and the rest marks of 
65 and above.  These offer an accurate reflection of the excellent quality of the work on 
the paper this year.  Even essays on well-known material – Saussure‘s Course in General 
Linguistics
 and Barthes‘s ‗Death of the Author‘ – tackled it in fresh ways, relating it to its 
intellectual contexts, forebears and successors, and reading it alongside less well-known 
works.  More generally, this small but impressive cohort of candidates was not abashed 
by difficult texts, writing about them idiomatically and energetically, with a sense of their 
pertinence to literary-critical practice.  If any criticism were to made it would be that, 
with only a couple of exceptions, there was little engagement with work in the field from 
the last decade – work on, for example, the singularity of literature, on the university and 
on the environment.  That is a minor quibble however, and indeed these scripts 
demonstrated that it is the quality of the reading, rather than the modishness of what is 
read, that counts. 
 
Paper 4h: Christina Rosetti 
 
There were no candidates this year. 
 
 
 
11 
 

Paper 4i: Thomas Hardy 
 
Eight candidates took this paper.  Q5, on memory and the here-and-now, was the most 
popular, being attempted by 7 candidates.  Questions 2b, 6, and 8 were attempted by 3 
each, questions 7a and 14a by 2 each, and questions 1a, 3, 4, and 13b found one taker 
each.  There were more answers on the novels than the poems, though some answers 
mixed the two.  Of the novels Tess of the D’UrbervillesJude the Obscure, and The 
Mayor of Casterbridge
 were most commonly treated.  The range of poems was 
disappointing, with candidates concentrating almost exclusively on the Poems of 1912-
13

The best essays were characterised by a wide range of reference made coherent by a clear 
argument; they demonstrated awareness of the main lines of critical debate over Hardy‘s 
works, and took an independent stance.  Some made use of knowledge of Victorian and 
early twentieth-century literature to place Hardy, something that was particularly 
valuable on Q2b and elsewhere when his originality was at issue. The weakest essays 
tended to offer character sketches or plot summaries without analysis, and were 
characterized by a lack of attention to the exact terms of the question: thus the theme of 
‗fatalism‘ (Q8) produced more general essays on the theme of fate.  The strongest essays 
on the poetry showed signs of having carefully chosen poems in order to make 
illuminating contrasts, and of knowing a wide range of poems.  The weakest on poetry 
had a narrow range and no focused argument. 
 
Paper 4j: Virginia Woolf 
 
There was one candidate for this paper. 
 
Paper 4k: Samuel Beckett 
 
Four candidates took this paper.  The standard was generally very high in terms of the 
range of texts cited, the ability to cite relevant secondary material as well as sources such 
as Beckett‘s notebooks and letters, and the understanding of contexts for Beckett‘s work.  
The writing was, for the most part, clear, effective, and stylistically clean.  Question 9 
was the most popular (―bodily enclosure‖), eliciting some fine analyses of Beckett‘s 
theatrical use of physical constraint as well as imaginative allusions to its presence in his 
prose work.  Question 4 also produced strong discussions of the tension between 
―ceaseless babble‖ and linguistic minimalism in Beckett‘s work.  Texts most frequently 
discussed were Waiting for Godot, Endgame, Happy Days, Play, Not I, Eh JoeAll that 
Fall
 and many other shorter plays, as well as Molloy, Malone Dies, Watt, Murphy, and 
More Pricks than Kicks.  Some highly original and thoughtful work was done on very 
specific issues such as Beckett‘s use of costume, his indebtedness to silent film comedy, 
his engagement with Irishness, his radio drama, and his narrativity.  Some of the essays 
showed a welcome awareness (perhaps having read last year‘s examiners‘ report) of the 
12 
 

importance of French for Beckett.  The weaker work showed little or no sense of context 
or criticism, depended too heavily on biographical explanation, and recycled the standard 
clichés about the emptiness and meaninglessness of Beckett‘s dramas.  But overall this 
was an almost uniformly impressive set of essays, with the best of them showing a deep 
sense of enjoyment and understanding of the material. 
 
Paper 4l: Seamus Heaney 
 
Five candidates took this paper.  Q12 (political responsibilities) was the most popular 
question, attempted by three candidates; Q9 and Q17 attracted two, while questions 1, 2, 
4, 6, 10a, 14, 15 and 16 each attracted one.  No-one attempted questions 3, 5, 7, 8, 10b, 
11, or 13. 
 
The standard was generally very pleasing.  All candidates seemed to have taken to heart 
the remark in last year‘s examiners report about excessive reliance on Heaney‘s critical 
prose, and the vast majority of the essays attempted to engage directly with the poetry.  
The very best were aware of the full chronological range of his poetry (including some 
uncollected work), and were sensitive to linguistic nuance.  The weakest were marked by 
factual errors, by a narrow range of reference, and by a tendency to allow pre-packaged 
material to obscure engagement with the actual question: to take Q12 as an example, 
there was a risk that a discussion of political responsibilities might become a generalised 
account of the Troubles and of politics in general. 
 
13 
 

Classics and English Moderations 
 

There were eight candidates for ACLE. The examiners thought this a strong year, and we 
awarded four First and four Seconds.  
 
Papers I & II: English Literature 1509-1600 (excluding the plays of Shakespeare) & 
English Literature 1600-1660 (excluding the plays of Shakespeare)  
 
These two papers were both done very well this year, with three candidates in each paper 
achieving an average of 70 or more (and in paper II a further four averaging over 67). 
Answers were often authoritative, showcasing an impressive range of material and 
considerable sophistication. . Most of the candidates used their classical knowledge to 
good effect, and it was only very rarely that such knowledge was used in a stultifying 
way, or to close down rather than open up interpretive possibilities; likewise candidates 
were on the whole open to how writing in English often transformed or played with 
classical precedent, rather than imitated it slavishly. A few answers were a little too tied 
to reiterations of history; but scrupulous scholarship was more often used to good effect, 
for instance by thinking about the significance of textual revision/variants, or publication 
history. As ever, the very best essays were distinguished by critical imagination as well as 
analytical precision and breadth of reference.  
 
Paper III: Critical Commentary 
 
We were on the whole pleased with the answers on this paper, which showed a good 
level of competence. There were three averages of 70-plus and two more of 69. It was 
especially encouraging that some Homer commentaries were attempted. However, it was 
at times disappointing that candidates did not do more to relate the extracts to other 
primary texts in the early modern period.  
 
Latin and Ancient Greek 
 
There were 8 candidates, of whom four offered Latin, three Greek, and one (in the 
translation and commentary paper and essay paper) offered both.   
Unseen translation: the Latin passages were on the whole competently done, but there 
was quite a lot of inattention to detail, especially subjunctives (few correctly identified a 
past unreal condition).  In Greek the passages were also competently managed, but there 
were some disturbing errors of grammar and syntax, and proof once again that a thorough 
understanding of the language is a prerequisite.  
 
14 
 

Essays: there was some fine work on this paper; the question on the existence of an 
‗organizing principle‘ in Metamorphoses VIII in particular attracted some impressively 
sophisticated answers.  The general questions from Section C were also on the whole 
well attempted; most candidates did a good job of bringing a range of texts to bear on the 
question, though some were more successful than others in addressing the precise 
question asked. In Greek the nature of love in Antigone was popular and drew some 
strong responses. Here also, though, relevance was key: the question to be answered is 
the one on the paper, not one which has been revised for.  
Translation and commentary: the Latin set texts were either competently or well 
translated by all candidates.  The commentaries, for which approximately 60 minutes of 
examined time is available, often contained a lot of excellent thematic discussion, but 
there was less effective engagement with the language and style of the passages. In Greek 
candidates sometimes had less material than time for commentary; translation was 
generally well done, but where there was only superficial preparation of texts, it was very 
obvious indeed. 
 
Course II: Qualifying exam 
There were three candidates, two taking Greek and one taking Latin.  All did creditably.  
There was one very strong all-round performance (average 73); the other two candidates 
did notably better on the prepared texts (TCLE 4147) than on the language paper (TCLE 
4049/4050). 
 
Dr Simon Palfrey (Chair) 
15 
 

Preliminary Examination in History and English, 2009 
There were 10 candidates for this examination. All passed, with 4 candidates achieving 
Distinctions. 
The Examining Board noted that the Handbook (HENG Prelims) is non-specific about 
the average mark required for a Distinction. It states that ‗Candidates who do well in the 
Preliminary examination, achieving two First Class marks and a high overall average 
mark on the four papers, will be awarded Distinctions by the Examiners‘. We would 
recommend that, from next year, ‗a high overall average mark‘ is defined, as in the 
Conventions, as 66%. Given that the average required for a Distinction in English Single 
Honours and EML is 67.5%, this should prevent any misapprehension by a candidate 
reading the Handbook but not the Conventions in detail. 
The examiners also observed that there are currently no prizes specifically dedicated to 
candidates in this examination, they are eligible along with Single Honours students for 
the prizes in History. They are specifically excluded from consideration for the Gibbs 
Prizes in English. This seemed to the Examining Board regrettable. We would ask that 
the respective Boards give consideration to the possibility of establishing (or 
redescribing) at least one prize so that it may go to the best performance in Prelims in 
History and English. Presumably the criteria would be the achievement of the highest 
average among those students achieving a Distinction. (The prize should not be awarded 
if no candidate achieves a Distinction.) 
 
Dr Helen Small (Chair) 
 
16 
 

Preliminary Examinations in English and Modern Languages  
The Final meeting was held on 14 July 2009 at 10.20 am. It was attended by the Chair 
and Vice Chair of Modern Languages, and two English examiners.  
 
There were 23 candidates (27 in 2008, 20 in 2007) 
French: 17 
German: 5  
Spanish: 1  
 
Distinctions were awarded as follows: 
French: 4 
German: 2 
English: 5 
 
The criteria for Pass/Fail and Distinction are as follows: 
To pass in ML: an average of 40 in subject (i) language, and in subject (ii) literature. 
Distinction in ML: an average of 70 across all four papers. 
To pass in English: at least 40 on each paper. 
Distinction in English: The written criteria are an average of 67 with at least one mark of 
70 or more and no mark below 60. The English examiners wish to change the average to 
67.5 to bring it in line with the Main English School and will put that in train before next 
year‘s examinations.  
 
Christina Howells (Chair) 
17 
 

FINAL HONOURS SCHOOL IN ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE 
AND FINAL HONOURS SCHOOL IN CLASSICS AND ENGLISH, ENGLISH  
AND MODERN LANGUAGES AND HISTORY AND ENGLISH 
2008-9 
 
Chair’s Report 
 
1. 
Introduction 
 
This was a lively year for FHS in English and I am very grateful to the staff at the 
Examination Schools for their efficiency and guidance throughout the year, and the 
Senior Invigilator for the main exam period who did a sterling job in ensuring calm and 
order in the North School. Members of the Examining Board and other faculty colleagues 
took on extra responsibilities at very short notice. The advice and help of the external 
examiners was invaluable. There were some changes in the running of FHS this year: 
Angie Johnson, the Examinations Secretary, assumed some of the duties previously 
undertaken by the Secretary to the Examination Board. The Secretary post was abolished 
and the remaining responsibilities were subsumed in the role of the Deputy Chair. I want 
to thank Angie for all her work; this was the first year that she also dealt with Mods. And 
I especially want to thank Laurie Maguire as Deputy Chair. 
 
2. 
Marking Arrangements 
 
This year, the faculty office provided a list of postholders by period, and a record of 
examining duties for the previous three years. This was of great assistance in trying to 
ensure that colleagues were not asked to examine heavy loads if they had just done so, 
and to try to spread burdens around more equally. As importantly, it helped to involve a 
broader spectrum of the faculty in the crucial part of pedagogy that is assessment. The 
task of assigning assessors will become more equitable with the provision of the faculty 
database; much of the groundwork for this has been achieved this year, and will be 
complemented by the results of the working party that has been considering the 
weighting of assessment of papers in Mods, FHS and the MSt alongside other faculty 
duties. The new teaching and examining register gives a much fuller picture of those 
available and equipped to mark and is being used in recruiting assessors for FHS 2010.  
This year, in addition to the Examiners, there were 82 Assessors. 44 of these were 
permanent postholders and 6 were from other faculties. There were twice as many 
assessors as candidates for Course 2 (an improvement on the 3:1 ratio of last year), but 
the equivalent for Course 1 is 0.3 assessors to 1 candidate.  
The number of assessors will be lower next year because of the abolition of the optional 
thesis, but I want to reiterate comments that have been made by previous chairs: we are 
18 
 

utterly dependent on non-permanent postholders to mark FHS. It seems only right that 
those who regularly teach papers should be involved in their assessment, but they should 
be properly remunerated, especially for long runs of examination papers.  
The marking for Paper One, The English Language portfolio, was divided between 3 
pairs of markers, partly to involve a greater number of colleagues in its assessment. One 
other paper had 5 assessors in total to accommodate a last minute change of personnel. In 
both cases, the distribution of marks was entirely compatible internally, and also entirely 
in keeping with the marks profiles of other papers from 1-6. The faculty might want to 
consider dividing up these very long runs amongst 6 rather than 4 markers to mediate 
assessment loads in Trinity term. Colleagues would assess more regularly, but they would 
mark lighter loads.   
The marks for a half run of one paper were scaled. Scaling rebalanced the distribution of 
firsts to upper seconds, and gradated the upper second category to bring the half run into 
line with all other marks profiles. 
 
3.  
Statistics 
 
Previous Years 
 
 
1st 
2.1 
2.2 

2003-5 
24.5% 
67.5% 
8.0% 
0.0% 
2006 
28.0% 
71.0% 
1.0% 
0.0% 
2007 
21.0% 
77.4% 
1.6% 
0.0% 
2008 
21.8% 
75.6% 
2.8% 
0.4% 
 
2009 
 
Total Course 1 candidates      242 
Total Course 2 candidates       8 
Total for whole School           250 
 
No. Firsts                                 59 
23.6% 
No. Upper Seconds                 186     74.4% 
No. Lower Seconds                 5          2% 
30 candidates were placed on the First/Upper Second Borderline and their marks profiles 
considered by the whole examination board. Complete runs of scripts for 17 candidates 
19 
 

were read by the internal examiners. This was not equivalent to 3rd marking. Examiners 
read to ensure that the award of raw and agreed marks was justified; raw marks of 
candidates who had been 3rd marked were not revisited. Of these 17 candidates 8 were 
confirmed as First Class. 
There was 1 candidate on the Upper/Lower Second Borderline; reading the complete run 
of scripts confirmed the Lower Second class. 
 
Profile of First Class 
 
74.58% of candidates placed in the first class had at least 4 70+ marks. 
In 2008, ECWP‘s analysis of the marks distribution in the first class showed that 51% of 
1st class marks bunched in the low 70s. It will be interesting to see the distribution this 
year. From a manual count, it seems that there are more marks in the upper 70s this year, 
and while this is more characteristic of essays for Papers 7 and 8, such marks are also 
more in evidence on examined papers.  
 
Profile of Top Upper Seconds 
 
5 marks of 70+ 
1 candidate 
4 marks of 70+   
1 candidate 
3 marks of 70+    
18 candidates 
 
Last year‘s Chair wrote to query the adequacy of the marking conventions imposed by 
the Humanities Board. To gain a first a candidate needs 2 marks of  70+ and an average 
of 68.5. Under these conventions, a candidate can gain a first class mark on at least half 
of their papers, with no mark lower than a 2:1, but still fall short of a first classification. 
An adequate response from ECWP is still being pursued. 
 
Gender 
 
A full report will be received from the gender working party. Preliminary statistics show 
that a greater proportion of male candidates were awarded firsts than female. 
19.9% of female candidates were awarded firsts. This represents -3.7% variance from the 
overall 23.6% of firsts overall. 
29.3 % of male candidates were awarded firsts. This represents + 5.7% variance from the 
overall 23.6% of firsts overall. 
 
20 
 

Paper One       Female 20.7%      
Male  19.6% 
Shakespeare    Female 20.4%     
Male  23.7% 
Paper 3            Female 13.8%       
Male  17.5% 
Paper 4            Female 15.8%      
Male  21.6% 
Paper 5            Female 12.4%      
Male  23.7% 
Paper 6           Female 20.7%    
Male  23.7% 
As these statistics show, The English Language paper was the only long run of papers 
where female candidates were awarded more firsts than male candidates.  
Papers 4 and 5 show the greatest disparity in top performance between female and male 
candidates.  
 
4. 
Medical and Special Cases Committee 
 
The committee had information relating to all medical certificates received, Proctorial 
extensions to the submission of written papers, special arrangements for those unable to 
take examinations in Schools, and for dyslexic candidates.  
The confidential minutes of last year‘s meeting provided the committee with a record of 
precedent for dealing with special medical cases, especially performance in the timed 
papers.  
Both in the special cases committee and in the full meetings of the Board, there was 
extended discussion of plagiarism. This year, the declaration form which accompanied 
the submission of work for papers 1, A5, 7, 8 and optional theses gave permission for the 
examiners to use licensed electronic software to scrutinise work for plagiarism. The 
Board recommends that ‗turnitin‘ is used more frequently for spot checks. The circulars 
sent to all candidates and tutors reproduced the University‘s guidelines on plagiarism, 
including the more recent category of reckless plagiarism:  
‗Plagiarism can also be the unintended result of careless presentation, if extensive quoted 
material or close paraphrase are included without acknowledgement. This constitutes 
‗reckless‘ plagiarism. Plagiarism does not describe the general assimilation of the 
substance of other people‘s ideas into one‘s own thoughts, without which academic 
discussion could not take place‘. It was a matter of serious concern to the Board that the 
Proctors seemed unwilling to recognise ‗reckless plagiarism‘ as a disciplinary offence. 
 
5. 
Marks  
 
All marks are entered onto the database known as ‗Mark-it‘. This generates final 
classifications and other statistics necessary for the proper administration and overview 
of the examination process. As happened last year, there were serious problems with the 
flexibility of the database and its maintenance. The database has grown up over some 
21 
 

years and appears to be fragile in response to any new requests made of it. Further, it 
cannot be guaranteed to perform routine tasks without crashing. There is a very small 
team able to service the database and they were unable to guarantee support during the 
examination process. Not only does this leave the final exam board meetings extremely 
vulnerable (it was by no means clear that accurate data would be available for the final 
meeting this year) but it also requires the Chair and Deputy Chair to spend days analysing 
numbers and checking statistics which ought properly to be done by more flexible data 
provision. The issue is not so much one of sheer volume of work (unwelcome and 
unnecessary though that is), but that the time spent waiting for IT back-up and number 
crunching distracts from the proper business of academic scrutiny and delivery of the 
exam process.  
All marks were uploaded for the first time this year onto OSS. The upload went very 
smoothly and marks made public quickly, though it was unfortunate that so many 
colleagues had difficulty accessing them. The practice of sending out faculty marksheets 
will be continued; OSS does not currently record information about candidate‘s average 
and ranking.  
 
6. 
Examination Papers  
 
The Board attempted once more to generate shorter examination papers for 2-6. In many 
cases it proved very difficult to reduce the number of questions even though there have 
been repeated calls to do so. Candidates are not necessarily advantaged by longer papers 
with exclusive rubrics about specified authors, genre, or period of composition. During 
the first half hour of the timed exams in which candidates are permitted to ask questions 
relating to the paper, the requests for clarification were overwhelmingly about the 
permissiveness of the rubrics. What was meant by ‗earlier or later‘?; did ‗any writer‘ 
allow you to write on more than one? If the question said ONE writer, were you allowed 
to mention any others at all? And so on.... I wonder whether it might help both to shorten 
examination papers and to avoid this confusion if each of these papers had a general 
encompassing rubric along the lines of: ‗unless otherwise specified, questions may be 
answered with reference to any author(s) or work(s)‘.   
 
7.  
Prizes
 
Gibbs Prizes 
a) The best optional thesis   Jana Sadler-Foster  (Worcester) 
b) The best extended essay in Course I, Paper 7    Geoffrey Lim (LMH) 
c) The best extended essay in Course I, Paper 8   Lucy Kellett  (Balliol)   
d) The best extended essay or optional thesis in Course II   Michael Hart (St John‘s) 
e) The best overall performance in Course I   Eve Jackson (Hertford) 
22 
 

f)  The best overall performance in Course II Michael Hart (St John‘s) 
 
Charles Oldham Shakespeare Prize for best performance in Paper 2  
Eve Jackson (Hertford) 
Anna Perkins (LMH) 
 
Helen Barr 
Chair FHS 2008-9 
23 
 

EXAMINERS’ REPORTS FHS 2009 
 
COURSE I 
 
Paper 1: The English Language (Sat in TT 2008)  
This paper continues to generate work of a very high quality. The majority of candidates 
submitted portfolios which showed evidence of lively engagement with a wide variety of 
topics and approaches. Twenty per cent of candidates were awarded first class marks, and 
a further 65 per cent were awarded marks in the upper second range. More than half of 
these upper second portfolios were marked at 65 or higher.   
All the questions in section A attracted at least a couple of answers, but the most popular 
choices were on literary English, and on language and identity. There was also a healthy 
number of responses on dictionaries and on standardization from a variety of 
perspectives. Questions on dialect and metaphor attracted relatively little take-up, though 
it was noticeable that Question 8, on dialect and culture, elicited some of the best answers 
in this section of the paper, especially from those candidates whose interest in a particular 
variety or linguistic situation had clearly led them to do very thorough, and occasionally 
original, research (there were some particularly commendable answers on Scots).  As 
usual, the best answers showed familiarity with recent theoretical debates on the subject, 
and provided informed and often illuminating analysis. At the other end of the spectrum, 
weaker answers suggested a minority of candidates had done little relevant reading and 
were merely relaying their personal opinions, particularly on subjects like gender or 
ethnicity. On the whole, the majority of candidates used a good variety of sources and 
secondary reading. It was encouraging this year to see improved standards of presentation 
in evidence.  
In Section B the single most popular choice was Question 12, on power and persuasion. 
Performance here could be affected by the candidate‘s willingness to engage with the 
precise terms of the question (which specified non-obvious ways of exercising power 
through language). Question 15 (on the ways in which texts from different periods could 
differ) was also answered frequently, and produced some interesting and thoughtful 
commentaries. However, some candidates who wanted (often reasonably) to argue that 
observable differences within their selected texts had more to do with factors other than 
historical change in language did not pay sufficient attention to the linguistic changes that 
were evidenced in their chosen extracts. Answers to Question 17 (on the ways in which 
texts revealed the influence of decorum) could produce excellent work (as, for example 
on political correctness or its converse, or on language and transgression), though weaker 
essays showed some insecurities about the ways in which decorum could be interpreted.  
Text-selection for the commentaries was, for the most part, apposite, and in some 
instances, inspired. But even more conventional choices usually presented ample 
opportunities for thoughtful analysis in relation to the question. Candidates displayed 
confidence in employing a wide range of approaches to textual analysis, including 
rhetoric, critical discourse analysis, as well as stylistics. At best, comment was insightful 
and perceptive, and firmly secured in both primary analysis and relevant secondary 
24 
 

reading. Candidates should, however, be reminded that the deployment or proliferation of 
terminology per se fails to serve as an adequate substitute for close analysis. As in 
previous years, some candidates struggled with this section because of a tendency to see 
the commentary as a domain in which secondary reading (and the precise terms of the 
question) were irrelevant, so that it became an exercise in subjective opinion and vague 
evaluation. It was, however, noticeable that this year there were many fewer examples of 
this kind of work. Work that was ill-prepared, or showed insufficient engagement with 
the knowledge and skills required for this paper was far outweighed by portfolios that 
were thoroughly well- researched and argued or, indeed,  of distinguished quality. 
 
Paper 2: Shakespeare 
All questions were attempted although there was a perhaps understandable concentration 
on old chestnut topics such as tragedy (‗When does a play become tragic?‘) and the 
relationship between language and identity. A number of answers were very up-to-date in 
their criticism, with several citing books first published in 2009 and showing an 
awareness not just of the work‘s or works‘ novelty in temporal terms but also of its/their 
contribution to critical history. Having said that there was still a good deal of reference to 
critics such as A. C. Bradley and Harold Bloom without any attempt to situate their 
critical stance or appeal. While it is flattering that many candidates quote the published 
work of their Oxford tutor(s), there were a great number of answers in which the critical 
material was confined to Oxford lecturers. 
As has been the case in recent years, performance history was cited across two or more 
answers with candidates (rightly) using performance as a form of criticism rather than 
restricting it to a single performance question.  
Some answers showed a most impressive range of early modern material, both 
Shakespearean and non-Shakespearean.  Many less-well-known plays received attention 
– notably Merry Wives of WindsorTimon of Athens, and Henry 8 – and they were 
usually astutely discussed. 
The more precise the exam question, the more focused and innovative the answer. As the 
external examiners noted last year, precise questions, despite initially seeming more 
difficult, do have the advantage of not seducing candidates into downloading tutorial 
essays.  Essays which paid minimal attention to the question were always penalised for 
lack of relevance, reducing material of a 2:1 standard (for instance) to a 2:2 mark. A 
number of exam questions this year prefaced the question with a quotation. Although it is 
not essential to address the terms of the quotation (its vocabulary, ideas, contradictions), 
the very good essays tended to illustrate their authors‘ skills in close reading via the exam 
quotation.  A few candidates had the surprising habit of commencing their essays with a 
Shakespeare quotation as an epigraph and using it as a starting point (replacing the 
quotation in the exam question). It is the function of the quotation in the exam question to 
act as a point of departure and it is not appropriate for an exam essay to offer a substitute.  
Several candidates offered lengthy Shakespeare quotations within the body of their 
essays; this can be a waste of space and of precious exam time unless candidates do some 
close reading of the quotation. Putting it down and demonstrating the candidate‘s 
memory is not enough; the quotation should earn its space in the essay.  
25 
 

Questions on textual history are often difficult for candidates to deal with at a high level: 
candidates are tempted simply to list the differences between variant texts (and while this 
demonstrates the candidate‘s considerable knowledge, it prevents him/her applying that 
knowledge analytically). This year the question on textual history was particularly well 
done, with candidates demonstrating considerable thoughtfulness about the ‗use‘ of so-
called ‗bad‘ texts; some innovative work was evident here, ranging from performance 
history to astute analysis of editorial attitudes in editions currently on the market. 
Candidates should remember that knowledge of textual history is always useful even 
when a candidate is not specifically writing about the text: this year some candidates 
made a lot of (for example) the death of Lear, without addressing the fact that it is 
different in the Quarto and Folio texts.  
The best essays tended to be aware of themselves qua essay: the candidates had a sure 
sense of the development of their argument, a sense of personality in their prose, and an 
elegance in writing and construction. Examiners realise that this is not always possible 
under exam conditions, and certainly do not penalise essays for not displaying these 
qualities, but they are grateful for these characteristics when they are present.  
One technicality: candidates should remember that only ONE question can be answered 
on a single play (answering two on one play only is rubric violation). 
 
Paper 3a: Literature in English 1100 - 1509 
The paper was generally well answered, all 36 possible options drawing enterprising 
essays that covered a wide range of writings of every type. Genre-based questions evoked 
some enterprising comparative accounts of anonymous works and those by named 
authors (e.g. on Romances, Malory alongside Havelok and Horn). The most successful 
answers on epic, romance and tragedy went beyond determinate, ahistorical generic 
notions to examine, for example, Chaucer‘s sources of information on ‗tragedy‘ or make 
finer distinctions within the category of ‗romance‘. The ‗mutual influence‘ of voice, tone 
and intention in some answers on the lyrics was sometimes misunderstood to mean 
influence of one lyric upon another, while others were so preoccupied with manuscript 
context that they appeared to be answering a different question from the one set. On 
‗allegorical readings‘ (which referred to critical approaches), answers often addressed 
explicitly allegorical narratives or wrote on ‗topical‘ allegory. The most popular 
individual authors (after Chaucer) were the Cotton Nero poet, Henryson, Julian and 
Margery.  The last two were often paired, and while much work restricted itself to the 
imagery of the Showings‘ earlier chapters and failed to engage with Julian as a thinker, 
there was happily little ‗naive biographical‘ reading of The Book of Margery Kempe. The 
ever-popular Owl and Nightingale rubbed plumage with human winners and wasters as 
well as sundry voluble avians. The most discussed anonymous work was Sir Orfeo, the 
most neglected major authors Langland and Gower. The Canterbury Tales itself was 
usually discussed selectively rather than as a whole. Almost no one wrote on alliterative 
narrative poetry other than Sir Gawain, or on the early 14th century writers such as Rolle 
and Mannyng. 
Generally speaking, despite weaknesses in constructing arguments, a tendency to 
enthusiastic irrelevance, and some indifference to the literary qualities of authors, 
26 
 

candidates understood historical and cultural contexts pretty well and proved willing to 
explore lesser-known writers (though rarely considering what might distinguish a major 
from a minor one). The better candidates exhibited a good grasp of period, with an 
increasing preference for the 15th century. However, some showed poor judgement in 
choice of question and could have scored higher with the same material had they looked 
through the options carefully before writing. Surprisingly, though, given the paper‘s 
strongly literary emphasis, many candidates showed a reluctance to consider issues of 
structure, texture and metrical form, and quotations of verse were often approximate. 
The standard of candidates‘ written style and presentation was, however, mostly good, 
and the best produced distinguished and sophisticated work, though there was not a great 
deal of it. A number ignored the duplicated plea to regard the precise terms of questions, 
sometimes with serious consequence. Chaucer‘s ‗General Prologue‘ appeared once as a 
lyric poem, the Confessio Amantis as a work of prose and Hoccleve as an early Scots 
poet. The Middle English quotations embedded in some questions proved vexatious, most 
candidates who wrote on curiosite missing its usual medieval sense ‗artistic ingenuity or 
skill‘. Similarly, the erosion of a distinction between the moral and the emotional was 
seen when ‗psychological development‘ was persistently equated with ‗characterisation‘. 
Some candidates who wrote on Boethius did not seem to know much about his ideas.  
One particular trouble for the examiners was the poor penmanship of many candidates 
whose handwriting was not desperate enough to need typing out but bad enough to slow 
down marking and diffuse attention. Tutors might urge their pupils to ‗hone‘ this 
disappearing skill as Finals approach. 
 
Paper 3b: Literature in English 1100 – 1509 
Students are evidently well-prepared for this paper and the majority managed to identify 
the passages correctly and to discuss their context intelligently and interestingly.  There 
was a fairly even spread of answers across all of the passages; Pearl was the most 
popular of the optional texts and Ancrene Wisse the least commonly chosen.  In general 
candidates showed a good understanding of the texts, although some details were 
confused or misunderstood, e.g. the reference to Niobe in the first Troilus passage.  The 
best answers were those which combined clear explanation of the passage with detailed 
comments on language and style; weaker answers tended to ignore stylistic issues or to 
tag them on at the end as an afterthought. 
 
Paper 4: Literature in English 1509 – 1642  
Overall, the standard of work for this paper was pleasing, and the examiners were 
delighted to encounter a number of scripts of truly memorable quality, and, equally, 
fewer pre-prepared and ‗dumped‘ essays than in the past.  Many candidates rose ably to 
the challenge of the restricted number of questions and the consequent reduction in the 
number of ‗named author‘ questions.  There was often an impressive range of knowledge 
on show, and many candidates attempted to sustain arguments of considerable 
complexity, particularly in response to those questions that deployed quotations from the 
period.  Candidates seem to have become familiar with the principle that they are not 
27 
 

necessarily going to see their favoured authors named on the paper, and are increasingly 
prepared to think laterally and responsively in the examination room.   Marlowe remains 
the author at most need of such flexibility: whilst some revelled in the opportunity to re-
address their material in unexpected ways, there was still a preponderance of predictable 
writing on Marlovian excess.  As ever, range of reading, argumentative precision and 
clarity, and acute critical analysis brought their own rewards; whilst range was sometimes 
impressively evident, there is still more scope for candidates to engage in close reading in 
the period paper context.  Candidates should not be afraid to do so, and should be 
reassured that in cases where modern spelling is the norm in editions (Spenser being the 
notable exception), it is acceptable to quote (accurately, of course) in modern spelling in 
the examination.  Amongst the top-performing candidates were to be found qualities of 
inventiveness, accuracy and specificity, originality of thought, and a wide-ranging 
engagement with an author‘s oeuvre.  Certain fashions and emphases were in evidence in 
respect of the latter: Donne‘s sermons and Wyatt‘s penitential psalms made frequent 
appearances in discussions of those authors, but, somewhat surprisingly, very few 
candidates were able to address Jonson‘s masques and poems in addition to his plays.  In 
general, weaker candidates struggled to understand the terms of the questions, or to 
master their full implication, and some fell victim to confusion and special pleading as 
they sought to pour the old wine of pre-conceived essays into the new vessels of the 
questions.  Thankfully, though, there were relatively few instances of flagrant disregard 
for the question this year.  The most popular authors were Donne and Marlowe, followed 
by Sidney, Spenser, Herbert (often discussed in fruitful conjunction with Donne in the 
popular qu.18), Jonson, Nashe and Wyatt, with revenge tragedy, city comedy, domestic 
tragedy, the sonnet and sermons being popular choices amongst the generically-framed 
answers. 
 
Paper 4a: English Literature from 1832 to 1900  
There was 1 joint school candidate for this paper. 
 
Paper 4b: English Literature from 1900 to the Present Day 
9 joint school candidates took this paper this year. Marks ranged from low 2.1 to 
borderline firsts. Topics related to modernism proved popular, as in other years, with 
inspired work on Woolf, Joyce, Lawrence, and Eliot. There were also impressive 
performances on the allusiveness of modern poetry, the centrality of the city in modernist 
novels, border crossings in colonial/postcolonial writing, reprisals of the realist 
imagination in the twentieth-century. No one attempted questions on modern drama, 
satire, and literary criticism: there was also a conspicuous lack of interest in war 
literature. The best papers were penetrating in their analyses, clear in their argument, and 
often discussed less-well-known texts from the second half of the twentieth century. 
Weaker papers offered competent but unoriginal surveys of works by the best known 
modernist authors. 
Most of the papers contained a considerable amount of quotation from the primary 
literature which they discussed, but very little reference to, let alone quotation from, 
28 
 

relevant secondary literature. Candidates sometimes neglected to pay close attention to 
the terms of the question, either in terms of practical criticism of the questions' 
quotations, or theoretical understanding of the questions' terms There was a curious 
absence of metacritical frameworks in the answers this year: a small number engaged 
with key theoretical concepts of the twentieth century (gender, trauma, ethics, race) 
without references to the discursive fields that have shaped these debates. Close reading 
of themes and summaries of plot often took over the careful shaping of an argument.  
 
Paper 5: Literature in English 1642 - 1740 
Last year‘s examiners‘ report described an overall impression of ‗incipient crisis‘ in the 
essays produced for the paper. We find little evidence to support such concern in this 
year‘s scripts. Overall, many candidates responded to the questions with intellectual 
flexibility, and a willingness to think beyond single-author answers. Weaker candidates 
disregarded the terms of the questions and recycled material which could have been 
relevant, but was not made to seem so. The stronger answers were able to show a genuine 
sense of writing across the period, and at their best, to link their bigger picture to some 
finely honed and perceptive close readings of individual texts – we were struck, for 
example, by some very impressive answers on Pope, satire, and the couplet form. 
It remains the case that candidates did not show a strong awareness or understanding of 
genre. Question 1, (‗when we read literature of  the period, the most important question is 
not ‗who wrote this‘ but ‗what kind of work is this‘) produced very little discussion of the 
usefulness of genre as a category of literary analysis, and a lot of writing about feigned or 
disguised authorship. There is a clear need for a course of Faculty lectures focussing on 
generic approaches to the period. 
We were impressed by some of the responses to question 2, on print and manuscript, 
which showed a growing interest in and awareness of the material book, and the 
significance of publication and print culture in relation to the texts and authors discussed. 
There is evidence here of fruitful intersection between research and undergraduate 
teaching within the Faculty. However, the weaker responses tended towards 
generalisation about print culture and commodification, at the expense of thick detail -
whether bibliographical or history of the book.  
This year‘s run demonstrated an increasing familiarity with the intellectual history of the 
period: it was good to find candidates who had clearly read Hobbes, Locke and 
Shaftesbury in some detail (especially in relation to questions 21 & 22), rather than 
relying on second-hand summaries. The range of authors covered was as last year, 
dominated by Milton, Marvell, Swift, Defoe, Behn and Pope. Also as last year, there was 
little interest in literature after Gulliver’s Travels, and relatively little on the poetry post 
1700, with the exception of Pope and Swift and some strong answers on Gay‘s Trivia and 
representations of London.  But perhaps in response to last year‘s report, there was a 
noticeable increase in the number of essays on Dryden, most of which centred on the 
Restoration panegyrics. There were a large number of answers on Milton and Marvell, 
many of which lacked proper attention to the question, and were rather confined in scope. 
They illustrated a problem common across the whole paper, in which the weakest scripts 
were rather limited in range, covering only 3 or 4 texts across the whole paper. 
29 
 

 
Paper 6: Literature in English 1740 - 1832 
Standards on this paper were generally high this year, with very little work falling below 
the Second Class, and much of it solidly in the Upper Second band.   There were some 
dazzling performances, combining impressive range, understanding of the period, 
original critical insight and sustained argument, as well as scripts that displayed some of 
these strengths in abundance.  The majority of candidates seemed to have prepared well 
for the examination in terms of learning quotations, contextual and biographical details, 
some critical approaches and even arguments, though the most successful essays were the 
ones which did not rely entirely on memory and actually ventured to engage directly with 
thoughts prompted by the questions they chose to address.  Many candidates would have 
achieved better results had they abandoned their prepared pieces and spent time thinking 
through the implications of the questions, including the quotations which were an integral 
part.  Regurgitation of facts and quotations did not in itself constitute an engaging critical 
argument, though the few essays that failed to substantiate points with solid knowledge 
were also unsuccessful.  The best candidates generally gave some thought to the overall 
balance of their script, as well, avoiding a cluster of answers on one genre or decade, and 
giving a sense of the breadth and variety of literature between 1740 and 1832.  Every 
question was attempted by at least one candidate, and many of the questions inspired 
answers on a variety of different authors.  The number of authors that made an 
appearance across the school was remarkable and although some featured more 
frequently (Leapor, Wharton, Gray, Collins, Macpherson, Sterne, Richardson, Fielding, 
Sheridan, Goldsmith, Walpole, Keats, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake, Burke, Paine, 
Godwin, Coleridge, Shelley, Mary Shelley, Byron, Austen, Wollstonecraft, Hazlitt), there 
were others who attracted one or more answers (Jones, Johnson, Burns, Cowper, Crabbe, 
Hays, Inchbald, Lennox, Burney, De Quincey, Lamb, More, Equiano, Lewis, Radcliffe, 
Hogg, Scott).  Some of the authors were presented in familiar groups or pairs, others 
placed more ingeniously (though not always successfully) side by side.  Some candidates 
showed awareness of major critical debates, but few seemed to have thought much about 
the larger picture and tended to treat each topic as an isolated study of a couple of novels 
or plays or a handful of poems.  Critical debates relating to Romanticism, or the 
Romantic period, to the development of the novel or the place of drama, seemed not to 
have troubled many of the candidates.  The best scripts were very well written, and some 
of the more diligent work might have been improved by greater attention to personal 
style, grammar and spelling.     
 
Paper 7: Special Authors 
7a (i) The Beowulf Poet  
There were eight candidates. All chose to address the questions which were quotations 
from the poem. Most of the candidates did not refer to the most up-to-date scholarly 
edition of the poem (Klaeber, 4th ed.), a few did not use Klaeber at all; some parts of 
some of the essays suffered as a consequence. Treatment of Christian and pagan ideas in 
the poem tended towards simple binary representation. Some of the candidates could 
have been rather more adventurous in their critical reading. 
30 
 

7a (ii) Alfred 
There were no candidates for this paper. 
 
7a (iii) Exeter Book 
There were 2 candidates for this paper. 
 
7b (i) Chaucer 
We were extremely gratified by the work for this paper.  Half of the candidates 
unequivocally earned first class marks.  Particularly impressive was the ambition of 
nearly all candidates: whatever their rubric, they sought to engage with the entire canon 
broadly (even some references to the Astrolabe!).  In the less impressive of the papers, 
this demonstration of breadth did create some argumentative problems, and a few papers, 
whatever their sophistication, collapsed into lists of analogous examples.  There was 
intense engagement, in nearly all papers, with a range of critical materials, from old 
chestnuts to current scholarship.  A number of papers showed productive engagement 
with both theoretical stances and historical context, and there were some very useful 
close readings (although more would have been desirable in nearly all cases). 
 
7b (ii) Langland 
There were two candidates for this paper.   
 
7b (iii) N Town Cycle 
There was 1 candidate for this paper. 
 
7c (i) Spenser 
There were five candidates and the examiners awarded one First Class and four Second 
Class, First Division grades. The general quality of the work was sound and scholarly but 
originality of approach and matter was less in evidence. There was very welcome 
attention to the shorter poems and the prose as well as to ‗The Faerie Queen‘ but less 
critical engagement with the secondary literature than might have been expected – and 
some of the bibliographies suggested rather narrow and restricted reading. Some of the 
best work was produced in close readings of the Spenserian text but there was a general 
failure to develop such readings into wider critical arguments thereby lending a clear 
structure to the essays. Key ideas were too often repeated rather than developed.   
 
7c (ii) Milton 
There were 7 candidates.  Students performed well in this paper, with the best essays 
showing use of a wide range of primary and secondary material, developing arguments in 
31 
 

a nuanced way, and working from detailed analysis of particular passages in Milton‘s 
poetry and prose.  The best essays explored significant issues (whether literary, 
theological, scientific, or political) by careful wedding of text to claims and by building 
upon available scholarship.  Weaker essays suffered from common problems:  a lack of 
close reading, too narrow a range of primary material, too heavy dependence on 
secondary literature, or failing to develop an argument.  Students should make sure that 
their primary literary texts are not simply arranged as a list of instances but are engaged 
in developing an argument. 
 
7c (iii) Jonson 
Eight candidates selected this option. 
The essays were, in the main, competently done. The best work offered an appropriately 
relevant response to the theme chosen, showed a sensitive ear for nuance and vocabulary, 
and ranged widely over the Jonson canon, making links between poetry and drama. One 
essay successfully attempted original research through archival work on performance 
records.  
 
7d (i) Marvell 
The Marvell essays were for the most part scholarly and serious, and it was especially 
pleasing that so many were willing to address the post-Restoration Marvell, though no-
one was altogether successful in tackling how Marvell the satirist could be reconciled 
with the lyric Marvell.  Contextualisation was careful, though the notion of what 
constitutes context for this author is still in some flux.  Readings were astute, and there 
was a good sense of likelihood; only one or two papers strayed into the over-
interpretations which once dogged Marvell studies.  Overall, a pleasing experience.   
Nine candidates selected this option. 
 
7d (ii) Dryden 
There were no candidates for this paper. 
 
7d (iii) Haywood  
There were five candidates for this and all produced work of at least upper-second 
standard. All the essays demonstrated a confident and intelligent consideration of the 
range of Haywood‘s work, and drew on material beyond the most familiar amatory 
fictions of the 1720s. There was an impressive use of recent and unpublished secondary 
material, and the most ambitious work was genuinely engaged in current critical debates 
surrounding Haywood‘s writing and role in contemporary literary culture.  
 
 
 
32 
 

7e (i) Wordsworth 
Some excellent extended essays were submitted on Wordsworth, with genuine originality 
at the top end of the school. Most were judiciously argued and wide ranging (both in their 
knowledge of the poet's work, and in their reference to critics.) The best essays showed 
an imaginative grasp of Wordsworth's underlying and evolving preoccupations -- 
including his political allegiances, and his aesthetic principles. More close reading, and 
more understanding of prosody, would have been appreciated. 
 
7e (ii) Austen  
A popular option, with work of consistently high standard.  Most candidates deftly 
integrated biographical and critical approaches; others added impressive swathes of social 
or (in answers dealing with sensibility) intellectual history.  A small minority of 
candidates outrageously flexed the quotations set in order to justify presenting accounts 
of aspects of Jane Astens‘s work that were not being asked about: it should be 
remembered that this is not Paper 8, and the topics set by the examiners must be directly 
addressed.  There was gratifyingly little use of film adaptations - the texts still have 
priority! – although the Jane Austen industry and its meretricious wares were here and 
there appraised with bracing scepticism.  It was good to find candidates extending their 
attention to the minor works and the letters; close study of Austen‘s language and of her 
complex narrative voice also produced fine results.  The best essays were genuinely 
revealing, finding new things to say about subjects (place names, for instance) that are 
often taken for granted: the books deserve their classic status, because on showing they 
are genuinely inexhaustible. 
 
7e (iii)  Byron 
There were 12 candidates for this paper and the general standard of their essays was high.  
Although some titles proved more popular than others, the essays focused on a good 
range of primary texts and most demonstrated intelligent use of the relevant secondary 
literature.  More extensive knowledge of Byron‘s invaluable Letters and Journals would 
have been advantageous to some of the candidates, but on the whole, candidates 
addressed the questions intelligently and developed their arguments with proper reference 
to the poetry.   Some of the essays showed a general similarity of approach and argument, 
perhaps reflecting the teaching received for this topic, but this did not diminish their 
sophistication and liveliness.  Most of the essays were fluent and well written and gave 
every indication that their authors had enjoyed working on Byron.     
 
7f (i) Tennyson 
There were 12 candidates for this paper. The overall standard was pleasingly high, and all 
the essays showed evidence of careful thought and close engagement with Tennyson‘s 
poetry. Two features were especially noteworthy. The first was the number of essays that 
attempted to construct an argument based on (or in some cases devoted exclusively to) 
detailed reading of individual poems. The strongest of these formalist readings were 
33 
 

impressively sharp-eared and nuanced; the weaker did not advance much beyond an 
appreciation of the mimetic qualities of Tennyson‘s verse. The second feature, shared by 
a number of the best essays, was evidence that the students had done original research 
into Tennyson‘s reading and methods of composition, citing manuscripts and other 
material held at the Tennyson Research Centre in Lincoln. If there was a common 
weakness, it was a certain narrowness of critical approach: the same handful of poems 
returned in essay after essay, and it soon became clear that some critics held a similarly 
canonical status. Future candidates should be encouraged to develop, question and find 
alternative approaches to a poet who is often more surprising than his critics. 
 
7f (ii) Dickens 
There were nine candidates and the work was on the whole earnest and energetic. On 
display this year was a comparative tendency, with contrasts and comparisons with 
George Eliot, Zola, Shakespeare, as well as artists in other media. This produced some of 
the liveliest work. The weaker essays tended to be over-dependent on earlier critics and, 
in some cases, lacked a single argument or coherent structure. Three essays were awarded 
marks of 70 or above. 
 
7f (iii) Wilde 
There were 23 candidates writing on Wilde this year, and the general standard was 
reasonably good, though only a few candidates achieved first-class marks.  There was a 
tendency among candidates to accept secondary critics as authorities and to reproduce 
rather than question and engage with critical judgements, resulting in a number of rather 
familiar responses.  Many thoughtful and original close readings of individual works 
or passages were offered, but these were often rather incompletely incorporated in an 
overarching argument.  The strongest essays displayed a detailed command of a wide 
range of Wilde's writings, and matched a sophisticated and well-developed argument 
with a clear sense of the literary and social context with which he engaged.  Candidates 
would be well advised to define their terms clearly from the outset, as a number of essays 
were brought down by confused, fluctuating or inconsistent deployment of terms such as 
"aestheticism", "plagiarism" and "personality".  There was much energy and enthusiasm 
evident throughout the range of scripts, but not always matched with sufficient scholarly 
rigour or ambition of scope in order to reach first-class marks. 
 
7g (i) Conrad 
The Conrad Paper 7 essays this year were of a good, though not excellent standard, with 
most marks falling into the higher 2.1 (65-68) category.  There was a tendency in the 
weaker essays either to become overinvolved in a close reading of the title quotation and 
its immediate intertextual implications in the Conrad oeuvre, or to offer a rather general 
survey discussion of the Conrad canon in the light of the quotation.  Teaching would 
appear to have concentrated on coverage of the work, and not so much on critical 
engagement.  The best essays - and there were a number of neatly executed first-class 
34 
 

answers - offered informed, analytic commentaries, combined with appropriate close 
reading, and were coherently structured as arguments engaging with the concerns or 
debates raised by the essay titles. 
 
7g (ii)  Yeats  
There were 19 takers for the Yeats paper, and the standard was again good. There were 
five firsts and the rest 2:1s which ranged pretty evenly across the range from 60 to 68. 
The best paper showed a remarkable knowledge of Yeats‘s writing in all genres, as well 
as admirable critical sureness. The strengths were as in recent previous years: very good 
familiarity with the poems and their critical discussion. Critical approaches were 
strikingly traditional: in some cases to the point of unadventurousness. Again, there was 
little significant attention to Yeats‘s own critical prose: slightly disappointing in the era 
of Seamus Heaney, a major poet-critic in the tradition of Yeats. There was very little 
work on the drama, which was disappointing too. But it is not surprising that the main 
enthusiasm is for Yeats‘s poetry.  
 
7g (iii) Woolf 
The overall standard of response was high, with a strong percentage of the papers falling 
into the first class band; and a handful within the higher first class category. The best of 
the sample managed to combine adroit and supple readings of Woolf‘s primary texts – 
including her diaries, letters, shorter fiction, essays and reviews – with scholarly readings 
of her manuscripts. The most impressive essays read Woolf adventurously: through her 
history as a publisher, editor and typesetter; as a writer highly focused on the materiality 
of books and book culture; as a writer with a keen sense of profession and purpose. 
Among these were essays that quizzed her view of literary history, history and biography, 
and parenthetic approach to such high minded matters; essays that took on the challenge 
of reading her sympathetically, curiously and with some sense of play. Convincing 
responses included those that took care to probe her sense of intimacy; her lived 
geographies and topographies (within and without texts); her imaginative enquiries into 
aesthetics; and, in particular, her delight in ruptures and lags of time, space and cognition. 
The strongest essays took the time to find out what Woolf read and how she experienced 
the art of reading: what she cared about and how it informed her writing practice.   
The weaker essays stuck too rigidly to binaries and formulae that refused any sense of 
Woolf as a writer committed to the risky voyage of reading vastly and experimentally; 
essays that forced Woolf into crude and callow philosophic categories of modernistic 
thought that run rough shod over her fondness for the arbitrary and the unexpected. Such 
essays tended to showboat contextual aspects of the early 20th century and drum them 
into the Woolf canon without much sensitivity to her fondness for style and stylistic play. 
They ignored her keen sympathy for her subjects as reflected in her often conversational 
and peripatetic thought. Such essays read Woolf through the lenses of feminism, 
modernism and its patented aesthetics without paying heed to Woolf‘s particular textual 
voice and identity: voices and identities not easily coded.  
 
35 
 

7h (i) Walcott 
The standard of essays was high this year, with marks ranging from the mid-sixties to the 
mid- to high-seventies. Candidates showed good knowledge of the definitive and 
unfolding debates in Caribbean literary and cultural criticism, and excellent ability in 
relating these to their close and insightful (and wide-ranging) readings of the poems, 
plays, and essays. All the candidates without exception had read across the Walcott 
oeuvre, and more broadly, drawing in insights from Fanon, Glissant, Gilroy, Cesaire, etc. 
Topics attempted included Walcott‘s elegiac invocations of lost worlds and a lost history; 
the cultural provenance of the sea in Caribbean history and aesthetics in general, and 
Walcott‘s poetics in particular; Walcott‘s creative use of colonial schizophrenia in his 
plays; the tragic hero in Walcott‘s poetry and drama; Walcott‘s canonical extrapolations; 
Walcott role as literary and cultural critic. The best work on this paper succeeded in 
weaving in various contexts and intertexts for Walcott‘s literary performances.    
The essays qua essays were also by and large well structured as arguments, or 
presentations of ideas. Candidates paid attention to Walcott‘s virtuoso style and language: 
intentional and unintentional (or organic) modes of hybridity, the heteroglossia of voices 
and languages, the strategic use of cross-cultural forms and creolization. Overall, the 
examinees seemed well trained and confidently grounded in Walcott's contexts and 
criticism. 
 
7h (ii) Roth 
For the Roth Final Honours paper (7 (h) ii), this year 19 students submitted 
extended essays, of which 17 were Single honours and 2 Joint Schools. Of these, 3 
students wrote on question 1 (America‘s ‗private life); 2 on question 2 (Jewish novels); 3 
on question 3 (misunderstanding ourselves); 3 on question 4 (Roth‘s ‗recklessness‘); 4 on 
question 8 (Roth and American History); 2 on question 9 (stories and lives); and 2 on 
question 10 (moral claims in the novels). Concerning quality, the standard was with a few 
exceptions reasonably high but (again with a few exceptions) not outstanding. Of the 19, 
seven papers were awarded firsts and 12 papers 2-1's. 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. 
 
 
 
36 
 

7h (iii) Friel 
There were four candidates and the overall quality was good, with two candidates 
awarded first class marks and the other two gaining upper seconds. Each of the 
candidates showed a laudably wide knowledge of Friel‘s plays and other writings, and 
although the success in handling contexts and secondary sources was more variable, the 
essays were engaged with the themes and in some cases ambitious in reach. Two 
candidates wrote on the theme of History in Friel (Q8); the two other essays were on 
‗organic form‘ (Q3) and communication and shared codes (Q10). 
 
7i (i) Emerson 
There were no candidates for this paper. 
 
7i (ii) Dickinson 
Dickinson Final Honours paper (7 (i) ii): This year 6 Single Honours students submitted 
extended essays. Of these, 1 student each wrote on questions 2 (American subjects); 3 
(circumference); 5 ('My life had stood...'); 6 (Dickinson's punctuation); 8 (Dickinson's 
hermeticism); and 10 ('I'm wife...'). 
Concerning quality, the standard  was high and in a few cases outstanding. Of the 6 
papers, two were awarded firsts and 4 high 2-1's. The best papers evidenced a wide 
knowledge of Dickinson's poetry and letters, an ability to read Dickinson's poetic 
language closely, a real ability to read the poetry in its various American and English 
contexts (literary, cultural, religious, etc.), and an understanding of the poetry's difficult 
and interesting textual and reception history.  
 
7i (iii) Faulkner  
Twelve candidates submitted essays for this paper.  More than half concentrated on two 
questions, no. 9 (‗What are you? Where did you come from?‘ with 4 takers) and no. 2 (on 
‗style‘ with 3).  Two responded to question no. 10 (on horror and humour ), two to 
question no. 7 (on ‗polymath love‘s androgynous advocate‘ ), and one to question no. 3 
(on race).  The best work showed wide range (across Faulkner‘s texts, across criticism) 
and depth (with an impressive understanding of American historical context and the 
theoretical debates raised by Faulkner‘s work), were argued with clarity and force, and 
acutely contested received critical judgements.  The weakest were muddled in argument, 
superficial in coverage of texts and criticism, unfamiliar with either literary or historical 
context.  The best work was very impressive, a pleasure to read; the weakest depressingly 
limited, showing little evidence of a sustained engagement with Faulkner‘s oeuvre. 
 
 
 
 
37 
 

Paper 8: Special Topics 
 

8a Fiction in English 
This remains a popular option, but – apart from half a dozen brilliant essays – the results 
were in general middling.  Last year‘s report suggested some reasons for this 
underachievement, often due to the topics chosen by the candidates or the way in which 
they were treated.  Two fiction writers are required, though sometimes the second 
appears to be a makeweight, rather than receiving properly close attention; range was 
often narrow, with essays confined to three or four novels, sometimes to two.  It is surely 
essential to balance depth of commentary with breadth of understanding, showing a 
knowledge of the history of the form and of theoretical debates about it.  Candidates often 
credited contemporary writers with inventing technical tricks that were present in the 
work of Defoe, Sterne and Fielding; those who enjoy metafiction might ask themselves 
whether Barnes, McEwan and Amis are not their own best critics, leaving the candidate 
with little to do but admiringly quote them.  And, though there was some good work on 
mass-market forms, are narrowly ‗generic‘ practitioners like Len Deighton capable of 
sustaining the sophisticated critical discussion that examiners look for?  Allowing 
candidates to choose their own subject has produced much ingenious, idiosyncratic, 
enterprising work, but using the essay as an opportunity to expound on favourite writers – 
and sometimes to argue about favourite issues, such as colonialism or sexual dissidence – 
does not necessarily stimulate distinguished work.  It is essential that candidates elect 
materials and authors carefully because, as the very best essays showed, the argument 
really begins at the first stage. 
 
8b Drama in English  
Of the 32 candidates for this option, the majority wrote on drama post 1940, and a 
handful wrote on Medieval, Renaissance and Jacobean drama, and no candidate 
discussed any plays written between 1640 and 1850.  There was a marked difference in 
scope between weaker essays and those at the top of the range: some candidates 
concentrated on only two playwrights and a narrow range of their works at that, while 
other candidates displayed an impressively detailed knowledge of dozens of plays across 
several decades, together with an informed awareness of dramatic conventions, 
conditions of production, and wider social and political contexts.  In a number of cases 
ignorance about crucial issues of performance, publication or reception caused problems 
in identifying causation and influence which undermined some candidates‘ central 
arguments.  It is important that candidates recognise the need for real range and depth of 
reading for this paper if they are to gain high marks commensurate with a period paper.  
The strongest essays were remarkable for their scope, precision of thought, and ability to 
engage confidently and convincingly in contemporary critical debates.  Some candidates 
were held back by a tendency to rely on well-worn critical platitudes, or by fractured 
arguments which seemed to result from two or three weekly tutorial essays having been 
rather loosely stuck together.  Throughout the run of essays there was evidence of 
thoughtful close engagement and at the very least flashes of perceptive and original 
38 
 

analysis, which in the stronger essays were bound into a rigorous line of argument clearly 
resulting from the candidate‘s own independent line of thought.       
 
8c Prose in English 
10 candidates offered work for this option; 3 firsts were awarded, 6 upper seconds, and 1 
lower second. The general standard of work was high, but candidates should be reminded 
of the requirement for consistent referencing and presentation according to the rubric. 
Knowledge of the context, history and reception of texts tended to predominate in work 
dealing with texts written before 1700, and examiners would have liked to see more 
integration with analysis of form, rhetoric, style and language. The very best essays 
showed originality and analytical power as well as contextual well-informedness.  
 
8d Poetry in English 
This year 22 candidates submitted essays for this paper. Topics covered a very wide 
range, from Blind Harry‘s ‗The Wallace‘ to twentieth century Black performance poets in 
England and America; from seasoned canonical favourites to Canon Dixon, Pordage and 
Zephaniah.  The level of achievement was very high (nearly half the submissions 
achieved a First Class mark). Most of the chosen topics were enterprising, inventive, and 
chose a distinctly stimulating combination of authors, more than once linking a high-
quality canonical poet with a historically appropriate subordinate partner (Hopkins with 
Canon Dixon, for example). Some supported their literary criticism with beautifully 
presented visual parallels (e.g. linking Pre-Paphaelite poetry and art) or submitted 
facsimiles of primary texts whose visual or orthographic idiosyncrasies were particularly 
important. This was very helpful. There was, also, a considerable amount of scholarship 
on display. However, this was the point at which an academic virtue threatened to morph 
into an aesthetic limitation - we were concerned that candidates might feel (erroneously 
in our view) that close reading should give place to a disproportionate display of 
scholarship. More space could have been given to close analysis of specific aspects of 
poetic technique - especially verse form, prosody, tone, linguistic register, and the 
exploitation and variation of genre.  As it was many of the topics, or their fulfillment, 
would have been better suited to the status of optional thesis than a submission 
specifically devoted to poetry in English. Candidates frequently failed to find a proper 
relationship between precise poetic analysis and broader critical or historical argument, 
inclining to an excessive reliance on theoretical frameworks at the expense of close 
reading. We also felt that where lesser known authors or texts are concerned, the 
candidates should quote at sufficient length for the examiners to evaluate the evidence 
and check the candidates‘ analyses. 
 
8e American Literature from the Beginnings to the Present Day 
For the American Literature Final Honours paper 8 this year 43 students submitted 
extended essays, of which 40 were Single honours and 3 Joint Schools. 
Students wrote on topics including: the American short story; the American Renaissance; 
Afro-American Literature, early twentieth-century fiction, the Jazz Age, the Jewish-
39 
 

American novel; literature of the Beats, modern American poetry, American drama, 
Southern and Sentimental fiction; fiction after World War II, and Contemporary fiction. 
Concerning quality, the standard was generally high. 
Of the 43 papers, nine were awarded firsts and 34 2-1's. At the top of the range the essays 
were very good indeed, combining insightful analyses of particular texts with a broader 
argument about issues in American literature and culture and making sophisticated 
judgments about the kinds of evidence appropriate to each register. The best of these 
rooted their arguments in primary texts such as letters and historical documents, avoiding 
huge generalization and building on insights proposed within the materials they were 
examining. Less successful essays started with historical commonplaces, whether 
plucked from the air ('the American dream' remains a particularly popular platitude) or 
quoted from highly derivative historical or literary introductions. Organizationally, the 
poorest essays tended to stitch together tutorial essays 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 
5,000 words), but acknowledged the place of that argument within the Critical traditions 
of interpretation.   
 
8f Women’s Writing 
Overall, the quality of essays for this paper was good rather than outstanding (with some 
notable exceptions).  The best essays blended close reading with original cultural-
theoretical insights, and were ambitious in range and scope.  Otherwise it was notable 
that candidates were drawn to a familiar and restricted (largely prose) canon, and that 
there was generally limited engagement with theory.  Candidates should be encouraged, 
as ever, to meditate upon the category of ‗women‘s writing‘ and to seek to engage 
energetically with it, as well as exhibiting greater range and ambition in their choice of 
authors and texts. 
 
8g The History and Theory of Criticism 
8 candidates took this paper this year, and marks ranged from 2.1 to high first class. The 
topics attempted included French deconstructive psychoanalysis and feminism (Kristeva, 
Irigaray, Cixous), the impossible representation of trauma, the place of the sublime in 
contemporary critical theory, theories of authorship, deconstruction and law, 
deconstruction and the letter, the diminishing gap between pathology and 
psychopathology in the narrativatization of criminality.  
The best work on this paper was exceptionally sophisticated and nuanced, bold in 
conception, carefully researched and argued. It also demonstrated knowledge of a good 
range of primary and secondary works, and a mature understanding of the historical and 
cultural contexts of theory. There was strong interest this year in the scene of writing as a 
(largely self-alienating) medium: its traces and residues, its intertextuality, foreignness, 
telephonicity and telepathy, the speech act. Essays on psychoanalysis too showed 
particular alertness to the vicissitudes of desire in language. The examiners occasionally 
wondered about the relevance of chosen topics for the aims and scope of this paper. 
40 
 

Candidates would be well reminded to focus on subjects that address the history and/or 
theory of literary criticism, rather than developing philosophical ideas or historical events 
in isolation and increasing abstraction.  
 
8h Postcolonial Literature 
17 candidates took the paper this year. The range of marks for the Postcolonial Literature 
essays was narrower than last year (65-75), less weaker essays, and not quite as many 
outstanding ones, but a number more firsts in the range 70-74.  The good essays were 
particularly impressive in combining perspectives drawn from diligent reading in 
appropriate aspects of postcolonial theory, with good informed historical 
contextualization, and excelled at their coverage of particular locales and discursive 
spaces within the global and postcolonial domain, the Australian realist novel, or colonial 
writing of Africa. A range of new and provocative topics were attempted: the collective 
impulse of theatre, history and its other, the role of confession, the use of food in 
postcolonial literature, the figuration of the mother in the national and neocolonial 
imaginary. The first class and high 2.1 essays took care to distinguish between the 
histories and topographies of the various postcolonial contexts. 
Postcolonial studies struggles with the persistence of the centre-periphery ―empire writes 
back‖ model that structures early postcolonial literature and theory, and candidates did 
not always adequately question and revise this reading formation in the context of the 
emergence of world literature. The rise of America as the new global centre was also 
underexamined in some of the essays. The weaker essays relied heavily on close reading 
the novels without developing metacritiques and providing historical particulars. On the 
whole, however, an awareness of the need to theorize and historicize postcolonial topics 
was widely pervasive in this cohort, and, looking ahead to the syndicated option, there 
appeared to be a wide range of interest in the student body in developing postcolonial 
perspectives. 
 
8i (ii) Medieval and Renaissance Romance 
There was 1 candidate for this paper. 
 
8i (viii) Classical Literature Epic  
There were 3 candidates for this paper. 
 
Paper 8i (viii) Classical Literature Tragedy  
There were no candidates for this paper. 
 
8j (i) Lexicography 
The six candidates who followed this Paper 8 option submitted extended essays on a 
diverse set of topics and source materials.  Though most marks fell within the 2.1 
41 
 

category, performances overall ranged from merely adequate to outstanding. The least 
good pieces of work were disappointingly thin, and in some cases marred by careless use 
of sources. The best stood out both for the amount of work that had gone into researching 
them and for their writers‘ scholarly and systematic approach.    
 
8j (ii) Grub Street and its Critics 
This course produced some varied and scholarly essays, which moved around and beyond 
the term‘s reading with critical agility. There were six candidates, and all produced work 
of at least upper-second standard, with three clear first- class essays. The best essays 
showed a fine attention to the linguistic and generic qualities of their chosen texts, 
combined with sophisticated use of contextual material.  All the essays attempted in some 
way to move beyond the hierarchical distinction between Grub Street and canonical texts 
of the period, and as a result offered some genuinely new perspectives, particularly on the 
writings of Pope and Swift. This was the first year that this option has been offered, and 
the evidence of this year‘s essays demonstrates that it has stimulated some impressive 
and original research and thinking.  
 
8j (iv) Principles of Film Appreciation  
The 23 marks broke down as follows (70+ = 7 students, 65+ = 11, 60+ = 4, 55+ = 1).  
The work was of a high standard with the students successfully fulfilling the specific 
learning outcomes for the module.  They managed to transfer their sophisticated critical, 
close reading and interpretative skills to the study of film.  Indeed, they wrote genuine 
film essays: deeply involved in the visual and aural specificity of individual sequences 
and the aesthetic properties of the medium.  Nearly all of the essays were illustrated with 
frame grabs which carefully intersected with the writing.  The prose had quality and 
character: it was dense with detail (from the films) but also clear and coherent, and it 
often had personality and voice.  There were imaginative essays on topics such as 
costume, thresholds, mirrors, stasis, entrapment, and touch and some of best work was 
exploring complex theoretical aspects of the medium in areas such as point of view, 
status of the image, composition and performance. Occasionally students had problems 
marrying the close analysis and /or the topic to a critical framework but this is a frequent 
and understandable problem with this type of work, and even in the best essays there was 
some dilution of intensity in the pursuit of 6,000 words.  Nevertheless, the work was 
easily comparable to that achieved by third year undergraduates on a BA Film Studies 
Degree.  The title of the option will change next year to Principles of Film Criticism 
(which more accurately reflects its content). 
 
8j (v) Life Writing 
 The majority of essays were well researched and thoughtfully written, engaging with 
important issues of form and method in the theory and practice of life writing. Most 
candidates chose to write about twentieth century writers, but there were some welcome 
and interesting forays into earlier periods in history. Some candidates selected a single 
writer (or pair of writers) for close focused analysis; others did comparative work; and 
42 
 

there was a pleasing attention to autobiographical as well as biographical writings. The 
strongest work on this paper showed a close attentiveness to historical context as well as 
a sophisticated and nuanced understanding of form. Many of the essays were a pleasure 
to read— polished, clear, and full of the kinds of insight which can only come from close 
reading.   
 
8k Victorian Literature 
There were two candidates for this paper. 
 
8l Modern Literature  
There were ten candidates for this paper, with work ranging across the century and across 
the kinds of literature, with more emphasis on prose and poetry than drama. The standard 
was generally high, with three candidates gaining Firsts and six gaining marks within the 
2.1 category (with two just missing a first-class mark on 69). One candidate was adrift 
from the field with a mark quite low in the 2.2 category; weaknesses in argument were 
compounded by a register unusual for academic writing and numerous errors that ought 
to have been picked up in proof-reading. The best work was very wide-ranging in its use 
both of primary sources and secondary materials. There was evidence of sophisticated 
conceptual arguments, good contextualisation, and close attention to detail. The very best 
essays showed clarity of argument, good selection and organization of materials, and 
exciting new interpretations of core texts as much as a willingness to strike out on less 
frequently cited material. Mastering the material at the opening of the essay is a rhetorical 
skill to which students should pay close attention. 
 
COURSE II 
 
Paper A1: English Literature 600-1100 
There were 8 candidates, and they offered a good range of topics. If the most favoured 
subject, Aelfric‘s saints‘ lives with five answers, perhaps showed a preference for 
building on first-year work there was also adventurous work on other prose texts and on 
riddles, bestiary poems, wisdom poetry and literary form.  Most candidates seemed to 
make a genuine attempt to think about the questions and showed a good grasp of the 
language and texts. They had clearly thought about the texts as challenging forms of 
writing, and their contexts, and there was a very pleasing absence of the standard clichés 
about Anglo-Saxon thought or society.  There was some first-class work but the general 
level was more upper-second.   
 
Paper A2: English Literature 1100-1300 
The examiners thought there was some good work on this paper, particularly on romance. 
Nevertheless, it was disappointing to find a degree of downloading of pre-prepared 
essays without real regard to the terms of question. Even where there was 
43 
 

acknowledgement of the terms of the question, this tended to be reduced to seizing on a 
few key words, rather than proper engagement with the import of the question as a whole. 
There seemed to be little work on drama or lyric, and, regrettably, not much imagination 
displayed either in terms of comparison across texts or in displaying a genuine thematic 
reach more broadly across ME literature. 
 
Paper A3a: Chaucer, Langland and Gower 
The paper was generally well handled, candidates benefiting from the chance to write two 
long essays in which they could develop their ideas effectively. Of the eight candidates, 
three were given first-class marks, and three of the others came close to the II/I 
borderline.  On this year‘s showing, a paper of this type still justifies itself in the School, 
as it enables students to write much wider and deeper essays on Chaucer than the present 
format of Course I paper 3a seems to allow. 
 
Paper A3b: Chaucer, Langland and Gower 
As has become customary in recent years, the eight Course II students who sat the paper 
showed a grasp of medieval literature considerably in advance of that displayed by their 
Course I opposites on paper 3a.  Candidates wrote across a range of texts, broadly one-
third concentrating on Gower, the remainder on Langland, both sole and in their relation 
to the other authors.  All the scripts were of at least substantial II.i quality.  Candidates 
were a bit too prone to present an unproblematic Gower, thoroughly invested in macro-
/microcosmic relations (the kingdom of the soul); with ‗Piers Plowman‘, there was a 
disconcerting tendency to leave any opposition of views 'a problem open to 
interpretation', rather than consider the text carefully. 
 
Paper A4: Introduction to Textual Criticism 
The best work on this paper showed detailed knowledge of manuscripts and editing 
procedures, and close linguistic analysis. But on the whole, answers were much less 
sharply focussed than those of last year. In at least half of the scripts, candidates failed to 
show knowledge of the names of manuscripts used as base text. Candidates are reminded 
that they do need to pay attention to the specific task of the rubric. On the Wulfstan 
passage, for example, which asked for comment on how the edition directed readers 
towards a historical and linguistic understanding of the text, no-one addressed the 
codicological importance of the Gildas reference and how its editorial treatment 
historicised the work. While there was good commentary on the materiality of the texts, 
language work was less acute. Exodus received much less coverage than last year, both in 
commentaries and essays. This was surprising given that it is the only set text which 
survives in only one manuscript witness and therefore generates a different set of 
editorial problems from the others, especially in adjudicating and translating lexical 
sense. None of the few candidates who wrote on the commentary passage gave as rich 
and detailed attention to this issue as the question required, despite the provision of a 
translation. Orfeo fared better in this regard, though the distinctiveness of editorial issues 
arising from the possibility of oral transmission was not fully addressed. By far, the best 
44 
 

answers were on Ancrene Wisse, both in commentary and essay work. Candidates were 
knowledgeable about the different manuscript witnesses, the methodologies of critical 
and diplomatic editions, and about audience.  
All candidates chose the first essay question and there were some full, critically astute 
responses, both on the set texts and other Old and Middle English works. Candidates are 
reminded, however, that if they use texts other than those set for this paper, they must be 
sure not to duplicate material from another paper, and also that the detail of their editorial 
and codicological knowledge is commensurate with that of the four set texts. It is clear 
that candidates were energised and informed about the debates surrounding the recovery 
of ‗authorial‘ texts, but that everyone chose to address this question suggests that they 
had, perhaps, channelled their interests on this paper a little narrowly (suggested also by 
the lack of engagement with Exodus, which last year generated really fine work). Other 
essay questions invited discussion of issues which were sidelined this year: especially 
compilation; manuscript collections; transmission, and the impact on editing of electronic 
media.  
 
Paper A5: The History of the English Language to c.1750 
The standard was generally high, although candidates tackling the question on 
standardization frequently did not provide sufficient contextualisation.  The question on 
the development of the do auxiliary was another popular topic; the best answers were 
those which drew on a variety of examples and showed a good understanding of the 
theoretical issues.  There was a tendency among some students to simply download 
tutorial essays, e.g. on pronouns, without addressing the question. 
 
B1 Old English Philology (essay) 
There was 1 candidate for this paper. 
 
B2 Middle English Dialectology (essay) 
There were 2 candidates for this paper. 
 
B3 Modern English Philology (essay) 
There was 1 candidate for this paper. 
 
B4 Linguistic Theory 
There were 3 candidates for this paper. 
 
B10 The Archeology of Anglo-Saxon England, 7th to 9th centuries AD 
There were 2 candidates for this paper. 
 
45 
 

B15/8h (iv) Old Norse 
B15 had four candidates. The compulsory translation question was answered to a 
gratifyingly high standard, and a range of other questions were well answered, with 
accurate quotation and a good knowledge of secondary literature. 
 
B16/8h Old Norse 
There was 1 candidate for this paper. 
 
B17 Old Norse and Icelandic Literature (essay) 
There were 2 candidates for this paper.     
 
B19 Medieval French Literature 1100 - 1300 
There was 1 candidate for this paper.     
 
B20 Medieval French Literature 1300 - 1500 
There was 1 candidate for this paper.     
 
46 
 

Reports for FHS 2008-2009 
 
Marking Conventions for FHS 2008-2009 
 
First 
Average mark of 68.5 or greater.   
At least two marks of 70 or above.   
No mark below 50. 
Upper Second 
Average mark of 59 or greater.   
At least two marks of 60 or above.   
No mark below 40. 
Lower Second 
Average mark of 49.5 or greater.   
At least two marks of 50 or above.   
No mark below 30. 
Third 
Average mark of 40 or greater.   
Not more than one mark below 30. 
Pass 
Average mark of 30 or greater. 
 
Not more than two marks below 30. 
 
Number of Candidates and Gender 
 
Total 250, comprising 151 (60.40 %) female and 99 (39.60 %) male. 
 
Number and Class Distributions by Sex 
 
Class 
Female No. 
Female % 
Male No. 
Male % 
No. All 
% All 

30 
19.9 
29 
29.3 
59 
23.6 
IIi 
118 
78.1 
68 
68.7 
186 
74.4 
IIii 






III 






 
 
47 
 

Number of Candidates for Optional Subjects 
 
Paper 
Title 
Nos. 
7 a(i) 
The Beowulf Poet 

7 a(ii) 
Alfred 

7 a(iii) 
Exeter Book 

7 b(i) 
Chaucer 

7 b(ii) 
Langland 

7 b(iii) 
N Town Cycle 

7 c(i) 
Spenser 

7 c(ii) 
Milton 

7 c(iii) 
Jonson 

7 d(i) 
Marvell 

7 d(ii) 
Dryden 

7 d(iii) 
Haywood 

7 e(i) 
Wordsworth 
10 
7 e(ii) 
Austen 
25 
7 e(iii) 
Byron 
12 
7 f(i) 
Tennyson 
12 
7 f(ii) 
Dickens 

7 f(iii) 
Wilde 
22 
7 g(i) 
Conrad 
16 
7 g(ii) 
Yeats 
19 
7 g(iii) 
Woolf 
23 
7 h(i) 
Walcott 

7 h(ii) 
Roth 
18 
7 h(iii) 
Friel 

7 i (i) 
Emerson 

7 i (ii) 
Dickinson 

7 i (iii) 
Faulkner 
12 
8a 
Fiction in English 
48 
48 
 

8b 
Drama in English 
33 
8c 
Prose in English 
11 
8d 
Poetry in English 
20 
American Literature from the beginnings 
40 
8e 
to the present day 
8f 
Women‘s Writing 

8g 
The History and Theory of Criticism 

8h 
Postcolonial Literature 
13 
8i (ii).  
Medieval and Renaissance Romance 

8i (iii) 
Scottish Literature pre-1600 

8i (viii) 
Classical Literature – Epic 

8i (viii) 
Classical Literature – Tragedy  

8j (i) 
Lexicography and the English Language 

8j (ii) 
Grub Street and Its Critics 

8j (iv) 
Principles of Film Appreciation 
23 
8j (v) 
Life Writing: Critical Approaches 

8k 
Victorian Literature 

8l 
Modern Literature 
10 
B1 
O. E. Philology 

B2 
Middle English Dialectology 

B3 
Modern Philology 

B4 
Linguistic Theory 

Archaeology of Anglo Saxon England,  

B10 
7th – 9th centuries AD 
B15 
Old Norse 

B16 
Old Norse Texts 

B17 
Old Norse Essay 

B19 
Medieval French Literature 1100 - 1300 

B20 
Medieval French Literature 1300 - 1500 

 
49 
 

External Examiners’ Reports for FHS 
 
 

To the Vice-Chancellor: 
 
Report of the External Examiner for the Honour School of 
English Language and Literature (XENA/DENA/DENB)  
18 July 2009 
Professor Julia Boffey, Queen Mary University of London 
 
This year (my second as an external examiner) a family medical emergency meant that I 
was unable to attend the Medical Cases and Late Submission Sub-Committee (29 June) 
and the First Marks Meeting (30 June).  The Chair of Examiners kept me fully informed 
of the business of these two meetings and I was sent scripts to read for confirmation of 
marks before attending the Final Marks Meeting (2 July). 
Appropriateness of academic standards set for awards 
These standards seem appropriate, and generally in line with the standards in other 
institutions where I‘ve examined.  Students are assessed across a properly representative 
and challenging field of English language and literature, and in a reasonable variety of 
ways.  
Rigour, fairness and conduct of assessment processes 
The assessment processes, as visible to an external examiner, are very impressive.  The 
grading criteria available to examiners are extremely full, and great care is taken, within 
and across separate papers, to ensure that the criteria are consistently observed (third 
marking, for example, is common). The attention paid to both ‗raw‘ and agreed marks, to 
individual marker-profiles, and to comparability of final classification statistics from year 
to year, is commendable.  Classification criteria are clear and straightforwardly workable.  
A great deal of time is spent on borderline rereading between the First and Second Marks 
Meetings. I was surprised last year by the extent of this, but on reflection, and after the 
experience of this second year, feel that it is a rigorous exercise which does not slide 
borderline candidates too easily into the upper class (for example: of 30 candidates 
identified at the first meeting as on the first/upper-second borderline, 17 were re-read and 
8 were confirmed as first-class).  It is worth noting that one of the internal examiners 
involved in this re-reading commented on the benefits of being able to see standards 
across a whole run of an individual candidate‘s scripts. 
I was unable to be present at the Medical Cases and Late Submission Sub-Committee, but 
procedures for dealing with these seem to have been very carefully operated by the Chair 
and Deputy Chair.  The handling by the University proctors of a case of plagiarism 
seemed however confused. 
 
50 
 

Standards of student performance 
I saw the top three runs of work and the bottom three, along with the top and bottom 
work from Course II candidates. As last year I found the standard of the work I read 
extremely high, at the top end demonstrating wide and detailed knowledge of an 
impressive range of material, and even at the bottom end (where this year overall no 
candidate was classified lower than 2.ii) showing reasonable knowledge and competence. 
Extended essays, optional dissertations, and essays for Paper 1 portfolios allow students 
to demonstrate a different range of skills and approaches from those appropriate to 
written examinations, and seem to me worthwhile and challenging forms of assessment. 
Comparability of the standards and student achievements with those in some other 
higher education institutions 

Standards at Oxford are high – both in the work produced and in the care with which it is 
examined and assessed.  I noted more marks of 80 and above this year, but justified by 
performances which matched the marking criteria.  The proportion of firsts was slightly 
higher than last year (23.6% as against 21.8%), but not significantly out of line when 
compared with the last five years.  The preponderance of upper seconds reflects national 
trends.  
Issues to bring to the attention of the Faculty or University 
University-level procedures for dealing with plagiarism were confusing. 
The Chair‘s work was hindered by shortcomings in data backup. 
Good practice 
Clear marking criteria; rigorous marking procedures. 
Full statistical data about marking and performance; extremely full examiners‘ reports 
(and availability of these to students). 
51 
 

External Examiner’s Report 
 
Final Honour Schools of English Language and Literature  
Dr Raphael Lyne, University of Cambridge 
16th July 2009 
 
(a) Appropriateness of academic standards set for awards 
The division of labour among externals meant that I read sample runs of scripts from the 
lower end of the first  class (average 69), the upper end of the 2.1 class (average 67ish) 
and the lower end of the 2.1 class (average between 59 and 60). I remain confident that 
the students are being assessed appropriately. At the lower end of the 2.1 class (the runs 
of  scripts  I  read  were  of  candidates  whose  averages  were  below  60)  there  were  2.2 
characteristics in several papers; at the lower end of the 1st class there was inconsistency 
too.  In  these  cases  I  felt  that  the  classes  were  appropriate  perhaps  more  because  of 
quantity – the range of material covered, the variety of competences demonstrated –than 
of quality. In the higher 2.1 runs of scripts there were always one or more genuinely first 
class papers, as well as others which were well below that line. 
 
(b) Extent to which assessment processes are rigorous, ensure equity of treatment, 
and have been fairly conducted 

Last  year I noted with surprise (and, of course, delight) that ‗there was no rationale, of 
any mark for any paper, which I could not follow, even when the first two marks differed 
considerably‘. I am almost relieved to say that this year there were a few, though these 
represented,  given  the  nature  of  the  subject,  a  very  understandable  and  acceptable 
proportion. In all these cases the agreed marks, usually the result of third reading, seemed 
to  be  appropriate.  So  again  I  think  the  collective  effort  of  the  examiners  has  been 
accurate and sound. 
Business  at  the  examiners‘  meetings  was  carried  out  with  scrupulous  intelligence;  the 
Chair  and  Assistant  Chair  were  well-prepared  for  necessary  numerical  prestidigitation. 
The meeting of the Medical and Special Cases committee was, as last year, clear-headed 
and sensitive in the right proportions. 
I‘d  like  to  note  in  particular  the  good  practice  I  noted  in  the  scaling  of  marks  on  one 
paper. Two pairs of examiners produced very different  profiles of marks, with  one pair 
clearly out of step with the collective average. The decision to adjust these marks so they 
matched  the  usual  profile  better,  so  as  not  to  disadvantage  those  candidates,  was 
proposed by the Chair and Assistant Chair, and then taken by the Board,  with  attentive 
care. 
I have some notes below under e) that relate to various aspects, but  I am confident that 
this year‘s processes were indeed rigorous and fair. 
 
52 
 

(c) The standards of student performance in the programme 
As  I have said  above,  and as  I noted last  year, it  is  the range of  work presented  at  one 
sitting that strikes me as  a distinctive feature of  student performance at  Oxford. This  is 
not a case of grinding through a predictable range of material, however: each candidate‘s 
work  I  saw  reflected  different  approaches  and  interests,  and  some  esoteric  works  were 
tackled. I was struck by some very good use of criticism at all levels. At the upper end, 
the impression is of energy and engagement; at the lower end I felt some scripts seemed 
quite enervated – but that is hardly surprising. 
I  felt  that  more  of  the  extended  essays  (paper  7,  paper  8,  and  the  optional  thesis  in 
particular) were poorly presented than I might have expected. Last year I noted a lack of 
introductions and conclusions, though this was not a significant issue this year. The two 
years‘ experience might suggest that some candidates are not mastering as many of the 
techniques of long essay presentation as might be expected. In my own institution I think 
perhaps  the  system  allows  for  –  or  at  least  assumes  –  more  time  to  polish  presentation 
and  technique.  I  am  not  sure,  however,  that  this  leads  to  better  critical  arguments  or  a 
sounder means of discerning the more and less deserving candidates. 
Overall, however, considering the huge number  of good (or better) scripts produced by 
the large number of candidates, I am genuinely struck by the high standard achieved  by 
the 2009 school. 
 
(d)  Comparability  of  standards  and  student  achievements  with  other  HE 
institutions 

Last  year  my  judgment  on  this  issue  was  influenced  by  having  read  the  top  three 
candidates.  I  felt  that  (in  comparison  with  other  universities)  they  showed  remarkable 
flexibility but  less considered critical  outlooks than  I might  have expected. This  year‘s 
reading  has  evened  things  out  a  bit,  and  I  feel  that  the  runs  of  scripts  I  saw  this  year 
seemed more similar to those I have encountered elsewhere. I think standards at Oxford 
are high, and comparable to other top institutions. 
 
(e) Issues which should be brought to the attention of committees (in the Faculty) 
Under this heading I include a number of items next year‘s examiners and/or for Faculty 
committees considering examination matters. 
Classing guidelines and re-reading 
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. 
 
53 
 

Classing guidelines again 
As I noted last  year, there is some tension between the instincts of examiners about the 
difference between a 69 and a 70 (‗alpha‘ still means a lot to people), and the guidelines‘ 
privileging of the numerical average. There may be ways of marrying the two a bit more, 
e.g.  by  giving  explicit  emphasis  in  the  guidelines  to  mark  profiles  in  deciding  whether 
someone should be re-read. 
Plagiarism 
It does not surprise me that the one case of possible plagiarism turned out to be difficult 
to  resolve.  These  cases  are  inherently  complex.  However,  this  incident  raised  a  few 
particular questions. The examiners seemed pretty clear that one kind of plagiarism – to 
use  the  Oxford  term,  reckless  –  had  occurred.  The  first  response  from  the  Proctors, 
however,  was  that  they  did  not  believe  it  was  deliberate  plagiarism.  The  examiners 
responded, reasonably I thought, that the official definition of plagiarism did not require 
it  to  be  deliberate.  Nonetheless  the  second  response  from  the  Proctors  reiterated  that  it 
had to be intentional to be considered plagiarism. It was hard not to gain the impression 
that  the  central  guidelines,  and  the  following  of  those  guidelines,  were  somewhat  at 
variance.  I  think  there  is  likely  to  be  friction  between  the  absoluteness  of  the  general 
edicts  from  universities,  and  the  nuances  that  emerge  when  individual  cases  are 
considered; the FHS English examiners found themselves caught in the middle. I should 
confirm that the eventual outcome in relation to this candidate was very well managed by 
the Board. 
Short Work 
One of the candidates I re-read tended to write one much shorter essay in exams. Seeing 
the whole run of scripts led me to wonder whether all examiners had fully taken on board 
the definitions of ‗Underweight‘ and ‗Short‘ work in the guidelines. I think these could 
be a bit clearer. I should say that the candidate was in no way disadvantaged by this, and 
may  indeed  have  benefited  somewhat,  at  least  in  comparison  with  my  possibly  harsh 
interpretation. 
Scaling 
As I noted above, the scaling of marks was handled well. It could be avoided if pairs of 
examiners paid careful attention to the statistical profile of their marks. A run of 100 or 
more  scripts  may  be  somewhat  worse  than  average,  or  somewhat  better,  but  it  is  very 
unlikely to  be miles off.  It  is  better  when these  anomalies are ironed out by  the people 
who have seen the scripts in relation to one another, i.e. the examiners, rather than by the 
Board  which  can  only  deal  with  numbers.  Scaling  marks  might  be  something  else  that 
could be outlined in the examiners‘ guidelines. 
54 
 

External Examiner’s Report  
 
Honour and Pass Schools of English Language and Literature  
Professor Susan Fitzmaurice, University of Sheffield 
July 20, 2009 
 
Please note that this report includes comments specific to Paper 1 (The English 
Language
). 
 
(i) Appropriateness of academic standards set for awards. 
The academic standards set for the award of the degree continue to be appropriate and 
consistent with those set in past years. The degree classification procedure in 2009 
produced 23.6% Firsts (21.8% in 2008), 75.2% II.is (75.6%  in 2008), 2% II:iis (2.1%  in 
2008) and no IIIs (0.4%  in 2008). The degree requires students to demonstrate 
familiarity with a wide range of literary genres in a range of historical periods. They are 
assessed principally by final examination but have some opportunity to conduct research 
on different kinds of literature in extended essays in three papers. 
 
(ii) Rigour of assessment processes, equity of treatment for students, conduct within 
institutional regulations and guidance. 

The assessment processes adopted by the Board of Examiners are rigorous, fair and 
meticulously practised. Pairs of markers were responsible for marking scripts or essays 
for each paper for each candidate; a third marker was asked to establish a mark in the 
event of disagreement between the first two examiners or award of marks across a class 
border. This process results in the work of each candidate in FHS being comprehensively 
assessed by multiple examiners.  
At the first marks meeting, the Chair and Deputy Chair of the Board presented the 
examiners with a document summarizing the marking and classification criteria adopted 
by the Board. The use of this document guarantees the consistent application of 
transparent and established criteria regardless of the composition or experience of the 
Board.  
The recently instituted practice of scrutinizing the marks issued by each assessor to yield 
mean marks, standard deviations, and distribution of marks across the classes was again 
adopted this year. The exercise revealed that one marker awarded consistently much 
lower marks than the other assessors on a paper, resulting in one half of a run of scripts 
receiving lower marks than the other half. Review of the statistics indicated that this 
marker had used a very narrow range of marks, placing the overwhelming majority of the 
scripts in the middle of the II:i class. The proposal to correct this anomaly was to scale 
the marks within the II:i range of the affected run of scripts to spread them upwards and 
bring them into line with the distribution of marks given to the other half of the run. The 
55 
 

fact that the Chair and Deputy Chair were able to conduct such an exercise in such a 
transparent manner with clear and calculable results indicates that the Board‘s practices 
are both sound and accountable. 
At the first marks meeting the Board considered a class list containing all the raw and 
established marks per paper for each candidate identified by number only. This list 
provided the basis for identifying candidates on the 1/1.ii borderline. Borderline 
candidates showed an average mark within 1 mark of the average required for a first class 
classification. Internal examiners identified candidates‘ runs of scripts for rereading 
depending upon the distribution and range of marks awarded and the existence of at least 
two established alpha marks in the profile.  Internal examiners were given clear guidance 
for the process of rereading; of the seventeen candidates reread, eight were confirmed as 
first class. This procedure is invaluable in familiarizing the examiners with the quality of 
student work on the borderline as well as affording them the opportunity to review a 
candidate‘s whole performance across a range of subjects and periods. The final 
classification exercise, conducted at the second marks meeting, was accomplished with 
confidence and agreement across the Board. I am satisfied that the classification of 
degrees was conducted within institutional regulations and guidelines. 
The Medical and Special Cases Committee considered a set of cases that had been 
carefully documented and researched by the Chair and Deputy Chair of Examiners in the 
context of precedents established by this committee in 2007 and 2008. The development 
of precedent is evidently important both in informing the consistent and equitable 
treatment of students in special circumstances and in making the recommendations of the 
committee and the decisions of the board transparent and comprehensible to subsequent 
Boards. The medical cases were reviewed and recommendations made relatively 
straightforwardly. A case of suspected plagiarism had been referred to the Proctors who 
judged the case to be the result of bad note-taking rather than plagiarism. They instructed 
the Board to award the work an academic mark. Detailed examination of the work 
revealed the extensive reproduction of published sources without attribution or proper 
acknowledgement, and the Committee asked the Chair to refer the case back to the 
Proctors. The latter responded inadequately, in my view, in light of the evidence 
provided. The Proctors‘ handling of the case suggests that the Proctors‘ office is both 
insufficiently familiar with its definitions of plagiarism and unwilling to support 
academic units in determining and making appropriate penalties for plagiarism.  
PAPER 1: In the current session, the Paper 1 portfolio was marked by three pairs of 
examiners who met ahead of marking to agree on such matters as penalties for bad 
presentation. The process produced a thorough and equitable marking practice, resulting 
in consistent marks reflecting adherence to a common set of standards. When 
disagreement required a third marker, the work in question tended to be highly abstract in 
reference, oriented towards argument and assertion rather than being grounded in 
linguistic evidence. It is notable that an adjuducating marker was necessary in only 6 
cases.  
56 
 

(iii)  Standards of student performance 
Oxford students are expected to demonstrate mastery of a range of skills and knowledge. 
The best performances exhibit the extraordinary facility for original, well-argued and 
brilliantly written focused essays under pressure in a limited amount of time on the one 
hand and the ability to conduct a sophisticated extended treatment of a set of texts in their 
literary and historical context on the other. I read runs of scripts placed in the first class, 
at the top of the II:i range, and in the lower II:i range in order to get a sense of the quality 
of these performances. The scripts awarded first class marks provided evidence of 
tremendous breadth of reading at the same time as intense familiarity with those texts. 
Close readings were well supported by reference to historical, theoretical and critical 
contexts, and arguments tended to be subtle but evidential. The top II:i performances 
showed sophisticated engagement with the texts and topics examined, with solid attention 
to detail and background. The scripts awarded lower II:i marks exhibited a competent 
grasp of central concerns and arguments while generally showing a more superficial 
familiarity and understanding of the texts. It is clear that markers used the published 
marks criteria assiduously in assessing student performances.  
PAPER 1: I read a random sample of Paper 1 portfolios in addition to portfolios that 
were part of the complete runs of scripts for quality assurance purposes. The overall 
quality of the portfolios I sampled indicates that the paper is now a well established 
component in the examination system. In section A, candidates answered questions on 
language and identity, the illusion of authority in dictionaries, standardization, the spread 
of English, linguistic borrowing in the history of English and language change, offering 
interesting case studies, marshalling evidence from a range of periods, authors and 
varieties of the language. The most assured answers were essays whose arguments were 
informed by original empirical studies as well as by library research. The weaker answers 
tended to be vague and abstract, exhibiting a loose use of linguistic terminology without 
definition or illustration, and showing little solid grasp of linguistic descriptive 
techniques. In section B, candidates were asked to analyse two or three short texts, both 
literary and non-literary, in order to support or challenge an assertion about the use of 
language. These assertions required candidates not only to choose texts that they could 
analyse effectively from a linguistic perspective, but to ensure that their analyses were 
sewn into an argument shaped to attend the assertion presented. Again, the strongest 
answers combined imaginative selection of texts with carefully crafted argument 
informed by accurate and relevant analysis. Candidates chose political speeches, poems, 
advertisements, propaganda pamphlets, blogs, polemic as well as poetry and canonical 
prose texts. This year, the best textual commentaries were supported by reference to the 
secondary literature and theoretical frameworks.   As in previous years, the weaker 
answers tended to offer practical criticism and to expect the texts selected to perform the 
argument required themselves. Overall, the students‘ portfolios were very good this year, 
with the number of first class marks awarded for the paper (20.25%) very much in line 
with the numbers of firsts awarded for other papers.  
57 
 

(iv) Comparability of standards and student achievements with those in other 
higher education institutions 

The Oxford English degree is quite different from English degrees at most British 
universities in depending largely upon summative assessment in the form of examination 
performances, rather than on extended research essays.  Accordingly, the student work 
assessed for the degree is different in form from the coursework in other institutions. 
However, the standards applied in the assessment of student achievement are comparable.  
The Oxford degree has excellent standards; I am satisfied that performance is rewarded 
appropriately given the expectations set and training provided. 
 
(v) Issues for the attention of supervising committees 
Proctors: Plagiarism. The single case referred to the Proctors‘ Office in this session 
involved plagiarism. The Chair of FHS sought advice on an appropriate penalty for 
systematic and sustained evidence of reckless plagiarism. In reply the proctors conflated 
the categories of ‗reckless‘ and ‗intentional‘ plagiarism, and directed the FHS to award 
the work an academic mark. The Proctors need to clarify their procedures for gathering 
evidence for plagiarism and the penalties that they are willing to impose in the event that 
compelling evidence for plagiarism is presented to them.  
Data support and system maintenance. The FHS is able to conduct a transparent and 
accountable set of procedures in classifying degrees because of the existence of 
appropriate computer software. However, the system requires regular updating and 
reliable technical support. A support system needs to be established early in the 
examination process so that academic administrators of the process can be confident of 
the robustness of the data analysis involved. 
 
(vi) Good practice 
The practice of the majority of FHS assessors in writing detailed comments on individual 
papers is critical in providing substantive written justification for the marks awarded to 
each examination answer. Markers‘ comments were very useful to those colleagues who 
reread full runs of scripts on the borderline and to external examiners who were asked to 
check the fit of students‘ performances and the marks awarded. The board is to be 
congratulated on this practice and all examiners are urged to adopt it. 
The FHS Board Chair, Dr Helen Barr, and the Deputy Chair, Dr Laurie Maguire, refined 
the procedures for the classification of degrees, and carried them out with utmost care, 
attention and consideration. Over the past three years, those responsible for the 
administration and management of FHS in English have developed a highly efficient set 
of procedures and practices. If these continue to be applied rigorously and regularly, the 
classification of degrees can rightly be regarded as a reliable, safe practice.  
The faculty examinations secretary is highly efficient in distributing the appropriate 
papers as well as anticipating and supplying information that examiners might need. 
Arrangements for the external examiners were superb and Angie Johnson is to be 
congratulated on her attention to detail.     
58 
 

To the Vice-Chancellor 
 
Professor Neil Corcoran 
External Examiner's Report on English Language and Literature and English 
Language and Literature and Modern Languages 2008-9 

 
I compliment the Chair and Secretary of the Board on their great efficiency in running the 
entire process (without, I understand, much help from an inadequate computer system) 
and for the courtesy and good humour with which meetings of the Board were conducted.  
It was illuminating and pleasurable to be part of this process. 
The standard of work at the top end of the scale was truly outstanding, and some very 
good work was done in the upper 2.1 range also.  With regard to First Class work I 
occasionally felt that the numerical mark awarded did not wholly correspond with quality 
clearly recognised by markers' comments.  There is a reluctance to use marks beyond the 
low-mid 70s.  The top two categories of the Marking and Classification Criteria 
document are extremely rigorous but were, in my view, met by some of the work I read.  
I was also impressed by candidates' ability to use the opportunities given by a 
predominantly examination system to reveal highly impressive feats of memory and of 
close reading, in some cases close reading informed by various kinds of contextual 
knowledge - historical, theoretical, political - more obviously on display in the work 
presented in non-examination form. 
Some of the work I read from the bottom end of the 2.2 scale, however, shocked me with 
its inadequacy: it seemed written by people who could never, in my view, write an 
interesting or engaging sentence of English prose.  A member of the Board, reviewing the 
entire run of marks for a candidate also at the bottom of the scale, made similar 
observations about some of those scripts.  There appears to be a prima facie case here for 
thinking that failures have been made at the point of admission.   
Finally, in relation to the work I actually read, I would enter a plea against interrogation.  
Candidates 'interrogate' texts and claim that authors 'interrogate' genres.  The word, and 
concept, seem to me insensitively used in some cases, and probably in any case past their 
sell-by dates; although I can see that they might still be appropriate to a strongly anti-
canonic reading by, for instance, a post-colonial or feminist critic.  Using them as 
elements of otherwise fairly orthodox critiques seems just a form of critical self-delusion 
or self-aggrandisement. 
Comments on the scripts I read were usually extremely thorough and informative, very 
helpfully making it clear why the mark was awarded.  Occasionally, however, this was 
not the case, and some 'comments' were telegraphic to the point of complete opacity.  I do 
think examiners should write coherent English sentences on these comments sheets. 
I was very impressed by the examiners' reports, which were almost without exception 
extremely detailed and informative.  One report commented helpfully on the way the two 
markers had occasionally differed.  Another supplied a characterisation of good work 
which seems to me ideally suited to the discipline of English.  It could possibly be 
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advertised to undergraduates in addition to the marking criteria: 'The prose had quality 
and character: it was dense with detail but also clear and coherent, and it often had 
personality and voice'.  This emphasises - as the criteria, perhaps understandably, tend 
not to - the importance of an individual and identifiable style in the writing of essays in 
English Language and Literature. 
In all of these ways, then, examination and assessment methods are appropriate and 
equitable.  In one respect, however, they are not.  The University's handling of plagiarism 
is extremely unsatisfactory.  I do not understand the concept of 'reckless' plagiarism, 
which seems to carry some kind of mitigation.  I can, I suppose, understand 'hapless' 
plagiarism: but in my view this too should be subject to punitive action.  Plagiarism is 
theft, lying, cheating, and a waste of academic time.  When recognised, it should be 
penalised heavily.  Not to do so is to send out extremely unfortunate signals.  In addition, 
I think that the University should not be sanguine that its systems for discovering 
plagiarism are sufficiently sensitive. 
Finally, I think it inappropriate that an external examiner should be obliged to wait for a 
final meeting of the Modern Languages Board until 5.00pm on the day following the 
English Board, which ended shortly after lunch on that day.  Surely a more satisfactory 
arrangement can be made. 
 
 
 
60 
 

FINAL HONOUR SCHOOL OF CLASSICS AND ENGLISH 2009 
Examiners’ Report 
 
 
H.D. Moore 

Chair of Examiners  
 
This year‘s cohort of three was unusually small for this Joint School, but the results (two 
Firsts and one II.i) attest to the quality of the candidates it attracts. 
Apart from the compulsory Epic paper, the candidates offered Tragedy (1), Satire (2) and 
Reception (3).  From the parent Schools were offered Latin Core (3), Ovid (3), 
Shakespeare (3) and Literature 1740-1832 (3).  One candidate offered an optional thesis. 
No medical certificates were presented for consideration by the Board in the Joint School 
this year.  One paper (from English) needed to be scaled; the Chair‘s report for that 
School should be consulted on the method employed.  Given the small number of 
candidates taking the papers unique to this School, detailed comment thereon is 
precluded; the Examiners‘ Reports for English and Lit.Hum. should be consulted for 
reports on papers derived from those parent Schools. 
The number of candidates notwithstanding, the Epic paper deserves some comment this 
year because of the change made to its delivery, with the addition of an extra 15 minutes‘ 
reading time in accordance with the advice of last year‘s Board.  This year‘s examiners 
felt that the addition of this reading time was beneficial to the candidates, and that it 
enhanced their capacity to answer the commentary questions in particular. 
The Chair and the Classics co-ordinator (Prof. Hutchinson) discussed the marks in the 
week before the meeting.  The classifications were unproblematic, and were confirmed at 
a meeting of all the examiners.  Given the small number of candidates, the external 
examiners had read the runs of scripts of all the candidates in advance of the meeting; the 
Chair is grateful to them for this, and to Dr Lightfoot for her practical help in effecting it. 
Two practical points emerged from the co-ordination of the Joint School this year.  The 
first relates to the provision of comment and mark sheets for papers belonging to the 
parent Schools.  It would be extremely helpful in the co-ordination of the examination 
process if Joint School-specific comment and mark sheets were provided consistently by 
the parent Schools for papers from those Schools being taken by Joint School candidates.  
(This is currently the practice in English, but not uniformly in Classics).  These comment 
and mark sheets could then be sent directly to the Chair or designated administrative 
assistant for the Joint School, thus speeding up the process of data-collection and 
ensuring that all the marks, paperwork and scripts end up in the right place as quickly as 
possible, and are easily disentangled from the information relating to single-School or 
other Joint School candidates.  A second point relates to the inputting of results data into 
OSS at the final stage of the process.  It emerged relatively late in the day that the OSS 
spreadsheets in Joint Schools with Classics were not equipped to represent the need for a 
consolidated mark in the Latin ‗Core‘ paper (which comprises two papers, of 
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Commentary/Essays and Translation).  Whilst the Schools staff were quick and helpful in 
response to queries about this, the solution that was offered in order to ensure that the 
marks could be entered on the day of the final meeting, although efficacious, was not 
ideal.  Hopefully this glitch will have been resolved by next year. 
The Chair is grateful to all those who participated in the examination process and helped 
it to run smoothly.  The good humour and expert help of Prof. Hutchinson, who offered 
points of illumination on many matters relating to practice in Classics, was particularly 
appreciated.  Thanks are also due to Mrs R. Chapman and Ms M. Dixon in the Classics 
Office, and especially to Ms. A. Johnson of English, who kindly provided the 
administrative help for the Joint School this year. 
 
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External Examiner’s Report 
 
Final Honour School of Classics and English 
Dr Raphael Lyne, University of Cambridge 
16th July 2009 
 
(a) Appropriateness of academic standards set for awards 
This year there were only three candidates in the school – an anomaly that (I am pleased 
to  say)  will  not  be  repeated  next  year.  I  was  able  therefore  to  read  all  the  scripts 
submitted,  allowing.  Whereas  last  year‘s  cohort  seemed  to  me  to  be  following  diverse 
programmes under the Classics and English umbrella, this year‘s group did more or less 
the  same  papers.  The  standard  was  high:  two  Firsts  and  a  2.1.  These  grades  were  just, 
and the marks I saw – especially where markers came from different faculties – were fair 
and thoughtfully reached. The academic standards were, then, appropriate. 
 
(b) Extent to which assessment processes are rigorous, ensure equity of treatment, 
and have been fairly conducted 

The  individual  markers  were  consistent,  insightful,  and  accurate  in  their  assessments. 
The  business  at  the  examiners‘  meeting  was  conducted  scrupulously.  It  is  not  easy  to 
bring  together  two  faculties  like  this,  and  yet  the  Classics  and  English  process,  at  least 
the bits I see, works harmoniously. 
 
(c) The standards of student performance in the programme 
Last year I noted that students did not need to submit extended essays. This year they all 
did, and I felt the requirement to write about classical reception in the twentieth century 
worked  well.  Most  of  the  work  for  Classics  and  English  exams  that  I  saw  this  year 
focused on a standard canon in Greek and Latin, and in English from c. 1580-1730. This 
meant  that  candidates  came  across  as  impressively  learned  in  what  would  probably  be 
seen  as  the  core  texts  of  their  subject.  The  required  extended  essay  (and  one  optional 
essay)  showed  them  moving  onto  more  modern  material,  and  tackling  theoretical 
questions  too.  This  provided  what  I  felt  was  some  welcome  adventure  alongside  the 
scholarly,  detailed,  and  thoughtful  (but  not  often  speculative)  work  on  the  link  papers. 
This year‘s cohort performed to a high standard in what seems to me a highly rewarding 
and challenging degree. 
 
(d)  Comparability  of  standards  and  student  achievements  with  other  HE 
institutions 

With an extended essay in place, my quibble of last year disappeared: the level of student 
achievement seems comparable with the best HE institutions. It was good to hear that the 
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additional  time  allowed  in  the  epic  paper  allowed  candidates  to  achieve  even  more  in 
what remains a demanding paper. 
 
(e) Issues which should be brought to the attention of committees (in the faculties) 
The scripts I saw were not always accompanied by both examiners‘ comments. These are 
very  helpful  indeed,  and  always  appreciated.  It  would  also  be  very  useful  to  have  the 
provisional  classing  list  at  the  point  of  re-reading,  so  that  the  context  of  the  marks  is 
clearer. 
 
External Examiner’s Report 
 
Final Honour School Classics and English June 2009 
Papers in classical literature 
Alison Sharrock, University of Manchester 
 
I offer my report using the headings recommended in the communication sent from the 
central exams office. 
(i) 
 whether  the  academic  standards  set  for  its  awards,  or  part  thereof,  are 
appropriate; 
Yes.  At  the  end  of  my  three  years  of  examining  in  Oxford,  I  am  pleased  to  record  my 
judgement  that  the  academic  standards  set  for  the  awards  of  degrees  with  which  I  have 
been  involved  appropriately  high.  Taking  into  account  range  of  content  as  well  as  the 
level  of  technical  skill  and  sophistication  required  of  students,  it  is  my  opinion  that  the 
standards  in  Oxford  are  higher  than  those  in  other  universities  where  I  have  examined, 
including  my  own  institution  (Manchester).  Individual  students  at  other  institutions  do 
sometimes produce work which is  as good as the best  at  Oxford, but in  my opinion the 
overall  standard  required  to  achieve  a  2:1  in  Classics  at  Oxford  is  higher  than  that 
required to achieve the same degree at Manchester. I believe that this is as it should be, 
given  the  teaching  resources  at  Oxford  and  the  qualifications  of  the  students  on  entry. 
This is particularly the case in the Honour School of Literae Humaniores, and it is right 
that it should be the case given that it is a four-year course dedicated wholly to Classics. 
(ii)  
the  extent  to  which  its  assessment  processes  are  rigorous,  ensure  equity  of 
treatment for students and have been fairly conducted within institutional regulations and 
guidance;
 
The  assessment  process  is  extremely  rigorous.  I  would  particularly  commend  the 
continued practice of double blind marking. Over the years, I have become more or less 
reconciled to the practice of restricting the external examiner to a mark between those of 
the two internal  examiners, in  part because otherwise the only fair system  would be for 
externals  to  mark  vast  numbers  of  scripts,  which  would  be  unmanageable.  This  year, 
because  there  were  relatively  few  disagreements  between  internal  examiners,  I  actually 
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saw rather few scripts in total. I was sent some papers for monitoring, and it was always 
clear that  I could have requested to see more. I was personally more comfortable in the 
years when there were more cases in which I had to adjudicate, but I realise that this was 
just an accident of circumstance. In almost every case, I was extremely impressed by the 
careful  attention  to  detail  applied  by  the  examiners,  despite  heavy  loads  and  complex 
rules.  As  in  previous  reports,  I  do  wonder  whether  the  use  of  assessors  reading  small 
numbers of scripts might cause instabilities in the standards applied, but in practice it is 
likely  to  have  little  impact  on  individual  students,  given  the  number  of  papers  taken 
overall.  As  regards  the  complex  rules,  I  did  occasionally  note  cases  where  examiners 
were not  always  entirely sure about  the regulations (although  I must stress that all such 
issues were correctly resolved). I do wonder whether the practice of rotating examination 
roles on a relatively fast timetable might mean that it is harder for firm local knowledge 
to be maintained. As regards heavy loads, which is a major argument for continuing with 
such  rotation,  I  note  that  involvement  as  an  examiner  is  in  fact  not  heavier  than  in  my 
own institution, where colleagues act every year except when on research leave. It strikes 
me, therefore, that it would not be impossible for you to develop a system in which more 
colleagues  are  full  examiners  (and  so  colleagues  take  on  an  examining  role  more 
frequently than at present), but there is less use of assessors who read a small number of 
scripts and are not heavily involved in the process. I offer this just as a thought for your 
consideration.  Cases  of  medical  and  other  special  circumstances  were  brought  to  the 
attention  of  the  examiners,  who  made  every  effort  to  ensure  that  no  one  was 
disadvantaged,  but  there  is  further  work  to  be  done  in  settling  the  systems  for  the 
consideration of special circumstances, including the involvement of external examiners. 
This issue was discussed at some length at the final Greats examination board, and at the 
end I felt confident that colleagues were clearer on how to take it forward.  
An  issue  arose  in  the  examination  of  Classics  and  English,  relating  to  differences  in 
marking  between  two  examiners.  The  management  of  this  problem  was  exemplary,  in 
that it was identified at an early stage and appropriate action was taken.  
 (iii) 
the standards of student performance in the programmes or parts of programmes 
which they have been appointed to examine; 
Please  see  also  my  comments  on  standards,  above.  The  overall  standard  of  student 
performance is, as one would expect, very high. I would commend in particular a Greek 
Core paper, which I was shown for monitoring purposes; I would have given it over 80. 
By  contrast,  the  best  script  on  the  Latin  Core  paper  was  in  my  opinion  good,  but  a  bit 
pretentious.  My  comments  from  last  year  remain  relevant  (slightly  adapted):  I  was 
delighted  to  see  some  exceptionally  scholarly  and  sophisticated  work  from  the  best 
candidates. Even the weaker students in the pack know quite a lot and can make some use 
of  what  they  know.  The  worst  failings  were  cases  where  adequately  intelligent  but 
inadequately  unprepared  students  offered  answers,  particularly  commentaries,  on  texts 
that they clearly did not know (one case in particular on the Ovid paper this year); there 
were also, unsurprisingly, cases of failure to focus closely on the question or to address a 
sufficiently wide range of texts and issues. It remains true that most students write well, 
by  modern  standards,  and  show  wide  knowledge  of  the  subjects,  in  some  cases 
accompanied  by  a  degree  of  sophistication.  Most  students  were  good  at  avoiding 
compartmentalisation  of  their  knowledge  and  skills.  There  is  an  ongoing  problem  that 
65 
 

weaker  students  produced  commentaries  which  did  little  more  than  paraphrase  the 
passage (thus at least showing that they were able to understand it, although with the very 
weakest answers even this was not all was the case), while the essays tended to be more 
descriptive than analytical. These are perennial issues which are not likely to be resolved 
by  any  grant  new  policy:  the  most  we  can  expect  is  a  continued  concentration  on  these 
matters by long-suffering tutors. 
There appears to be still some relative underperformance by female candidates at the top 
end. (Unfortunately, I appear not to have kept the relevant details, which of course -- and 
rightly -- only became available at the end of the process, but I do have a note to myself 
indicating this impression.) The relative lack of female candidates getting firsts, and high 
firsts, used to be a phenomenon throughout the university system, but in other institutions 
with  which  I  am  familiar  it  is  no  longer  the  case.  I  offer  no  suggestions  as  to  how  this 
problem  might  be  addressed,  and  I  would  certainly  not  encourage  the  suggestion  often 
made  that  women  do  better  with  a  larger  amount  of  assessment  by  means  other  than 
examination and that therefore one should change the balance in that direction. I merely 
note the point. It may well be that this is something which will resolve itself over the next 
few years. 
(iv)  
where appropriate, the comparability of the standards and student achievements 
with those in some other higher education institutions; 
My comment from last year remains valid. ‗As one would expect, the standard of student 
achievement  overall  is  higher  in  Oxford  than  in  other  institutions  with  which  I  am 
familiar. The proportion of first and upper second class degrees awarded is higher than in 
my own institution, and could be held to be contributing to the national problem of grade 
inflation. As regards the first point, however, it is simply an appropriate reflection of the 
student  base  and  the  teaching  resources  that  the  proportion  of  high  grades  should  be 
higher; as regards the second, it is difficult and perhaps not appropriate for any individual 
university to solve the problem.‘ I would note in addition that colleagues have taken very 
seriously the issue of grade inflation. I was asked to look at a number of papers relating to 
students  on  the  2:1/2:2  borderline:  in  the  cases  where  the  eventual  degree  awarded  was 
2:1,  I  was  convinced  that  the  candidate  would  easily  have  achieved  a  2:1  at  my  own 
institution.  
(v) 
issues which should be brought to the attention of supervising committees in the 
faculty/department, division or wider University: 
I  was  pleased  to  discover  that  last  year's  problems  with  Mark-It  had  for  the  most  part 
been  resolved.  As  far  as  I  can  tell  from  the  outside,  the  system  seems  to  be  working 
reasonably well, while the statistics which can be generated from it are very useful. 
As regards the coordination between the Joint Schools, I would again commend Classics 
and English  as  outstanding in  its  organisation  as  well as in  the quality and in  particular 
the integration of the course. No real problems arose with the other Joint Schools, but  I 
would  put  in  a  plea  for  clearer  (and  perhaps  simpler)  information  for  the  external 
examiner.  I  only  discovered  that  there  were  any  candidates  in  Classics  and  Oriental 
Studies,  and  that  I  was  expected  at  a  meeting  for  that  board,  by  chance  and  after  I  had 
arrived  in  Oxford.  It  is  possible  that  there  was  some  mention  of  it  hidden  away  in  the 
large amounts of internal examining business into which external examiners are routinely 
66 
 

copied,  but  I  would  suggest  that  this  latter  practice  itself  deserves  some  reflection.  It  is 
not  usual  in  other  universities  for  externals  to  be  copied  into  discussions  about,  for 
example,  when  an  internal  meeting  can  take  place  (the  extreme  case),  but  rather  for 
internal  matters  to  be  kept  internal  and  external  examiners  to  be  informed  separately 
about  the  matters  that  concern  them.  You  may  feel  that  you  wish  to  continue  your 
practice, in order to be as open as possible, but my suggestion, for what it is worth, would 
be  that  you  consider  discussing  with  my  successor  how  best  to  manage  the  flow  of 
information. 
Over the three years in which I have examined at Oxford, I have seen an increase in the 
use of assessment by essay. This is not, in principle, something which I applaud, although 
I  appreciate  that  it  brings  Oxford  more  into  line  with  other  institutions.  I  should  say, 
however,  that  if  an  institution  is  going  to  have  assessment  by  essay,  then  the  way  in 
which it has been done in most of your papers is probably about as good as it could be. I 
commend  very  strongly  the  practice  of  including  a  translation  paper  as  part  of  the 
assessment  alongside  the  extended  essay.  I  repeat  for  your  convenience  my  reasons  for 
not applauding the move towards assessment by essay: ‗it is my personal view that, while 
an extended essay may sometimes be an effective form of assessment (although in fact it 
has many difficulties surrounding it, plagiarism not the least), it is a much less valuable 
form  of  pedagogy.  The  great  benefit  of  exams  is  the  amount  that  candidates  learn  in 
preparation  for  them.  It  is  my  impression,  moreover,  that  assessment  by  essay 
discourages students from making connections across the range of their knowledge.‘ The 
rubric for setting the extended essays and the criteria for their assessment have certainly 
improved  this  year,  requiring  candidates  to  cover  a  reasonable  range  and  to  present  the 
material in a professional manner. 
It  was  a  great  pity  to  see  such  a  small  number  of  candidates  this  year  for  Classics  and 
English. I hope it was a blip.  
(vi) 
good practice that should be noted and disseminated more widely as appropriate. 
Blind  double  marking  (despite  the  side-effects);  dedication  on  the  part  of  examiners; 
impressive  range  of  knowledge  and  skills  developed  by  students  (particularly  on  four-
year  courses);  relative  avoidance  of  compartmentalisation;  some  outstanding 
performances from individual students. 
 
67 
 

FINAL HONOUR SCHOOL OF ENGLISH AND MODERN LANGUAGES 2009 
EXAMINERS’ REPORT 2009 
 
1. 
Statistics 
1.1 
Numbers of candidates, by Modern Language 
 
 
2009 
    2008 
   2007 
  2006 
French 
      13                 9 
     9  
   14 
German 
        3                   5 
      5 
     8 
Italian 
1 
       - 
      1 
     2 
Spanish 
3 
       - 
      2 
     3 
Portuguese 
- 
       1 
      1 
     - 
Russian 
- 
       1 
     2 
     1 
 
   
 
 
Total entries 
20 
      16 
      20 
    26 
 
1.2 
Classes awarded (previous two years’ figures in brackets where applicable) 
 
          I 
    II.1 
    II.2 
French 
3 (3, 4)          
10 (5, 5) 
   - (1, -) 
German 
 1 (4, 2)         
(1, 3) 
   - (-) 
Italian 
- (-,  1)         
1 (-,  -)        - (-, -) 
Spanish 
- (-,  2)        
      
3 ( -) 
   - (-) 
Portuguese 
      - (-,  -)      - (1, 1) 
   (-) 
Russian 
      - (1, 1) 
- (-, 1) 
   - (-) 
Total  
4 (8, 10)     16 (7, 10)     - (1, -) 
Total (%) 
20 (50, 50)  80 (44, 50)     0 (6, -) 
 
 
 
68 
 

1.3 
Classes awarded by gender. Number of candidates in each class, followed, in 
brackets, by % of all candidate in that class (this year in bold, then previous 
year. 

 
        I 
     II.1 
 II.2 
TOTAL 
Female 
4 (100, 88)    12 (75 57)   (-, 100) 
    16 
Male 
 0   (0, 12)       4 (25, 43)   - (-.  -) 
      4 
 
1.4 
Percentage of candidates of each gender in each class.  
 
       
          I  
     II.1 
    II.2 
Female 
  25 (5833.7)     75 (3464.3)    - (8, -) 
Male 
    0 (25, 83.3)     100 (75, 16.7)   
 
Distinctions in the oral use of the relevant foreign language were awarded to 5 
candidates, all of them female.   
The distribution of such Distinctions by languages was:  French 4, Spanish 1.    
 
2. 
Examiners 
 
For English the Examiners were: Prof R Hanna (Keble), Coordinator, Dr A Mukherjee 
(Wadham) and Prof F J Stafford (Somerville). The External Examiner was Prof. N 
Corcoran (Liverpool University) 
For Modern Languages: Dr M Nicholson, Univ (Russian), Chairman, Dr H Swift, St 
Hilda‘s (French), Dr B Morgan, Worcester (German), Dr M Gragnolati, Somerville 
(Italian) and Dr P García-Bellido (Spanish). The External Examiner for Modern 
Languages was Dr M Minden (Cambridge). 
 
3. 
Conduct of the Examination 
 
A set of Marking Conventions was circulated by the Chairman and agreed by this year‘s 
examiners. There was no repetition of the confusion noted in recent Chairmen‘s reports, 
caused by the persistence of earlier rival versions of the Conventions. 
Prof Hanna kindly agreed to serve as Coordinator on the English side, and greatly 
assisted the examining process.  
69 
 

A complication arose when an adjustment was made by the English main school 
Examiners in order to align the mark-distribution of one team of Shakespeare markers 
more closely to the overall pattern.  The change was made too late to be included in the 
first computer-prepared mark sheets. 
 
4. 
Marks meetings 
 
After the late discovery of transcription errors in computer printouts last year, which 
delayed the release of the class-list, it was decided that the EML Joint School should not 
risk attempting to complete its business at a single sitting.  Despite the inconvenience 
caused at this time of year by yet another meeting, a Pre-Final Marks Meeting was duly 
held on Friday, 3 July, Prof Richard Parish most generously agreeing to deputize for a 
French examiner in order that all subjects might be represented.  The meeting allowed — 
in advance of the Final Meeting — preliminary consideration of medical evidence and of 
the impact of the revised Shakespeare marks, as well as identification of borderline 
candidates and hence of scripts for remarking.  The complications affecting the Final 
Meeting (referred to below) were much easier to deal with as a consequence. 
As requested by the Junior Proctor, particular attention was paid to medical submissions 
this year.  Apart from a case of dyspraxia for which standard provision had been made, 
there were two medical submissions affecting the examination papers and one 
comparable case.  Although the medical and related submissions did not in themselves 
ultimately affect classification, all such instances were signalled at each of the two 
meetings and the relevance of the evidence discussed. 
The Final Marks Meeting was held on 8 July 2009 at 5pm.  All Examiners were present, 
with the exception of an English External Examiner who was obliged to leave Oxford 
before the meeting. Proctorial permission was sought and granted for his signature to be 
added to the list later, and there was no delay in the release of the class list.    
 
5. 
Complications affecting the meetings 
 
Like the Preliminary meeting, the EML Final Marks Meeting was held in college 
premises and the start of the meeting was delayed by irritating problems of 
communications, misdirection and access, which would have been much less likely to 
have arisen had our activities been centred upon Schools. EML‘s application for a room 
for its General Meeting had been made in February, but we acceded to a request to use 
outside premises, partly because Schools needed to secure the building by 6pm and the 
EML Final Meeting had already been timetabled to start at 5pm, and partly (in the case of 
the Pre-Final Meeting) due to general pressure on space in Schools. With hindsight, the 
Chairman would have given greater thought to these practicalities, ideally holding the 
meetings in Schools (and earlier than 5pm), but otherwise ensuring that External 
Examines would be personally conducted to the location of the meetings. 
70 
 

A potential difficulty arose when the updated computer mark sheets for discussion at the 
EML Final Meeting were found to identify candidates by name and college.  This was 
discovered shortly before the start of the meeting and necessitated some improvisation 
and rapid photocopying in order that the full meeting of Examiners could consider and 
discuss the lists in a form which was both anonymous and reflected adjustments and 
remarking that had taken place since the Preliminary Meeting.   Steps were taken to 
ensure that the full meeting was able to consider medical evidence and a summary of 
previous discussion before classifying the candidates, without sight of names or colleges.  
If a similar pattern of meetings is followed in future (involving a pre-Final meeting and 
the use of updated, but still anonymous mark sheets at the Final Meeting), it would be 
advisable that the Modern Languages Examinations Office should know from the outset 
the pattern of meetings, and exactly which lists will be needed for each, since the Office 
will be at its very busiest at the time of those meetings. 
 
6. 
Matters raised by Examiners 
 
Of the issues that arose in the course of the General Marks Meeting, one, in particular, 
merits the attention of the Standing Committee.  English Examiners work in their parent 
school to a convention whereby the presence of two First-class marks and an average 
mark of 67.5 does not simply allow the possibility of targeted re-reading, but 
automatically triggers a re-reading of the whole run of a candidate’s scripts. This is done 
in all such cases and an analogous procedure operates at the 2.i/2.ii border. This is 
intended as an opportunity to consider whether a candidate may, overall, have shown 
signs of intellect and performance deserving of the higher classification. (The third reader 
may vary the agreed mark, but only within the range of the two marks awarded by the 
first and second markers, as is the case with Modern Languages.) It was strongly 
represented to the Final Meeting, with the support of an External Examiner, that the 
English procedure is preferable and fairer to candidates.  It is, accordingly, 
recommended that the Standing Committee for the Joint School in English and Modern 
Languages be asked to consider this view.  There is, however, a practical consideration, 
which the Committee may wish to bear in mind: at present Modern Languages scripts 
tend to be held and deposited according to language and examination paper.  They are 
individually retrievable, but are not held centrally in the form of a dossier of each 
candidate‘s scripts, as is the case in English.  
 
5. 
Chairman-elect for 2009-10 
 
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 Dr J Naughton, Chair of the FHS in Modern Languages.  
 
18 September 2009                                                              Michael Nicholson (Chairman) 
71 
 

 
To the Vice-Chancellor 
 
Neil Corcoran 
External Examiner's Report on English Language and Modern Languages 2008-9 
 
Please refer to the Main School report. 
 
English and Modern Languages External Examiner’s Report 
Dr Nigel Harris 
29th July 2009  
 
Dear Vice-Chancellor,  
 
I have this year acted (for the second time) as External Examiner for the Final Honours 
School in the Sub-Faculty of German, Faculty of Modern Languages. My impressions of 
the examining processes I have seen were much as last year. That is to say, I have again 
been impressed both by the majority of the student work I have seen and by the 
conscientiousness with which marking has been done. I have no doubt that the awards 
made were appropriate, and that the Sub-Faculty‘s assessment procedures are both fair 
and rigorous.  
 
Standards were broadly in line with those applied at other institutions of which I have 
experience. In particular, the procedures far awarding first-class honours seemed to work 
very well: the 'de facto' capping of oral marks at 85, the view than an average of 68.5 is 
‗prima facie‘ evidence for considering a candidate for a first, and the requirement that a 
first-class candidate should achieve at least one first in a ‗content-based‘ paper - all of 
these seem eminently sensible stipulations in a context where you have significant 
numbers of very good students.  
 
I have two further comments to make:  
 
(1) I continue to wonder whether more internal examiners are needed. The burden on the 
small number of colleagues who bore the brunt of the examining work again seemed to 
me to be arguably excessive.  
 
(2) I wonder whether it might be possible in some way to streamline the various 'Joint 
Schools' meetings. I attended a total of five meetings outside the German Sub-Faculty 
this year (of the Modern Languages FHS, and of Joint Schools involving Classics, 
English, History and Philosophy). Quite apart from the fact that the timing of these did 
not seem particularly well co-ordinated, and hence caused a measure of inconvenience 
for both Internal and External Examiners, the subtly different procedures adopted at each 
72 
 

meeting must surely raise some questions as to whether all Modern Language finalists are 
treated in the same way. It would be good if at least some simplification of the system 
could be considered. One thinks, for example, of an arrangement at another University 
where I externalled, whereby all Modern Language students were dealt with at the same 
meeting, and representatives of non-language departments were invited to attend that part 
of the meeting at which their 'Joint School' candidates were discussed. I accept, of course, 
that such a procedure would probably involve a cultural and administrative shift which 
goes beyond what many Internal Examiners would find reasonable; but some move in its 
direction might, I think, be beneficial and welcome.  
 
I hope at least some of these comments will be helpful.  
 
Yours with best wishes,  
 
Nigel Harris, BA DPhil,  
Reader in German Studies,  
University of Birmingham. 
 
73 
 

FINAL HONOUR SCHOOL OF HISTORY AND ENGLISH 2009 
EXAMINERS’ REPORT 2009 
 
Part I   
A. 
STATISTICS 
  
All candidates, Numbers and percentages in each class/category 
Class 
Number 
Percentage (%) 
 
2008/9 
2007/8 
2006/7 
2008/9 
2007/8 
2006/7 




25% 
43% 
15% 
II.I 


11 
75% 
57% 
85% 
II.II 






III 






Pass 






Fail 






 
All candidates, divided into Male (M) and Female (F) 
 
Class 
Number 
Percentage (%) 
 
2008/9 
2007/8 
2006/7 
2008/9 
2007/8 
2006/07 
 



















0% 
37.5%  100%  33.3%  0% 
18% 
II.I 






100%  62.5%  0% 
66.7%  100%  82% 
II.II 












III 












Pass 












Fail 












 
There were twelve candidates this year.  Three candidates – three women candidates – 
were awarded firsts; the rest were awarded upper second class degrees.  None submitted 
medical reports, and none withdrew. 
 
 
74 
 

The numbers taking each bridge paper were as follows: 
 
By written examination 
Literature and the Public in England, c. 1350-1430   

Representing the City, 1558-1640 
 
 
 

 
By extended essay 
Literature and the Public in England, c. 1350-1430   

Representing the City, 1558-1640 
 
 
 

Postcolonial Historiography: Writing the (Indian Nation) 

 
This was the last year that candidates might have the bridge paper assessed by written 
examination.  From next year the bridge papers will be examined by extended essay 
alone. 
Apart from the three bridge papers, which constitute some sort of common core for this 
joint school, these twelve candidates offered thirty eight different papers.  In all, fifty 
different markers marked at least one script.  Sometimes the judgements upon the bridge 
papers from assessors in the two disciplines varied, sometimes quite widely, but in every 
case the final mark was an agreed one between the two assessors, or adjudicated.  
For one paper in the FHS of English there had been a discrepancy between two sets of 
markers.  The process of scaling applied in the FHS of English was exactly followed in 
this joint school in order to achieve parity.  No candidate‘s class was altered after the 
scaling. 
The diversity of the papers offered, and the number of assessors involved, each marking a 
few scripts each, makes it difficult to make an Olympian overview of candidates‘ 
strengths and weaknesses as literary critics and historians.  However, the prevalent 
excellence of the extended essays in the bridge papers attests not only to a superior 
performance in this mode of examination, but also to their interdisciplinary skills, and to 
their ability to rise to the particular intellectual challenges of this joint school.  
Since the practice of holding a single marks meeting may not suffice for the final 
processes of reconciliation it is recommended that an extra meeting be scheduled. 
The examiners are indebted to the six assessors who marked the bridge papers, and 
especially to those who set so many examination questions to be answered by so few. 
Perennial thanks are due, and gratefully offered, to Louise Parkinson, Andrea Hopkins, 
Charlotte Garrett and Isabelle Moriceau of the History Faculty, and Angie Johnson of 
English, who prepared for the examination of this complex joint school not just in the 
examination season, but throughout the year.  Their constant and cheerful support was, as 
always, greatly valued. 
 
75 
 

Prof. A. Walsham (External) 
Prof. J. Boffey (External) 
Dr S. Brigden (Chair) 
Prof. L. Roper  
 
 
 
Dr  J. Watts 
Dr F. Johnston  
Dr D. Purkiss 
Dr P. Conrad 
 
 
76 
 

External Examiners’ Reports for FHS 
To the Vice-Chancellor: 
 
Report of the External Examiner for the Honour School of 
English Language and Literature (XENA/DENA/DENB)  
18 July 2009 
Professor Julia Boffey, Queen Mary University of London 
 
Please refer to the Main School report. 
 
The Vice-Chancellor 
The University of Oxford 
 
Report of the External Examiner Final Honours School of History 
Joint Honours School of History and English 
Joint Honours School of Modern History and Modern Languages 
Alexandra Walsham 
 
I am very pleased to report on the examinations for the above schools for the 2008-9 
academic year. This is my final report as external examiner in early modern history. I 
wish to express my gratitude to the successive chairs and secretaries of the examination 
boards and the staff of the Faculty Office for their assistance and for the care and 
efficiency with which they have conducted the examination process during each of the 
three years of my appointment. 
 
Student Performance 
The high percentage of first class degrees awarded in 2008-9 (69 out of 237) and mere 
handful of 2.2, 3rd and pass degrees (5) is a testament to the intellectual calibre of 
students admitted to read History at Oxford and to the dedication of those who have 
taught them at college and faculty level. At the highest ends of the mark range, I read 
scripts, essays and dissertations of exceptional quality, while the work of all but a tiny 
minority of the candidates revealed careful and intelligent preparation. The overall 
performance of Oxford students bears very favourable comparison with, and indeed 
exceeds, that of cohorts of students at most other universities in this country. However, it 
is my impression that this is truer of examination performance than performance in 
essays and dissertations: Oxford students perform very much better under exam 
77 
 

conditions than most of their counterparts elsewhere, but there is a less marked difference 
in the area of coursework. 
 
Academic Standards 
The academic standards set by the Faculty of History and University for the award of 
undergraduate degrees in this Final Honours School and associated Joint Schools are very 
impressive. Oxford students are rigorously tested under examination conditions in five 
three-hour papers at the end of their final year and equally high expectations pertain to 
the Special Subject extended essays and compulsory dissertations which they submit 
prior to the examination period. It must be commented that there remains a much greater 
bias within the Oxford system towards the assessment of examination performance than 
in most other UK higher education institutions, where coursework assessment comprises 
a growing proportion of the final degree mark. The evidence suggests that this contributes 
to the marked gender imbalance in the performance of candidates in both the Main 
School and joint schools (around 38% of firsts awarded in 2009 were achieved by 
women). It is not clear to me that the suggestion made in the Response to the Examiners‘ 
reports for 2007-8 that workshops on examination technique be conducted for female 
undergraduates will be sufficient to counteract or adjust the current pattern. Other 
strategies may need to be considered. I would also underline and endorse the concern 
expressed by the full examination board in its final marks meeting about the high number 
of withdrawals (18 in total) this year. As noted in the course of that discussion, this 
appears to index the intense pressure which many Oxford finalists feel as they approach 
their final exams, by comparison with their counterparts in other universities which 
examine papers at the end of the academic year in which they are studied and where more 
varied forms of assessment are used. 
 
Disciplines of History 
As in previous years, I should like to commend the Disciplines of History paper as an 
excellent component of the programme. This challenges students to think critically, 
imaginatively and comparatively about broad conceptual and methodological issues 
relevant to the discipline. I understand that proposals have been made to revise the 
syllabus and structure of this paper and to reduce the number of questions candidates are 
asked to answer from 3 to 2. I am unclear about the rationale for this change, but I saw no 
evidence internal to the examination scripts I read that such a move would be particularly 
desirable or advantageous. My sense is that the current system is in many ways very 
effective and that a further alteration at this stage may be unsettling to both candidates 
and tutors. 
 
Assessment Procedures 
Assessment procedures are judicious and fair. Examination papers were set and 
scrutinised with care and the questions set challenged candidates to think about topics in 
interesting and critical ways. In most cases, marking was evidently carried out very 
conscientiously. It was helpful to see samples of work which had been uncontroversially 
78 
 

marked in addition to those which required adjudication and in each case I concurred 
closely with the judgement of the internal examiners.  I commend the continued practice 
of blind double marking at a time when many other universities are moving towards less 
comprehensive forms of second marking and moderation. In most cases there was a high 
level of independent agreement about the strengths and weaknesses of scripts, essays and 
dissertations and marks awarded were consistent with the written comments on the 
examiners, though the quality of these varied from somewhat sketchy to precise and 
detailed.  
 
Reconciliation 
It would have been helpful in some instances if the process by which internal markers 
agreed marks and resolved differences of opinion had been more fully documented. It 
may be that the introduction of a reconciliation sheet, to be attached by the examiners to 
the two comment sheets and then returned to the Faculty Office as a set, would be a 
useful innovation. This would also enable the comments sheets to be filed by candidate 
number, making it much easier for members of the examination board to locate relevant 
sheets for papers they have been asked to re-read.  
 
Presentation Issues and Short Weight 
While markers are provided with clear guidance from the Faculty about the 
circumstances in which presentation problems should be flagged, it was apparent from 
discussions that took place at this year‘s board meetings that there remained some 
inconsistency in how these rubrics were interpreted and applied. I would urge some 
tightening up of the definitions of unacceptable presentation and greater clarification of 
the range of offences that fall into this category, to ensure that all students are treated by 
markers equally. A second area in which this became apparent was in relation to 
judgements about short weight. This arose most acutely in the case of an extended essay 
one third of the expected length and a dissertation that consisted of two pages of bullet 
points, both submitted by the same candidate: without careful scrutiny it would not have 
been picked up that these two seriously deficient pieces of work were marked 
inconsistently. Despite his/her failure to make a serious attempt at two critical elements 
of the History degree, this candidate nevertheless qualified for a pass degree. I myself 
would query whether this should be the case. Should a candidate who has not submitted a 
compulsory thesis (and has no mitigating circumstances) be permitted to graduate with an 
Oxford degree? 
 
Mark Profiles 
It was reassuring to find that attention is paid to the marking profiles of individual 
examiners and pairs of examiners. In the case of History and English, this resulted in 
steps being taken to scale marks to ensure that candidates whose scripts were marked by 
one pair of English examiners were not disadvantaged in relation to those marked by a 
different pair. I would urge future boards to continue to scrutinise marking profiles 
carefully, especially because it is apparent that some markers are more willing to use the 
79 
 

full range of marks (especially in the first class and in the third class) than others. These 
varied practices of marking can have potentially distorting and uneven effects on degree 
averages. This raises a further point: the importance of establishing and disseminating 
clear criteria for differentiating work that falls within various sections of the first class, 
i.e. above 70, 75, 80, etc. While some markers are willing to mark into the 80s, others 
clearly regard 75 as the upper limit.  
 
Classification Conventions and Preponderance 
While commending the scrupulous care with which final classifications are decided under 
the Oxford system, in both of my previous reports I have expressed concern about one 
aspect of the current conventions for classifying candidates: the high priority they place 
on overall average over and above preponderance. It was noticeable this year, as in earlier 
ones, that the convention awarding a first on the basis of 2 out of 7 marks of 70 or above 
and an average of 68.5 left a small number of very able candidates in an anomalous 
situation: although they achieved marks above 70 in a preponderance of the papers they 
took (4 or more) an overall average (usually fractionally) below 68.5 placed them in the 
2.1 class. I was reassured to see that the chair of this year‘s board was alive to this 
problem and ensured that relevant papers were re-read for candidates in this category. 
The presentation of candidates in rank rather than numerical order in the preliminary 
meetings enabled such candidates to be identified more easily and accurately than in 
previous years. Even so, in the case of one candidate in the Main School there remained a 
real danger (ultimately avoided) that rigid enforcement of the qualifying average of 68.5 
might have resulted in a 2.1. In my view this would have been a miscarriage of justice, 
especially when contrasted with candidates (there were five in this cohort) who achieved 
a first on the basis of just 2 out of 7 marks in the first class. A close scrutiny of the mark 
profile for one HML candidate reveals a similar case that was not resolved so favourably: 
5 out of 10 first and an average of 68.26, but classified as a 2.1. In many other 
institutions, candidates can achieve a first either on overall average or on preponderance 
(where they have achieved a qualifying average). There may be an argument for allowing 
a greater element of discretion to the board in classifying candidates with a 
preponderance whose average falls between 68 and 68.5.  
 
Joint Schools and Bridge Essays 
My final points relate to issues particular to the joint schools in which I have been 
involved (History and English and History and Modern Languages). Firstly, I would 
suggest that communication between the relevant faculties involved might be improved. 
In the case of History and English this year, for instance, a critical adjustment to the 
marks for one English paper had not been implemented before the marks were sent to 
History, with the result that changes had to be made at the board itself and the averages 
recalculated. Ideally, marks presented at the final board meeting should be firmly fixed 
and secure. On a previous occasion in History and Modern Languages, errors in the 
transcription and entry of marks were picked up at the last minute. Secondly, I would 
draw attention to the not insignificant discrepancies that were apparent in the marks 
awarded by markers from different disciplines for some of the bridge essays. Markers 
80 
 

need to pay close attention to the relevant criteria and ensure that they mark with the 
interdisciplinary element of the exercise firmly in mind. Equally, there may be a case for 
considering how effectively these bridge papers/essays serve their designated purpose. 
Thirdly, I would note the declining numbers in the joint School of History and English in 
particular and suggest that there may be grounds for considering why this is the case. It 
may be that the structure and teaching of these degrees would benefit from an internal 
review.  
 
I hope that these comments will be helpful to the Examination committee of the Faculty. I 
conclude by expressing my thanks for the invitation to act as external examiner at the 
University of Oxford. I have learnt much from the experience and enjoyed and profited 
from working closely with members of the successive boards. 
 
Yours sincerely, 
Alexandra Walsham 
Professor of History and Head of Department 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
81 
 

2009:  MST  IN  ENGLISH  STUDIES  (INC.  MST  IN  ENGLISH  AND  AMERICAN 
STUDIES) 

MS JERI JOHNSON, CHAIR OF M.ST. EXAMINERS 
 
Part I 
A. 
STATISTICS 
(1) 
Numbers and percentages in each class/category   
(a) 
Unclassified Examinations  
Category 
 
Number 
 
 
Percentage    
 
2008/09* 
2007/08 
2006/07 
2008/09* 
2007/08 
2006/07 
Distinction 
29 
(  25  ) 
(  35  ) 
40.3 
(  40.3 ) 
( 55  ) 
Pass 
42 
( 37 ) 
(  28  ) 
58.3 
(  59.7  ) 
( 43) 
Fail 

(  0  ) 
(  0 ) 

(  0  ) 
(  0  ) 
*One student (1.4%) has yet to complete; should re-submitted work not pass, this will 
convert to a ‗Fail‘. 
 
(2) Vivas 
Vivas were not used. 
 
(3) Marking of scripts 
All essays were double-marked. 
 
B. NEW EXAMINING METHODS AND PROCEDURES 
There were no substantial change in procedures, though the B essays were this year all 
marked (for first two markings) by internal Examiners rather than by assessors, thus 
bringing more of the examination process wholly within the Board of Examiners.  (Third 
markings were reserved for External Examiners.)  Due to the large number of 
Dissertations (72) each requiring two markings (144 pieces to be marked) and the very 
short time available for this (one week), it is impossible to contain this marking wholly 
within the Board.  Most were marked by at least one Examiner, expert assessors being 
assigned for second markings (again third marking being reserved for External 
Examiners).  This means that no assessor is asked to mark more than two or three 
dissertations, and the whole business can be accomplished within the restricted 
timeframe.  This worked again well this year and is recommended for the future. 
In order that External Examiners could receive essays and dissertations in good time to 
allow them to review and/or third mark, we reduced by one week the time allowed for 
82 
 

internal marking of both Hilary and Trinity term B and C essays.  This caused no 
problem at all (there remains an extended time period available for internal marking) and 
alleviated pressure on the staff (who have to gather the required essays and comment 
sheets to send off) and on the External Examiners. 
 
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 Michaelmas term. 
 
Part II 
 
A.  GENERAL COMMENTS ABOUT THE EXAMINATION 
See attached report. 
 
B. EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES ISSUES AND BREAKDOWN OF THE RESULTS 
BY GENDER 

Review of grades by reference to gender: 
 
Percentage: Female / Male 
Category 
2008/09 
2007/08 
2006/07 
MSt School 
67 / 33 
73 / 27 
56 / 44 
Distinction 
52 / 48 
56 / 44 
46 / 54 
Pass 
79 /21 
78 / 22 
68 / 32 
Fail 
0 / 0 
0 / 0 
0 / 0 
Incomplete 
100/ 0 
0 / 0 
0 / 0 
 
 
83 
 

C. DETAILED NUMBERS ON CANDIDATES’ PERFORMANCE IN EACH PART 
OF THE EXAMINATION 

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

This part is physically separate. 
 
F. NAMES OF MEMBERS OF THE BOARD OF EXAMINERS 
Ms Jeri Johnson (Chair)                              
Professor Vincent Gillespie                        Professor Thorlac Turville-Petre (External)  
Professor Valentine Cunningham               Professor Gordon McMullan (External) 
Mr Tom Paulin                                            Professor Claire Lamont (External) 
Dr Peter McDonald (ChCh)                        Professor Peter Nicholls (External) 
Professor Kathryn Sutherland 
Professor Richard McCabe 
 
M.ST. AND M.PHIL. IN ENGLISH, CHAIR OF EXAMINERS’ REPORT FOR 
2008-9 

This year, the same percentage of candidates received Distinctions (29 (40%)) as did last 
year (25 (40%)). This is a very creditable performance overall and not out of line with 
performance in equivalent Humanities Master‘s courses across the University.   
The number of External Examiners was reduced by one this year, and each had served at 
least one previous year: Professors Claire Lamont, Peter Nicholls, Gordon McMullan and 
Thorlac Turville-Peter.  They all again remarked the high achievement of the candidates.  
We were again able to keep the final Examiners‘ Meeting to a single, morning, session 
thus sparing them the arduous task of reading large quantities of material over a lunch 
break as has been required in the past.  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 
84 
 

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 Darby deserve thanks for their oversight and administration of 
this year‘s examination.   
 
Administration 
We had two new administrators this year, and this meant that things did not run quite as 
smoothly as they might have done.  Despite their hard work and serious effort, two or 
three small problems arose this year, principally involving rudimentary clerical 
procedures (marks adjudicated and altered in an Examiners‘ meeting must be changed on 
the final and master marksheets, e.g., and care must be taken to insure that the essay 
presented for scrutiny is actually the essay asked for; care must be taken in the checking 
of all marks before they are submitted as final).  These can be easily remedied.    
Perhaps because of this transition, a request made in last year‘s report was not fulfilled 
this year.  We make it again:  the Chair must be provided, early in the year, with a full list 
of all course convenors (i.e., ‗first markers‘) and the boards of Examiners for Schools and 
of Moderators for Mods.  
On another matter, we again had candidates who failed the paleography / transcription 
test.  Because a date for re-sits was included in the calendar as published in the 
Handbook, none of the problems of last year arose.   
  
Internal Marking and Comment Sheets/Feedback Forms 
It is still true that, as Professor Lee wrote three years ago now, ‗the process of continuous 
or on-going assessment which we have put in place for the M. St. in order that the 
students can have some feedback and sense of progress (and can have marks in place for 
funding applications) means that there is an intense series of deadlines and a great deal of 
administrative work to do all through the year.‘  Several problems arise, still, because of 
this. 
While the problem of assigning marking of B, C and dissertations has been resolved 
through the extra internal Examiners‘ meetings, and the use of assessors for the marking 
of dissertations, there remains the serious, and increasingly threatening, problem of the 
presentation of feedback to candidates.  
This begins with the writing of comments by both markers of B and C work (though the 
difficulty arises mostly in relation to C essays).  Both markers must insure that they write 
full comments, highlighting strong and weak points in the essay, and justifying with 
explicit evidence
 the mark they have awarded.  These must be returned with a copy of the 
essay at the time that marks are submitted.  External Examiners repeatedly stated that the 
comment sheets they were receiving were too often sketchy, or that they received only 
one comment sheet, or that the justification for the mark was lacking, or that the reason 
85 
 

given for the agreed mark was inadequate.  (Again, markers need to be reminded that no 
mark should be put on the comment form.) 
Further, and directly related to the matter of feedback to candidates, course convenors 
(or, in the case of B essays, the first marker) need to be reminded that they are 
responsible for producing a final, coherent, amalgamated feedback report, also following 
the guidelines above, that can be presented to the candidate.  (The point made on exactly 
this issue in last year‘s report has had no effect whatsoever.  If anything, the situation has 
worsened this year.)  If feedback is to work, it must be rational, just and sufficiently 
detailed to support the mark given.  Course convenors and, indeed, any marker who must 
produce comment sheets, should have their attention drawn again to the highly detailed 
marking criteria, and should include sufficient detail drawn in the light of those criteria
to justify the mark.  Too often, with an exceptionally constrained timeframe, the Chair 
was reduced to haranguing markers to submit comments, and for coherent feedback 
reports to be drafted for presentation to candidates.  I wish I could say that even with such 
haranguing I was always successful in obtaining these reports.  This cannot continue.  
The situation is made worse by the close proximity of the Examiners‘ Meeting at which 
the marks are agreed to the published date for the release of feedback.  As the deadline 
approaches (or passes) candidates understandably clamour for the feedback that in many 
instances the Chair has not been able to elicit from the convenors or markers.  Similarly, 
it is not helped when members of the Faculty press the administrators or the Chair for 
release of feedback.  The problem does not lie with the administrators or the Chair.  It lies 
with course convenors and markers who do not produce adequate comment sheets in the 
first place and then fail to provide coherent, justified feedback, that can fairly (and 
safely!) be released to candidates.  Procedures surely require that all feedback is released 
to all candidates at once. 
On more than one occasion, the Chair was made aware of pending appeals to the Proctors 
once candidates received their feedback.  Luckily, none of these came finally to a formal 
complaint.  (Unfortunately, and in addition, in each term candidates in fact received the 
wrong feedback – two candidates‘ sheets having been mistakenly switched before they 
made it to the Chair for scrutiny.  This is perhaps understandable, but creates a kind of 
nightmare for everyone involved. Luckily, no formal complaint was made in either case.)  
The Clerk to the Proctors again remarked the ‗exceptionally unusual‘ procedures that we 
follow, and in particular, the presentation of feedback to candidates at intervals in the 
course of the degree. 
It is the strong recommendation of this Chair that the Board seriously consider 
eliminating the element of feedback to candidates during the course of the degree.  
Candidates are becoming increasingly inclined to complaint and threatened litigation.  
We leave ourselves vulnerable to same when the procedures, though followed in the 
main, do not result in feedback that coherently explains and fully justifies the mark 
awarded.   
It should be said immediately that the Externals do not endorse this recommendation.  In 
fact, they recommend that we increase the amount of feedback to include feedback on the 
dissertation – a matter that the Boards have repeatedly discussed over the last two years, 
and have decided against.  However, they simultaneously lament the problem of shoddy 
86 
 

comment sheets presented to them (or missing and so not presented to them) and urge 
increased coherent feedback to candidates; none recognizes that these two are connected, 
and that the possibility of accomplishing (or increasing) the latter depends entirely on the 
possibility of eliminating the problem of the former. 
 
Marking and Distinction Criteria 
These were retained from last year.  No problems arose in this respect (aside from those 
enumerated in the preceding paragraph).  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 – unjustified.)  
 
Essay and Dissertation Titles 
A problem arose this year that previously had not been evident.  Far too frequently, the 
final piece of work submitted carried a title (and hence addressed a topic), sometimes 
wildly at variance with that approved by the Examiners.  Markers are assigned on the 
basis of these topics/titles.  Changes are required to be approved by the Chair.  This is far 
too frequently being taken as a nicety rather than a serious requirement.  Course 
convenors and dissertation supervisors should be reminded that this is a serious matter, 
and should insure that any change in topic/title must be submitted for approval to the 
Chair in good time before the final submission date.   
External Examiners remarked again this year that, for a small number of candidates, 
usually the weakest, scope remains a problem both in the essays and in the dissertation.  
External Examiners more than once remarked that candidates who limited themselves to 
a single text were handicapped; they could not perform as impressively as those who 
addressed a range of texts.  Course convenors and dissertation supervisors could very 
usefully ensure that candidates fully understand the implication of their chosen topics.  
This has been the case for the last three years; we need to try and ensure that it does not 
occur again next year. 
 
External Markers 
We reverted to using only four External Examiners this year.  This worked well, perhaps 
because of the increased use of internal Examiners for marking of B essays.  It still 
remains the case that by far the heaviest burden falls on the External responsible for both 
87 
 

the Modern period and the English and American studies strand of the degree. Professor 
Nicholls uncomplainingly performed yeoman‘s service for the period of his tenure as an 
External Examiner. 
 
External Examiners’ Concerns 
The External Examiners, while repeatedly praising the outstanding performance of 
candidates at the top end, raised concern about various aspects of candidates‘ 
submissions, and of the course and procedures themselves.  The most serious of these are 
given above, concerning comment sheets presented to them for help in their adjudication 
or confirmation of internally awarded marks, about the kind and amount of feedback 
provided to candidates and about the scope of work submitted (with arising and 
concomitant concerns about the adequacy of oversight and supervision).   
On the recommendation from External Examiners that we increase the amount of 
feedback to include feedback on the dissertation (and, of course, only if we are to 
continue to give feedback to candidates), Professor Lamont‘s suggestion should be 
considered.   She proposes that feedback on the dissertation might be given only to those 
candidates who, but for a dissertation mark below 70, would have achieved a Distinction, 
i.e., to those with the greatest chance of continuing who would most profit from the 
information.  The Chair wonders if such discrimination in the presentation of feedback 
might not create its own problems. 
External Examiners also remarked the ubiquitous Oxford English Faculty problem of a 
reluctance to mark at the top range of marks, or to resolve a disagreement between first 
and second markers in the upper rather than the lower range (e.g., one External: while 
there were ‗no instances where . . . markers had resolved the mark at too high a level, but 
a few instances where . . . a little more generosity might have been warranted‘). 
They noted, as well, that too much work was ‗under theorised‘, by which was not meant 
that more reference to ‗post-structuralist theory‘ or its ilk was required.  Rather that ‗it is 
odd in 2009 to read a series of essays or dissertations that seem not to be aware that, for 
instance, biographical reading is not an uncontested critical mode‘.  Similarly, it was 
noted that there was still little ‗language work‘ or work on poetry.  In a similar vein, and 
again as last year, candidates who did least well presented work that was singularly 
lacking any acute local readings. 
But, finally, the Externals praised the efficiency of the procedure and, more importantly, 
the general high quality of the work (at the top end ‗quite magnificent‘, ‗truly 
distinguished‘ ‗clearly publishable‘) and of the course itself (what is offered by our 
course is ‗of an exceptionally high standard‘; the Bibliography course cannot ‗be rivalled 
anywhere else‘), the ambitiousness and accomplishment of candidates, their obvious hard 
work, the exceptionally high quality of the scholarship at the top end.   
Jeri Johnson, Chair of MSt Examiners 
6 October 2009 
88 
 

M.ST. EXTERNAL (650 – 1550) 
PROFESSOR THORLAC TURVILLE-PETRE 
 
Dear Vice-Chancellor 
This has involved marking scripts in January, April and June, with a Final Examiners‘ 
Meeting on 2nd July. 
 
Academic Standards 
The demands of both the MSt course in English Studies 650-1550 and the MPhil in 
English Studies (Medieval Period) are high. The 20,000-word Dissertation 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. The essays 
for the palaeography course covered an especially broad range and were almost all 
interesting and original. 
 
Student Performance 
The MSt candidates were good, though not as excellent as last year. The work was at 
worst competent and at best outstanding, meriting and achieving a Distinction. I agreed 
their high marks were fully deserved and entirely in line with marking standards 
elsewhere. There were only two MPhil candidates, one achieving a Distinction, the other 
competent. 
 
Comparability 
There were more Distinctions awarded than in other Universities where I have examined. 
These were fully merited. The less distinguished were the same as anywhere else. I got 
the impression that there were no candidates for whom English is a second language, 
which is unusual at other Universities I am familiar with. 
 
Assessment Processes 
At the two telephone meetings and the final meeting we had full discussion of all 
differences of marks awarded, and I am confident that all issues were resolved fairly. 
There was, however, some discussion about the quality of feedback and the comments 
from the internal examiners. I found several of the comment sheets quite illegible; others 
had scatty notes which were not helpful. The ―brief description of any negotiations to 
agree a final mark‖ was seldom illuminating; I suggest the heading be revised to 
encourage more useful comments – possibly ―On what basis did you agree or fail to agree 
a final mark?‖. The usual practice elsewhere is for the first-marker to write a full set of 
comments to feedback to the student, and this (since it is carefully considered and clearly 
89 
 

written) can be of great value to the external assessor. We discussed this at the final 
meeting, and I hope the matter will receive further attention. 
The Dissertation sometimes expands on work presented for one of the essays. There are 
good reasons why this should be allowed, but it needs to be carefully monitored. By 
chance I was asked to read both essay and dissertation of one undistinguished candidate 
and found some overlap which caused me to lower the mark. There needs to be some 
mechanism in place to pick this up. At present the internal markers for one submission 
may be different for the other, and they will not be able to spot overlap and repetition. 
The Chairman and administrative staff did everything possible to ensure the smooth 
running of the assessment processes. 
 
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. 
 
Yours faithfully, 
Thorlac Turville-Petre 
 
90 
 

M.ST. EXTERNAL (1550-1780) 
PROFESSOR GORDON McMULLAN 
 
 
   
 
Department of English 
 
   
 
King‘s 
College London 
 
   
 
Strand 
 
   
 
London WC2R 2LS 
 
By e-mail 
 
19th August 2009 
 
The Vice Chancellor 
University of Oxford 
University Offices 
Wellington Square 
Oxford OX1 2BR 
 
Dear Vice Chancellor, 
 
M. St. in English: External Examiner’s Report 
 
This was my second year as external examiner for the Master of Studies in English – I 
had responsibility for work on literature within the period 1550-1780 – and I read scripts 
with highest/lowest marks and, in the summer, dissertations, and I found the work across 
the board to be highly impressive and the standards of assessment rigorous and 
appropriate. I‘d like to put on record my gratitude to Jeri Johnson, chair of the examining 
board, for organising everything efficiently and with a minimum of fuss. Getting college 
fellows to leave their undergraduates for a few hours and focus on MSt students would 
appear a task akin to the proverbial herding of cats and Ms Johnson does it with 
exemplary patience and aplomb. I‘m also grateful to Emily Yates for sending out essays 
and dissertations with absolute promptness and efficiency. I took part in two conference-
call ‗meetings‘ as well as the final dissertation meeting on 2nd July, which worked well 
and make obvious sense as an alternative to travel in mid-semester. 
91 
 

First and foremost, I wish to state the obvious. Oxford is very fortunate in the extremely 
high quality of the students it attracts to the MSt and it is clear that those students benefit 
immensely from the considerable expertise available to them in the English Faculty. I 
saw some exceptional work, as I did last year, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it all. 
The high Distinction-level work is quite magnificent and even the lowish Pass work tends 
to be misjudged rather than actually poor. These are excellent students who seem, 
wherever they did their first degrees, to adjust to the Oxford system (which must be very 
puzzling to overseas students, in particular, on arrival) and to the expectations of the 
academics teaching in particular fields with remarkable ease (though I imagine that the 
occasional loss of confidence I sensed in some of the not-quite-Distinction work I read 
may stem from instances of less comfortable adjustment to the context).  
It is clear too that students working in the 1550-1780 period are encouraged to write work 
that benefits from the Oxford context – that provided by the Bodleian‘s holdings as well 
as by the research engagements of members of the Faculty and the long history of top-
level work produced in this field at Oxford – and is appropriately archival, contextual, 
historical and textual. The students produce genuinely excellent bibliographical as well as 
critical work – even though, for many of them, this must be entirely new – and when they 
edit texts they tend to do so very well indeed. The critical work – especially on writers 
such as Milton and Spenser, about whom so much has, after all, been written – is 
frequently superb: fresh, considered, original and a joy to read. Quite how the very best 
students manage, in the narrowness of the time frame for the production of the 
dissertation, to encompass such a range of reading, primary and secondary, is something 
of a mystery. I saw genuinely excellent essays and dissertations on Spenser, Milton, 
seventeenth-century poetry in general, Neo-Latin poetry, and bibliography. There is no 
question that Oxford is the place to be a Master‘s student if these are your interests. The 
Shakespeare and drama work is a little less even, though I think this is true nationally: 
there‘s not only a certain self-selection in an undergraduate who decides at the age of 
twenty that Milton is the thing, there‘s also the long reach of A-level subtly undermining 
contextual/archival work in Shakespeare and his contemporaries. 
This said, there are certain issues that it would be good to see resolved. For one thing, at 
times I felt the work was a little under-theorised. I do not, by this, mean that I would like 
to see more token references to Derrida or Deleuze; I mean that it is a little odd in 2009 to 
read a series of essays or dissertations that seem not to be aware that, for instance, 
biographical reading is not an uncontested critical mode. One of the best dissertations I 
read this year offered a magnificent overview of the current state of criticism in a given 
field and I worried slightly that one of the markers was in danger of dismissing it as 
overly dependent on secondary material. The student in question had a distinct voice of 
his/her own which had emerged directly from, and not in spite of, wide reading in the 
criticism and I think this kind of demonstration of awareness of the broad field into which 
students are pitching their work should be keenly encouraged. 
I felt at times too (and we had a forthright discussion about this at the final board) that 
there was a certain reluctance on the part of some markers to rise above a borderline mark 
of 68 (I learned also that it is standard practice not to mark at 69 – that is, to indicate by a 
68 that the work is definitely below the Distinction borderline) and I found myself 
increasing the marks of several dissertations by a point or two, especially when the 
92 
 

internal markers had disagreed across a borderline. Put simply, I found no instances 
where I felt that the markers had resolved the mark at too high a level, but a few instances 
where I felt a little more generosity might have been warranted. There‘s not much in it, 
and I‘m certainly not suggesting that markers are marking inappropriately. I simply 
wonder if perhaps Oxford markers become accustomed to the very high quality of the 
students they teach and thus might at times be prone to marking at a slightly tougher level 
than would be the case nationally (I take it to be the task of an external examiner, 
inasmuch as it‘s possible, to check these things).  
A couple of other issues arose this year, as follows: 
I spent a good amount of time looking closely at the dissertations I had been sent (those 
at borderlines or disagreed, plus the highest and lowest marked) and wrote detailed 
accounts of the way I reached my own mark in each case. So I was a little surprised to 
learn at the final board that my marks were simply accepted and that the internal markers 
whose marks I had either agreed or altered had not actually read my explanations for the 
decisions I had reached. I would urge the board in future to ensure that externals‘ 
comments accompanying adjudicated or altered dissertation marks be passed on to the 
markers prior to the meeting so that they can consider any issues raised. The implication 
otherwise is that internal markers do not see dialogue with the external as necessary, yet 
if the external is making suggestions that might help internal markers achieve resolution 
more easily in future it would be helpful to ensure that those remarks are passed on to 
those for whom they were written.  
I wonder if a little more consistency might be achieved in the supervision of dissertations. 
I am grimly aware of the ever-increasing workload we are all experiencing up and down 
the country and I know that many of the teachers of MSt courses will be immersed in 
undergraduate examining at the key moments, so I simply suggest this as a subject for 
discussion. Master‘s students do need guidance for the writing of dissertations, especially 
in the choice and scope of topic [text removed for reasons of confidentiality]. So if the 
board could consider ways to ensure an appropriate number of dissertation consultations 
– especially at the beginning, for discussion of scope and range of textual focus – I think 
that might be helpful. 
As last year, it was clear that individual markers take varying approaches to the process 
of marking and agreeing marks. Many write thorough and helpful comments, carefully 
explaining how they have reached a given mark, but not absolutely all, and it would help 
the externals immensely if a fuller degree of uniformity of practice could be achieved. 
‗Uniformity‘ is an unappealing word, I know, and I don‘t have any wish to reduce the 
intellectual independence that is a key attribute of the Oxford don: I would simply like to 
see rough equivalence in the explanations given for particular marks. Again as last year, 
there was a problem with the occasional lack of full explanation of the process by which 
agreement is achieved between first and second markers: too often a resolution of a cross-
class discrepancy is summed up by the words ‗the essay was reviewed‘, which doesn‘t 
give the external quite the insight into the process that he or she might prefer. It would be 
helpful to the external if the first-marker could write a brief explanation (a sentence or 
two would do) of the reasoning by which a disputed mark has been resolved. 
93 
 

A final point. Three of the four external examiners informally discussed various matters 
the evening before the meeting and we all agreed that we felt that there ought to be more 
feedback for students taking the MSt. But we gather that, with litigation no doubt in 
mind, the proctors are not especially well disposed towards written feedback and that the 
English Faculty is unusual within Oxford in offering as much as it does. This creates a 
difficulty, though, since the provision of substantive feedback has become the norm at 
most other universities across the country, and we would strongly endorse the English 
Faculty‘s stance in this regard. In fact, we would encourage still more feedback in one 
context, at least. We felt that the logic that dissertation feedback is not given because 
feedback should only be given for ‗formative‘, not ‗summative‘, work is misplaced, 
because the Master‘s dissertation is so often the key piece of writing that determines 
whether or not a student goes on to doctoral work and is thus in a quite significant way 
‗formative‘, and we think it would help Masters students immensely, as they move on to 
the doctorate, to have more than a number to help them understand how their work was 
received. 
This turns out to be my final year as external, since at the time of next year‘s board I will 
be in Australia and have therefore had to stop a year early. So I wish to conclude by 
reiterating that I have been happy both with the assessment processes and with the work I 
have read and I congratulate the Board on their achievement in delivering a degree of 
such high quality and in being able to attract such magnificent students. The examining 
process, as chaired by Jeri Johnson, has been exemplary in all sorts of ways and I am 
sorry not to be part of it for the coming year. 
Yours sincerely, 
 
Gordon McMullan 
Professor of English 
 
94 
 

M.ST. EXTERNAL (1780-1900) 
PROFESSOR CLAIRE LAMONT 
 
 
 
 
School of English Literature, Language 
 
 
 
and Linguistics 
 
 
 
Newcastle University 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 7RU 
 
 
 
 
 
 
12 July, 2009 
 
The Vice-Chancellor 
University of Oxford 
Education Policy Support 
University Offices 
Wellington Square 
Oxford, OX1 2JD 
 
Email: xxxxx.xxxxx@xxxxx.xx.xx.xx 
Copy to: xxxxxxxxx.xxxxxxxxxx@xxxxx.xx.xx.xx 
 
Dear Vice-Chancellor, 
I am writing at the end of my third and final year as External Examiner for the M.St in 
English Literature. My particular remit was the period 1780-1900. As I have written 
reports on my previous two years I shall concentrate on my experience in 2008-09 in this 
letter. 
The M.St offers a range of courses in each period of English Literature from which the 
candidates choose. Every course that I have been engaged with has been intellectually 
stimulating and well taught. This year, for some reason, the offering in Romantic 
literature, especially the poets, was markedly thin, especially in comparison with the 
choices for the later nineteenth century. What has particularly impressed me each year is 
the Bibliography course, and the superb submissions which is produces. Students are 
showing resourcefulness in using the Bodleian and college libraries to investigate topics 
in nineteenth-century bibliography and publishing history, and I am aware from what I 
read in earlier years that this excellence is visible in other periods also. This course will 
not only give candidates a sound grounding for doctoral work, but will enlarge the range 
of academic research and careers open to them – this is where the literary editors and the 
staff of the great academic libraries will come from. I do not know exactly what is taught 
in every other university; but I have no hesitation in saying that what is offered here is of 
95 
 

an exceptionally high standard, and in the case of the Bibliography course I doubt if it 
can be rivalled anywhere else. 
I am impressed by the standard of the majority of the students. Those gaining the highest 
marks, 80 or above, I should estimate as among the most able in the national cohort. 
These students are already producing work which could be deemed publishable. The 
majority of the class had marks clustering round 70, and consisted of good students 
whose work did not sparkle in the present context, and more able candidates who had 
been pulled down by some weakness in the execution of an ambitious project. Even those 
with lower marks produced worthwhile work, and had the particular merit, in comparison 
with less able students elsewhere, of writing accurate English and presenting their work 
according to a recommended style guide. Of course other universities have some very 
able students; but in most cases they also have a ‗tail‘ of weaker candidates which is 
scarcely apparent in the classes I have been involved with at Oxford.  
The conduct of the examination was in general of a high standard. Over my three years 
the sending of scripts to the external examiners in good time, the supply of comment 
sheets electronically, and the conduct of the meetings by conference-call at the end of the 
first two terms, have all become smoother in operation. Again the final examiners‘ 
meeting was very competently chaired. There is only one problem in this area, which 
remains an issue at the end of three years. Externals should receive with their scripts the 
independent reports of two internal examiners and their agreed mark, with a brief 
indication, if appropriate, of how they came together. This year, as in previous years, 
some internal examiners provided exemplary short paragraphs; others submitted obscure 
hand-written jottings, or even one single word. I don‘t know what can be done about this 
– a law which is repeatedly broken may be a bad law; but it doesn‘t look particularly bad 
to me. The defectors may have some objection to the task which I know nothing of; or 
they may simply be under too much pressure. All I can say is that it is the one thing about 
the conduct of the marking which falls below the intentions of the Faculty for this degree. 
Last year I raised the issue of feedback for candidates on their dissertations, which is not 
currently given. I received a helpful reply last January on this topic and would not 
normally expect to raise it again. This year, however, the topic was raised by another 
External Examiner at the final meeting, and generated considerable discussion. As a 
result I feel that I have something to add. In explaining the current policy of not giving 
feedback on dissertations, the Chair said that feedback was given only on ‗formative‘ 
assessments, and that the dissertation was ‗summative‘. Technically, no doubt, that is 
correct; but there is the issue of the status of the M.St degree. Most candidates taking it 
see it as a stepping-stone to a DPhil. It does not stand alone to the same extent as other 
degrees do. The Chair‘s other point was the sheer difficulty of providing feedback when 
so many examiners are involved over a short time-scale. I have a suggestions here, which 
is that feedback be given only to those students who have an average over the year of 70 
or above (required for a Distinction), but fail to gain 70 in the dissertation, thus 
disqualifying them from Distinction. Those who have not got the average of 70 over the 
year will not expect Distinction; those with 70 or above in both will be content with their 
success. The candidates who need help are those who, despite a promising start, have 
failed at the last hurdle. These are the candidates who will probably not be accepted for a 
D.Phil and need guidance as they consider applying to another university, or changing 
96 
 

their career path. Written feedback is difficult to handle for large number of both students 
and markers; but with a much smaller number might it be possible to give feedback orally 
in a short interview if the ‗near-miss‘ candidates ask for it?  
It is apparent that the marking in this course is under pressure because for some 
examiners these graduate scripts come in at the same time as undergraduate marking. 
That must be a consequence of a 9-month degree. In other universities graduate 
dissertations are submitted at the beginning of September, in degrees lasting a calendar 
year.  Oxford has decided to act differently, no doubt for good reasons; but the stress on 
the marking is an obvious consequence.  
I conclude by saying that it has been a pleasure to read such high-quality scripts, and to 
participate in the examining of this degree with so many interesting and committed 
colleagues. I have been received hospitably each year, and return my thanks.  
 
 
 
 
 
Yours sincerely, 
 
 
 
 
 
Claire Lamont 
 
 
Emeritus Professor C. Lamont 
Tel. 0191 284 5118 
Email: xxxxxx.xxxxxx@xxx.xx.xx 
 
97 
 

M.ST. EXTERNAL (1900- Present Day; English and American) 
PROFESSOR PETER NICHOLLS 
 
Report on the MSt in English (1900-Present Day and American) 
I read nine dissertations drawn from these two strands of the MSt. There were several 
pieces of truly distinguished work which were clearly publishable. A number of 
dissertations narrowly missed a Distinction and the quality of writing and research overall 
was impressive. The choice of topic was often ingenious, and most candidates showed an 
ability to carve out and develop a particular area. Marks for both strands of the MSt 
showed an improvement on those for the previous year. 
As in previous years, then, I was impressed by the overall quality of these dissertations 
which, it must also be noted, are completed by candidates in a much briefer period of 
time than are comparable Masters exercises at other institutions. Internal marking was 
generally accurate and considered, though I would draw attention once again to a 
concentration of borderline marks of 69. In some cases these seemed to indicate a 
reluctance to acknowledge Distinction-level work, and examiners need to be encouraged 
to mark more decisively across borderlines. I also felt that in several cases candidates 
could have performed better had they been given more advice by supervisors. [Text 
removed for reasons of confidentiality].
 
 
In regard to perennial worries about using the full marks range I would propose that 
examiners observe more closely the Marking Criteria, so that where there is agreement 
that a dissertation is ‗work of publishable quality‘ a mark of 85 or over be given as 
directed.  
The quality of examiners‘ comments remains uneven. Some are helpfully detailed and 
engaged, while others are gnomic and can amount to a single phrase. This can be 
extremely unhelpful for an external examiner who is attempting to resolve an internal 
disagreement. Additionally, the external should be given a brief account of the reasons 
for an unresolved mark. Too many comments are evaluations-in-process, jottings during 
the reading of the script rather than a considered final evaluation (some even abjure 
syntax altogether in favour of diagrammatic annotation – not helpful unless one has 
telepathic access to the mind of the examiner). The Board might also want to insist that 
examiners not use pencil for their comments since this does not photocopy effectively. 
The matter of dissertation debriefing was discussed at some length at the Board. I agreed 
with the other external examiners that this was eminently desirable though it is not a 
practice that the Faculty is keen to introduce, mainly on the grounds that the process of 
debriefing is regarded as a formative rather than as a summative one. The point was made 
by the external examiners, however, that the dissertation represents a significant stage in 
a candidate‘s career and that debriefing on the most important writing exercise to date 
should in fact be regarded precisely as formative, especially if the candidate was 
intending to apply for a doctoral place elsewhere.  
This was my final year as external examiner for the MSt and I have enjoyed reading work 
that is often outstanding. This is a highly successful programme and it has been a 
98 
 

pleasure to be associated with it. I am grateful to Dr. Johnson for her expert conduct of 
the Board‘s business and to Ms. Emily Yates for her management of a demanding 
administrative schedule. 
 
Peter Nicholls 
Professor of English and American Literature 
University of Sussex 
3 July 2009 
 
 
99 
 

M.ST. WOMEN’S STUDIES 
Dr Jane Garnett, History 
 
1.  Statistics: 
Fourteen candidates (12 women, 2 men) put themselves forward for examination.  One 
candidate applied for suspension on medical grounds, and hopes to return during the next 
academic year.   Two candidates applied for extensions to the 30 April deadline for 
submission of their Theory/Methods and Option essays on medical/personal grounds, and 
were granted extensions until 8 May.   All candidates submitted their dissertations on 
time. 
Of the fourteen candidates, four were awarded a Distinction (2 women, 2 men), and one 
failed the dissertation element, and will have the opportunity to re-submit next year.  The 
rest all passed, several at a high pass level.   No viva voce examinations were held.   
By comparison with the previous two cohorts, more Distinctions were awarded this year 
(both men being awarded a Distinction, and 17% of the women candidates), but nobody 
had failed in 2006-07 or 2007-08.    
 
Grand 
Year 
Gender 
Distinction  Pass 
Fail 
Unclassified  Total 
2006-07 
Female 

11 


13 
  

15 
85 


100% 
  
Male 




 0 
  

  
  
  
    
2007-08 
Female 

15 


17 
  

12 
88 


100% 
  
Male 




 0 
  

  
  
  
    
2008-09 
Female 




12 
  

17 
75 


100% 
  
Male 





  

100 



100% 
 
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 Roxana 
Baiasu from Philosophy, Dr Jane Hiddleston from Medieval and Modern Languages, 
100 
 

Professor Tim Whitmarsh from Classics, Dr Emma Smith and Dr Felicity James from 
English, Dr Jane Garnett (Chair) from History, and Dr Nazila Ghanea-Hercock from 
Law.  Dr Rebecca Langlands of the Classics Department, University of Exeter, acted as 
External Examiner for the first time this year, and brought great commitment and 
excellent judgement to the Board.  The Board would like to express its warm gratitude to 
her.  Given the interdisciplinary nature of the degree, and the wide range of options and 
dissertation subjects, a large number of assessors (20) were involved, in most cases only 
marking one or two pieces of work each.  To ensure consistency, except in one case 
(where there was no pertinent expertise on the Board, and where the two assessors used 
were both experienced tutors and examiners on the Women‘s Studies degree), 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, and three other 
examiners acted as second markers.  There was remarkable consistency of marks overall, 
with only a few cases of divergence.  The Exam Board remains convinced of the 
importance of its members being involved wherever possible in marking all pieces of 
work (and of assessors being chosen, within the bounds of feasibility, who have had some 
involvement with the course).  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.    
 
3.  Procedures: 
 

(a) Approval of titles: 
The first scrutiny role played by the Exam Board was the review of the proposed essay 
titles submitted by the candidates by Friday of 6th week of Hilary Term.  Two candidates 
were asked to clarify their focus and methodology, and resubmitted better articulated 
projects.  It was noted that candidates had interpreted the instruction on the form to 
outline ‗Treatment, including possible methodological approaches‘ in a wide variety of 
ways, some giving very minimal indication of their plans; supervisors had none the less 
signed their approval.  At its meeting on 7 July the Exam Board discussed ways of 
tightening up the approval of titles stage, to maximise its formative role in helping 
candidates and their supervisors to frame viable projects.  It was agreed to recommend 
that candidates should be required to supply a short paragraph constituting a specified 
number of words describing their plan and methodological approach for each essay.  
Supervisors/tutors should be instructed not to sign off such a proposal unless the required 
paragraph was in place, and seemed to represent a workable project.  Proposals deemed 
inappropriate or incomplete by the Exam Board would be returned to the candidate with a 
copy to the supervisor/tutor. 
 
(b) Marking:  
The marking process went smoothly, despite the complexity created by the number of 
different people who had to liaise over agreeing marks.   It was noted that the deadline for 
the submission of dissertation marks was very tight.  Given that the submission day for 
the dissertations is Friday of 8th week, there is inevitably only a short marking period 
101 
 

before an early July Exam Board.   At the Exam Board meeting the possibility of 
recommending a slightly earlier submission date for the dissertations (e.g. the Monday of 
8th week) was discussed, but it was recognised that the students themselves have a 
relatively short time within a 9-month MSt to produce a 15,000 word thesis.  Moreover, 
examiners/assessors who are also undergraduate tutors would be unlikely to find time in 
8th week to do the marking and reconciliation.   The External Examiner read all the 
dissertations within the short time allotted, and also scrutinised Theory/Methods and 
Option essays which had been given Distinction, failing or borderline marks.~ 
 
(c) Exam Board:  
After agreeing to be an examiner, Dr Felicity James had been offered a three-month 
lecturership in Hanoi, and proctoral permission was obtained for her to participate in the 
Exam Board meeting via a conference call facility, which was set up very efficiently by 
the Examination Schools.   
 
4. General Comments: 
 

(a) Criteria for classification: 
The Board noted that despite some very positive comments about the quality of the work 
produced at the upper end, only one mark above 75 had been given, and that most of the 
Distinction-level marks (especially for the dissertation, where the highest agreed mark 
was 73) had been in the low 70s.   
(i) In relation to the criteria for classification, the External Examiner noted that the 
descriptors attached to work of ‗high‘ Distinction level (to be marked at 76-100) included 
(amongst other references to wholly exceptional qualities) that it should be ‗of such 
outstanding calibre that it would have a strong chance of being published in an academic 
journal‘.  She felt that this was an inappropriate criterion (especially for the Theory/Methods 
and Option essays, but even for the dissertation), and might well have a dampening effect on 
the giving of marks above 75.  The Exam Board agreed, and it was also observed that whilst 
for a 70-75 the requirement was for ‗Excellent work, showing many of the following 
qualities …‘ , to attain a mark of 76 or above the terminology was: ‗Work in this bracket will 
display all of the following qualities …‘ The Exam Board compared the criteria for taught 
MSts in the five participating faculties, and it was agreed to recommend some re-wording of 
the criteria for the highest Distinction in closer relation to these, and also to consider 
introducing a new band to cover the range 75-85.   
(ii) It was also felt by the External Examiner and the Board as a whole that the criteria for the 
award of a Distinction were particularly strict.  It recommends that consideration be given to 
a slight modification, maybe in line with the conventions for the MSt in History, where ‗an 
average mark of 70 or better across the three elements is required, with marks of 70 or better 
in at least two elements, one of which will normally be the dissertation‘. 
(iii) The Board endorsed the External Examiner‘s supplementary recommendations for 
improvements in the lay-out of the mark-sheets and instructions to examiners/assessors (see 
her report)
, and also agreed that in addition to requiring a paragraph of typed comments 
from each individual assessor, in the case of marks which diverged and which therefore 
102 
 

required reconciliation, an additional paragraph should be submitted outlining the rationale 
for the final agreed mark. 
 
(b) Submission date for Theory/Methods essay: 
The Board discussed the issue raised by the External Examiner of whether it would be 
useful to set an earlier submission date for the Theory/Methods essay, in order to be able 
to provide formative feedback to candidates half way through the year. It was felt that 
this was unnecessary for formative assessment purposes, since students receive a large 
amount of feedback on written work throughout the year from tutors and supervisors.  It 
was noted that there might be a different rationale for separating the Theory/Methods and 
Option deadlines, in order to help students plan their work, but the Board remained 
agnostic on this point. 
 
(c) Word lengths:  
The current specifications exclude not just bibliography but also footnotes.  The Board 
recommends a modification to make word lengths inclusive of footnotes.  This is normal 
practice, and seems important in encouraging good academic style in the use of footnotes. 
 
5. Administrative support: 
Administrative support was provided first by Sam Wilson and then by Martin Cameron in 
the Humanities Division.  Both were very willing and responsive, and the Board is 
grateful to them for their help.  
It is worth noting, however, that there have been several changes of personnel, both in 
Humanities and in Modern Languages (where the examination support for this degree 
used to be based, and which still deals with admissions) over the course of one academic 
year, which has not made it easy either for the administrators or for those running the 
degree.  It is to be hoped that there will be greater stability in the future, which will aid 
both consistency and efficiency.   
Jane Garnett (Chair). 
103 
 

M.ST. WOMEN’S STUDIES, EXTERNAL EXAMINER 
DR REBECCA LANGLANDS,  UNIVERSITY OF EXETER 
 
Examination Board held on 7th July 2009 2pm.  
 
Overall standards: 
This is excellent Masters programme which integrates a broad range of disciplinary 
approaches and different material into a coherent whole. The Theory course and essay in 
the first term give the programme its theoretical core, while the range of Option courses 
available and dissertation topics allow for a great deal of flexibility in choice of 
specialisation. The programme allows students to benefit from a very wide range of 
expertise across the university. It is nicely structured with intensive introduction to 
general theory in the first term building through a specialist option towards the 
dissertation in the summer. Much of the work produced was of a high standard, with 
many individual pieces of work being awarded distinction. Even the couple of pieces of 
work which were awarded fail marks only failed by a small margin and had much to 
commend them. The policy of failing all work below 60% (rather than below 50% as at 
many other universities) ensures that all work that passes is of a good quality. I was 
particularly impressed with the clarity and style which with many students wrote, which 
resulted in all the work being by and large accessible to a non-specialist reader, (which 
the external examiner necessarily must be at times in a multi-disciplinary degree such as 
this). Often subjects that sounded from the title as if they might be rather obscure or 
difficult were rendered enjoyable to read. 
 
Marking consistency 
A particular challenge in a multi-disciplinary Masters degree such as this is ensuring that 
the marking is consistent across the board. This challenge was met: the marking was fair, 
appropriate and consistent across the whole degree despite the range of different markers 
and the different disciplines involved. Making sure that there was a single second marker 
for whole batch of Theory essays and that the other pieces of work were all marked by 
someone from the Board was helpful here. The deadline for marking and agreeing marks 
was tight, but everyone appeared to work hard to reach the agreed mark in time.  
 
Awarding distinctions 
It was notable that the examination conventions for calculating the final grade of the 
degree were stricter than those of comparable M.St. programmes at Oxford. Candidates 
who gained an overall numerical average were not automatically awarded a distinction 
even where they also had a distinction mark in their dissertation. (They were required to 
have a distinction in their dissertation and an average mark of 70% or more in their 
Theory and Option essays combined). In future years I would recommend a change of 
exam conventions is considered to bring this M.St. programme into line with others. 
 
104 
 

Comment sheets and marking
I have a number of interrelated comments and suggestions about the marking criteria 
used for the degree, the pro forma comment sheets and marking of work at the high end 
of the scale.  
Internal markers presented their comments and marks on a pro forma comment sheet 
which has a table with a checklist of criteria for assessing each piece of work, with 
ratings to be ticked against each criterion. This is a useful system. However, there are a 
couple of drawbacks to the sheet as it stands. 
First, currently that the levels of grading on the sheet (excellent, very good, etc…) do not 
correspond with the M.St.‘s actual marking criteria categories (high distinction, 
distinction, high pass etc…) and as a result different markers had different ideas about 
what grade bands the different levels corresponded to. I recommend that the ratings 
against each marking criterion are replaced with the language of the marking criteria as 
well as the numerical grade band (so last column might read: low fail 0-40%) 
Second, the criteria listed in the table are not currently tailored to different kinds of work 
that is being marked. For instance, ―originality‖ is one criterion that is less relevant, if 
relevant at all, to the Theory essays, which by and large are looking for the ability to 
understand and summarise complex feminist theory or other theory, and are not expecting 
originality from the student. It would be worth drawing up separate comment sheets for 
each piece of work (Theory, Option and Dissertation), making sure the criteria are all 
relevant. Throughout, a more appropriate criterion than ―originality‖ might be 
―independent thought‖ which could cover excellent handling of the work and ideas of 
others. 
The comments made by many of the markers on the comment sheets were very helpful in 
enabling the external (as well as, I assume the other internal marker) to see how marks 
had been reached, and also provided evidence of the extremely thoughtful and fair 
marking. In some cases the comments were a little harder to read (one set were written in 
pencil and then photocopied for me, and I had to look at the original to be able to read 
them at all.) I wondered if you might consider making word-processed comments the 
norm, and requiring from all markers a paragraph or two of explanation for the mark 
given. In addition it would be extremely helpful to have a brief comment on how the 
agreed mark was reached where there is divergence between the two internal markers. 
Perhaps a space could be set aside on the marking form for this, alongside the agreed 
mark. It is also not always clear which mark/comment is from which marker, so clearer 
space for signposting this on the form would also be helpful. 
It would also be helpful to have an indication somewhere in the documentation, perhaps 
on the comment sheet for the Option essay, which Option course the candidate has 
chosen.  
Wording of marking criteria 
On the marking criteria themselves, I noted that there were lots of marks of 70% and very 
few any higher. Only one was given in the high distinction range. My feeling was that 
markers were marking very hard in this range, and perhaps effectively capping the marks 
at about 75, and depressing lower range distinction marks, not least because of the 
105 
 

wording of the assessment criteria for the ―76-100%‖ band. This band opens with the 
description: ―Work of such outstanding calibre that it would have a strong chance of 
being published in an academic journal,‖ a criterion which is unlikely to be met for much 
work produced at a very high level not least because the medium of coursework essay is 
so different from that of the journal article. The description goes on to require the work to 
meet ―all‖ the following listed criteria, which it might be better to amend to ―many or all‖ 
thereby allowing for more flexibility. I recommend that the marking criteria are adjusted 
and brought into line with those of other Oxford M.St. programmes. 
One small administrative point: it would be really helpful to the external examiner if the 
essay and dissertation samples and the comment sheets arrived already ordered by 
candidate number as they appear on the mark sheets. This would save time at my end and 
it would also ensure that the packages could be easily checked before being sent to make 
sure nothing is missing and all is as it should be. (This year some essays were not sent by 
mistake and one comment sheet had wrong candidate number on it, for instance). 
106 
 

M.ST. FILM STUDIES 
DR ANDREW KLEVAN 
 
MASTER OF STUDIES IN FILM AESTHETICS 
EXAMINERS’ REPORT 2009 
__________________________________________________________________ 
 
Part I   
A. 
Statistics  
 
(1) 
Numbers and percentages in each class/category 
 
 
Class 
Number 
Percentage (%) 
 
2008/09 
2007/08 
2006/07 
2008/09 
2007/08 
2006/07 
(first year 
(not 
of degree) 
running) 


( 3   ) 
(    ) 
27.3 
( 21.4 ) 
(    ) 
II.I 

(  10  ) 
(    ) 
72.7 
(  71.4  ) 
(    ) 
II.II 
 
(    ) 
(    ) 
 
(    ) 
(    ) 
III 
 
(    ) 
(    ) 
 
(    ) 
(    ) 
Pass 
 
(    ) 
(    ) 
 
(    ) 
(    ) 
Fail 
 
1 not 
(    ) 
 
(    ) 
(    ) 
completed 
 
(2) 
Vivas 
No vivas were held. 
(3) 
Marking of script 
All  final  examination  scripts,  portfolios  and  dissertations  were  blind  double-marked.  
Draft essays worth 25% of the final essay mark were marked by one examiner and then 
moderated by a second. 
 
B. 
New examining methods and procedures 
None: Same as 2007/8 
107 
 

 
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.
 
No changes required. 
 
D. 
Examination Conventions 
The marking conventions were made available in the Faculty‘s Notes of Guidance for 
Graduate Students and published on the Faculty‘s website. 
 
Part II 
 
A. 
General comments on the examination 
All eleven students clearly passed, and three received clear distinctions.  Every student 
had at least one piece of high quality work, and some of the students performed 
exceptionally.  The work was responsive to the course aims and objectives but at the 
same time there was a variety of method and topic.  Doubtful marks or borderline pieces 
of work received satisfactory scrutiny and discussion, and the External was attentive to 
these cases. 
Planning, preparation, execution and meetings all proceeded smoothly. 
 
B. 
Equal opportunities issues and breakdown of the results by gender 
11 students - 7 women, 4 men  
The 3 distinctions were awarded to women 
 
C. 
Detailed numbers on candidates’ performance in each part of the 
examination  
Pass: 60  Distinction: 70 
The overall final eleven marks were as follows: 75, 75, 74, 69, 69, 67, 66, 66, 66, 65, 64 
Highest; lowest; average 
Portfolio 76; 65; 69 
Dissertation 83; 63; 70 
Three hour paper 72; 61; 67 
108 
 

D. 
Comments on papers and individual questions 
2 Essays = Portfolio (drafts were also submitted earlier in the year) (30%) 
The draft system worked effectively and in general students submitted improved work for 
the final submission.  The draft system protected the students from serious error and 
allowed them to receive feedback during the year.  The essays spoke directly to the 
course concerns or were stimulated by them.  Bolstered by encouragement from our 
External, this was something we had been eager to improve after 2007/8 where the essays 
were somewhat random in their topics, and not necessarily within the field of film 
aesthetics.  Essays were either close analyses of film style or close readings of theory 
(usually film specific), or else they were conversations between films and philosophical 
texts.   
 
Three hour paper (30%) 
The sit-down examination requires one question in three hours.  The questions were on 
topics such as interpretation, the medium, narrative and time.  The answers were quite 
different from the essays and the dissertation confirming the exam as a distinct 
assessment entity (not simply a watered down version of what is submitted in the longer 
formats).  We were pleased to see a range film theorists referenced, both classic and 
contemporary: Arnheim, Munsterberg, Metz, Mitry, Bordwell, Cavell, Deleuze, and 
Merleu-Ponty.  All the students showed solid understanding and sound application.  
Sometimes the answers felt like lists of material rather than strategic responses to the 
question and they sometimes failed to integrate textual material from individual films.  
We will encourage the students accordingly next year.  Nevertheless, it is rare (and 
possibly unique) to have a sit-down examination on a Film Master‘s Degree in the UK, 
and our current thinking is that it serves a precise pedagogical purpose, is necessary for 
linking material across our mini-modular structure and appropriately tests key aspects of 
our objectives. 
 
Dissertation (40%) 
The Dissertations were of a high standard with three of them being outstanding. We used 
the range without contrivance and we had marks that were clearly in the 60s, 70s, and 80s 
(two received marks of 80 and 83).  There was a range of material, with students 
choosing challenging filmmakers to write on, for example, Fassbinder, Bergman, 
Kieślowski, Pialat and Malick.  The students focused their answers around precise critical 
questions and normally chose one aspect of their style to explore: for example, the 
ellipse, patterning, gesture, close-up, and voice-over.  The students didn‘t simply pick 
generalised topics or themes they were easily familiar with, catalogue auteurist aspects 
superficially, or get tangled up in aesthetic theory.  They also avoided the generic topics 
and the standardised vocabulary that one can often find in Film Studies dissertations. 
Even the less good ones felt original and alive, and none of the examiners felt that 
students were simply going through the motions.    
 
109 
 

E. 
Comments on the performance of identifiable individuals and other material 
which would usually be treated as reserved business 
No particular comments 
 
F.   
Names of members of the board of examiners 
Dr Andrew Klevan (Chairman) 
Prof Geoffrey Nowell Smith (External Examiner) 
Dr Reidar Due 
 
110 
 

M.STUD IN FILM AESTHETICS, OXFORD UNIVERSITY 
EXTERNAL EXAMINER’S REPORT, 2008/9 
The academic standards demonstrated by the students on the course this year were 
consistently high. Not a single paper gave cause for concern. Even where a student 
achieved only a bare pass in one component this was always compensated by a better 
performance elsewhere so that a comfortable pass was attained overall. The best work 
was very good indeed, with three students (out of 11) being awarded a distinction and a 
further two getting very close to it. The marking criteria are strict and the general 
standard was higher than in other M-level courses I have examined over the years. 
The cohort overall seems to have been stronger than in 2007/8. The standard of written 
English from non-native speakers was good. On the evidence of work submitted it was a 
cohesive group, whose members gained from working together over the year. 
While the high overall standard is in part attributable to the quality of the intake, there is 
ample evidence that the students benefited from a well structured and challenging course, 
from the opportunity to watch films together in class and outside, from class discussion 
which invited detailed analysis of individual sequences as well as of the films as a whole, 
and from teaching which enabled detailed work to be related to a range of aesthetic 
theories which have been influential in film study. 
The distinctive qualities of a course calling itself ―Film Aesthetics‖ rather than the more 
generic ―Film Studies‖ were well to the fore and the students responded well to the 
particular demands posed by the course. What these demands were was made clear from 
the outset in the course description issued (probably clearer than in 2007/8) and the 
required standard was entirely appropriate for the award. 
The assessment/examination scheme (basically unchanged from 2007/8 but with minor 
modifications) was quite complex, with an unseen exam accounting for 30% of the final 
mark, two essays written during the teaching part of the year accounting together for a 
further 30%, and a dissertation at the end accounting for the remaining 40%. The essay 
marks are ingeniously weighted to recognise improvements achieved between first and 
final drafts. While the essays and dissertation are on specific topics chosen by the student 
in agreement with the tutor, the unseen exam provides an opportunity to test the students‘ 
understanding of the general taught material on the course. The scheme is complicated in 
the sense of requiring recourse to a pocket calculator to do the sums but it is well 
balanced and ensures that students can develop their own ideas on the basis of a shared 
understanding of the issues at stake. 
As external examiner, I had ample access to all material needed to make the required 
judgements. I was consulted at the beginning of the year over changes made to the 
course, was able to read the course descriptions, etc. made available to students, and was 
shown all the work (other than first drafts of essays) produced by students during the 
course. I was not consulted over the choice of questions for the unseen exam, but had I 
wished to be I have no doubt I could have been. There were only a small number of cases 
for which I was required to act as arbiter (see §29.3 of Notes for Guidance of Examiners
between first and second markers: in each of these cases the reasons for the disparity of 
views between the markers were clearly set forth and my arbitration met with the 
111 
 

agreement of my fellow examiners. In general I thought that my role as external examiner 
was fully understood in accordance with university policies and procedures. 
In my 2007/8 I commented in particular on two aspects of the course and examination 
procedures. One was the marking scheme, where I questioned the rigidity of the rule 
which meant that a student could not qualify for a distinction without a minimum mark of 
70% for the dissertation. And the other was a certain laxity in the approach to dissertation 
topics, some of which deviated considerably from the core content of the course. The two 
were in a sense connected because one student in particular failed to get an otherwise 
well deserved distinction because of an unwise choice of dissertation topic. Both points 
have been considered and acted upon. Choice of dissertation topics this year was better 
contained within the course scheme overall and I understand that from 2009/10 onwards 
a 70% mark in the dissertation will not be an absolute prerequisite for a distinction. I also 
thought that last year there was a certain degree of uncertainty about the relationship 
between course aims and expected outcomes. This has been clarified, to universal 
advantage. 
I note that you are now requesting examiners to signal examples of particularly good 
practice encountered during the examination process. This is always a hard question to 
answer. Bad practice, when it occurs, is often specific and limited. Good practice, on the 
other hand, is likely to spread itself throughout the entire ethos of a course, and certainly 
does so in the case of the M.Stud. in Film Aesthetics. If I were to single anything out I 
think it would have to be the attention given throughout the course – in the general 
specification, in the choice of materials to study, in the in-class pedagogy, and in the 
assessment process – to relating what the student sees, experiences and is encouraged to 
reflect upon to the wider intellectual frameworks set up by philosophers and theorists of 
film over the past 100 years and more. 
 
Professor Geoffrey Nowell-Smith 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
112 
 

MST MEDIEVAL STUDIES 
DR GERVASE ROSSER 
Part I 
 
A.  Statistics  
Category 
Number 
Percentage 
 
This yr 
Last yr 
Yr before 
This yr 
Last yr 
Yr before 
Distinction 


50.00 
50.00 
Pass 


50.00 
50.00 
New degree 
New degree 
programme 
programme 
Partial re-sit 


 
 
started in 2007-
started in 2007-
2008 
2008 
Incomplete 


 
 
Fail 


 
 
 
B.  Summary of innovations in practice 
This was the first year the Medieval Studies MSt course had been fully operational.  (In 
2007-8, it had been run on a pilot basis with two candidates.)  The Board constituted for 
the examination reflected the range of the course, comprising one member in Modern 
Languages (Dr Helen Swift, also Convenor of the course), one in Medieval History (Dr 
Stephen Mossman), and one in History of Art (Dr Gervase Rosser).   
The MSt in Medieval Studies includes four assessed elements: two essays of up to 7000 
words arising respectively from two Option courses (20% each of the total marks), a test 
in Palaeography and/or Codicology (20%), and a 12000 word Thesis (40%).  The 
Steering Committee for the MSt course had approved the Board‘s decision to allow the 
marking of Option papers to be completed by the Examiners and Assessors appointed by 
the Boards for the respective parent courses (except in the case of courses existing solely 
for the Medieval Studies MSt).  Marks (and comments) were gathered in from markers as 
soon as available (without waiting for moderation by the full Exam Board in each case, 
since (i) this was not practicable, and (ii) all Medieval Studies marks are moderated by 
the Medieval Studies Board, including its External Examiner).  The Chair liaised to this 
end with Chairs of related Examination Boards.  The marking of all Theses was arranged 
by the Board: one marker in each instance was a member of the Examination Board.  
These procedures worked smoothly, on the whole.  It is important that the Chair (in 
collaboration with the Secretary for Graduate Studies in History) make early contact with 
other Exam Board Chairs, in order that the latter should be aware of the need to mark 
submissions from candidates for the Medieval Studies MSt, and to return marks to the 
Chair of the Medieval Studies Exam Board.  
 
 
113 
 

C.  Summary of further changes proposed  
See comments in part II.  
 
D.  Examination conventions are currently published on the faculty website.   
 
Part II 
 

A.  General comments on the examination  
(i)  Standards of performance and assessment 
 
Candidates spread themselves across a range of available Options.  The engagement 
with diverse Faculties and disciplines fulfilled the hopes of the designers of the MSt 
course, and seems to have satisfied the students.  The courses taken this year were as 
follows:  
 
‗King Alfred and his circle: history, literature and philosophy at the Alfredian court 
and after‘ (2) 
‗Saints and sanctity in late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages‘ (2) 
The twelfth-century Renaissance‘ (3) 
‗Biography and autobiography in the Italian Renaissance‘ (1) 
‗Gothic: Artistic originality and the transmission of style in medieval art‘ (1) 
‗Magic and witchcraft in medieval western Christendom‘ (1) 
‗The use of English in the public sphere c.1300-c.1550‘ (2) 
‗Aquinas‘ (2) 
‗Thirteenth-century French poetry: Roman de la Rose‘ (1) 
 
Thesis topics chosen were equally varied. 
 
The compulsory Interdisciplinary Seminar in Hilary Term brought students 
together and enabled them to share ideas on common issues.  This interdisciplinary 
seminar worked well to establish a necessary degree of coherence within the course.  
It also gave students the opportunity to present their thesis projects, at an early stage, 
to a fully interdisciplinary and varied scholarly audience. Although not examined in 
its own right, the Core Seminar made a contribution to candidates‘ work in both their 
Option papers and their Theses.  The separate Research Methods Workshop 
complemented this, uniting students around discussion of common core issues.  
114 
 

 
(ii)  Comments on examination processes  
Issues associated with specification of tasks to students:  
 
Discussion by the Board focused in particular on the Thesis.  It was noted that this 
year‘s Theses were heavily text-based.  This was not, in itself, a bad thing.  But in the 
context of this degree, cross-disciplinarity was particularly encouraged, and the 
Theses, despite being of a generally high academic standard, did not fully embrace 
that agenda.  For the future, it was felt that the introductory workshops for students 
working on Medieval Studies Theses should emphasis even more strongly the value 
of considering an issue from the perspectives of diverse kinds of source material.  
Supervisors, too, needed to be fully aware of the aims and requirements of the 
Medieval Studies MSt programme. 
 
Issues associated with marking and classification  
The Examiners adopted the marking conventions for taught graduate degrees drawn 
up and approved by the Graduate Studies Committee of the Faculty of History 
(Appendix). 
There was some discussion of the weighting allocated to the Palaeography / 
Codicology element of the examination (presently 20%).  The proportion of marks 
assigned to this component reflected the perceived significance of these skills for the 
medievalist and the time accorded to their preparation during the course, by way of 
classes and homeworks.  On the other hand, the effect was to reduce the marks given 
for more creative parts of the course.  The Board felt that the Steering Committee 
should assess the weighting of all elements of the examination in the light of this first 
full year‘s experience. 
 
General faculty management of the process  
The Graduate Studies Office of the History Faculty provided valuable support to the 
new course throughout the year, including the examination process.  The Secretary 
for Graduate Studies in History, Hubert Stadler, confirmed and oversaw the various 
stages of assessment.  The timetable agreed in advance was adhered to.  Because a 
number of the Options available within the Master‘s course in Medieval Studies are 
themselves taught within other Faculties, there is a particular need for liaison between 
the Exam Board Chair for Medieval Studies, and the Secretary for Graduate Studies 
in History, on the one hand, and both academic and administrative colleagues in other 
relevant departments and faculties, on the other.  This worked effectively in the 
present year, and with the advantage of this first experience, it will be possible to 
establish fuller and earlier lines of communication next year. 
 
 
 
115 
 

Role of external examiners  
The External Examiner, Dr Meredith Cohen, was kept informed of all stages of the 
examination process.  She read all of the Theses, and she attended and played a full 
part, as moderator, in the Final Meeting of the Board. 
 
At what date was all paperwork completed, allowing examiners to be paid? 
September 2009.  
 
If any candidate has permission to submit work at a date too late to permit their 
inclusion in the main class list, when will that candidate have completed their part in 
the examination process? 

Not applicable.  
 
Have there been any complaints about any aspects of the conduct of the examination? 
If so, from whom, and if not already dealt with above, how have they been addressed? 

None have been brought to the attention of the examiners.  
 
B.  Equal opportunities and gender issues  
 
 
This yr 
Last yr 
Yr before 
Category 
Number 
% male 
Number 
% male 
Number 
% male 
  
men 
women 
 
men 
women 
 
men 
women 
 
Distinction 


25.00 


0.00 
Pass 


75.00 


0.00 
New degree programme started in 
Fail 


 


 
2007-2008 
Incomplete 


 


 
Total 


50.00 


0.00 
 
C.  Names of Members of the Board of Examiners 
 
Dr Meredith Cohen (Leeds University Centre for Medieval Studies, External) 
Dr Stephen Mossman 
Dr Gervase Rosser 
Dr Helen Swift  
Name of chair of examiners … Dr Gervase Rosser ………                                   
116 
 

 
Part III   DGS comment 

 
The DGS should signify that the report is full and accurate to the best of his or her 
knowledge. The DGS may suggest changes to the report before signing it off, and 
may add further comments below. 
 
Name of DGS… Professor Robert Gildea ……. 
 
 

117 
 

M.ST. MEDIEVAL STUDIES, EXTERNAL EXAMINER 
DR MEREDITH COHEN,  UNIVERSITY OF LEEDS 
 
To the Vice-Chancellor: 
Please find my report for the M.St. in Medieval Studies for the academic year 2008-2009, 
which follows the format suggested in the Guidelines. 
(i) 
whether  the  academic  standards  set  for  its  awards,  or  part  thereof,  are 
appropriate; 
For  the  award  of  M.St.  in  Medieval  Studies  the  standards  set  are  both  rigorous  and 
appropriate:    students  are  required  to  complete  one  palaeography/codicology  analysis, 
two  option  essays  of  7000  words,  and  one  dissertation  of  12000  words  within  the 
nine-month  programme.    This  amount  of  work  and  the  levels  of  expected  performance 
are challenging, yet feasible within the time permitted.  
(ii)  
the  extent  to  which  its  assessment  processes  are  rigorous,  ensure  equity  of 
treatment for students and have been fairly conducted within institutional regulations and 
guidance; 
One  of  the  challenges  of  an  interdisciplinary/multidisciplinary  programme  is  equitable 
assessment because students conduct research and write on vastly different subjects with 
diverse  sources  and  approaches.  Considerable  care  is  taken  to  ensure  equitable  and 
appropriate assessment because the essays are read by specialists in the fields related to 
the students‘ subjects.   Sometimes this leads to disparate marks between the individual 
assessors,  but  the  agreed  internal  marks  (and  then  the  final  marks)  were  in  my  opinion 
perfectly appropriate and fair while also rigorous. 
(iii) 
the standards of student  performance in the programmes or parts of programmes 
which they have been appointed to examine; 
This  year there were eight  students  enrolled in  the M.St.  in  Medieval  Studies.   It  was  a 
particularly strong group, with four distinctions awarded.  Assessment is rigorous and the 
students generally attain a commendably high level of achievement.  
(iv)  
where  appropriate,  the  comparability  of  the  standards  and  student  achievements 
with those in some other higher education institutions; 
The standards expected  of students  are on the high end of the scale in  comparison  with 
other institutions with which I am familiar at this level.  I was particularly impressed with 
the  students‘  writing  skills,  the  command  of  the  topics  they  chose  to  pursue,  and  the 
quality of thought given to their subjects this year.  
(v) 
issues which should be brought to the attention of supervising committees in the 
faculty/department, division or wider University: 
I  was  glad  to  see  that  this  year  a  historiography  and  methodology  seminar  had  been 
offered to the students and to learn that this had been useful to them. This is an important 
part of the M.St. curriculum even if it does not lead directly to an assessed essay, and it 
should remain integral to it.  
118 
 

As  often  occurs  with  students  at  this  level,  a  couple  of  the  essays  would  have  been 
improved by greater critical distance to the specific texts or subject. It would be helpful to 
students, advisors, and assessors if students explicitly state—perhaps in their dissertation 
abstracts  and  introductions—their  (interdisciplinary)  approach  and  how  that  approach 
enriches the subject. This will also remind advisors and assessors in specialised fields to 
remain aware of the interdisciplinary/ multidisciplinary aims of the programme. 
 (vi) 
good practice that should be noted and disseminated more widely as appropriate. 
The output of the programme is exemplary.   
Oxford  is  an  excellent  place  to  pursue  an  M.St.  in  Medieval  Studies  because  the 
University already has a large community of medievalists in many disciplines.  Because 
of the interdisciplinary nature of the projects, students should continue to be encouraged 
to  actively  seek  advice  and  discuss  their  research  with  as  many  field  specialists  as 
possible.  
The Bodleian Library provides students with an invaluable opportunity to work directly 
with primary resources at the M.St. level; this is a real advantage of the programme and I 
highly commend that the students were able to make use of the library‘s unique holdings 
in various ways this year. 
 
The emphasis on palaeography/codicology is an important and original aspect of the 
programme and should remain an integral part of it. 
*** 
I  very  much  enjoyed  the  opportunity  to  contribute  to  the  programme  in  its  second  year 
and look forward to seeing how it evolves again next year. 
Yours sincerely, 
Dr Meredith Cohen 
 
 
119 
 

MSt Examiners 2008-2009 
 
Internals 
Dr Jeri Johnson (Chair of Examiners) 
Professor Kathryn Sutherland 
Professor Valentine Cunningham 
Professor Richard McCabe 
Mr Tom Paulin 
Professor Vincent Gillespie 
Dr Peter McDonald 
Dr Jane Garnett (Chair, Women‘s Studies) 
Dr Andrew Klevan (Chair, Film Aesthetics) 
 
Externals 
Professor Throlac Turville-Petre  
Professor Gordan McMullan  
Professor Claire Lamont  
Professor Peter Nicholls  
Dr Rebecca Langlands (Women‘s Studies) 
Professor Geoffrey Nowell-Smith (Film Aesthetics) 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
120 
 

APPENDIX 1 – EXAM CRITERIA (INFORMATION FOR STUDENTS) 
 
Marking Criteria 
Candidates -- particularly those more familiar with letter or numerical grading systems 
used outside Oxford -- should familiarise themselves very carefully with the narrative 
definitions of the various marks classifications given below.  Although the Oxford 
Humanities Division encourages the use of the full 0-100 scale, in practice marks over 85 
are exceedingly rare.  Most importantly, the marks-scale detailed below should NOT be 
taken as a literal percentage expression of the amount deemed to be ‘correct’ in an 
examination.
 
1) 
The marking criteria are stated in the D.Phil. transfer conventions of the Graduate 
Studies Committee (GSC): 
‗The M.St. is assessed using marks within the following range: the pass mark on each 
paper is 60, and this mark must be achieved on each element to gain the M.St.; the 
requirements for a Distinction are a mark of 70 or over on the Dissertation and an average 
of 70 across the four elements of the course.‘ 
Should a candidate fail any element of the examination, that element may be re-submitted 
once, and once only.  Any re-submitted element that passes will be awarded a mark of 60. 
Candidates may still awarded a Distinction if they meet the requirements described 
above. 
2) 
The  Humanities Division encourages examiners to mark up to 100. 
The Board of Examiners has adopted the following criteria: 
Over 85 : ‗Highest Distinction‘ 
Outstanding work of publishable quality demonstrating most of the following:  
exceptional originality, critical acumen, depth of understanding, subtle analysis, superb 
use of appropriate evidence and methodology; impeccable scholarly apparatus and 
presentation. 
75-84 : ‗High Distinction‘ 
Excellent work with publishable elements showing many of the following qualities: 
originality, wide and detailed knowledge, compelling analytical thought, excellent use of 
illustration to support argument, sophisticated and lucid argument; excellent scholarly 
apparatus and presentation. 
70-74 : ‗Distinction‘ 
Excellent work with a deep understanding of the issues involved, wide knowledge of 
relevant material, elegant and incisive argument, clarity of expression and exposition, the 
ability to pose and engage with sophisticated questions; very good scholarly apparatus 
and presentation. 
65-69 : ‗High Pass‘ 
Very competent work showing a good understanding of the issues and grasp of relevant 
literature; good structure, appropriate scope, lucid analysis supported by well-focussed 
121 
 

illustration; appropriate attention paid to scholarly apparatus and presentation. 
60-64 : ‗Low Pass‘ 
Competent work showing a reasonable grasp of issues and relevant literature, perhaps 
narrowly conceived; limitations to argumentative structure or exposition may distinguish 
this work from ‗high pass‘; perhaps too narrow or too ambitious to make effective points 
within the word limit; adequate attention to scholarly apparatus and presentation. 
50-59 : ‗Fail‘ 
Limited competence; may show one or more of the following: insufficient understanding 
or awareness of the issues or relevant literature; inadequate use of illustration; poor 
organisation of argument or lack of clarity of expression; absence of proper conclusions; 
failures of presentation and scholarly referencing. 
40-49 : ‗Low Fail‘ 
Thoroughly inadequate work, exhibiting the flaws of ‗fail‘ to an even greater extent; it 
may fail to engage with the question, or may be irrelevant; poorly expressed; little or no 
structure or coherent argument; limited knowledge; little or no awareness of appropriate 
methodologies, approaches or theories; inadequately referenced or presented. 
Word Length - Dissertation 
The Graduate Studies Committee agreed a length of 10,000-11,000 words for the 
dissertation including all materials excluding the bibliography. 
 
Jeri Johnson 
Chair of Examiners 
M.St. in English Studies 2008/09 
 
122 
 

APPENDIX 2 –  EXAM CRITERIA (INFORMATION FOR EXAMINERS) 
M.St. in English Studies 2008/2009 
Guidance to Examiners 
 
Deadlines for submission of marks 
Please note that the deadlines for the submission of marks are not flexible.  All 
independently submitted first and second marks and all subsequently agreed marks must 
be submitted by the deadline.  External examiners are given very little time to third mark 
and scrutinize marks as it is.  Our failure to heed deadlines results in extreme discourtesy 
to them. 
Final deadline for all marks for Hilary term C and B essays is Thursday, 23 April (0th 
week). 
Final deadline for all marks for the Dissertation is Monday, 22 June (9th week). 
 
Markers 
The first marker for the essays will be the tutor of the option.  The second will be a 
marker on the Board of Examiners or an assessor appointed by the Board of Examiners.  
Dissertation markers will be appointed by the Board of Examiners.  
NB First and second markers for both the essays and the dissertation must submit 
their marks, independently, to the Graduate Studies Office before
 any consultation 
with the other marker. 

Internal markers will confer and attempt to agree a mark.  Any discrepancies will be 
resolved by externals. 
 
Marking Criteria 
1) 
The marking criteria are stated in the D.Phil. transfer conventions of the Graduate 
Studies Committee (GSC): 
‗The M.St. is assessed using marks within the following range: the pass mark on each 
paper is 60, and this mark must be achieved on each element to gain the M.St.; the 
requirements for a Distinction are a mark of 70 or over on the Dissertation and an average 
of 70 across the four elements of the course.‘ 
Should a candidate fail any element of the examination, that element may be re-submitted 
once, and once only.  Any re-submitted element that passes will be awarded a mark of 60. 
Candidates may still awarded a Distinction if they meet the requirements described 
above. 
2) 
We are encouraged to mark up to 100. 
The Board of Examiners has adopted the following criteria: 
Over 85 : ‗Highest Distinction‘ 
123 
 

Outstanding work of publishable quality demonstrating most of the following:  
exceptional originality, critical acumen, depth of understanding, subtle analysis, superb 
use of appropriate evidence and methodology; impeccable scholarly apparatus and 
presentation. 
75-84 : ‗High Distinction‘ 
Excellent work with publishable elements showing many of the following qualities: 
originality, wide and detailed knowledge, compelling analytical thought, excellent use of 
illustration to support argument, sophisticated and lucid argument; excellent scholarly 
apparatus and presentation. 
70-74 : ‗Distinction‘ 
Excellent work with a deep understanding of the issues involved, wide knowledge of 
relevant material, elegant and incisive argument, clarity of expression and exposition, the 
ability to pose and engage with sophisticated questions; very good scholarly apparatus 
and presentation. 
65-69 : ‗High Pass‘ 
Very competent work showing a good understanding of the issues and grasp of relevant 
literature; good structure, appropriate scope, lucid analysis supported by well-focussed 
illustration; appropriate attention paid to scholarly apparatus and presentation. 
60-64 : ‗Low Pass‘ 
Competent work showing a reasonable grasp of issues and relevant literature, perhaps 
narrowly conceived; limitations to argumentative structure or exposition may distinguish 
this work from ‗high pass‘; perhaps too narrow or too ambitious to make effective points 
within the word limit; adequate attention to scholarly apparatus and presentation. 
50-59 : ‗Fail‘ 
Limited competence; may show one or more of the following: insufficient understanding 
or awareness of the issues or relevant literature; inadequate use of illustration; poor 
organisation of argument or lack of clarity of expression; absence of proper conclusions; 
failures of presentation and scholarly referencing. 
40-49 : ‗Low Fail‘ 
Thoroughly inadequate work, exhibiting the flaws of ‗fail‘ to an even greater extent; it 
may fail to engage with the question, or may be irrelevant; poorly expressed; little or no 
structure or coherent argument; limited knowledge; little or no awareness of appropriate 
methodologies, approaches or theories; inadequately referenced or presented. 
 
Word Length - Dissertation
 
The Graduate Studies Committee agreed a length of 10,000-11,000 words for the 
dissertation including all materials excluding the bibliography. 
 
Jeri Johnson, Chair of Examiners, M.St. in English Studies 2008/2009 
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