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FACULTY OF  
ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE 
 
 
 
 

EXAMINERS’ REPORTS 
2011 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Revised 20 October 2011 

CONTENTS 
 
Page 
Moderations 
Dr R Douglas Fairhurst 

Paper 1 
 

HENG Paper 1 
 

Paper 2(a)/ 4(a) 
 

Paper 2(b)/ 4(b) 
 

Paper 3(a) 
 
10 
Paper 3(b) 
 
11 
Paper 4 
 
12 
History & English Preliminary 
Dr R Douglas Fairhurst 
14 
English & Modern Languages Preliminary 
(awaiting)  
Classics & English Moderations 
Dr C Gerrard 
14 
Final Honours Schools 
Professor P McDonald 
16 
Course I 
 
26 
Paper 1  
 
26 
Paper 2 
 
27 
Paper 3a 
 
28 
Paper 3b 
 
29 
Paper 4 
 
30 
Paper 4a 
 
31 
Paper 4b 
 
31 
Paper 5 
 
32 
Paper 6 
 
33 
Paper 7  
 
34 
Paper 8 
 
41 
Course II 
 46 
FHS External 
Professor A Blamires 
53 
FHS External (and FHS EML) 
Professor F O’Gorman 
54 
FHS External 
Professor H Wilcox 
55 
Classics & English FHS 
Dr P West 
59 
Classics & English FHS External 
Professor A Blamires 
62 

Classics & English FHS External 
Dr R Brock 
62 
English & Modern Languages FHS 
Professor A Volfing 
67 
English and Modern Languages FHS External 
Professor N Peacock 
68 
Modern History & English FHS 
Dr  M Misra 
71 
Modern History & English FHS External 
Professor E F Biagini 
73 
M. St.  
Dr S Jones 
77 
M. St. External (650-1550) 
Dr R Dance 
85 
M. St. External (1550-1780) 
Professor B Cummings 
86 
M. St. External (1780-1900) 
Professor P Fielding 
89 
M. St. External (1900-Present Day) 
Professor A Thacker 
90 
M.St. English and American Studies Professor 

Bell 91 
M. St. Women’s Studies 
Dr L Robson 
93 
M. St. Women’s Studies External 
Dr R Langlands 
96 
M. St. Film Aesthetics 
(awaited)  
M. St. Film Aesthetics External 
Professor G Nowell-Smith 
99 
M. St Medieval Studies 
Dr G Rosser 
101 
M. St Medieval Studies External 
Dr C Taylor 
106 
 

MODERATIONS IN ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE 
PRELIMINARY EXAMINATIONS IN ENGLISH AND MODERN LANGUAGES 
AND IN HISTORY AND ENGLISH 
2010-11 
 
PART I 
 
A. Statistics 
There were 224 candidates for English Moderations this year, 23 candidates for the 
Preliminary Examination in English and Modern Languages, and 11 candidates for the 
Preliminary Examination in History and English. There were no candidates for the 
Preliminary Examination in English Language and Literature in September, although one 
candidate was given permission by the Proctors to sit a paper that had been missed in June. 
Medical certificates and other submissions were presented on behalf of 18 candidates. All 
were taken into consideration and discussed by the full board of Moderators. 
 
1. English Moderations: numbers and percentages in each category 
Category  
Number 
 
 
 

 
 2010-11 
2009/10 
2008/09 
2010-11 
2009/10 
2008/09 
Distinction  48 
54 
 40 
21.4 
22.8 
 18.0 
Pass 
176 
182 
 188 
78.6 
76.8 
 82.4 
Fail 0 1  
0 0 0.4 
 

 
2. Percentage of scripts awarded marks of 70+ for selected papers   
 
Paper 2011 2010 2009 

22.8 26.5 18.9 
2a/4a 13.3 28.9 18.6 
2b/4b 
24.7 28.2 18.78 
3a  27.5 16.0 18.3 
3b 
30.8 [13 scripts] 
9.6 [33 scripts] 
0 [15 scripts] 
Overall 
23.8 24.1 18.6 
 
 
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3. Preliminary Examination in English and Modern Languages 
The 23 candidates all passed. 7 achieved Distinctions in English. 
 
4. Preliminary Examination in History and English 
The 11 candidates all passed. 3 achieved Distinctions in English. 
 
B. General remarks 
The performance overall was closely comparable to that in 2009-10, with 22.5% of scripts 
being marked at 70 or above. Given the high number of prima facie Distinctions, and the very 
large number of candidates who had been awarded marks of 68 or 69 for at least one script, 
the Board discussed the merits of each borderline case before deciding whether or not to re-
read particular scripts. This two-stage process of discussion and moderation preserved the 
robustness of original marks within a single-marker examining process while also allowing 
any serious discrepancies between papers to be addressed fairly and thoroughly. While fewer 
Distinctions were awarded for the Victorian Literature paper than for the Modern Literature 
paper, the average marks awarded for these two papers were closely comparable, and the 
Examiners were satisfied that there was no need to adjust marks through scaling. 
The redesigned Paper 3 (a) helped to ensure that there were no serious rubric infringements, 
and the marks on this paper were therefore broadly in line with those for all the other major 
papers.  
While candidates at the top end of the Distinctions performed at a sustained high level, with 3 
or 4 papers in the 70+ range, a large number of candidates secured at least one mark of 70 or 
above. Otherwise performance across the range was consistent, and very few candidates 
ended up with a jagged marks profile in which they excelled in one or two papers but scraped 
low passes in the rest of the examination. The increase of the pass mark from 30 to 40 did not 
appear to have a detrimental effect on examination performance; there were no confirmed 
failures on the final marks list.  
A small number of candidates continued to ignore the requirement on the Victorian and 
Modern Literature papers that they not write ‘substantially’ on the same author in more than 
one answer. Candidates should be aware that this means precisely what it says, and that 
ignoring it risks substantial portions of their work not being assessed by the examiners. 
However, whereas candidates taking a Special Author are reminded not to write on this 
author in the Victorian or Modern Literature papers, it was noted that no such rule appears in 
the rubric to the Medieval Literature paper with regard to Middle English Dream Poetry. 
Next year’s examiners may wish to clarify this rubric to make it consistent with other papers.  
As was noted in last year’s report, the examiners observed that there were different 
approaches to the limitations of time and space necessarily imposed by a timed examination. 
The stronger candidates responded by offering focused arguments that drew upon a smaller 
number of detailed case studies, bringing together close attention to literary texts and fully 
2

researched contexts in original and nuanced ways. The weaker candidates continued to offer 
surveys that resembled annotated reading lists, in which a copious number of writers and 
texts were scattered across the page, but only rarely in the service of a critical argument. In 
such cases range of reference was rarely rewarded as highly as depth of engagement. This 
was a particular problem in Section A of Paper 1, although it was also noticeable in the 
period papers and across the examination as a whole.  
This was the first year in which History and English candidates were required to answer a 
new Section A on Paper 1 that was specifically directed towards questions of historical 
evidence, the textuality of history, and other concerns of particular importance to this Joint 
School. A separate report on the HENG version of Paper 1 is included in the examiners’ 
reports below.  
Question papers were carefully scrutinized during the setting process to ensure that they 
combined range and focus in ways that would encourage candidates to engage with ideas and 
construct coherent arguments. (See ‘Conventions and Classifications Criteria’ below.) This 
proved to be largely successful, with less evidence than in some previous years of candidates 
dumping pre-prepared essays that bore only a tangential relationship to the question. 
There was one minor printing error in an examination paper: a word missing in a question for 
Paper 1. All candidates in the main hall and those taking the paper in college had their 
attention drawn to this error after less than an hour of the examination. All scripts were 
checked to ensure that no candidate was disadvantaged by this alteration. 
 
C. Conventions and classification criteria (including Joint Schools) 
As in previous years, the criteria for classification were made known to students in the 
general circular from the Chair of Examiners. Attention was drawn to the fact that these 
criteria differ between English Moderations and the Joint Schools Preliminary examinations 
of History and English, and English and Modern Languages. Attention was also drawn to the 
fact that this year’s examination papers would be shorter than in previous years, with 
approximately 20 questions on each of the main period papers.  
 
PART II 
 
A. Administration 
The fourth year of the Mark-It database and Oracle Student System (OSS) proved 
straightforward for Moderations. After exploratory discussions, it became clear that the 
presentational oddity whereby the software generates double columns of marks for a single-
marker system (each mark and marker’s initials therefore being printed twice and ‘averaged’) 
was unavoidable without an expensive overhaul of the whole system. As a new system will 
be introduced in the next 1-2 years, this issue was not pursued, but it was again noted that any 
new system should reflect the procedures and classification criteria for Moderations – the 
3

data to include each candidate’s ranking within the categories of Distinction or Pass – rather 
better than the current version.  
This year the Chair sent an email to candidates shortly before the first examination reminding 
them to bring their candidate numbers to the examination hall. This seems to have been 
successful – very few candidates presented themselves without candidate numbers – and it 
will be repeated next year. 
On three occasions clarification had to be sought from the Proctors’ office concerning the 
University’s regulations on what action may be taken by Examiners in regard to candidates 
who either fail to attend a paper or fail to complete it through illness.  
It was noted that although nobody failed Paper 1, the regulations state that any paper failed 
must be retaken in order to pass Moderations as a whole, and setting another version of Paper 
1 would involve a disproportionately large amount of work for examiners. 
The Examiners were extremely grateful not only to the Examinations Secretary, Angie 
Johnson, but also to other members of the Faculty Office, particularly Charlotte Heavens, for 
their administrative assistance. 
 
B. Equal opportunities report and breakdown of the results by gender 
    2011 2010 2009 
Total no. 
women 
140 (62.5%) 
155 (65.4%) 
143 (62.7%) 
Total no. 
men 
84 (37.5%) 
82 (34.6%) 
85 (37.3%) 
Distinctions Both 
48 (21.4%) 
54 (22.8%) 
40 (18.0%) 
genders 
Of which: 
women 
27 (19.3%) 
29 (18.7%) 
24 (16.8%) 
 
men 
21 (25%) 
25 (30.5%) 
16 (18.8%) 
Although male candidates once again achieved a higher proportion of Distinctions than 
female candidates, both overall and in the majority of individual papers this year saw a 
shrinking of the ‘gender gap’ when compared with last year’s figures. Of the ten highest 
Distinctions, four were achieved by female candidates and six by male candidates. The 
largest differences in individual papers with a sufficient number of candidates to be 
statistically significant occurred in Paper 1, where Distinctions were awarded to 18.6% of 
female and 29.8% of male candidates, and Old English, where the respective figures were 
23.8% and 33.8%. The differences within the other two major papers were less pronounced: 
12.5% (female candidates) and 14.6% (male candidates) for the Victorian Literature paper, 
and 23.9% (female candidates) and 26.0% (male candidates) for the Modern Literature paper. 
These figures are offered without any conclusions as to what action (if any) can or should be 
taken to address the comparative examination performance of male and female 
undergraduates. 
 
4

PART III 
 
Paper 1: Introduction to Literary Studies  
This was the first year in which a separate set of Section A questions was provided for 
History and English candidates: see the separate report on pp. 6-7 below. 
In total 251 candidates took this paper. All questions in Section A and Section B were 
attempted, although a small number of questions attracted a disproportionately large number 
of candidates: in Section A, over half the candidates answered Questions 12, 14 or 15, while 
answers to Section B gravitated towards the more straightforward comparisons of Questions 
1 and 2 rather than the larger choice of literary and non-literary material offered in Questions 
3 and 4.  
The essays produced in response to Section A revealed a very wide range of skill and 
preparation, from the highly impressive to the merely competent. Essays at the top end were 
clearly argued, engaged closely with the question, and demonstrated an understanding of 
theoretical and critical issues that was both generous in range and precise in detail. At the 
other end, essays were little more than a summary of second-hand ideas, in which one or two 
critical texts were loosely paraphrased and offered up as a set of general truths about reading 
and/or writing. (Once again ‘The Death of the Author’ proved to be tenaciously alive and 
well in some quarters, although few candidates seemed aware of the irony involved in 
agreeing with Barthes’s claims while simultaneously discussing his intentions.) One common 
weakness was a tendency to offer whistle-stop surveys rather than genuine arguments, in 
which a large number of theorists were name-checked, often accompanied by a single 
quotation offered up as an emblem of their life’s work; in too many essays, depth of thought 
was sacrificed to breadth of reference. Another weakness was a noticeable reluctance to 
engage with the precise implications of the questions. Too often a single word was used as a 
peg on which a pre-prepared essay was hung with minimum ceremony. Question 12, for 
example, produced several bland essays on authorial intention that effectively ignored the 
terms and assumptions of Newman’s claim, while Question 14 was repeatedly read as a 
question about intertextuality rather than extra-textuality. Finally, many essays were 
excessively long, and quickly lost all sense of shape in the attempt to write down everything 
that might have some bearing on the question. There are many possible reasons for this, 
including the generous 3 hours allowed to write 2 essays, and possibly also the fact that many 
candidates – for whom Paper 1 is their first public examination in Oxford – would rather 
entrust their examiners with the task of sorting out the wheat from the chaff. They should be 
encouraged to think that, of the many skills which this paper rewards, one of the most 
important is the ability to discriminate between ideas and arrange them into meaningful 
arguments. 
The best answers to Section B made serious efforts to integrate the details of close reading 
with larger questions of literary language, voice, genre and form. (In fact the best scripts 
recognised that the distinction between Section A and Section B was largely an artificial one, 
and in each section were willing to test the details of literary practice and larger theoretical 
5

claims against each other.) One unfortunate tendency was a willingness to describe poetic 
form (rhyme schemes, metrical arrangements, and so on) without explaining how it related to 
sense. In particular, candidates often failed to construct an argument which engaged with the 
issues that this particular paper raised. This absence was particularly apparent in the answers 
to Question 2, which appeared, to some candidates, to present itself as a simple ‘compare and 
contrast’ exercise. The weakest answers to this question tended to consist of a description of 
the content and technical features of two poems, and a conclusion that these poems were 
different. Although there was a pleasing accuracy about some of the technical language used, 
very few candidates answering Question 2 knew what an ‘Aubade’ was. Answers to 
Questions 3 and 4 varied widely in quality and ambition (the idea that something other than 
simple affection for man’s best friend might be at issue, or at stake, when writing about dogs 
proved especially problematic), and it was disappointing that in almost all cases a clear 
division was made between writers who were filleted for their ideas (Empson, Wilson, 
Scarry, Butler) and others who were applauded for their rhetorical skill (largely the poets). 
Only rarely did a discussion of the prose passages move beyond paraphrase. The weakest 
attempts at Questions 3 and 4 suffered from what might be seen as either excessive caution in 
terms of timing, or a lack of curiosity. Such candidates had apparently chosen not even to risk 
taking the time to read all the passages within these questions. In keeping their focus so 
narrowly on, for example, the ‘literary’ passages by Hempel and Barrett-Browning, or the 
poems by Hopkins and Wickham, they missed out on potentially useful theoretical lines of 
argument. 
History and English Paper 1: An Introduction to Literary Studies 
The 11 candidates who sat this new addition to the HENG prelims repertoire on the whole 
demonstrated an admirable grasp of the key problems, recurrent debates and theoretical 
background necessary for an interdisciplinary course of study. Over half of the group 
achieved a final mark of 68 or above for this paper, reflecting a pleasing breadth and depth of 
knowledge, and typically a confidence and subtlety in the handling of core ideas. The best 
responses showed not only an understanding of the principle trends in interdisciplinary theory 
and practice (the ‘linguistic turn’, new historicism, cultural history, with reference to relevant 
critical movements), but also a readiness to challenge and deconstruct the assumptions 
underpinning these schools of thought. Candidates who produced weaker answers tended to 
summarise or survey the theoretical background (Stephen Greenblatt and Hayden White 
ranked among the favourite name-drops), without tailoring this knowledge to the precise 
terms of the questions or quotations, and without integrating these critical or theoretical views 
into their own arguments or independent readings. More ambitious answers were prepared to 
go beyond the obvious big-hitters (Louis Montrose’s dictum on the ‘historicity of texts and 
the textuality of history’ was over-cited, without critical development or interrogation of what 
this might actually mean), and even to engage with less well-trodden fields of scholarship, 
including the ‘history of the book’ and issues relating to codes and contexts of publication. 
Of the essay questions from Section A, all but one were answered. Over a third of scripts 
responded to the question on new historicism (in response to the quotations from Robert 
Hume or Stephen Greenblatt and Catherine Gallagher); the best of these resisted the 
6

temptation to treat new historicism as a unified school or coherent doctrine, and instead 
unpicked the assumptions and biases that lie behind its methods. Throughout this section, 
more adept answers were typically those prepared to discuss the meaning of key terms from 
the given quotations: ‘autonomous’ and ‘determination’ in the question about literature’s 
relation to historical contexts; ‘text-based’ and ‘arbitrary’ in the Hume quotation; 
‘fabrications’, ‘constructs’ and ‘reconstructions’ in the question on interpretative contexts.  
From among the commentaries in Section B, the best adhered to the rubric of the question, 
treating the prompts and instructions as a platform on which to construct their own readings. 
The most popular passages for critical commentary were the comparison of Kelly’s short 
story with the extract from Mamet’s Squirrels, and pairs of texts from among Davenant’s and 
Sitwell’s aubades and the Scottish ballad: in both instances, perceptive answers deftly took 
apart the question of genre and addressed in detail the playful recourse to (and subversion of) 
narrative or formal conventions. Some of the better answers incorporated judicious references 
to relevant literary theory, situating the passages under discussion amid wider debates and 
critical cruxes; a handful of scripts even ventured commendable cross-references to 
comparable primary texts in their close critical readings of the commentary passages. Again, 
better scripts incorporated their observations and analysis within cogent, structured responses 
(an especially crucial practice for a section which demands a reasoned comparison of texts), 
rather than just listing literary features or throwing out unconnected ideas. 
 
Paper 2 (a): Victorian Literature 
230 candidates sat this paper. The quality this year was generally good, with the top 
candidates producing work of distinction, but a disappointingly large number of candidates 
seemed satisfied to reproduce familiar material and predictable examples, with little evidence 
of critical or imaginative engagement. 
The best essays were sophisticated in style with a sensitivity and subtlety of response to 
authors and texts, informed by sound critical and contextual judgment. Some used theoretical 
and philosophical perspectives in an illuminating way to support their arguments. Others 
worked outwards from close readings of specific texts to the ways in which their chosen 
examples complicated the less nuanced claims sometimes made about the period. The weaker 
answers often began with a sweeping and unhelpful generalisation about the ‘Victorian Age’ 
before going on to list in summary form the writers or texts that best demonstrated this, often 
with little or no attention to chronology, literary genre, or intended readership. Another 
regrettable feature of some answers this year was a tendency towards schematic, 
classificatory comparisons and contrasts, with writers ranked on a sliding scale in their 
relation, for example, to ‘faith and doubt’, or the ‘subversion’ of female stereotypes, with 
some authors being ranked ‘in-between’. The impact of science and Darwinism in Victorian 
literature continues to be a favourite topic, but some candidates had real difficulty dating 
Darwin’s Origin of Species, or distinguishing its import from that of Lyell, and few scripts 
showed sufficient knowledge of nineteenth-century science or scientific philosophy of the 
kind that could provide an informed account of their influence. Most candidates seemed to 
assume that ‘Victorian science’ was a settled body of opinion rather than a series of 
7

developing debates; a disappointingly high number of essays on Darwin argued for the 
impact of the Origin of Species (1859) on Tennyson’s In Memoriam (1850).  
There was less evidence of downloaded answers this year. The main exception to this was the 
absence of questions on the paper specifically addressing the Gothic or decadence, which led 
a large number of candidates to use an alternative question as a peg on which to hang – 
sometimes cunningly, at other times desperately – their prepared material. But problems 
noted in previous years are still worryingly in evidence: in particular, the tendency of multi-
author essays to become simply an inventory of writers and texts rather than a developed 
argument. A related problem is that some candidates try to include too much, inevitably 
reducing the level of necessary detail and analysis. The best essays were not necessarily the 
longest: candidates who showed themselves capable of producing coherent and compact 
arguments usually attracted higher marks than those who produced lengthy but shapeless 
essays that were largely a variation on a theme.  
Standards of presentation were variable. Scripts at the top end were crisply and elegantly 
written; other scripts showed major weaknesses in spelling (including authors’ names) and 
basic grammar.  
All questions were answered. The most popular topics were the inner versus the outer life 
(Q7), truth-telling and/or multiple perspectives (Q6), disguise (Q16), and money and/or 
mortality (Q8). The canonical writers of the mid-Victorian period – Tennyson, Browning, 
Dickens, George Eliot, and Charlotte Brontë – remain the most frequently discussed authors, 
with considerable attention also being given to Arnold (mainly ‘Dover Beach’), Hopkins, 
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti, Hardy, Elizabeth Gaskell (mainly Mary 
Barton and North and South), Henry James, Lewis Carroll, Wilkie Collins, and Elizabeth 
Braddon (represented by Lady Audley’s Secret). Some lively attention was also given to 
Clough, Ruskin, Thackeray, Pater, Swinburne, Whitman, Dickinson, Le Fanu, Gissing, Kate 
Chopin, Lear, Shaw, Edmund Gosse, Edward FitzGerald, John Davidson, and Mary 
Kingsley. Late-Victorian popular fiction continues to attract a lot of interest, particularly 
Stevenson, Wilde, Stoker, and Wells, with some effective single-author answers devoted to 
Wilde, but regrettably the majority of candidates tended to represent these writers by the 
same limited range of ‘Gothic’ texts, usually regarded in a collective and reductive way 
simply as a reflection of late-Victorian fears of ‘degeneration’. 
 
Paper 2 (b): Modern Literature 
206 candidates sat this paper. All questions were answered, with the most popular being 
Question 4, the Raymond Williams quotation on the perception of language and the new 
relationships of the metropolis (74 responses); Question 5, May Sinclair on Pilgrimage, 
‘Nothing happens’ (66 responses); Question 2, Eliot on Joyce’s use of myth (50 responses); 
Question 1, the relationship of modern writers to their predecessors (46 responses); and 
Question 15, Fredric Jameson’s remark that we are ‘today dominated by categories of space 
rather than by categories of time’ (46 responses). The least popular questions were Question 
9, on the achievements of the modernist long poem (5 responses); Question 14, Lyotard on 
8

eclecticism (6); and Question 18, Anne McClintock on the ‘post-colonial scene’ (8 
responses). There were a small number of instances of rubric violation, in which candidates 
wrote ‘substantially’ on the same author in more than one answer. 
The best candidates produced enormously impressive scripts, which combined a remarkable 
breadth and depth of reading with a nuanced sense of critical debates, and their own place 
within them. Good scripts were able to delineate shifts in an author’s oeuvre, draw evidence 
from the author’s essays and journalism, and analyse texts in detail and with sophistication. 
Generally, there was evidence that Paper 1 teaching had informed answers very productively, 
whether by encouraging subtle close readings that made good use of technical terms, or by 
making apposite allusion to relevant theoretical debates. More attention could be paid to 
issues of genre, which were rarely discussed or even noted.  
As has been noted in previous examiners’ reports, comparisons between authors were 
successful when genuine connections had been found between them, and to the question, but 
too often answers were divided into two halves with authors presented as on opposite sides of 
a critical issue, or as ‘another take’ on it, and some answers spread themselves far too thin. 
Answers that attempted to yoke authors from different historical periods were seldom 
successful, rarely taking account of the authors’ different contexts and, sometimes, different 
genres. Answers that moved continually between two authors, building an argument through 
the comparison itself, did well. As in previous years, there were some exceptionally well-
informed single-author answers that expressed an almost postgraduate level of knowledge 
and insight. 
Some candidates unnecessarily undermined their work by choosing inappropriate questions, 
and it is worth emphasizing once again how important it is that candidates take time to read 
all the questions carefully, and to think about which will provoke their most interesting and 
relevant responses. Candidates tended to write a lot, yet the best answers were rarely the 
longest: candidates would be well advised to read the paper more thoroughly and plan 
answers more carefully, rather than writing at length. Although many candidates answered 
Question 2 (Eliot on Joyce’s manipulation of ‘a continuous parallel between contemporaneity 
and antiquity’) and Question 3 (Williams on ‘the new relationships of the metropolis’), very 
few were attentive to the terms of the quotations, conflating history, myth and ‘the past’ in 
their answers to the former, and failing to take account of the fact that Williams’ point was 
specifically about language in their answers to the latter. Some candidates made the same 
mistake in answering Question 16 (Baldwin on the English language reflecting none of his 
experience), and would have been better writing their historically-inflected postcolonial 
answer in response to Question 18 (McClintock on ‘the post-colonial scene’). The dumping 
of pre-prepared essays undermined students’ performances, as did the delivery of responses 
which were so closely coached that several candidates seemed to write almost the same 
essay, with the same critical quotations. Independence of thought was rewarded. A 
surprisingly high number of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors marked the scripts, 
especially around plurals and possessives. 
Authors most frequently discussed were Beckett, Eliot, Joyce and Woolf, closely followed by 
Coetzee, Conrad, Heaney, Hill, Larkin, and Yeats. A fairly limited number of works were 
9

discussed: Waiting for Godot and Happy Days were the most popular Beckett plays, Mrs 
Dalloway and To the Lighthouse the most popular Woolf novels, and The Waste Land the 
most popular poem by Eliot. Indeed, Eliot was almost entirely the early Eliot: neither his 
drama nor his later poetry were discussed. Of contemporary writers beyond those mentioned 
above, Sarah Kane, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Salman Rushdie were popular, and Martin Amis, 
Carol Ann Duffy and Zadie Smith also appeared. Very few candidates discussed literature 
written in the post-war, pre-contemporary, period.  
 
Paper 3 (a): Introduction to Medieval Studies: Old English Literature 
There were 218 candidates this year and the standard of work was high across the board. Six 
candidates attempted the unseen prose passage, and the standard of these translations was 
high. The vast majority of candidates understood the verse passages set for commentary and 
were able to discuss them analytically, though many candidates were limited in their ability 
to discuss the specific features of Old English poetic style on display. There were very few 
errors apparent in translation and only a few sections of the Beowulf and Maldon passages 
presented problems of comprehension. The weaker candidates tended to quote from and then 
paraphrase the passages rather than actually misunderstanding them, or simply listed 
instances of compounds or kennings with no sense of literary effect. Beyond rather 
superficial references to alliteration, there was very little awareness of the mechanics of Old 
English poetic metre, with weaker candidates alluding to ‘soft sibilance’ and the like. The 
most able candidates, however, were able not only to identify and discuss aspects of poetic 
diction, lexis, variation and syntax, but even commented intelligently on things like the looser 
metre and internal rhymes in the passage from Maldon, the manipulation of time and 
perspective in the passage from Beowulf, and the effects of editorial layout and punctuation.  
There were no infringements of rubric this year, so the new layout of the paper has worked 
well. However, it continues to pose a problem that candidates are permitted to write an essay 
and a commentary on the same text and can therefore in theory write on only two poems or 
texts across the whole paper. This is not permitted for the Middle English paper, where 
candidates have to cover at least three texts. A number of candidates this year wrote an essay 
and a commentary on Maldon (despite the fact that the essay question on the payment of 
tribute overlapped significantly with the commentary passage) and, likewise, many wrote 
commentaries and essays on Beowulf. This was problematic for candidates who answered the 
question on Grendel and drew primarily on the set text, rather than the whole poem. There is 
currently no formal penalty for writing an essay and commentary on the same poem, but 
candidates should be aware that it narrows the range of their paper and in many cases leads to 
reduplication of material. In order to avoid this, some candidates were forced to cross-refer to 
their commentary in their subsequent essay or simply ignore relevant material. Ideally, 
students should have enough material to avoid such overlap.  
The most popular essay question by far was the one on beauty in the Dream of the Rood (7). 
Some of the weaker candidates simply bypassed beauty as quickly as possible in order to 
focus on more familiar aspects of the poem, like its prosopopoeia, but there were some 
excellent answers on the strongly visual and visionary aspects of the poem’s opening, as well 
10

as some good discussions of the cross in relation to the cultural context of treasure-giving and 
Christian relics. It was a shame that so few candidates were able to relate the poem’s opening 
to Christian art from the period, despite the many images that are available on Weblearn, but 
most wrote well on the moral and symbolic importance of beauty and the relationship 
between cross and dreamer.  
Also popular were the questions on The Wanderer (6b) and Maldon (3a). Again, weaker 
candidates simply ignored the fact that the quotation on The Wanderer asked them to 
consider its place within the Exeter Book, and some answered it without referring once to the 
Exeter Book or without any sense of what else the Exeter Book might contain. However, a 
pleasing number of candidates were able not only to discuss other poems in the manuscript, 
but also how they were ordered and even how they were laid out. Likewise, most candidates 
answering on Maldon showed a good understanding of the historical context for the battle, 
were able to quote Aelfric and Wulfstan on the Vikings, and had read parts of the Anglo-
Saxon Chronicle, including some of its poems.  
Beyond the set texts, the questions that attracted most answers were those on women, genre, 
and native and Christian tradition. There were some impressively wide-ranging essays on 
women, covering not only Beowulf but also the elegies spoken by women, Judith, Elene, and 
Juliana. The essays on genre were, like the question, mixed: some candidates wrote very well 
about the problems of applying generic categories retrospectively and drew interestingly on 
genre theory from Paper 1. Others seemed unsure as to exactly what counted as a genre, using 
the question to discuss fact and fiction in Maldon, or pagan and Christian elements in the 
Elegies. The question on ‘poetic technique’ produced some good essays on topics such as 
rhetoric and non-linear narration but also some rather vague work on heroic or religious 
themes which failed to engage seriously with the question. Though few candidates elected to 
write on saints’ lives beyond Ælfric’s Life of St Edmund, there was some enterprising and 
informed work on archaeology and Anglo-Latin literature. There were also some outstanding 
essays on oral and manuscript culture in the Old English period which ranged from 
discussions of oral poets in Beowulf, to ‘books speaking’ in Cynewulf’s poetry, to the orality 
of some of the translated prose works of the Alfredian era. It is enormously satisfying to see 
that so many candidates are not only getting to grips with the set texts, but also reading 
widely beyond them and thinking deeply and sympathetically about the distinctive aspects of 
Anglo-Saxon culture.  
 
Paper 3 (b): Introduction to Medieval Studies: Middle English Literature 
13 candidates took this paper, and overall the standard was high, with the strongest 
candidates demonstrating a fairly wide range of reading in the Middle English period that 
went well beyond the set texts, while weaker scripts tended to be limited in scope and 
ambition.  
Of the translation/commentary passages, ‘The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’ proved the more popular. 
On the whole, the translations posed few difficulties, demonstrating that most students are 
able to engage closely with Chaucer’s language. But commentaries were more variable in 
11

quality: while most candidates were able to locate the passage confidently in the text and 
discuss themes and content, only a few showed any sophisticated engagement with Chaucer’s 
style; there was little serious analysis of form, rhetoric, diction, register, genre etc. Some of 
the best candidates were able to discuss the tale’s position in the wider context of The 
Canterbury Tales and its relation to Chaucer’s sources.  
There were no answers on Question 9 (allegory) or Question 11 (material/manuscript culture) 
but all the other questions were attempted. While weak essays showed little understanding of 
the period and its literature, there were some good essays on drama, romance and religious 
writing. Hoccleve proved the most popular choice, with some students producing excellent 
work on narratorial voice and authority, drawing on a wide range of Hoccleve’s writings and, 
in some case, making intelligent comparisons with Chaucer and other authors. There was also 
some impressive work on Malory, which engaged with a good deal more of the text than 
simply the recommended section. But the most persistent problem with the essays was the 
tendency to cite as many set texts as possible in one essay without sensitivity to chronology, 
context or genre: for example, comparisons of religion in Malory and mystery plays, or of 
women in Chaucer and mystical writing. While students are encouraged to demonstrate a 
wide breadth of reading in the period, the tendency to treat all Middle English writing as 
homogenous is to be avoided. A number of candidates failed to engage carefully with the 
terms of the question, rehashing essays on topics such as ‘affective piety’ or the structure of 
the Morte Darthur.  
 
Paper 4 (c): Beowulf and its Cultural Background 
There were 2 candidates for this paper. 
 
Paper 4 (d): Middle English Dream Poetry 
There was 1 candidate for this paper. 
 
Paper 4 (e): Classical Literature 
There were 11 candidates for this paper. On the whole the scripts showed good knowledge of 
the texts, though this was often demonstrated at the expense of a more focussed approach to 
the questions: there was a tendency to offer descriptions of what the texts say without 
clarifying how this material might be used to answer the question asked, and in a number of 
cases it was obvious that candidates tried to tweak a tutorial essay to fit a rather different 
exam question (not least Question 1, on the Iliad). There was a certain vagueness about the 
historical and literary contexts of especially the Latin texts; e.g. some candidates who 
answered the question about whether the gods were literary fictions rather than objects of 
real-life religious feeling showed little understanding of how the latter might be expressed, 
and did not indicate the extent to which the literary context of Latin literature was dependent 
on Greek models. However, there were also some excellent scripts, which combined 
thorough command of the relevant material with an intelligent analysis of how the question 
12

might be addressed. Questions on individual texts were more popular than general questions, 
while the distribution between Greek and Latin questions was roughly equal. 
 
Paper 4 (f): Introduction to the Study of Language and Linguistics 
There were 3 candidates for this paper. 
 
Paper 4 (g): Introduction to Critical Theory 
There were 11 candidates for this paper. The best work – and there was some exceedingly 
good work at the top end – was argued with analytical acuity, contesting the underlying 
assumptions of the questions, from wide reading and deep understanding. Theorists and texts 
were interrogated rather than simply described. The implications for literary analysis were 
examined; the conclusions offered were complex yet clearly articulated. The worst work 
revealed candidates seemingly never to have examined their own naïve assumptions, nor to 
have read more than a few texts and some of those only obliquely relevant for the questions 
the paper asks. It is perhaps worth pointing out that this is not simply another version of 
Paper 1, but requires candidates to engage seriously with literary and critical theory. 
The questions were answered in the following numbers: (15) (feminism/gender) 8; (12) 
(psychoanalysis) 5; (8) (author/text) 4; (9) (reading) , (11) (history; text/context), (16) 
(postcolonial), (18) (one theorist: Derrida, Foucault) 3 each; (1) (poetry) 2; and one each for 
(5) (intertextuality) and (14) (heteroglossia). 
 
Paper 4 (h): Special Author: Christina G. Rossetti 
There were 3 candidates for this paper. 
 
Paper 4 (i): Special Author: Thomas Hardy 
There were 2 candidates for this paper. 
 
Paper 4 (j): Special Author: Virginia Woolf 
 
There were 2 candidates for this paper. 
 
Paper 4 (k): Special Author: Samuel Beckett 
There was 1 candidate for this paper. 
 
Paper 4 (l): Special Author: Seamus Heaney 
There were 3 candidates for this paper. 
13

PRELIMINARY EXAMINATIONS IN HISTORY AND ENGLISH 2011 
 
For History and English Chair’s comments (Robert Douglas Fairhurst) please see the English 
Moderations Examiners’ Report. 
 
PRELIMINARY EXAMINATIONS IN ENGLISH AND MODERN LANGUAGES 
2011 
 
Awaiting report. 
 
MODERATIONS IN CLASSICS AND ENGLISH 2011 
 
Paper 1: English Literature 1500-1600 
The standard here was generally high, dominated by work in poetry. There was good work on 
classical influence, though surprisingly little attention to the drama of the period. 
 
Paper 2: English Literature 1600-1660 
This paper was in general very well handled. Candidates ranged outside the standard texts 
and explored in particular a variety of texts produced during the English Civil Wars.  
 
Paper 3: Critical Commentary 
More candidates wrote on the poetry and prose passages than on the translations from the 
classical texts, but all the work showed a pleasing attention to linguistic detail.  
 
Paper 4: Unseen Translation from Greek and/or Latin 
This was, on the whole, the least well done paper, with a considerable number of fairly basic 
errors. To reflect the challenge posed by the passages marking was generous, but even so no 
candidate achieved more than a low to mid-2.1. A mistake on the question paper (Phoebe for 
Phoebo) was pointed out to candidates at the beginning of the exam and caused no problems.  
 
Paper 5: Greek and Latin Literature: Essay Questions  
Essays were of a pleasingly high standard across the board -- on Greek as well as Latin texts, 
on text-specific as well as general questions. All candidates showed a thorough knowledge of 
the texts and demonstrated analytical and expressive skill.  
14

 
 
Paper 6: Greek and Latin Literature: Translation and Comment 
The translations were generally good, though not outstanding. The commentaries were all 
admirably full; the better commentaries were focused, sensitive and thematically informative, 
and avoided description, but all candidates showed secure knowledge of the texts. 
 
Dr Christine Gerrard 
Chair of Examiners 
 
 
 
15

FINAL HONOURS SCHOOL IN ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE 
FINAL HONOURS SCHOOL IN CLASSICS AND ENGLISH, ENGLISH AND 
MODERN LANGUAGES AND HISTORY AND ENGLISH 
2010-2011 
 
Peter McDonald, Chair of Examiners 
Running the elaborate, costly and labour-intensive system that is the FHS examination would 
not be possible without the professionalism and cooperation of a very large number of people 
(at least 100). My thanks go, first, to Angie Johnson for being an exemplary Examinations 
Secretary and to Simon Horobin for generously taking on the task of Deputy Chair. I am also 
extremely grateful to the FHS Board, the external examiners, and the University 
administrative staff, especially Charlotte Heavens, Daisy Johnson, Hayley Morris and Katy 
Routh in the English Faculty, Matthew Kirk in the Examination Schools as well as the staff in 
the Proctors’ and Academic Records Offices. They all helped to make this year’s examination 
process both efficient and fair. Sustaining this throughout the year would have been 
impossible without the expertise and commitment of team of sixty assessors. As many are 
non-postholders, under no obligation to be so charitable with their time, we are all in their 
debt. Finally, I would like to thank the candidates who responded to the challenges we set 
with impressive determination and diligence, most notably by writing around 33,000 words 
each under exacting conditions. 
 
1. Statistics 
There were 239 candidates, 7 of whom took Course 2. 
 
Outcome 1st 
2.1 
2.2 

Numbers 59 
177 


 
Percentages including recent years: 
 1st 
2.1 
2.2 

2007 21.0% 
77.4% 
1.6% 0% 
2008 21.8% 
75.6% 
2.8% 0.4% 
2009 23.6% 
74.4% 
2%  0% 
2010 24.7% 
74.1% 
0.8% 0.4% 
2011 24.7% 
74.1% 
1.2% 0% 
16

Every candidate’s mark profile was scrutinised first by the Chair, Deputy Chair and the 
administrative staff, and then by the Board as a whole on two separate occasions. 18 
candidates on the 1st/2:1 border had their scripts re-read either by internal or by external 
examiners. 13 were raised to the First Class. In addition, the externals monitored the whole 
run for 9 candidates on the border between the 2:1/2:2 class. In all cases, the provisional 
classifications (three 2.2 and six 2.1) were confirmed. The externals also read entire runs for 
the top Firsts and a selection of 2.1 candidates as part of a sampling exercise, and, again, the 
initial classifications were confirmed. In all, just over 200 scripts were scrutinised in the final 
stages. It is also worth noting that all 2151 scripts, which at a conservative estimate amounts 
to just under 8 million words, were blind double-marked, and that a further 70 were third-
marked as part of the routine examining process. This year, in other words, 75 markers 
collectively read, judged, commented on and discussed over 16 million words. This 
adjudicatory exercise alone absorbed a minimum of 2510 staff hours (10.5 per candidate, 
excluding third marking and Joint Schools). 
Following the established practice, the gender statistics were monitored closely. There was an 
improvement in the balance across the Firsts and 2.1s, compared to the figures in recent 
years. This year women achieving a First overall were -1.2% from the ideal of complete 
parity (compare -3.3% in 2008, -3.7% in 2009, and -3.6% in 2010); whereas men were +2% 
(+5.5% in 2008, +5.7% in 2009, and +5.7% in 2010). Similarly, women achieving a 2.1 
overall were +1.8% from the ideal (+5.2% in 2008, +4.1% in 2009, +4.2% in 2010), while 
men were -2.9% (-8.6% in 2008, -6.3% in 2009, and -6.7% in 2010). There were no marked 
disparities across the individual papers, except for Papers 1 and 5 where the proportion of 
men achieving Firsts was noticeably higher (27.3% as against 19.4% for Paper 1, 26.1% as 
against 16% for Paper 5). Looking back over the statistics for these papers since 2008, this 
kind of discrepancy is anomalous in the case of Paper 1, but not for Paper 5. 
It remains the case that the classification criteria are, as last year’s Chair observed, ‘a blunt 
instrument’. We are still in a world in which two candidates, one with average of 68, no 
marks below 60 and three marks of 70 or above, the other with an average of 59, four marks 
in the 50s and a highest mark of 67, both end up in the same 2.1 class. No doubt this can be 
mitigated to some extent by producing full transcripts (now available via the Tableaux site, 
which, unlike OSS, gives averages and rankings) and by supplementary comments in letters 
of reference, but these consequences do raise larger questions about the value of the class 
system. To create a finer set of discriminations, the Faculty may wish to consider introducing 
a ‘starred’, ‘distinguished’ or ‘congratulatory’ First and 2.1, which could, for instance, 
identify the top ten candidates in each class. 
The disparity between the number of marks awarded in a particular class and the number of 
candidates finally given that degree classification was again striking. 8% of the marks 
awarded were 59% or below, but only 1.2% of candidates obtained a 2.2 degree. By contrast, 
24.3% of the marks were 70% or above, which reflects the number of Firsts almost exactly 
(24.1%). This is a further effect of the classification criteria, which are set by the Division.  
More directly relevant to the Faculty’s marking practice as such are the disparities in the 
figures relating to the number of lower marks awarded within a particular class. 52% of the 
17

First-class marks given, for instance, fell into the 70-71% band; whereas only 11% of the 2.1 
marks were in the range 60-61%. This most probably reflects the fact that we think in terms 
of classes and numbers, which is, once again, a feature of the classification system. What is 
noticeable, however, are the uneven consequences this has across the spectrum. While we end 
up effectively being generous to the middle-ranking candidates, we have a tendency to be 
either disproportionately severe or at least conflicted towards the more capable. What we give 
on one set of criteria (e.g. two marks of 70 or above for a First), we take away on another 
(e.g. the average of 68.5% for a First). No less noteworthy is the fact that 87% of the First-
class marks awarded were in the 70-74% range. Most of the very best candidates, we appear 
to be saying, produce work that is, to use the language of the publicly-stated criteria, ‘very 
highly competent’. Convincing signs of excellence were deemed to be evident mostly in the 
submitted essays, 44 of which earned marks of 75% or above (12 for Paper 1, 13 for Paper 7, 
and 19 for Paper 8). Only 16 examination scripts matched this achievement (3 Shakespeare, 0 
for Papers 3a and 3b combined, 4 for Paper 4, 7 for Paper 5, and 2 for Paper 6).  
 
2. Medical and Special Cases 
On the whole the various procedures put in place to mitigate the random inequities of bodily 
and affective life worked well this year. Candidates diagnosed with a Specific Learning 
Difficulty have a sheet attached to their scripts to bring this to the attention of examiners. In 
addition, adjustments in the form of extra time, word-processing or other special 
arrangements are made via the Proctors to ensure that any potential disadvantages are 
reduced to a minimum. Finally, a sub-committee considers further evidence, relating to 
medical and other circumstances, on a case by case basis at a special meeting and then makes 
specific recommendations to the Board. Though it remains difficult to judge the effects of 
long-standing chronic conditions, especially when this affects performance on all papers, the 
record of decisions taken over the past four years has made this task easier. Having this 
record is particularly important in the case of intermitted candidates. The same sub-
committee adjudicates the penalties for the late submission of essays. This year, following the 
advance publication of the penalties that apply, six pieces of work had marks deducted. 
 
3. Procedures 
The practice inaugurated last year of assembling small teams of assessors to cover particular 
parts of Paper 8a, with a ‘lead’ examiner to co-ordinate the marking and collate reports 
worked well enough once again, though, given the unexpected rise in the number of 
candidates opting to submit work in the period 1500-1800, it will probably be best to 
subdivide this area in the future. However, as it is impossible to predict just how the choices 
will work out each year, a certain degree of flexibility will always be needed. This makes it 
all the more important to get a sense of the landscape sooner rather than later. This year we 
asked senior English tutors to say what their College’s Paper 8a candidates had chosen—at 
least according to a minimal set of broad areas/topics—at the end of Trinity term, but the low 
number of responses made this a pointless exercise. In the future it may be better to request 
18

this information in the middle of Michaelmas. Clarifying this as early as possible is essential, 
not least so we can avoid over-loading assessors who are already marking other papers. For 
the details about the choices candidates made this year, see the individual report on Paper 8a. 
After establishing that the changes to the written examination papers introduced last year had 
not had an adverse effect on candidates’ performance, the Board decided to continue the 
practice this year, albeit, following the recommendation of last year’s Chair, using shorter 
quotations. This development in our examination practice has some clear advantages. It has 
significantly reduced the number of queries about wording and scope in the examination 
room, it has given candidates more time to plan and think, and it has produced a greater 
degree of consistency across all the papers. All now have twenty quotations, generally not 
more than four lines in length, which can be applied to any writer or writings. By contrast, in 
2005, Paper 5 contained twenty-seven questions (in reality forty if you count all the either-or 
options), whereas Paper 6 had thirty-five (or thirty-eight including the options). Perhaps more 
importantly, while that Paper 5 had four author-specific questions, Paper 6 had eighteen. It is 
also worth noting that in the same Paper 6 almost half of the questions took the form of a 
quotation followed by the word ‘Discuss’ or its equivalent. The new format simply privileges 
this style of question, making the tag implicit and removing any author restrictions. These 
changes have, however, also raised some new and not-so-new questions. In particular, while 
some examiners feel the new format has tended to make judging relevance, or, to use the 
criteria, ‘engagement’, more demanding, others feel it has affected the distribution of marks 
either across all classes or within particular classes, in part, because candidates have 
struggled to produce clear and coherent arguments in response to the quotations. There is also 
a general impression that the new format has not had as significant an impact as might be 
hoped on the perennial problem of some candidates attempting to shoehorn prepared material 
into their scripts rather than use their acquired expertise to engage directly with the 
quotations. As the individual report on Paper 1 notes, this is not peculiar to the new format of 
papers or to the written examinations. Various remedies were suggested: the examiners could 
use more polemical or debatable quotations, including more from secondary sources; and the 
candidates could be reminded of the importance attached to the criteria relating to 
‘engagement’ and ‘argument’. As the reports on the individual papers show, this year’s 
examiners have different views on the best way forward. For this reason, and because the 
issue of the examination format is inseparable from a series of larger questions about the 
nature, scope and purpose of the FHS written examinations, the Board concluded that this 
aspect of our examination practice merits wider discussion within Faculty. The following 
statistics, which give a disaggregated overview of the distribution of marks across the various 
papers, starting in 2009 (the last year of the ‘old-style’ papers), may be of some help in this 
process. 
 
 
 
 
19

All marks 
Year 80+  75-
72-
70-71 68-69 65-67 62-64 60-
55-
50-
49- Total
79 
74 
61 
59 
54 
2009  7 
48 
131 
239 
285 
489 
383 
144 
177 
28 

1942 
(%) 
(0.4)  (2.5)  (6.7)  (12.3)  (14.7)
(25.2) (19.7) (7.4)
(9.1)  (1.4)  (0.5)
 
2010  13 
64 
139 
271 
237 
484 
332 
138 
156 
33 
11 
1879 
(%) 
(0.7)  (3.4)  (7.4)  (14.4)  (12.6)
(25.8) (17.7) (7.3)
(8.3)  (1.8)  (0.6)
 
2011  7 
53 
159 
234 
255 
505 
371 
142 
140 
10 

1880 
(%) 
(0.4)  (2.8)  (8.5)  (12.4)  (13.6)
(26.9) (19.7) (7.6)
(7.4)  (0.5)  (0.2)
 
Paper 1 The English Language 
Year 80+  75-
72-
70-71 68-69 65-67 62-64 60-61 55-59 50-
49- Total
79 
74 
54 
2009  0 

17 
27 
21 
52 
48 
18 
37 


233 
(%) 
(0) 
(2.1)  (7.3)  (11.6)  (9.0) 
(22.3) (20.6) (7.7) 
(15.9)  (2.6)  (0) 
 
 
2010  1 
17 
16 
23 
23 
54 
41 
16 
26 
11 

233 
(%) 
(0.4)  (7.3)  (6.9)  (9.9) 
(9.9) 
(23.2) (17.6) (6.9) 
(11.2)  (4.7)  (2.1)
 
 
2011  2 
10 
18 
24 
29 
54 
46 
24 
28 


239 
(%) 
(0.8)  (4.2)  (7.5)  (10.0)  (12.1)
(22.6) (19.2) (10.0)
(11.7)  (1.3)  (0.4)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
20

Paper 2 Shakespeare 
Year 80+  75-
72-
70-71 68-69 65-67 62-64 60-61 55-59 50-
49- Total
79 
74 
54 
2009  0 

14 
32 
25 
58 
34 
26 
38 


244 
(%) 
(0) 
(2.9)  (5.7)  (13.1)  (10.2)
(23.8) (13.9) (10.7)
(15.6)  (3.7)  (0.4)
 
 
2010  3 

14 
18 
19 
38 
46 
27 
52 
10 

237 
(%) 
(1.3)  (3.4)  (5.9)  (7.6) 
(8.0) 
(16.0) (19.4) (11.4)
(21.9)  (4.2)  (0.4)
 
2011  0 

12 
40 
14 
73 
72 
10 
12 


238 
(%) 
(0) 
(1.3)  (5.0)  (16.8)  (5.9) 
(30.7) (30.3) (4.2) 
(5.0) 
(0.8)  (0) 
 
 
 
Paper 3 1100 - 1509 (combined 3a/3b) 
Year 80+ 75-
72-
70-
68-69 65-67 62-64 60-61 55-
50-
49- Total
79 
74 
71 
59 
54 
2009  0 

12 
24 
51 
55 
54 
20 
22 


242 
(%) 
(0) 
(0.4)  (5.0)  (9.9)  (21.1)
(22.7) (22.3) (8.3) 
(9.1) (0.8)  (0.4) 
 
2010  0 

16 
22 
34 
69 
54 
18 
15 


232 
(%) 
(0) 
(0.4)  (6.9)  (9.5)  (14.7)
(29.7) (23.3) (7.8) 
(6.5) (0.9)  (0.4) 
 
2011  0 


20 
34 
70 
56 
25 
19 


232 
(%) 
(0) 
(0) 
(3.0)  (8.6)  (14.7)
(30.2) (24.1) (10.8)
(8.2) (0.4)  (0) 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
21

Paper 4 1509 - 1642 
Year 80+  75-
72-
70-71 68-69 65-67 62-64 60-
55-
50-
49- Total
79 
74 
61 
59 
54 
2009  1 

15 
19 
28 
52 
64 
23 
21 


243 
(%) 
(0.4)  (3.7)  (6.2)  (7.8) 
(11.5)
(21.4) (26.3) (9.5)
(8.6)  (2.5)  (2.1)
2010  0 

13 
36 
45 
75 
38 

14 


233 
(%) 
(0) 
(1.4)  (5.6)  (15.5)  (19.3)
(32.2) (16.3) (3.4)
(6.0)  (0) 
(0) 
 
 
2011  0 

20 
36 
31 
71 
43 
21 



235 
(%) 
(0) 
(1.7)  (8.5)  (15.3)  (13.2)
(30.2) (18.3) (8.9)
(3.8)  (0) 
(0) 
 
Paper 5 1642 - 1740 
Year 80+  75-
72-
70-71 68-69 65-67 62-64 60-61 55-59 50-
49- Total
79 
74 
54 
2009  0 


31 
35 
76 
55 
20 
14 


242 
(%) 
(0) 
(0.4)  (3.7)  (12.8)  (14.5)
(31.4) (22.7) (8.3) 
(5.8) 
(0) 
(0.4)
2010  1 

18 
34 
18 
62 
38 
22 
27 


232 
(%) 
(0.4)  (2.2)  (7.8)  (14.7)  (7.8) 
(26.7) (16.4) (9.5) 
(11.6)  (1.7)  (1.3)
 
2011  0 

19 
20 
30 
61 
42 
25 
27 


232 
(%) 
(0) 
(3.0)  (8.2)  (8.6) 
(12.9)
(26.3) (18.1) (10.8)
(11.6)  (0.4)  (0) 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
22

Paper 6 1740 - 1832 
Year 80+  75-
72-
70-71 68-69 65-67 62-64 60-61 55-
50-
49- Total
79 
74 
59 
54 
2009  0 

14 
35 
35 
58 
52 
17 
24 


242 
(24.0)
(%) 
(0) 
(1.7)  (5.8)  (14.5)  (14.5)
(21.5) (7.0) 
(9.9)  (1.2)  (0) 
2010  0 


52 
26 
66 
45 
26 



233 
(%) 
(0) 
(0.4)  (2.6)  (22.3)  (11.2)
(28.3) (19.3) (11.2)
(3.4)  (0.9)  (0.4)
2011  1 

16 
33 
39 
63 
38 
15 
22 


232 
(%) 
(0.4)  (0.4)  (6.9)  (14.2)  (16.8)
(27.2) (16.4) (6.5) 
(9.5)  (0.9)  (0.9)
 
 
Paper 7 Special Author 
Year 80+  75-
72-74 70-71 68-69 65-67 62-64 60-
55-
50-
49- Total
79 
61 
59 
54 
2009  2 

30 
40 
44 
67 
39 




247 
(%) 
(0.8)  (3.6)  (12.1)  (16.2)  (17.8)
(27.1) (15.8) (3.6)
(2.8)  (0) 
(0) 
 
2010  2 
16 
28 
40 
35 
62 
37 
11 



236 
(%) 
(0.8)  (6.8)  (11.9)  (16.9)  (14.8)
(26.3) (15.7) (4.7)
(0.8)  (1.3)  (0) 
 
2011  1 
12 
36 
24 
50 
57 
31 
11 
14 


237 
(%) 
(0.4)  (5.1)  (15.2)  (10.1)  (21.1)
(24.1) (13.1) (4.6)
(5.9)  (0) 
(0.4)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
23

Paper 8 Special Topic 
Year 80+  75-
72-74 70-71 68-69 65-67 62-64 60-
55-
50-
49- Total
79 
61 
59 
54 
2009  4 
12 
20 
31 
46 
71 
37 
11 
14 


249 
(%) 
(1.6)  (4.8)  (8.0) 
(12.4)  (18.5)
(28.5) (14.9) (4.4)
(5.6)  (0.8)  (0.4)
 
2010  6 
12 
28 
46 
37 
58 
33 
10 
12 


243 
(%) 
(2.5)  (4.9)  (11.5)  (18.9)  (15.2)
(23.9) (13.6) (4.1)
(4.9)  (0.4)  (0) 
 
2011  3 
16 
31 
37 
28 
56 
43 
11 



235 
(%) 
(1.3)  (6.8)  (13.2)  (15.7)  (11.9)
(23.8) (18.3) (4.7)
(3.8)  (0.4)  (0) 
 
The observations markers make on the comment sheets, which form part of the public record 
of the examination, are an invaluable part of the process. By making it clear how the mark 
awarded accords with the publically-stated criteria, they serve as an aide memoire for each 
marker, and they make it possible for third markers and externals to identify the grounds for 
any disagreements. Occasionally the comments fall short because they are too impressionistic 
or because they simply enumerate the strengths or the weaknesses of an answer. As the 
externals noted this year, there is a tendency among some markers to use the comments for 
criticism and the marks for praise; whereas what the criteria encourage is a balanced 
assessment of strengths and weakness. To address this problem, the Faculty may wish to 
consider revising the comment sheets in order to give a clearer indication of what is required. 
It might be sensible, for instance, to include the key criteria on each sheet. However, as some 
of the examiners point out in their individual reports, it is also vital for tutors to remind 
candidates, first, that the marking criteria reward ‘engagement’ and ‘argument’ and 
‘information’ and ‘organisation and presentation’; and, second, that the marking process 
entails a careful weighing of each area against all the others such that no single criterion has a 
trumping value. Scripts given marks in the range 75-79%, for example, will ‘excel in more 
than one area, and be at least highly competent in other respects’, while those in the range 65-
69% ‘will demonstrate considerable competence across the range of the criteria.’  
The most prevalent single concern among candidates this year related to the rules regarding 
works not originally written in English, particularly when applied to Papers 1, 7 and 8. The 
Handbook currently states that ‘for all papers, the general rule is that you may write on such 
texts for no more than one-third of the paper’ and that ‘post-1500, only texts written by 
authors who normally wrote in English will be accepted’ (p. 8). In some cases, this was felt to 
be too restrictive, especially for those who wished to write on translation as a topic, to 
consider the influence of non-English writers on literature in English, or to reflect on 
multilingualism in the post-1500 periods. In other cases, it was felt the rules underestimated 
24

the extent to which some translations (e.g. Cary’s Dante, Vizetelly’s Zola, the Muirs’ Kafka, 
or Hughes’s Ovid) constitute English-language works in their own right and/or have a secure 
place in Anglophone literary cultures. In the light of this, the Faculty may wish to review its 
current rulings. The following more capacious wording was suggested: ‘Literature in English 
includes translations, though candidates working on translations are reminded that their 
discussion should focus on the English-language texts and/or their place in Anglophone 
cultures rather than on the source texts/cultures from which they derive.’ 
Following the practice established last year for Papers 1, 7 and 8, candidates were required to 
submit a CD containing an electronic version of their essay identical to the written 
submission. A number of essays, especially those that obtained anomalous marks, were run 
through Turnitin to check for plagiarism. To make the process simpler to administer in the 
future, it would help if all essays could be automatically submitted to Turnitin online.  
Last year, the Chair rightly suggested that we should work towards having 3 pairs of markers 
rather than 2 for Papers 1-6. There is no doubt that this would produce a more reasonable 
workload for assessors who are marking in such a short space of time during Full Term. This 
year, however, we managed this only for Paper 1. In all other cases, it proved impossible to 
find an extra pair of markers either given the Faculty guidelines about how much colleagues 
ought reasonably be asked to do or because colleagues were on various forms of leave. 
Finally, this year the Chair held a meeting in Michaelmas for all new markers to discuss the 
examining process and to answer any questions. This appeared to work well. 
 
4. Prizes 
Gibbs Prizes:  
a) Best overall performance in Course 1: Thomas Woloshyn (Magdalen) 
b) Best overall performance in Course 2: Oliver Rowse (New) 
c) Best extended essay in Course 1 Paper 7: Lucien Follini Press (Magdalen) 
d) Best extended essay in Course 1 Paper 8: Lucinda Knight (LMH), Florence Graham-Dixon 
(St Peter’s) 
e) Best extended essay in Course 2: Oliver Rowse (New) 
f) Special prize for distinguished performance in a second-year portfolio (both Paper 1): 
Thomas Woloshyn (Magdalen), Louis Goddard (Mansfield) 
Charles Oldham Shakespeare Prize:   
Thomas Woloshyn (Magdalen), Kathleen Keown (Lincoln) 
 
 
 
 
25

5. Reports on individual papers 
 
COURSE I 
 
PAPER 1: The English Language 
The standard of work was generally high. Some portfolios were quite brilliant and there were 
comparatively few marks below the mid-60s. 
 All the questions were attempted, with question 2 (usually done in relation to class) being the 
most popular essay question and question 12 (on fixed and prejudicial categories) being the 
most popular commentary. Many answers discussed genre, new media, metaphor and 
standardisation: in all these cases some of the work was very good, some less so. Fewer 
candidates than in previous years discussed language and gender. 
 Some of the weaker essays were very narrowly focused on lengthy examples. This was 
clearly material that had been prepared for a commentary question (sometimes the chosen 
passages were even attached to the essays as appendices: examiners had no choice but to 
ignore this material since it was in excess of the word limit for Section A). Candidates are 
reminded that a successful essay, while always of course supporting its assertions with 
evidence, will need to display some range. In preparing for the paper, breadth and flexibility 
are key: for any area of study, you should think about arguments you might make in an essay 
as well as salient features you might point out in a commentary. As the rubric says, it is 
important to pay attention to the precise terms of each question. Several candidates lost marks 
because they twisted the questions to suit topics that had been narrowly and rigidly pre-
formatted.  
The commentaries were generally good, with much exact linguistic observation being carried 
out. As in past years, the choice of passages was a crucial factor. Occasionally, candidates 
who were clearly intelligent and well-informed were held back because the passages they had 
selected were not sufficiently nourishing. Another noticeable failing was that some 
candidates – especially those answering the popular question 12 – engaged in thematic 
discussion rather than linguistic analysis. This was in part because they had chosen texts 
where prejudice was self-evident, and so had left themselves little to do except reiterate the 
obvious. In contrast, the best answers to this question were on texts that did not display any 
overt prejudice at all, so that fixed and arguably prejudicial categories had to be discovered 
by close attention to the language (for instance, detecting subtle sexism in ads that were not 
explicitly directed to a gendered consumer). In some portfolios, reams of unanalysed 
electronic data were attached as appendices to the appendices: there is no point in including 
such material. 
 Cases of scrappy presentation, with marks being deducted in consequence, were more 
frequent than in recent years. Candidates are reminded that their work is expected to meet 
scholarly standards: quotations must be accurate and be properly footnoted; texts referred to 
in the essay must tally with those listed in the bibliography which should be in alphabetical 
26

order – and so on. There were also occasional misunderstandings of basic linguistic and 
sociolinguistic terms, for instance ‘pronoun’, ‘passive’, ‘register’ and ‘dialect’. This is a 
library paper: if you feel uncertain about the words you are using it is easy to look them up. 
 A few portfolios received very low marks because they displayed little or no accurate 
awareness of the English language. Candidates are reminded that this paper tests a quite 
distinct body of knowledge and set of skills. 
 
PAPER 2: Shakespeare 
All questions were attempted, and many answers impressed the examiners with their rounded 
consideration of the quotations’ implications. Two quotations, however, caused problems: a 
number of students took the ‘thou’ of the Duke’s ‘in our remove be thou at full ourself’ 
(Measure for Measure) to be self-referential, without realising that he must (for grammatical 
and contextual reasons) be talking to someone else; some students did not notice that the 
Nurse’s ‘women grow by men’ in Romeo and Juliet is bawdy. Those who addressed what the 
quotation as a whole said, and interpreted it, did better than those who repositioned it or 
picked out a single word from it. Arguments were often strong, and these were rewarded; 
students are, however, warned against stating what ‘I believe/feel’, or presuming a God-like 
power to declare when critics are being ‘correct’ or ‘right’. They should also be sure to know 
the names, in addition to the ideas, of the people they are addressing: surnames misspelled 
included those of people on the examination paper (McDonald; Paster), or in the English 
faculty (Stern). 
Writing style was often very pleasing – examiners enjoyed carefully chosen adjectives, and 
sophisticated use of theoretical or rhetorical terms. However, some candidates wrote in an 
idiom intended to sound critically ambitious and sophisticated, but actually inexpressive: 
phrases such as ‘linguistically constructed’ or ‘aligned with’ were found in many scripts, in 
many versatile uses, often masking basic or vague points. ‘Elizabethan’ was sometimes used 
to describe a play that was actually Jacobean; ‘manuscript’ was surprising often used to 
describe a printed text.  
The play most written about was probably Titus Andronicus – or, rather, one scene in that 
play, in which Marcus addresses Lavinia’s mutilated body. The popularity of this episode 
probably reflects teaching practices more than students’ genuine estimation about the most 
interesting bits of Shakespeare. The resultant essays often avoided addressing Shakespeare as 
a dramatist. Indeed, drama as a whole was oddly lacking this year. Students were not always 
alert to the dramatic clues within the texts; some guessed at performance with no knowledge 
of theatre now or then; some showed knowledge of performances or films, but refused to 
analyse them intellectually. 
There were also many essays on the narrative poems – especially Lucrece – which paired 
‘neatly’ with Lavinia; the accent was, in both instances, on intertextuality, and often on 
classicism in particular. These essays were often routine, lacking much of a sense of 
Shakespeare’s experimentation or experiential immediacy. Similarly, the bulk of answers on 
women were dutiful or (surprisingly) Freudian; while answers on the Henriads were almost 
27

all written on a single, tightly-defined, political theme. Many of these were impressively 
well-researched, but the examiners were worried by their tendency to treat the plays as 
paraphrasable reports of a single attitude, or to substitute plot summary – of episodes, actions, 
or whole scenes in Shakespeare – for thought or analysis. 
What was lacking throughout was sensitivity to particulars. Remarkably few answers showed 
feeling for a play as a moving collocation of scenes, tropes, characters, etc, that are 
discontinuous and surprising rather than logical. Perhaps as a consequence, levels of 
misquotation were disturbingly high, and some candidates rendered verse in a form that 
defied scansion (and syntax), and that occasionally lost lineation altogether, analysing with 
enthusiasm lines that they had written themselves. Others avoided ‘close thinking’ plays as 
philosophical entities. It is perhaps for this reason that few answers tried to take on 
Shakespeare’s most famous and complex plays – Hamlet, Macbeth, Lear (apart from the 
Dover cliff scene, another set-piece), Romeo and Juliet, Midsummer Night's Dream, even 
Twelfth Night. 
Both in terms of detail, and in terms of whole scripts, candidates should think clearly about 
what they want to argue – dramaturgy, language, theme, characterization – and which aspects 
of context, or performance or reception history, or the like, is their proposed focus. Confused 
thinking let down essays that contained individually good points.  
 
 
PAPER 3a: 1100 - 1509 
On the whole, work on this paper was pleasant, usually substantial, and frequently 
sophisticated. As noted below, although excessive concentration upon Chaucer and the 
'Gawain-poet' remains a problem, many papers demonstrated an impressive breadth of 
reference across the period. The 'new style' provision of quotational rubrics appears to have 
enabled candidates to choose provocative textual juxtapositions and to have stimulated a 
good deal more focussed textual attention than in the past. Across the board, whatever the 
quality of analysis adduced, candidates showed an impressively accurate recall of textual 
detail, extending in many cases to pointed use of quotation. 
However, recall was not always comprehension, and many essays addressing the most 
popular rubrics were compromised by their authors' failure to understand the Middle English 
in which the rubrics were often couched. 'Marvelous swevens' proved unproblematic, and 
inspired a number of penetrating observations, in the main on Chaucerian poems (but also 
Pearl as well). Similarly, Jill Mann's contentions about 'display' attracted some sophisticated 
answers on sumptuousness in romance. But, in another rubric addressing Gawain, many 
candidates seized on the word 'gentillest' without recognising that the rubric qualified the 
term as referring specifically to speech-acts ('tale', 'lote'). Similarly, Chaucer's 'fruit and 
chaff', while it elicited a number of welcome and sophisticated essays on Henryson, too 
frequently was read as expressing an interest in 'doctrine', not a mode of presenting doctrine, 
and introduced unpointed and not very challenging discussions of mystical writing 
(particularly Cloud, Julian, and Kempe). Many other efforts at discussing the mystics 
28

attached themselves to Piers Plowman's identification of Christ as 'lord of life', but without 
recognising that the love expressed in the rubric was God's for man, rather than the reverse. 
Many essays, usually attached to the rubric identifying Gawain as 'gentillest', showed an 
extensive, although often not exceptionally sophisticated, knowledge of 'romance', including 
Scottish examples of the genre. Malory, however, had few takers. While there were a number 
of very interesting efforts at working with Gower's Confessio, Langland (like Malory) was 
generally ignored. There was a substantial minority of extremely sophisticated and well-
organised approaches to the lyrics, but (an ongoing feature of the paper) work on medieval 
drama was uniformly attentive only to the obvious. 
 
PAPER 3b: 1100 – 1509 commentary 
All of the non-Troilus passages were attempted, and tended to produce work that was sharper, 
more focused, more informed and on the whole less prone to digression. The Troilus passage, 
on the other hand, worked well in that it exposed lack of engagement and failure, or 
unwillingness, to stand back and listen to what was going on between the characters, and 
between Chaucer and his readers. Equally, it enabled other candidates to demonstrate critical 
sensitivity to tone, text and context. 
In the case of Troilus passage a), many candidates did not know that in the first stanza 
Pandarus is ‘quoting’ from Oenone’s letter to Paris, missing the ‘Quod she’ in line 2, and as a 
result losing the opportunity to talk about the layering of the narrative, and about the 
complexities of voice in this particular extract. Given that this exercise is partly about 
comprehension and can’t proceed without it, this severely compromised some answers. 
In the case of passage b), some candidates showed themselves to be impatient with ambiguity 
and uncertainty, foisting onto the passage univocal and inflexible readings of Criseyde (as 
inherently unfaithful) and Pandarus (as a tiresome trickster). Such candidates were unwilling 
to consider their views freshly in the light of this particular passage, preferring to assume that 
Criseyde’s grief could be nothing but an empty display, and seeing Pandarus in terms wholly 
determined by his behaviour in previous books. While some candidates wrote well about the 
functioning of dramatic irony here, others were more heavy-handed, refusing the challenge of 
staying in the moment with Criseyde and seeing the passage as nothing more than a 
foreshadowing of her later infidelity. The rings around Criseyde’s eyes provoked some ill-
considered over-readings (e.g. links to the lovers’ previous exchange of rings, or even to the 
wheel of Fortune): candidates need to resist free association of this kind. 
There is plenty of evidence that candidates have taken to heart the criticisms advanced in 
previous examiners’ reports about the neglect of form and over-concentration on content. 
However, some candidates this year unhelpfully concentrated on form at the expense of 
content, rather than showing how they interact. For example, some unhelpfully transposed 
skills learned for FHS Paper 1 onto this paper, substituting the relentless deployment of 
linguistic terminology, or minute attention to prosody, for the exercise of critical sensitivity, 
judiciousness and discretion (i.e. responding to the specific kinds of literary finesse displayed 
by a particular passage). Linguistic and grammatical terms are useful if, and only if, they are 
29

integrated into an illuminating and judicious critical reading of a passage; but some 
candidates became sidetracked by listing pronouns or modal verbs, and the result in each case 
was less a commentary than an inventory of grammatical features in which one could not see 
the wood for the trees. Focus on grammar at the expense of the big picture had some 
unfortunate results, as when candidates insisted that the use of possessive pronouns 
necessarily indicated nothing but possessiveness (e.g. in Pearl). This was in some cases allied 
to rhetorical over-reading, as in the misguided insistence on a pun between ‘reyne’ and 
‘reign’ in Troilus passage b. Some candidates relied on the subjective interpretation of sound 
effects, assuming, for example, that some letters of the alphabet sound ‘harsh’: this is not a 
fruitful line to take. And there were some recurrent problems with critical idiom: several 
candidates thought that ‘juxtapose’ is a synonym for ‘contrast’, others used the term 
‘discourse’ indiscriminately, and others used ‘performative’ loosely to mean ‘pertaining to 
performance’ rather than as a technical term derived from speech act theory.  
 
PAPER 4: 1509 - 1642 
The general standard on Paper 4 was good. There was a pleasing range of topics, including 
less canonical authors in essays largely on canonical writers (for instance, Barnfield or Lodge 
in essays on sonnet sequences; cony catching pamphlets; domestic tragedy; and humanist 
dialogue). Less work was done well on the Faerie Queene than one would have liked; 
answers tended to stay within the confines of a single book and to ignore the structure and 
larger generic issues of the work as a whole. Essays on drama often failed to progress beyond 
character analysis, and the best work on drama considered it in relation either to genre, 
political or literary context and did not simply rest on internalist readings. Marlowe essays 
suffered in particular in their internalist approach. Work on Donne was of a higher standard 
than in previous years, with a pleasing integration of prose, poetry, and sermon, with 
evidence taken from a good range of works in Donne’s career, and engaging well with critical 
literature on the writer. There was particularly strong close reading wedded to contextual 
work in many cases, with authors Wyatt and Herbert and Mary Sidney showing up in strong 
essays accomplishing this feat. There was some exceptional work on the printing and 
distribution circumstances for Renaissance works, and some highly original work on 
patronage relations, letters, and manuscript material. There were more answers on More and 
early Tudor humanist culture than in previous years, and these were often of an exceedingly 
high standard, pushing beyond the obvious biographical readings to explore literary, 
rhetorical and contextual issues well beyond Utopia. Essays on Nashe, too, were particularly 
strong and appeared in many topics across the paper. There were fine essays on Renaissance 
mimesis, though little other work in Renaissance ethics or philosophy. While at times 
showing good penetration, at other times the essays on gender took up rather formulaic 
approaches and students adopting gender analysis should aim for more originality and critical 
reflection. Although many essays were competent on matters of historical context, there was 
a lack of interest in genre (except for a streak of essays on the epyllion).  
Three major problems tended to mar work. First, there was the problem of range within a 
particular answer or over the whole paper. Students who wish to focus on a single work in an 
30

essay should take care to show strength in range by incorporating knowledge of other works 
in the answer, in order to gain penetration and complexity. Second, there was the problem of 
an excess of historical or other contextual detail but without a good, clear argument. Students 
should take care that their evidence serves a purpose of clarifying and developing argument; 
and that they work to retain critical reflection on the terms they use to analyse their material. 
Summarising historical detail or plot elements should not replace argument and critical 
analysis. Third, there was a problem of relevance, as students are still coming to grips with 
the new format of the questions. While in some cases, it was apparent that the freedom of 
responding to a title quotation was liberating, for others it was simply an occasion to offload 
prepared material with little engagement with the quotation or a clear focus of argument. Too 
many high quality essays simply dumped material onto title quotations and showed little 
understanding of how to engage with the new material offered in the quotation. Students saw 
a title quotation by ‘Donne,’ and dumped their ‘Donne’ essay there, rather than finding a 
quotation that better suited their own expertise, regardless of the author of the title. A number 
of candidates devoted a page or two to simply close-reading the longer quotations and then 
turning to something else, more or less tangentially related. This was considered inadequate 
engagement. Students should try to approach the title quotations looking for the intellectual 
possibilities they offer. If the terms of engagement with the title quotation are sufficiently 
clear and explicitly made, then the essays which took an unexpected turn were understood 
and appraised as relevant. Students should consider the quotations as invitations to open up 
discussion, and should say precisely how they are taking the quotation if there is perceived to 
be a big leap from the title quotation to their answer.  
 
PAPER 4a: Victorian Literature 
8 candidates took this paper, half of them Classics and English students and half of them 
English and Modern Languages. Most of the questions were attempted (with no.15 being the 
most popular) and the range of texts discussed was also wide. Much of the work was very 
good. The best answers combined acute close reading with wide-ranging knowledge of the 
period, making arguments that were clear and well grounded. The main weaknesses of the 
less-good scripts were narrowness and the off-loading of pre-prepared essays. 
 
PAPER 4b: Modern Literature 
19 candidates took this paper. Generally speaking the standard was adequate but only rarely 
impressive. A potential difficulty for candidates taking this paper is that, with the exception 
of lectures on FHS 7 special authors, much of the Faculty lecture provision on this period 
caters primarily for first year students; it may be that tutors need to set more ambitious goals 
for Finals-level students. First-class essays demonstrated knowledge of a wide range of 
primary texts, and an ability to engage critically with the critics. Some of the best essays were 
potentially compromised by dumping of contextual information in the final paragraphs that 
contributed nothing to the argument, and by making inflated claims on the basis of little 
concrete evidence (the ‘many critics have remarked’ gesture, for example). The weakest 
31

essays often spread themselves too thinly across too many texts, never demonstrating the 
ability to pursue an interpretative line to a conclusion or to develop an argument. 
A significant weakness in several essays was the lack of sustained engagement with the 
question. In several cases, candidates engaged with the question only as far as allowed them 
to make a space for an essay on a different topic: for example, some candidates thought that 
Sontag’s distinction of nuance and simplification (Q.1) allowed them to set up straw man 
critics as simplifiers and then to present their own supposedly more nuanced arguments; 
others used Woolf’s comment on movements (Q.5) as an opening to an essay on a movement 
that had interested them, without paying continuing attention to the tension between 
individuals and influences. 
 
PAPER 5: 1642 - 1740 
All questions/quotations were attempted. Perhaps inevitably, the authors most frequently 
dealt with included Milton, Marvell, Rochester, Dryden, Behn, Defoe, Pope, and Swift. The 
‘second tier’ comprised Bunyan, Hutchinson, Cavendish, Philips, Montagu, the Cavalier 
poets, Hobbes, Locke, Haywood, Duck, and Leapor. There were also a goodly number of 
treatments of ‘Restoration comedy’ represented typically by a narrow canon of plays by 
Wycherley, Etherege, Congreve, and Behn. Hardly anyone wrote on the heroic play and 
tragedy or on early C18 drama though the few candidates who did produced fresh and 
stimulating answers. It was heartening to see a cluster of essays on the intellectual culture of 
the period, the Battle of the Books, and the influence of the Royal Society. As in previous 
years, the centre of gravity remains the later seventeenth century, far fewer scripts venturing 
beyond 1700 or doing so confidently. This was especially vivid in the way the quotation from 
Thomson was approached: almost no one elected to focus on the 1720s and 30s. More 
surprising was the relative dearth of well-informed discussions of print culture and 
manuscript. 
Overall, the quality of the scripts was pleasing. At the higher end, there were some excellent, 
knowledgeable, and closely argued answers which showed sharp conceptual edge, 
sophistication of approach, and wide reading in primary and secondary literature. But there 
were also some disappointing ones. All too often, the quotation was either virtually ignored 
or, if addressed in the opening paragraph, its implications would not be taken up and explored 
thereafter. This naturally raised the issue of relevance: in many cases, it was perfectly 
obvious that the quotation was used as a mere pretext to recycle a tutorial essay which had 
little direct applicability to the task in hand. 
Many candidates evidently assumed that the more they write the better: the upshot was a 
proliferation of answers which reproduced everything someone knew about the topic rather 
than being discriminating and using only the material that would help in the construction and 
development of the argument. Tellingly, concision, clarity, and economy of both substance 
and expression were the hallmarks of the most accomplished scripts. Those also showed 
acute awareness of the historical circumstances and cultural trends as well as attentiveness to 
formal and generic properties of texts. Again, however, there were numerous pieces which 
32

supplied potted histories of the period or which evinced only a superficial understanding of 
historical change and its impact on imaginative writing or else which were marred by outright 
factual mistakes. While the best answers engaged with modern scholarship in a thoughtful, 
critical, and imaginative manner, there were several which appeared either wholly innocent of 
the critical literature or else confined themselves to citing Bonamy Dobrée on Restoration 
comedy and Ian Watt on the novel. In future, it would be good to see more evidence of close 
reading and textual analysis and less summary and description. 
Given that the most frequent drawback was a lack of a clear and coherent argument 
formulated with close reference to the chosen quotation, we think it would be helpful to spell 
out our expectations about the importance of constructing an argument in the Handbook. The 
same point should also be reinforced in the circular to candidates and in the heading of the 
exam paper itself. There seems at present to be a disjunction between what we are looking for 
(clear argument as stated in the marking criteria) and what the exam paper apparently allows 
(producing a meditation on one of the quotations). Last year’s Examiners’ Report emphasized 
that ‘In a few cases, the quotations initiated no more than general discussion of the named 
author rather than a specific exploration of the quotation's themes and such answers were 
generally weak. Future candidates are encouraged to read quotation themes closely and to 
answer accordingly.’ This point cannot be reiterated strongly enough. 
 
PAPER 6: 1740 - 1832 
The stronger candidates often demonstrated knowledge and critical understanding of different 
texts and genres from across the full range of the period covered in this paper. There were 
some unusual essays on visual culture in relation to literature, e.g. illustrations of A 
Sentimental Journey, Rowlandson cartoons in relation to biographies of Johnson, and 
ekphrasis in Keats. It was encouraging to see people reading text through pictures and vice 
versa, and not confining themselves to Blake when they did so (on whom, however, there was 
also some strong work). There was also some perceptive discussion and analysis of revisions 
and their implications in e.g. Richardson and Wordsworth, and some excellent answers on 
later eighteenth-century satire. Sheridan and Goldsmith were written on less frequently than 
in previous years, and there were few answers on mid-eighteenth-century poetry (although 
the ones that were written tended to be good). 
On the debit side of the account, there were many failures in accuracy of citation, including 
that of titles - it is depressing that so few people remember even so celebrated a title as 'Ode 
on a Grecian Urn' correctly. Few people considered the formal properties and implications of 
the quotation they were discussing; e.g. if it was from a poem what might that imply about 
the status of the claim being made, and/or the nature of the speaker's voice. 
There was too much plot summary in the essays on fiction, and too many essays offered 
contextualization at the expense of close analysis. The use of secondary criticism tended to be 
derivative. The best essays offered coherent, cogent arguments, while the weaker ones tended 
to give catalogues of examples or thinly elaborated lists of points. Some read almost like 
entries in an encyclopedia. 
33

PAPER 7: Special Authors 
7a (i): Beowulf  
There were 3 candidates for this paper. 
7a (ii): Alfred 
There was 1 candidate for this paper. 
7a (iii): Exeter Book 
There were 3 candidates for this paper. 
7b (i): Chaucer 
There were 8 candidates for this paper. A wide variety of themes was attempted. The general 
standard was good, with a small amount of excellent work. Most candidates had engaged 
with a range of Chaucer's work, and were able to place it in scholarly and critical 
frameworks. However, the examiners would have welcomed a clearer sense of building a 
critical argument in many of the essays, and the confidence to see through a reading – either 
of the primary material, or of a critical debate.  
7b (ii): Langland 
There were 2 candidates for this paper. 
7b (iii): N Town Cycle 
There were 3 candidates for this paper. 
7c (i): Spenser 
7 candidates chose this paper. The most popular questions were 1 and 7 (on allegory/Ireland, 
and on Bonfont's tongue) with two answers each, while questions 4, 8, and 9 (on 'ydle words', 
the mind, and philosophy/temperance) each attracted one answer. The overall standard of 
work produced was high. Candidates read widely and deeply, showing detailed, flexible 
knowledge of The Faerie Queene, and writing with confidence about The Shepheardes 
Calender, A Present View, and Amoretti. The Hymnes, translations, and satires featured in 
only a few essays, but were well considered and relevant to discussion. Candidates focussed 
on a wide range of topics, including such familiar entry points as authorial self-fashioning 
and patronage, but also questions of performative language, textual bibliography, genre 
theory, and Elizabethan politics and ideology. In almost all cases, answers were very 
successful in fusing contextual knowledge with adept and relevant close reading of texts. 
Helpful use was also made of Renaissance literary theory, but comparisons with the work of 
other contemporary poets and writers was uncommon; brave candidates might like to 
consider how to spring him from the deplorable vacuum of canonical isolation. The very best 
work showed excellent knowledge of contemporary political and cultural life; impressive 
scholarly research skills; creative and original thinking; and persuasive, powerful writing. All 
candidates addressed themselves well to the title quotations, and the range of different 
responses produced was encouraging: there was no typical 'Spenser answer', and candidates 
pursued their projects with confidence and skill. Presentation was generally exemplary for 
34

this paper, though the impulse to place argument (rather than references) in footnotes could 
have been better resisted. The examiners had two suggestions for the future: that candidates 
think more of moving away from normative topical frames of interpretation, instead risking 
their own readings, especially of The Faerie Queene; and relatedly, that they should seek out 
opinions other than those expressed in 'Companion' and 'Handbook' volumes to Spenser; as 
handy as these are, they are not the only word. 
7c (ii): Milton 
There were 15 students who took this option, showing breadth of interest and in texts chosen 
for analysis and commentary, with very high standard of quality. The best essays showed 
clarity of conception; demonstrated good range across a wide body of Miltonic texts—even 
when the focus was mainly on one work; and offered highly perceptive readings illuminating 
linguistic details. The strongest essays were able to evoke specific contexts (classical, 
patristic, philosophical, historical, poetic, generic) and did so selectively and with evident 
relevance to their topic at hand. Weaker essays made use of contextual material but not 
always to good effect. Especially fine essays took up themes of translation, the body, poetic 
creation, and genre, and were able to juxtapose fine insight with critical secondary work. The 
weaker essays suffered from some of the following: too singularly focussed on one Miltonic 
work; rendering of dubious historical explanations or generalisations; offering themes rather 
than arguments; failing to engage with the qualities of language in passages cited; or showing 
too limited an engagement with scholarship on their topics. Students should take care to 
balance their scholarship and reading with organisation and selection of a topic of an 
appropriate scope. A particular defect of this paper is choosing a topic of too broad a scope to 
be manageable. 
7c (iii): Jonson 
There were 3 candidates for this paper. 
7d (i): Marvell 
There were five candidates for this paper, who produced work ranging from high first-class 
quality to middling upper-second. Overall the range of Marvell’s writing addressed by the 
candidates was wider than in previous years, with much of the prose, the verse satire, and 
even some of the more obscure works being discussed to good effect. The best work showed 
intellectual commitment, energy of argument and evident mastery of a wide range of primary 
and secondary material. Where essays fell below this high standard it was occasionally 
because the candidate seemed not to have allowed themselves enough time to pull their 
material into an effective shape. Sometimes this turned on questions of presentation, more 
often on substantial questions of architecture and design. 
7d (ii): Dryden 
There was 1 candidate for this paper. 
7d (iii): Haywood 
There were 2 candidates for this paper. 
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7e (i): Wordsworth 
There were seven candidates, and the standard of work was generally high. The best scripts 
drew on Wordsworth's philosophical and historical backgrounds pertinently, used modern 
criticism with care, and ranged beyond the usual suspects of Wordsworthian commentary. 
There was good writing about, for example, The White Doe of Rylstone, The Guide to the 
Lakes, and several candidates found interesting things to observe in The Excursion. Less 
accomplished scripts tended to be more Prelude-bound and to engage in ungrounded 
psychological speculation. Generally, the essays were well-presented, with appropriate 
editions consulted and texts cited properly.  
7e (ii): Austen 
The best essays for this option were adventurous in approach, showing excellent knowledge 
of the primary texts and confident handling of relevant secondary literature. A good range of 
questions were attempted (although there was, perhaps, a disproportionate attention to the 
question based around the Charlotte Brontë quotation), and there was considerable variety in 
the ensuing interpretations and arguments. Less successful essays tended to lose control of 
their argument and to remain on fairly well trodden ground; in addition, given the relatively 
small size of Austen’s oeuvre, and the requirements of Paper 7, it was disappointing to see a 
small minority of essays not making any significant reference outside that oeuvre, even for 
the purposes of clarifying and contextualizing observations about Austen herself. 
7e (iii): Byron 
There were 13 candidates for this paper, and eight of the 10 questions were attempted. 
Overall the essays ranged widely—and attractively—in Byron’s corpus, the plays in 
particular receiving extended attention, whereas Childe Harold and Don Juan were a less 
dominating presence than in past years. Paratextual materials (Byron’s prefaces, notes, etc.) 
and Byron’s letters and journals were used to good effect. The best essays offered sensitive 
close reading while demonstrating an awareness of current critical issues (and making 
independent-minded use of criticism) and of relevant contextual information (e.g., 
contemporary reviews and assessments of Byron’s work by other Romantic poets). The 
weaker essays tended to substitute catalogues of illustrations for well-developed argument, 
relied excessively and uncritically on the views of a single critic (or, alternatively, made no 
reference to criticism), and were padded out with irrelevant biographical information. 
Inconsistency in citational practices and carelessness in the compilation of the bibliographies 
(missing entries, incorrect order, etc.) continues to be a problem, suggesting that some of the 
essays were completed in extreme haste as the deadline loomed. 
7f (i): Tennyson 
 The quality of work was very varied. The best essays developed original arguments, 
supported them with good close reading and often made use of little-studied texts. The worst 
re-iterated standard or indeed antiquated opinions in general terms. Some candidates laid out 
pre-prepared material that was impressively detailed but which could not gain a high mark 
because it did not sufficiently engage with the question-quotation. The most popular 
questions were 3 and 6; 1, 2 and 8 received no answers.  
36

7f (ii): Dickens 
The essays spanned the usual range from excellent to not very good. Two dominant trends 
were apparent: a post-structuralist alertness to self-consuming textuality and an interest in the 
theatricality of Dickens’s writing, often underpinned by knowledge of his work for and on the 
stage. Both lines of approach produced both impressive and unimpressive results. The best 
essays were strongly argued, wide-ranging, well-supported by close reference to the primary 
texts and responsive to recent critical trends. The weakest essays merely rehearsed familiar 
views. Some answers were evidently pre-prepared essays which, though good in themselves, 
did not relate to the question-theme and consequently had to be marked down. The most 
popular questions were 2, 5 and 7. 
7f (iii): Wilde 
16 candidates took this paper. Question 4 (Wilde’s Irishness), question 9 (“Humanitad” 
excerpt) and question 10 (male-female sexual double standard) were not chosen, which is a 
pity; in particular, examiners would have welcomed an essay situating Wilde in his Irish 
context(s). Question 6 (Aesthetics and Ethics) was the most popular, and did elicit some good 
responses, though some missed the point of the question and/or confused the terms or failed 
to grasp them fully. Some interesting topics emerged such as Wilde within the tradition of the 
Victorian “sage” writer; Wilde’s shorter writings as key to understanding his later work; and 
Wilde in the context of contemporary gay criticism and in relation to writings on Victorian 
aesthetics. In general, more range would have been welcome as well as greater critical 
ambition and spark. The average essays were merely dutiful while the weaker ones used 
critical concepts and vocabulary vacantly, as if on autopilot, with little sense of the actual 
meanings and implications of terms being deployed. On the whole, though, these essays 
demonstrated a solid understanding of Wilde’s work and the critical discourse on it as well as 
sense of real engagement with the material. 
7g (i): Conrad  
While there were some strong performances, generally speaking the examiners were 
disappointed by the essays on Conrad. Many of the most prominent faults were not 
intrinsically related to the subject matter, but were generic faults due to the candidates’ lack 
of experience in writing at this length and in addressing thematic essay titles. Even candidates 
who were promising as readers of Conrad often failed to organize their materials and to 
signpost the structure of their arguments sufficiently. The problems more specific to Conrad 
related to concepts often invoked in relation to his writing, such as irony, which were 
employed by candidates with little precision. It may be that candidates need support from 
tutors not only in addressing the content and ideas of Conrad’s novels, but in understanding 
the critical discourse that surrounds his work. It was also disappointing to find that when 
candidates made use of material from some of Conrad’s more formally experimental novels, 
they did not always allow themselves space for a full account of the experience of reading the 
whole work in its formal complexity; instead, themes and ideas were abstracted from the 
whole. 
 
37

7 g (ii): Yeats  
There were 10 takers for the Yeats paper. The best essays were good discussions of the 
context of the poetry – of Ireland, and of ‘The East’, for example. There was far less close 
reading of the major ‘Art’ poems than in previous years (it is possible that there was no 
mention of ‘Byzantium’ anywhere this year!), and there was very little discussion of the 
plays. There was also disappointingly little consideration of the prose works – not even of A 
Vision which had attracted a lot of attention in recent years. As with many extended essays, a 
few candidates suffered unnecessarily through inadequate proof-reading. There was some 
evidence of a new kind of narrowness in the approach to Yeats: no longer confinement to a 
narrow group of ‘major poems’, but a reductive attention to one kind of contextual reading 
which, though it was sometimes very well done, did not quite rise to the challenge presented 
by the corpus of a generically highly adventurous writer. 
7g (iii): Woolf  
The option on Woolf proved popular again this year, with 32 candidates taking it. In the best 
essays there was some very exciting and independent work, but in the 60-69% range there 
were too many competent but unadventurous essays. A great many gave sympathetic account 
of Woolf’s novels, of her experiments in form and the epistemology they implied, with some 
hints of the politics of that epistemology; very rarely, though, was this nexus placed under 
any critical pressure. The reluctance to criticise in part reflects a larger polarisation in 
published criticism between dismissiveness and defensiveness, but there are critics working 
with a nuanced sense of Woolf’s limitations, and candidates should be encouraged to engage 
with them. 
Candidates had surprisingly little sense of the changing traditions in Woolf criticism, or of 
how their methodology related to critical trends. Candidates need not be slavishly up-to-the-
minute, but if they are, e.g., tracing of patterns of imagery in a New Critical Style, they 
should be aware that this critical mode began in the 1930s and had waned by the end of the 
1960s; if they are working in an historicist mode, they need to be aware that Alex 
Zwerdling’s 1986 book was not the last word. 
The very best essays were aware of their relation to other critics, without being enslaved to 
them, and were adventurous in their choice of texts: it was encouraging to see a wide range 
not only of Woolf’s texts but also those of her contemporaries; the Bodleian has rich 
resources and students at this level should be making full use of them. The best essays were 
also well signposted: a generic problem with paper 7 essays is that students are still learning 
how to organize an argument on this scale.  
Students should also be reminded of the importance of proof-reading: more than one essay 
claimed that the central family in The Years is called the ‘Partigers’. 
7h (i): Walcott 
6 candidates took this paper. They answered, almost exclusively, on poetry and critical 
literature, with no substantial work completed on Walcott’s drama. Preferred topics were the 
sublime, history, literature and travel, and ekphrasis. Candidates avoided answering on 
Walcott’s engagement with modernism, on gender, on Walcott on awe and the ordinary, and 
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on Walcott and rhetoric and/or performance.  
The best essays addressed their chosen question attentively and imaginatively, took time to 
establish and develop a strong line of argument, engaged with a wide range of Walcott’s 
work, and entered into lively debate with existing criticism. Several very promising pieces 
failed to fulfil their potential due to the absence of one of these elements, most noticeably the 
second. Weaker pieces suffered from limited range, unsupported critical and theoretical 
assertions, or a tendency to move far too rapidly over complex or contentious points. In 
general, the examiners felt that candidates were not always taking up the opportunities 
presented by Walcott’s work—when selecting other authors for comparison, for instance, 
several candidates simply reached for familiar figures already encountered in the period 
papers. Similarly, a surprising number of answers made only restricted use of the large (and 
largely inspiring) body of critical writing available—precisely the material that would have 
helped them to hone or develop their position. This is a pity, as Walcott is one of the most 
exciting authors around, and an ideal subject for sustained and in-depth study of this kind. 
7h (ii): Roth  
Nineteen candidates submitted essays on this paper. The best work demonstrated a capacity 
to write intelligently about Roth’s formal experimentation, to make astute judgements about 
the many debates surrounding him, and to explore the pressure his fiction puts on different 
kinds of intellectual assumptions. There was also notably more attention than last year to less 
familiar parts of Roth’s oeuvre. However much of the close analysis of Roth’s fiction tended 
to remain at the level of character and theme, and candidates often struggled to connect 
Roth’s exploration of major questions about history, the body and subjectivity to the formal 
concerns of his work. Very few candidates addressed Roth as a literary stylist and little 
consideration was given to the complex textures of his prose. Candidates tended not to 
consider the way Roth is explicitly engaged with other writers, both within the American 
literary tradition and beyond, despite a question aimed directly at this theme. Answers 
clustered around the questions on ‘life and art’, instability, and authorship; no candidates 
chose to answer the questions about identity politics, nostalgia, or comedy.  
7h (iii): Friel 
There were 11 candidates for Friel. No candidate answered question 10 on Friel’s Russian 
translations/adaptations; nor were questions 1 and 2 chosen. Question 8 was the most 
popular. Overall, the best essays showed a deep familiarity with the range of Friel’s works, 
including the short stories, an impressive command of the scholarly discourse and the debates 
driving it at present, and a sense of intellectual ambition in their arguments. Occasionally, a 
candidate explored a narrower range of plays, but did so in great depth and detail. In 
particular there were some original and fresh engagements with questions of Friel’s possible 
rewriting of Irish history (or not) and his interpretations of political issues. Few candidates 
dwelt at great length on the most popular plays like Translations and Dancing at Lughnasa, 
turning to earlier plays as well as Friel’s most recent works. Almost all of the best essays 
showed a sense of the plays as performances as well as texts, and brought reviews of 
productions to bear on their discussions. The examiners noted a tendency across many of the 
essays to misspell Ballybeag as Ballybaeg; candidates should ensure they are using the 
39

correct spelling of this central term. Candidates should also be encouraged to cite dates of 
original publication as well as the edition of the work used (e.g. Yeats 1895; 2001) as it is 
misleading only to cite the latter. 
7i (i): Emerson 
There were 0 candidates for this paper. 
7i (ii): Dickinson 
5 candidates took this paper, and essays were of a good or very good standard. In general, 
candidates wrote with real fluency and subtlety, and showed particular strength as close 
readers of Dickinson’s poetry and of her correspondence. It was very encouraging to see 
nuanced and original interpretations being brought into play throughout many of the essays. 
However, there were also definite areas for improvement. This close focus on the primary 
texts-- although absolutely central to the exercise-- often seemed to displace other critical 
elements equally important in an extended essay. References to other authors or critics could 
be sparse, generalised, or not particularly apposite, and attention to historical contexts tended 
to be cursory. Candidates also seemed resistant to a consideration of the multiple material and 
textual forms of Dickinson’s output. The inclusion of these elements should not be seen as a 
distraction from the real business of working with the texts, but quite the opposite, as a way 
of making that analysis more vibrant, as the highest-scoring of the pieces demonstrated. The 
examiners would like to encourage students towards this sort of approach, as they continue to 
explore this extraordinary author. 
7i (iii): Faulkner 
This year 14 students chose to write on Faulkner. Overall the essays were strong, especially 
when compared to those submitted last year. The students wrote on a range of themes, though 
choice 10 was most popular; for this option five students choose to analyse the famous 
quotation from Requiem for a Nun: ‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past’. The strongest 
essays provided analysis of a variety of canonical and less canonical novels and situated their 
analyses within appropriate historical and cultural contexts. Weaker essays either treated 
Faulkner’s novels as unfiltered ethnographic studies of the American south or simply failed 
to contextualise Faulkner’s fiction within appropriate cultural or historical context at all. This 
year students read Faulkner’s treatment of time and memory within the context of European 
modernism as well; this is a shift from previous years when focus largely has concentrated on 
race difference, gender and class exclusively in the context of something referred to rather 
monolithically as the ‘American South’.  
The most interesting papers addressed issues of editing and censorship alongside intrepid 
close readings of Faulkner’s depictions of time, history, memory and identity. Students also 
engaged effectively with Faulkner’s use of humour alongside other literary devices and 
strategies. This said, it was disappointing to see that this year very few students actively 
addressed differences between various editions of Faulkner’s work and few analysed 
Faulkner’s engagements with genre. Faulkner’s short stories, poetry, screenplays and other 
writings were largely overlooked. Almost all of the candidates were able effectively to 
differentiate their own ideas and analyses from those presented by other critics within the 
40

essays themselves. Handling of secondary material was strong overall but often lacked depth. 
Few students drew upon the most recent criticism published in academic journals and 
bibliographies were weaker on the whole than in previous years. Only one candidate in the 
group acknowledged Jay Parini’s critical biography and no mention was made (for example) 
of ‘bleeding edge’ criticism which analyses Faulkner in the context of economic history; 
these are strange omissions given that students focused so extensively on class, race 
difference and cultural context. All of this said, most of the candidates did an excellent job of 
contextualising their chosen themes and maintained that focus throughout their essays. Use of 
first-person ‘sign-posting’ language aided this process by providing necessary organisational 
structure and only rarely dipped into overly self-reflexive rhetorical ‘padding’.  
 
PAPER 8: Special Topics 
Paper 8a 
There were 194 candidates for this option. Of these, 8 chose to write on Old or Middle 
English materials, 28 on the period 1500-1800, 34 on nineteenth century topics, 35 on the 
period 1900-1950, 32 on more contemporary literatures in English, 42 on American 
materials, 5 on specifically postcolonial topics, 9 on critical theory, and 2 on language. 
Old and Middle English 
The best essays were original and polished, showing good control over their diverse materials 
and making judicious use of the word-limit (i.e. not cramming too much in and therefore 
scanting the material as a result). They asked new questions of their materials - indeed, the 
best scripts were of good postgraduate standard (as evidenced by two very high First-class 
marks), and this mode of examination fulfils its brief in allowing such candidates to shine. 
The weaker essays tended to be conventional, timid or unambitious in their arguments about 
the texts (e.g. content to trace a motif/theme through a few primary texts without showing 
much critical reflexivity, awareness of literary-historical context, or awareness of the need to 
shape a properly-signposted argument in such a way that it takes account of the reader's 
presence). 
1500-1800  
The general standard of essays in this period was very high. Almost all were carefully 
researched and powerfully written. They made perceptive, lucid points often across genres or 
media, in a few cases even across languages. Many were intellectually ambitious, building on 
detailed analysis with thoughtful, informed extension of a thesis. There was, however, a very 
wide gap between the critical ambitions, breadth of coverage, sureness with contextual detail, 
and, simply, the verbal facility with which to present a rigorous argument, at the top end, and 
what was on display at the bottom. The weaker essays had poorly constructed arguments, and 
lacked deftness in the use of intellectual and historical context. The best essays showed 
deeply impressive powers of argument, good scholarly skills, original methods of working, 
and apt choices of texts. Having said this, some candidates should have highlighted for them 
the need for careful reference-checking, consistently systematic citation, and even basic 
copy-editing. 
41

1800-1900  
The best papers showed an impressively thorough knowledge of their field, a very good grasp 
of the secondary literature, and offered their own interpretations with lucidity and style, 
pursuing a coherent argument purposefully throughout the essay. Some of the very best work 
might have been publishable. The weaker scripts were frankly miscellaneous, treated a 
limited amount of material, sometimes in the manner of a survey, and were poorly and 
inconsistently presented. 
1900-1950 
We were impressed by the range of topics on offer and the adventurousness of them: it was 
pleasing to see some excellent work on non-fictional prose, and on science and literature and 
science and technology. We were concerned in a few cases that the essay was essentially a 
single-author study with generous servings of other incidental figures. Candidates should be 
encouraged to find at least two authors who can be given equal weight in the essay. 
The very best candidates maintained a sharp focus on a carefully chosen core of texts, while 
hinting at an awareness of their place in a longer literary history. At the end of a degree on 
the Oxford model, candidates writing about post-1900 literary topics ought to be able to place 
their topics in a longer perspective, if only so that they differentiate what is genuinely new in 
post-1900 literature from topics that were treated by earlier writers. The very best candidates 
also swiftly indicated their awareness of the relation of their work to existing criticism, and 
made some attempt to indicate why their topic might have some larger importance. 
(Candidates might usefully ask themselves, before preparing their final draft, how they came 
to their topic, and might usefully try to reconnect it to their wider literary reading; otherwise 
there’s a risk of myopic obsessiveness.) 
Some candidates weakened their essays by trying to approach their writers from too many 
perspectives; they would have been better advised to do one thing and to do it thoroughly, 
relegating the other perspectives to passing comments and hints. 
American Topics  
Canonical Twentieth-Century prose fiction predominated, with essays on authors such as 
Delillo, Fitzgerald, Nabokov and Pynchon, and on a handful of contemporary novelists such 
as Foer and Danielewski. Few essays focused on poetry; poets included Whitman, Stevens, 
Williams, O’Hara, Ginsberg, Ashbery, and Tate. Ambitious essays were also attempted on 
Hip Hop, visual culture, and new media. It was noted that no candidates chose to focus on 
pre-20th-century texts, and that women writers were once again under-represented. By 
contrast, African-American topics were well represented with a significant proportion of 
students writing on slave narratives, Harlem Renaissance (Toomer, Hurston, Larsen), New 
Negro authors and 20th and 21st century black fiction (especially Ralph Ellison and Toni 
Morrison). Other areas of interest were Thoreau, Orwell and Hemingway, the Jazz Age, 
Salinger, Bellow and Roth, drama (including Glaspell, Miller, Williams, O’Neill). 
While there was evidence of thoughtful engagement with American literature, and often of 
sophisticated critical thinking, this year’s essays were highly mixed. Many weaker essays bit 
off more than they could chew, failing to do justice to the conceptual, literary-historical or 
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stylistic aspects of their topic. For many this was a case of treating too many authors too 
synoptically. Others tended to present simplistic historical and cultural summaries that bore 
only cursory relation to the language under analysis. Some simply gave evidence of being 
rushed attempts at an overly-ambitious theme. In addition, the weaker essays usually treated 
too many authors, too superficially – an approach one examiner likened to “using a telescope 
instead of a microscope”. These weaker essays were also marred by descriptive summaries of 
literary movements (rather than examination and interrogation of the finer nuances of these 
movements) and simplistic summaries of Big Concepts (the mythical South, otherness and 
race). As well, the weakest essays demonstrated little or no engagement with recent 
secondary criticism (they tended to use handbooks and dated, “classic” criticism – and to 
leave the “classic” category uninterrogated). The best candidates maintained a close guard on 
their direction of their argument and on the time devoted to close reading and analysis. These 
essays balanced sensitive accounts of style and theme, resisting overly diffuse detours into 
broad ‘American’ terrain, and managed to keep their focus while contextualizing the material 
(historically, theoretically, and in other ways). 
Contemporary 
The standard of the papers was overall good, with many essays containing very strong 
passages, even if they were not maintained or fully developed across the essay. Candidates 
are taking the opportunity to work on a broad range of authors (canonical and otherwise), 
themes and genres, although most confine themselves to working comparatively within a 
single genre. The vast majority understood that this is essentially a research project, and 
attempted to add something to the critical field – a particularly exciting project when working 
on contemporary literature. In this respect, this year produced some very strong and original 
writing on contemporary drama—all these essays also understood the importance of 
performance and staging to any discussion of the form. There was also rise in the number of 
essays that engaged productively with questions of reception. The more successful of these 
examined critical writing and its rhetorical strategies with the same questioning attentiveness 
applied to fiction and poetry, and made good use of electronic resources. Candidates 
deployed a range of approaches to the number of authors addressed. While some focussed 
closely on the work of no more than two individuals, others extended to a discussion of four 
or five—both approaches produced good, and less good, answers.  
At the top of the marking range were essays of exceptionally high quality. Although each was 
distinctive, some common features were notable. All combined considerable intellectual 
sophistication and originality with fluency and clarity of expression, balanced depth of 
knowledge with a keen awareness of detail, and wrote with an awareness of the particularity 
of form and genre. Most importantly perhaps, all were fully engaged with their argument 
from the outset, and were never afraid to test their own conclusions, as well as the 
conclusions of others.  
At the bottom end of the scale the most common problem was not inaccuracy, but 
superficiality and generality. Some candidates were unwilling to do more than restate well-
worn critical arguments, and some said very little about the actual texts. Others relied very 
heavily (and unquestioningly) on a single critic, or were derailed by their use of terminology 
43

that was unexamined, misunderstood, or both. Very occasionally, a promising piece would be 
let down by the primary texts chosen, as the candidate would struggle to find examples to 
support the sophistication of their argument. It might be well to encourage students to choose 
primary authors and texts carefully. Essays on so-called magical realism, science fiction and 
occasionally children’s literature, for example, often tended to repeat rather hackneyed and 
unimaginative readings. Candidates should be strongly discouraged from choosing authors 
that constitute a return to A level ‘crushes’. More often, a well-thought out premise would tail 
off into a survey, or be diluted by digression. To avoid this, candidates are encouraged to 
prioritise the development of their argument throughout the tutorial phase of the paper, to 
demonstrate their close engagement with the work, and to use critical literature actively.  
Postcolonial 
Stronger work raised questions of real substance on major subjects including tragedy, 
translation, and the emotions; weaker responses were more simplistic in their use of theory, 
and more predictable in the choice of texts. Discussion focused on the novel (Aravind Adiga, 
Arundhati Roy, Anita Desai, Coetzee, Kafka, Rushdie, Achebe, Amit Chaudhuri), but there 
was also some discussion of drama (Soyinka).  
Critical Theory 
A wide range of theorists were addressed, including Butler, Derrida, Foucault, Jameson, 
Bakhtin, Freud and post-Freudian feminism; topics included performativity, the erotic, the 
Medusa myth, the care of the self, the concept of postmodernism, heteroglossia, and 
originality. Candidates tended to focus on aspects of intellectual history, or on the elucidation 
of particular theorists or concepts; some attention was given to the theory of literature; no 
work was submitted on the different practices of literary criticism, or on the institutions of 
literature. Some of the topics were inventively conceived, comparing quite different thinkers 
in a thoughtful and original way, and the best work was both well-researched and inventive in 
its discussion of critical concepts; weaker candidates struggled adequately to conceptualise 
the question at stake, or took an over-associative approach to comparing different theorists.  
 
8b (i): Linguistic Theory 
There was 1 candidate for this paper. 
8b (ii): Medieval and Renaissance Romance 
There were 0 candidates for this paper. 
8b (iii): Scottish Literature pre-1600 
There were 0 candidates for this paper. 
8b (vii): (i) Classical Epic 
There was 1 candidate for this paper. 
8b (vii): (ii) Classical Tragedy 
There were 0 candidates for this paper. 
44

8c (i): Lexicography 
There were 3 candidates for this paper. 
8c (ii): Grub Street 
As in previous years, discussions of paper credit and the literary treatment of financial crises 
proved especially popular; but overall the essays showed a diversity of approach and 
treatment and an intelligent selection of topics. The best candidates had responded well to the 
invitation implicit in the option to explore and connect different kinds of writing and different 
authors. The quality of the best essays was very good (without being outstanding). The 
weaker essays were brought down by the usual technical failings: poor quality of reading, 
poor organisation, occasional revealing errors. 
8c (iii): Principles of Film Criticism  
20 students took the option. There were slightly fewer first class marks than in previous 
years, and quite a few of the essays, while exhibiting a commendable competence in film 
analysis, didn’t push on to become very well achieved, or distinctive. In a number of 
instances, ideas were good but failed to fulfil their potential. Essays were highly satisfactory 
without being special. The main learning outcomes of the option were successfully fulfilled 
by the essays: a recognition and engagement with the specificities of the medium and 
sensitive and vivid close ‘reading’ of sequences. The one aspect of the option which the 
students continue to find most difficult to enact in written form is the critical, evaluative 
element, and in only a few fleeting instances did the essays show genuine critical confidence. 
There may be many complicated reasons for this, some of them not necessarily specific, or 
related, to the film option. Presently, they are immersed in celebrated examples of film 
criticism and seminars are structured around carefully weighing moments, but I will continue 
to think of ways of making the students more comfortable with the critical aspect. Currently, 
they are adopting a style of objective analysis and interpretation coupled with theoretical 
speculation that is nevertheless carried out with skill and dedication.  
Paper 8c (iv): Postcolonial CTST 
10 candidates took the postcolonial CTST, and work was submitted from a diverse range of 
literary contexts: Carribbean poetry (Derek Walcott, Kamau Brathwaite), African drama and 
fiction (Zakes Mda, Athol Fugard, J.M. Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer), Indian fiction and 
cultural criticism (Rushdie, Amit Chaudhuri, Arundhati Roy, Mahasweta Devi), among 
several others. The novel was the main genre discussed, but there was also some strong work 
on drama and poetry, and attention to literary genre made for some particularly interesting 
discussion. Weaker essays tended to be over-reliant on standard terms and assumptions 
within postcolonial criticism, and less responsive to the formal or rhetorical effects of literary 
texts. The strongest candidates were able to address broad debates within postcolonial studies 
without losing sight of the particular contexts at stake in the writing, or the specificity of 
literary experience; some of the best work focused on overlooked topics or genres (such as 
the supernatural, or ‘protest theatre’), or engaged with longstanding debates in an inventive 
way.  
 
45

8c (v): Life-Writing 
There were eight candidates on this course. The final essays produced were of a very high 
standard. We felt the topics chosen reflected the range of the course across different modes 
and genres of life-writing (diaries, letters, biography, autobiography) extremely well. We 
were also very pleased with the originality of the approaches taken, with students choosing to 
write on such topics as representations of China in Western travel-writing and food writing, 
gastronomy and life-writing. The essays worked well with texts that had been explored in 
seminars (including Rousseau, Woolf and W.G.Sebald), while also moving beyond these to 
bring in a wide range of writers. A number of the essays took up the course’s central focus on 
the narrative choices made by biographers and autobiographers and the use of primary 
materials (such as letters and diaries) as evidence. Other essays explored the conceptual and 
philosophical questions raised by life-writing, including models of subjectivity and selfhood. 
In sum, these were impressive essays which showed that students had engaged extremely 
well with the issues the course addressed and with the texts and topics onto which it had 
opened.  
 
COURSE II 
 
A1  
There were seven candidates for this paper and eleven of the fifteen questions on the paper 
were attempted. Essays ranged from impressive accounts of textual transmission or 
manuscript illustration to shallow surveys of material already covered in Mods 3a, such as 
weather in The Wanderer or the heroic Christ of the Dream of Rood. The best candidates 
ranged widely beyond the set texts for Mods, either reconsidering these in different contexts, 
or covering entirely new ground – the riddles were popular, as were saints’ lives and biblical 
poetry. Surprisingly, nobody wrote a full essay on Beowulf and there was little or nothing on 
wisdom poetry, heroic poetry, orality, genre or archaeology; likewise, knowledge of Old 
English prose, with the exception of Aelfric’s saints’ lives and some Alfredian material, was 
quite limited. Perhaps as a result of work for A4, most candidates wrote very well on 
manuscripts: many conducted knowledgeable discussions of palaeographical issues and there 
was some good work on authorship and textual transmission. Knowledge of Anglo-Saxon 
history, however, appeared to be sketchy at best. There were relatively few mistakes in 
quotation and some candidates were impressively skilled linguists.  
 
A2 
This was well done in general, with candidates writing confidently and with great 
commitment about a range of authors and texts including Ancrene Wisse, The Owl and the 
Nightingale, Geoffrey of Monmouth, the Pearl-poet, Henryson, Sir Orfeo and Sir Launfal, the 
Paston letters, the Katherine group, mystery plays, the Boke of Margery Kempe and Julian of 
Norwich. There were few systemic problems, but it was noted that very few candidates 
46

availed themselves of the opportunity to write about post-1485 material, and that weaker 
scripts were characterised by conceptually under-nourished responses that were not readily 
distinguishable from weaker responses to paper 3a on Course 1. Stronger answers confidently 
drew on codicological materials where relevant, demonstrating with aplomb the proto-
professional expertise gained on this course and using it to illuminate the various kinds of 
literariness encountered in the materials covered by this paper. 
 
A3a 
There were seven candidates for this paper. The examiners felt that the work was generally 
strong: the candidates covered a wide range of texts, producing some dynamic comparative 
work while also demonstrating some very precise, detailed knowledge of texts and sources. 
Some papers demonstrated relevant knowledge of manuscript contexts, the formal qualities of 
the texts, and the critical contexts. At the lower end of the spectrum, some essays seemed pre-
prepared and therefore did not thoroughly engage with the question; terms such as ‘genre’ 
were deployed loosely and inaccurately in more than one script. Most of the essays would 
have been dramatically improved by more attention to textual detail and rigorous close 
reading and analysis; some would also have benefitted from a little more time spent thinking 
about structure.  
 
A3b 
There were seven candidates for this paper. More candidates wrote on Langland than Gower; 
there was some excellent comparative work on each of these authors alongside Chaucer. 
Some of the best essays demonstrated secure understanding of important and complicated 
issues such as the different versions of Piers, or the relationship between different languages 
in the text. Some students showed a good awareness of recent critical work and the best 
essays were consistently and impressively textual. Inevitably, some students found it difficult 
to deal with these enormous and unwieldy poems in a single long essay and again attention to 
planning and structure is crucial, as is attempting to demonstrate an overall (rather than an 
episodic) understanding of the poems, while maintaining attention to detail. Overall, the 
examiners thought that the paper yielded some very good work indeed. 
 
A4 
There were eight candidates for this paper. The standard was mostly very high. In answering 
the first question, which requires detailed commentaries on extracts from prescribed texts, 
candidates were impressively familiar with the relevant material. At their best, they wrote 
accurately, perceptively and knowledgeably about the issues negotiated by the editions’ 
respective editors, taking into account date, audience, the limitations and opportunities of a 
print layout, and so on. They made good use of the material reproduced in the paper itself to 
explain how it fitted into a larger context. The best candidates were able to show in detail 
47

how editors’ textual decisions related to wider questions of presentation, genre and literary 
priorities. 
The essay question elicited answers of sophistication, intellectual flexibility, and (at their 
best) a good understanding of some of the main textual principles and practices involved in 
reading and editing medieval English texts. Wider knowledge could on occasion have been 
shown (first rather than second-hand acquaintance of critics discussed, e.g. Housman for 
question 2a). The essay answers mostly used examples drawn from the set texts for the exam. 
While this is quite understandable given the detailed engagement with these texts demanded 
by the exam, some answers would have benefited from a sense of how these texts relate to 
others, and participate in a larger set of debates about textual criticism, manuscript studies 
and book history. 
 
A5 
Nine candidates took this paper. In general, there was a lot of sound and promising work, 
using a range of approaches and evidence. Commentaries were generally very well done, 
using a good selection of texts. Fundamental areas of linguistic knowledge could pose 
problems for some candidates, but at the other end of the scale there was some extremely 
confident, thorough, and detailed work. It was, however, disappointing that the precise terms 
of individual commentary questions were disregarded by weaker candidates in favour of 
doing a general exercise in comparing and contrasting the two passages which had been 
chosen.  
 
B1: Old English Philology (by written paper) 
There were 0 candidates for this paper. 
B1: Old English Philology (by extended essay) 
There was 1 candidate for this paper. 
B2: Middle English Dialectology (by written paper) 
There were 0 candidates for this paper. 
B2: Middle English Dialectology (by extended essay) 
There were 0 candidates for this paper. 
B3: Modern English Philology (by written paper) 
There were 0 candidates for this paper. 
B3: Modern English Philology (by extended essay) 
There were 2 candidates for this paper. 
B10: The Archaeology of Anglo Saxon England, 7th to 9th Centuries AD 
There was 1 candidate for this paper. 
48

B11: Gothic 
There were 0 candidates for this paper. 
B12: Old Saxon 
There were 0 candidates for this paper. 
B13: Old High German 
There were 0 candidates for this paper. 
B14: Middle High German 
There were 0 candidates for this paper. 
B15: Old Norse (by written paper) 
There was 1 candidate for this paper. 
B16: Old Norse (by written paper) 
There were 0 candidates for this paper. 
B17: Old Norse-Icelandic Literature (by extended essay) 
There were 0 candidates for this paper. 
B18: Old French Language 1150-1250 (by written paper) 
There were 0 candidates for this paper. 
B19: Medieval French Literature 1100-1300 (by written paper)  
There were 0 candidates for this paper. 
B20: Medieval French Literature 1300-1500 (by written paper) 
There was 1 candidate for this paper. 
B21: Medieval Welsh Literature I (by written paper) 
There were 0 candidates for this paper. 
B22: Medieval Welsh Literature II (by written paper) 
There were 0 candidates for this paper. 
B23: Old and Early Middle Irish Language and Literature (by written paper) 
There were 0 candidates for this paper. 
B25: Introduction to Medieval Studies: Old English Literature 
There were 0 candidates for this paper. 
 
 
 
 
49

Marking Conventions for FHS 2010-2011 
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 239, comprising 149 (62.34 %) female and 90 (37.66 %) male. 
 
Number and Class Distributions by Sex 
Class 
Female No. 
Female % 
Male No. 
Male % 
No. All 
% All 

35 
23.5 24  26.7 59 24.7 
IIi  113  75.8 64  71.1 177 
74.1 
IIii 1 
0.7 2  2.2 3 1.3 
III 
0  0 0 0 0 

 
Number of Candidates for All Subjects 
Paper Title 
Nos. 

The English Language (2nd year portfolio) 232 
2 Shakespeare 
275 
3 a & b 
English Literature from 1100 - 1509 
236 

English Literature from 1509 - 1642 
243 
50

4a 
English Literature from 1832 - 1900 

4b 
English Literature from 1900 to present day 19 

English Literature from 1642 - 1740 
239 

English Literature from 1740 - 1832 
259 
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 
15 
7 c(iii) 
Jonson 

7 d(i) 
Marvell 

7 d(ii) 
Dryden 

7 d(iii) 
Haywood 

7 e(i) 
Wordsworth 

7 e(ii) 
Austen 
16 
7 e(iii) 
Byron 
13 
7 f(i) 
Tennyson 
12 
7 f(ii) 
Dickens 
21 
7 f(iii) 
Wilde 
15 
7 g(i) 
Conrad 
14 
7 g(ii) 
Yeats 
10 
7 g(iii) 
Woolf 
33 
7 h(i) 
Walcott 

7 h(ii) 
Roth 
19 
7 h(iii) 
Friel 
11 
7 i (ii) 
Dickinson 

7 i (iii) 
Faulkner 
15 
51

8a 
An Extended Essay 
195 
8b (i) 
Linguistic Theory 

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

8c (i) 
Lexicography and the English Language 

8c (ii) 
Grub Street and Its Critics 

8c (iii) 
Principles of Film Criticism 
20 
8c (iv) 
Postcolonial Literature 
10 
8c (v) 
Life Writing: Critical Approaches 

A1 
English Literature 600-1100 

A2 
English Literature 1100-1530 

A3a & b 
Chaucer, Langland and Gower 

A4 
Introduction to Textual Criticism 

 The History of the English Language to 

A5 
circa 1750 (2nd year portfolio) 
B1  
Old English Philology (by extended essay)  1 
B3 
Modern Philology (by extended essay) 

Archaeology of Anglo Saxon England,  

B10 
7th – 9th centuries AD 
B15 Old 
Norse 

B19 
Medieval French Literature 1100 - 1300 

 
If a subject is not included in the table above it is because there were 0 candidates for that 
option. 
 
52

REPORTS OF THE EXTERNAL EXAMINERS FOR THE HONOUR SCHOOL OF 
ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE 
 
BA English Language and Literature 
Examiner: Professor Alcuin Blamires, Goldsmiths, University of London 
 
I attended (a) the School’s Medical Cases and Late Submission Sub-Committee, (b) the First 
Marks Meeting (English), (c) the Final Marks Meeting (English), and (d) the Joint School 
Classics and English Final Meeting (on which a separate report is provided). I saw a range of 
work for the English degree, but was particularly asked to check standards at the 2-1 
threshold. I am glad to endorse those standards absolutely.  
This is my first year as external at Oxford, and the following remarks are offered in the 
tentative spirit of a newcomer to some conventions operative in the School. 
Rigour of assessment processes, attribution of classification, and comparability within the 
sector. 
1. Question-setting and answering. The current use of quotations as prompts or cues for 
answers in the English programme’s spine of courses examined by 3-hour paper sometimes 
fosters tantalisingly opportunistic responses based on slender associative reflexes in the 
candidates’ minds, an issue of which the School is very aware. In continuing to review this, 
colleagues might consider how firmly the criterion of relevance can be applied where 
grounds for debate are not specifically set out.  
2. Marking. With only rare exceptions, internal markers provided full and judicious written 
justification for their marks. The School has a commendable convention for invoking third-
marking where internals disagree extensively, and from what I saw this is applied rigorously 
and effectively. 
3. Classification and quality. In all cases the consideration of candidates’ marks and the care 
for procedures and equity was admirably scrupulous. Attention to borderlines was notably 
precise. From an external perspective the current practice of the School invoking numerical 
average and requiring consideration of ‘just-below’ borderline average cases is familiar. Less 
familiar is the practice of resolving in favour of the higher class where two or more grades 
have been achieved in that higher class. Just-below candidates with mark profiles of this kind 
involving only two, or even three, grades in the higher class might have been lucky to be 
awarded the higher class in some universities at which I have examined. On the other hand, 
what is very clear is the substantial quality and consistency of candidates’ work within a 
competitive cohort, across their range of individual courses. The poorer work is not very 
poor: it still sustains argument and intelligent expression to a level which would be the envy 
of some UK departments (and I take this to be a tribute to the Oxford tutorial system as well 
as to intake circumstances). Moreover the strong work is exceptionally strong. Where 
averages are found to descend towards the 2-1/1 borderline this is not only because some 
53

internal markers are still cagey about opening up to the full range of marks in the 70+ band, 
but more importantly because they incline to be excessively parsimonious within the low-1st 
range. 
4. Revised convention for next year. The School is on the brink of implementing a transition 
whereby an alternate route to a 1st classification can be triggered by achievement of four or 
more 1sts rather than primarily by average score as at present. This seems to me to be a 
useful reprise of a convention formerly used in the School, and widely seen in UK English 
departments. I look forward to seeing how this affects adjudication in 2012. It is likely to 
remove the need for perhaps unnecessary discussion in certain borderline cases. 
5. Query about 2-2 description. From the high average standard of candidates in English it 
follows that few candidates achieve less than a 2-1. I noted that the School’s formal attitude 
to a 2-2 classification as enshrined in its assessment criteria is unnecessarily demeaning, since 
it deploys a terminology of ‘failure’ to characterise this classification (that is, ‘failure’ to 
satisfy certain criteria which would otherwise be associated with 2-1). A 2-2 may not be a 
sparkling achievement, but it is not negligible and the School might like to consider phrasing 
the pertinent criteria more positively.  
6. Penalising incomplete work. One footnote about conventions and processes is a suggestion 
that the formula used to penalise short work, currently a graduated penalty, appears 
somewhat generous. The School might consider whether it is simpler, and arguably more just, 
to mark what is on the paper and then simply divide the total by the number appropriate to the 
structure of the particular examination. 
7. Internal Examiners’ Reports. A notable part of the School’s process, and one which I 
commend very much, is the prompt provision of reports on examinations by those who mark 
them. Draft reports were made available for the final meeting, and I understand that they are 
subsequently widely seen by tutors and the next year’s students. While this system is partly 
necessitated by the style of open course which predominates in the School, it remains a 
significant point of good practice.  
 
BA English Language & Literature 
BA English and Modern Languages  
Examiner: Professor Francis O’Gorman, Leeds University 
 
The English Boards were conducted with exemplary professionalism and focus. I am 
confident that scrupulous consideration of all complex cases was undertaken; that the systems 
implemented were fair, rigorous, and careful: they are intensely time-consuming for the 
examiners. It was notable that one examiner had received special dispensation not to attend 
meetings, though the basis of this was unclear. 
Special circumstances were taken into account with similar professionalism, clarity, fairness, 
and care.  
54

The JH Board (a single meeting only) was initially at some risk of favouring the Modern 
Languages side of a student’s profile over their English side (i.e., time had been allowed to 
re-read borderline scripts for Modern Languages but not for English). At the board’s 
insistence, time was created in the meeting on 13 July. It is my strong recommendation that a 
pre-Board is held to identify those students on agreed borderlines, so that appropriate re-
reading of material on both sides of the students’ profiles, where necessary, can take place in 
good time. This is fair, and in the interests of the students. It is also absolutely necessary, in 
my view, that the Chair of this JH board is provided with more administrative/clerical help. 
Resources provided to support the chair in the discharge of her duties seemed woefully 
inadequate this year and, since this examining is core business of the University, I think 
needs addressing with some promptness. Additional support for data entry, for instance, to 
enable examiners to see raw marks as well as established marks/where and when any third 
marking etc., had taken place, would further assist examiners to discharge their duties 
completely and fairly. 
Standards were outstanding at the top end of the scale, truly excellent throughout the top end 
of the 2.is, and even in the lower reaches of the 2.ii, work had much to commend it: clarity of 
writing, sometimes stylishness of ideas, even though the lack of knowledge and conceptual 
limitations were obvious and naturally justified the marks awarded. I had no doubts about the 
integrity of the classifications awarded. 
Some attention, I thought, needed to be given to the correlation between numerical marks and 
examiners’ comments. Sometimes, quite negative comments were followed with firm 2.i 
marks, and it will be difficult for students to understand the relationship between the two. I 
think that markers’ comments might advantageously use the terms of the criteria themselves 
to describe, however concisely, why the mark has been given. Clearly, the attention and detail 
given to marking and to feedback is, in very many cases, outstanding. 
I noted, in relation to point 5, that the Humanities’ Division’s criteria for the degree 
classification might perhaps require some re-thinking to make them a bit more useful as they 
seemed to me, and indeed to others in discussion, somewhat unambitious: the use of the term 
‘competent’ to describe 2.i work, for instance, is perhaps rather flat? 
I feel I should note that it took 6 months from receipt of my report before payment reached 
me for last year’s examining and this only after I chased it up. 
I was extremely grateful throughout the process this year for the expert help, and clarity, of 
the Chair of Examiners for the English FHS, Dr Peter McDonald. 
 
BA English Language and Literature 
Examiner: Professor Helen Wilcox, Bangor University 
 
I have just completed my first year as an external examiner for the above degree programme 
and it gives me great pleasure to commend the English Faculty for the efficiency, rigour and 
fairness of their assessment procedures. The system is among the best I have experienced in 
55

many years of examining, internally and externally, for a number of other British and 
overseas universities. From within the English Faculty at Oxford, two people in particular 
deserve special praise for their admirable contribution to the smooth running of the process: 
the chair of examiners, Dr Peter McDonald, and the examinations secretary, Ms Angie 
Johnson.  
Dr McDonald and Ms Johnson ensured that the supply of information to examiners in 
advance was prompt and helpful; the organisation both before and during our visits was 
exemplary; the meetings were carefully prepared, and chaired with patience and judicious 
clarity; the handling of special cases was thorough and humane, and the implementation of 
the relevant guidelines was scrupulous. We were well supplied with statistical evidence 
concerning papers, grades and individual examiners, as well as an analysis of the results in 
relation to the gender of the candidates; these materials were fully discussed (and relevant 
action agreed upon) during the examiners’ meetings. The reports of the examiners of each 
paper were also extremely helpful, both in the immediate discussion of the candidates’ results 
and for future use by students and tutors. 
The candidates’ work itself demonstrated an excellent range of skills and knowledge, 
suggesting not only the quality of the students – particularly the brilliance and panache of the 
very best firsts – but also the high calibre of the teaching and guidance given to them during 
their time as students of English at Oxford. This was also to be discerned in the reports 
written by the examiners on every script: the level of care and detail in the examining process 
is most commendable. So, too, is the practice of automatically bringing in a third (internal) 
marker if there is a major discrepancy between the grades given by the first two internal 
examiners. 
Only after having made these positive observations would I offer the following points for 
further consideration and/or action: 
A wider range of marks could be used. Many of the first class candidates were outstanding, 
yet they tended to be awarded marks in the low 70s; at the other end of the spectrum, the 
examiners seemed insecure about using marks in the 50s, even when their comments implied 
that they should be giving 2.2 grades (see point 3).  
I was surprised to find that, in comparison with other British university assessment patterns, 
in Oxford much more emphasis is placed on numerical averages than on the preponderance of 
grades in a particular class. It is quite possible, for example, for a 2.1 degree to be awarded to 
a student with predominantly 2.2 grades, which frankly does not seem either logical or fair. I 
understand that the preponderance of grades will form part of the new ‘alternative route’ to a 
first from next year onwards, and I would urge consideration of a system using averages and 
preponderance in the other classes, too. 
It is good practice for the examiners to write and submit their comments for each script 
examined. However, the descriptive language used for the answers is often out of line with 
the grade awarded; I saw, for example, rather too many scripts for which the comments were 
along the lines of ‘laboured’, ‘limited’, ‘oblique and unrelated to the quotation’, ‘totally 
misunderstands the issues’, etc., yet which were given 2.1 marks. Even the formal criteria for 
56

each class seem inappropriate at times, particularly in relation to what is expected of a degree 
class in other British universities. It is strange, for instance, to lay so much emphasis on 
‘competence’ in relation to upper 2.1 answers, which should undoubtedly be demonstrating a 
great deal more than a ‘competent’ response to the question. 
The practice of keeping candidates’ identity completely anonymous throughout the 
examining process is the right way to ensure a properly fair and honest discussion of degree 
classification. This anonymity, however, should be preserved until after the end of the final 
examiners’ meeting. This year, the names and colleges were revealed after the class lists had 
been signed but before the final items on the agenda had been covered, and it was profoundly 
disappointing to see the way in which the personalised results distracted the examiners from 
the remaining (important) business of the meeting. The availability of the candidates’ details 
suddenly introduced a competitive spirit among colleagues who had worked constructively 
and co-operatively as an examination board up to that point. [The obvious way of avoiding 
this problem is, as suggested, to withhold the identification of the candidates until the 
examiners’ final meeting is completed. A more profound response would be to question the 
appropriateness of judging and ranking colleges on the number of firsts they achieve, since 
teaching and examining should be related primarily to the fulfilment of the individual 
student’s potential, rather than the ambitions of the college.]  
The new format for the examination papers, supplying only quotations and no related 
‘questions’, allows wide scope for a range of texts about which answers can be written, but 
seems to be a source of frustration for both examinees and examiners. Many candidates waste 
time and effort in the struggle to handle the quotation and find a suitable argument; some 
never succeed. Is this the intention? If not, then the choice of quotations supplied on the 
examination papers, and the method and kinds of essay-writing undertaken during the year, 
both need to be revisited. 
A practical point: ‘Turnitin’ can simply be used as an automatic online submission procedure 
for assessed essays, required alongside handing in hard copy. This is simpler and safer than 
asking the students to submit CDs of their essays, and – as with the current system – a report 
need only be investigated where there are grounds for suspicion of plagiarism.  
A general observation: the practice of examining exclusively in historical periods of literature 
is a severe limitation on the possibilities for cross-period studies or interdisciplinary work.  
As a footnote, I should add that my experience of the joint honours History and English 
examiners’ board meeting (which I attended with three internal examiners from English) was, 
unfortunately, not at all positive. Indeed, the casual and inefficient nature of this particular 
board had the effect of highlighting, by its contrast, the superb efficiency and courtesy of the 
English examiners’ board. There was no paperwork in advance for this joint board; the 
information given to us about the location of the meeting was inaccurate; there was no 
agenda for the meeting once we had found it, and barely any acknowledgement of our arrival 
or even our role in the proceedings. The few borderline issues had been resolved by History 
prior to the meeting, with no consultation of the English examiners, internal or external. We 
only discovered by accident that History’s guidelines regarding the award of firsts have 
already changed and the ‘alternative route’ to a first has been implemented this year, whereas 
57

it will only begin to apply next year for English students. As it happens, this did not affect 
any of the joint honours students, but it is a serious anomaly as a result of which a small 
number of this year’s finalists in English (whose results had already been released by this 
time) have been disadvantaged in relation to their counterparts in History. There are clearly 
two matters to be followed up here: clarification of the function of the examiners from the 
two subjects in a joint honours school, and the synchronisation of changes to examination 
procedures across the Humanities.  
I am sorry to have ended on a negative note, and would refer you back to the beginning of 
this report for my detailed commendation of the thorough and scrupulous examining of the 
Final Honours School in English. I look forward to working with the chair and his colleagues 
in the English Faculty again next summer.  
 
 
58

FINAL HONOUR SCHOOL OF CLASSICS AND ENGLISH 2011 
 
There were ten candidates this year, of whom 2 were placed in the First Class, the rest in the 
Upper Second. Good work was seen right across the Joint School, with particular excellence 
coming in the Link papers and optional theses; several of latter received extremely high 
marks. Six candidates offered Latin and four Greek; the Second Classical Language option 
was also taken up by one candidate. Four of the ten candidates had taken the 4-year course 
with its preliminary year of intensive Latin or Greek. Comments on individual papers follow 
below, though the Examiners’ Reports for English and Lit Hum should be consulted for 
comments on papers in either of the parent schools. 
 
Epic 
Commentaries. On 1(a)(i) and (ii) a number of candidates failed properly to compare the 
passages of Homer or Virgil with their respective passages of translation. In 1(a)(i) some 
candidates, evidently primed to notice modern writers’ Christianizing of pagan elements, 
found a reference to the Virgin Mary in Chapman’s ‘O virgin’ (spoken by Odysseus to 
Nausicaa) – but failed indicate how this could be meaningful either in its literary or cultural 
context. Others, equally implausibly and again without regard to context, detected a reference 
to Elizabeth I. The best candidates were the most successful in picking out and explaining 
translators’ expansions, dictional choices, and their compensatory use of stylistic and formal 
features. The commentaries on Paradise Lost were on the whole disappointing, ranging from 
irrelevant to intermittently insightful analysis. Very few candidates remarked the significance 
of Satan’s use of precisely the kind of martial rhetoric that Milton had derided in book 9. 
Essays: author-specific questions proved noticeably less popular than general questions, and 
of those three or four questions received the largest number of responses. Sometimes 
penalties were incurred for answering a different question than the one asked. At the higher 
end was some outstanding work combining conceptual sophistication with detailed textual 
knowledge, a wide breadth of learning, and a good familiarity with relevant critical trends. 
 
Tragedy 
Seven candidates sat this paper. Three achieved first-class marks, and there were no Lower 
Seconds. The knowledge of the texts was generally good, but where candidates did 
themselves no favours was in the difficulty they had in framing their knowledge into an 
argument that was both coherent in itself and well focussed on the question. Candidates 
should remember the importance of organising their material: a large amount of undigested 
material will seldom outscore a well-organised piece that may give less information but has a 
clearer argument to it. 
The Examiners recommend that the number of questions for this paper be reduced. Last year 
twenty-two questions were set; twelve were answered by one, two, or three candidates, which 
59

left ten which are now off-limits for some years, more than the total number set for some 
Classics papers. This seems wasteful of examiners’ efforts. 
 
Comedy 
There were three candidates for this paper, of whom one achieved a first-class mark, the other 
two strong Upper Seconds. Candidates tackled a good range of questions. In Section A, 
Classical texts and authors were generally preferred, with candidates showing wide 
knowledge of texts and critical issues arising. Comparative work in Section B was slightly 
unadventurous, but candidates were able to make sound connections between classical and 
Renaissance texts, and to analyse dramatic structure and theme. Surprisingly little use was 
made throughout of theoretical arguments about comedy and the comic! The examiners 
would also encourage candidates to reflect critically on what they read in critical works, 
rather than simply quoting scholars in their essays without comment or qualification. 
 
Pastoral 
There were three candidates for this paper (none in 2010), all of whom achieved high Upper 
Second marks. Almost all answers were ambitious and sophisticated, and addressed a 
pleasing variety of topics; the best work tended to be focussed on classical texts or on the 
inheritance of classical texts in English. Comment on English pastoral seemed more 
restricted, with candidates preferring familiar topics about Spenser and Milton. Nevertheless, 
it was heartening to see strong work being produced for this paper, and candidates’ evident 
fascination with the genre. 
 
Passmore Edwards Prize 
This was awarded to Carla Suthren of Magdalen College. 
 
Organisation 
This year’s examination process ran smoothly despite the arrival of new personnel in the 
Classics Office and ongoing changes in the procedures of Schools and the Division. The 
Chair would very much like to thank Andrew Dixon, of the Classics Office, who produced 
comments sheets, received the marks, and prepared spreadsheets of examination data for the 
Examiners’ Meeting and classing. He is also profoundly grateful for the assistance of Angie 
Johnson of the English Faculty Office, whose advice throughout the entire year was not only 
invaluable, but also offered in the most timely and good-humoured of fashions. 
The Examiners found agreement of marks very straightforward and unproblematic, and they 
would like to thank the many Assessors who assisted with grading theses and coursework 
essays. 
60

The Chair would like to express the Examiners’ very great thanks to the Externals, Prof. 
Alcuin Blamires and Dr Roger Brock. Their observations in the Examiners’ Meeting were 
extremely constructive and just, and they both went out of their way to ensure the smooth, 
effective running of the process during its final stages. 
 
Philip West (Somerville) 
Chairman of Examiners 
 
 
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REPORTS OF THE EXTERNAL EXAMINERS FOR THE HONOUR SCHOOL OF 
CLASSICS AND ENGLISH 
 
BA Classics and English, 2011 
Examiner: Professor Alcuin Blamires, Goldsmiths, University of London 
 
The cohort for this degree was of ten students. I reviewed the entire work of three:- one a 
distinguished 1st, one a mid 2-1, and one a borderline 2-2/2-1. I therefore read work not only 
from English courses but also from ‘link’ courses and from some Classics courses, though 
without presuming any expertise in the latter. This experience gave me an introductory 
overview of the programme.  
The courses are testing and interesting. The joint context is used to the full to foster 
opportunities for moving between the disciplines, and it was exciting to see how genre course 
such as Epic, Pastoral and Tragedy allowed candidates to pursue to advantage their 
knowledge of Classics and English. Joint programmes in many universities leave the twinned 
subjects side by side: in the present case this is a genuine, and invigorating joint programme 
in which significant convergence is achieved, encouraging candidates towards creative and 
imaginative responses. It is the best joint programme I have examined.  
Standards of marking and justifications of marks were appropriate for the most part, though 
the extent of justification was a little uneven There was room for a more expansive 
assessment at the top end of marking. One fine interdisciplinary essay praised for its quality, 
in which original argument was observed, could have been given a corresponding mark of 
distinction instead of a good 1st. As for the quality of the work for English within the joint 
degree, it showed no divergence from the range of quality found in the single English degree.  
The final meeting was scrupulously conducted. There was some evidence that resort to third-
marking would have been desirable to deal with a few cases of wide discrepancy between the 
marks of two internal examiners, though I suspect that pressure of time was an element here. 
My impression encountering this programme for the first time is that it is well conceived and 
well run, and that it generates enthusiasm and vision in its participants. 
 
BA Literae Humaniores, Classics & English, Classics & Modern Languages, Classics & 
Oriental Studies 

Examiner: Dr Roger Brock, University of Leeds 
 
2010-11 was the first year of my term as external examiner for papers in Greek and Latin in 
the Final Honours Schools of Literae Humaniores, Classics and English, Classics and Modern 
Languages and Classics and Oriental Studies. Prior to the series of meetings in July, I 
received details of meetings of examiners and scrutinised draft papers for Literae Humaniores 
62

(I did not see the draft ‘link papers’ for Classics and English and would welcome the 
opportunity to do so next year). During my ‘audit visit’ (July 8th-13th), I attended 
preliminary and second marks meetings for Greek and Latin papers (July 8th and 11th) and 
the classification meetings for Literae Humaniores (July 12th) and the Joint Schools (July 
13th). All the meetings were conducted in an appropriate manner, and where issues arose, 
they were discussed openly and at length. I am glad to have the opportunity to thank the 
Chair of Examiners, Lisa Kallet, for her conscientious oversight of the process, the Convenor 
for Literature, Matthew Leigh, for deft guidance, and Professor Leigh and the other Literature 
examiners, Angus Bowie, Bruno Currie and Stephen Heyworth, for making the process a 
congenial one: it was a pleasure to work in such a constructive and collegial atmosphere. 
A substantial proportion of the sample of work which I read was dictated by consideration of 
borderline candidates, mainly on the First/Upper Second divide, though a couple of cases 
were at the Upper Second/Lower Second border. I also looked at a sample of other work, 
including papers not taken by the borderline candidates and some scripts with especially large 
divergences between first markers, and surveyed documentation and procedure. My 
comments are organised under the headings suggested in the University guidelines for 
reports: 
(i) whether the academic standards set for its awards, or part thereof, are appropriate 
I have no doubt that the standards set for the literature elements of Literae Humaniores and 
related Joint Schools (and indeed, from what I can see, the programmes as a whole) are 
rigorous. The syllabuses and descriptions of the various subjects reflect the expectation that 
students will operate at a high intellectual level, the general level of marking is exacting, and 
rules for classification are similarly robust. One particularly commendable feature is the 
stipulation regarding text-based subjects, which requires that students who achieve excellent 
degree results must (with very few exceptions) do so on the basis of being accomplished 
classical linguists.  
(ii) the extent to which its assessment procedures are rigorous, ensure equity of treatment for 
students and have been fairly conducted within institutional regulations and guidance 
The use of fully blind double-marking (and indeed blind third marking where required) 
provides a highly robust procedure for assessment and, combined with the anonymisation of 
candidates throughout the assessment and classification process, comes as close as any 
system I can envisage to ensuring equitable treatment of candidates. As noted above, the 
implementation of the process in the meetings appeared to me entirely fair, and I was 
impressed by the time and trouble taken over the cases of two candidates adversely affected 
by medical and personal circumstances. The thorough statistical monitoring of individual 
papers and markers to check for potential anomalies is also an excellent feature. 
The detailed documentation provided by the great majority of individual markers 
demonstrated the care taken in the marking process, and it was good to see the full extent of 
the mark-scale used, particularly at the top end, with a good scatter of marks of 80 and above 
when this was appropriate. Since the markers’ comment sheets are so illuminating, it would 
have been good if they had all been available to me at the beginning of the audit weekend. I 
63

would also have liked to see the individual comments supplemented by a brief account of the 
principles on which divergent marks had been resolved, at least at the level of each paper, to 
illuminate the judgements underlying agreed marks, particularly where the initial marks were 
widely separated. 
While marking and assessment procedures are working well overall, I would like to draw 
attention to some areas where there may be scope for improvement. First, I was struck by a 
significant number of cases (more than 30) where there was a disparity of a class or more 
between the two first marks (two and a half classes in one instance). While one expects a 
degree of variation, I do wonder whether there are ways of damping out some of the very 
large disparities, which suggest that markers are coming to essays with distinctly divergent 
expectations, and perhaps implies that the guidance provided by the grade descriptors is not 
sufficiently detailed or circumstantial: for exam work, they do rather read as a gradual 
descent from the ideal of the very high first class, though for theses and extended essays there 
is more specific characterisation of work at different levels of achievement. This is, I think, 
the more desirable because Oxford rotates its examiners, and so the kind of institutional sense 
of expectation that exists in institutions like my own, where almost everyone examines every 
year, is unlikely to develop or persist. 
It may be that, given the limitations of generic descriptors, they might be supplemented by 
notes setting out the typical expectations of markers e.g. on passages for comment (see next 
section); for extended essays, it would be particularly helpful to candidates who are putting 
most of their eggs in one basket, if they are to be forbidden to discuss their proposed 
approaches with anyone, to have some indication whether, for example, an answer which 
covers only Greek or Latin, or only treats a small proportion of the prescription, can still 
achieve high marks. 
Marking of translations is another aspect which I would suggests merits some consideration. 
While practice is naturally not uniform, it is clear that many markers use a system of noting 
and totting up faults, which can create problems. Where I third-marked translations, I did so 
taking an overview against the descriptors, and tended to find a disparity between my mark 
and that previously agreed: I would suggest that markers should always check that a mark 
arrived at by other means is in line with the descriptor. Furthermore, not all faults are alike, 
and there is clearly a difference between (say) failing to recall a lexical item in Pindar, and 
grammatical errors of tense or case: failings of the latter kind surely call for at least as much 
severity as ignorance of the context and drift of the passage (and arguably ought to preclude a 
first-class mark, at least for prepared translation). There is also the notoriously difficult 
problem of how to mark bad to very bad translation work. Where there is one or more bad 
patch, subdividing the passage into sections sometimes helps to quantify the damage; that 
becomes of course increasingly difficult as answers become more fragmentary, but there 
probably ought to be more extended guidelines for such mercifully rare cases: as matters 
stand, the descriptor for the largest mark-band (29-0) is much the briefest, yet the impact of 
the mark assigned is likely to be particularly great given the sanctions for poor translation in 
Philosophy and Ancient History (on which my predecessor cogently expressed concern in his 
report last year). 
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Thirdly, at the examiners’ meeting I sensed some lack of clarity regarding the function and 
implementation of third marking in borderline cases which, I take it, now effectively 
substitutes for vivas. There are two distinct questions which such a process could be asking: 
‘are there grounds for raising this candidate over the borderline?’ (which is how borderlines 
are considered at my own institution) or ‘does the overall performance of this candidate merit 
the award of the higher class?’ (which prima facie is the implication of Markit’s instruction to 
re-read the papers of candidates falling in the 0.5 band either side of a borderline). The latter 
implies that third marking can bring marks down as well as up, and that seems to me 
appropriate for Oxford: giving candidates the benefit of the doubt may be humane, but it 
creates an inflationary pressure which is both unnecessary, given the proportion of Firsts 
awarded in any case, and arguably undesirable as regards protecting the value of a First from 
Oxford. 
Two other minor points may be worth remarking. The handwriting of one of the borderline 
candidates whose work I read was extremely difficult to decipher, the more so as they also 
made use of idiosyncratic abbreviations, and I was surprised that the provision in the Circular 
to candidates (A 6 (d)) for having the work typed up had not been invoked, as much in 
fairness to the candidate as to the examiners (and it would also be a kindness to examiners to 
specify a 12-point font at one and a half or double spacing for coursework). Secondly, 
discussion of one borderline case was delayed by difficulty in contacting a representative for 
Philology and Linguistics: given that this is one of the five core disciplines of the programme, 
surely it should be represented at the examiners’ meeting? 
(iii) the standards of student performance in the programmes or parts of programmes which 
they have been appointed to examine (those examining in joint schools are particularly asked 
to comment on their subject in relation to the whole award) 
The calibre of students Oxford can attract is enviable, and that was reflected in their 
performance. In fact, much of the work I scrutinised was, as noted above, at the I/II.1 
borderline (though given the proportion of Firsts awarded, that actually falls partly in the 
second quartile), but even so, the high quality overall was noteworthy. It was particularly 
good to see candidates in the extended essays developing arguments in a measured and 
scholarly way with the full supporting apparatus of references and bibliography, and there 
was some sparkling work here. This was even more the case in the Joint Schools, where 
candidates were almost without exception strong across the board: the Gaisford 
Undergraduate Essay prize went to a dissertation by a Classics and English student which 
would merit development for publication. Even more pleasing, perhaps, was the unusually 
strong performance by female candidates in Classics and Modern Languages, which might 
invite some analysis given the perennial concerns about relative under-performance in Finals 
by female students. 
Notwithstanding the general excellence of performance, there are two areas which perhaps 
call for attention. One is the issue of how passages for comment (‘gobbets’), a common 
feature of literature papers, should be approached: approaches varied widely in the work I 
read, and even the best candidates often appeared to me to miss the odd trick. Consideration 
65

should perhaps be given to providing some form of guidance or instruction on gobbet 
technique and the expectations of those marking such answers.  
The other area is linguistic ability: although the general level of achievement is enviably high 
in a national context, there were indications of fallibility even in good candidates (though in 
some cases, poor translation performance, particularly in Ancient History and Philosophy, 
may have been due more to insufficient application), and a disproportionately high number of 
II.2 were awarded to candidates taking Lit. Hum. II (4/9). Although this is a fairly intractable 
long-term problem, one practical step which would help even able candidates would be, as 
and when syllabuses are revised, to select texts supported by recent commentaries 
specifically directed at undergraduates such as the ‘Cambridge Green and Yellows’. 
(iv) where appropriate, the comparability of the standards and student achievements with 
those in some other higher education institutions 
As I observed in the previous section, the level of achievement of these students as a cohort is 
enviably high, and the best of them are quite outstanding compared against their peers 
nationally and internationally. The proportion of Firsts (28%) in Lit. Hum. is well-justified, 
but even more striking, perhaps, is that the tail is made up of less than 10% of II.2s, together 
with a sadly intractable medical case; the Joint Schools enhance the figures even further. This 
remarkable profile is clearly the product of a combination of excellent students with first-rate 
teaching and resources. 
(v) issues which should be brought to the attention of supervising committees in the 
faculty/department, division or wider University 
I would encourage discussion of my suggestions for refinement of marking and assessment 
procedure in section (ii) above. 
(vi) good practice that should be noted and disseminated more widely as appropriate 
External examiners’ reports tend to be (or feel as if they were) weighted towards criticism, 
especially in the first year, so I’m glad, in addition to my commendation of the marking 
process, to put on record my high regard for the quality of the programme, and of the 
excellent teaching and resources which are reflected in the very high achievement of students. 
In particular, the breadth and variety of options in Greek and Latin and the choice and 
flexibility offered to students are admirable, and I share the regret expressed in last year’s 
report that they do not take fuller advantage. I have already highlighted the particular value of 
modules assessed by extended essay, and would also particularly note the options in such 
fundamental ‘craft skills’ for the discipline as textual criticism, palaeography and linguistics, 
which are vital for the future health of Classics. 
 
 
 
 
 
66

FINAL HONOUR SCHOOL OF ENGLISH AND MODERN LANGUAGES 2011 
 
1. Statistics 
 
2. Examiners 
The Examiners for English were: Professor Hanna, Dr Palfrey and Professor Romaine. The 
External Examiner for English was Professor Francis O’Gorman (Leeds) 
For Modern Languages: Professor Volfing (Chair; German), Professor Cooper (French), Dr 
Griffin (Spanish). The External Examiner for Modern Languages was Professor Noel 
Peacock (French). 
 
3. Conduct of the Examination 
The Marking Conventions were unchanged from last year. 
This year, there was difficulty in identifying a co-ordinator from the English side. For future 
years, it is essential that one of the English examiners be willing to adopt this role. 
 
4. Marks meetings 
No Pre-Final Marks Meeting was held this year; at the Final Marks Meeting, it was agreed 
that a Pre-Final Meeting would be useful for 2012. 
The Final Marks Meeting was held on 13th July 2011 at 5 pm. Professor Romaine was, 
however, unable to attend the meeting and was excused by the Proctors. 
 
5. IT difficulties 
Unfortunately, a computer bug meant that in the case of two candidates, there was a 
discrepancy between the 'year outcome' and the 'final award' on OSS. This problem has now 
been addressed within the joint school software; furthermore, any such discrepancy will in 
future trigger an exceptions report on OSS. 
 
6. Chairman-elect for 2011-12 
In accordance with the Standing Committee’s decision that the Chairmanship of this School 
should always be held by a Modern Languages examiner, next year’s Chairman will be either 
the Chair or the Vice-Chair of the FHS in Modern Languages. As noted above, a co-ordinator 
should be appointed from the English side. 
 
Annette Volfing (Chairman) 
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REPORTS OF THE EXTERNAL EXAMINERS FOR THE HONOUR SCHOOL OF 
ENGLISH AND MODERN LANGUAGES 
 
For English External Examiner’s comments (Francis O’Gorman) see the FHS English 
examiner’s report. 
 
BA Modern Languages 
BA Classics and Modern Languages 
BA English and Modern Languages 
BA Philosophy and Modern Languages  
Examiner: Professor Noel Peacock, University of Glasgow 
 
i)  
appropriateness of academic standards  
As in previous years, the standards set in terms of the intellectual demands posed by the 
questions and the criteria for awards were very high. The French marks profiles looked lower 
than those of some of the other languages. However, from the scripts I looked at, I did not 
feel that French students were underprivileged. 
ii) assessment 
processes 
The processes were generally very rigorous and I am satisfied that no student was unfairly 
treated. In the orals, the pairing of examiners with a native speaker from their own college 
worked well; every effort was made to standardise the format of questioning, with examiners 
asking the kind of open probing questions which invited sustained discursive answers; the 
stated time given to each candidate was meticulously respected. The Pre-General Meeting 
helped expedite the other meetings, particularly in the very fair consideration given to 
medical certificates and to any concerns raised by the conduct of the exams. In this regard, I 
am satisfied that an error reported in a commentary passage did not affect the exam profile of 
students concerned, with the average marks for the particular question not out of line with 
those on the rest of the paper. The gold standard of blind double marking, though time-
consuming, is a major factor in ensuring equity of treatment for students. Unresolved 
discrepancies, which paradoxically tend to confirm that the system is working, were referred 
to the externals whose moderation was based on reading the scripts and the comments 
supplied by the internal assessors. The examiners meetings I attended considered the profiles 
of every student. The chairing of the meetings by Professor Annette Volfing was excellent, 
with support given by senior examiners and subject-specific assessors.  
 
iii)  
performance of students 
Overall, very impressive. As in other Modern Languages departments, the level of attainment 
in language is not proportionate to the amount of time invested in programmes by the 
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teaching staff. The performance in Paper I, in particular, was disappointing. On the other 
hand, the performance in language and culture was highly commendable.  
iv)  
comparability 
The standards and achievements of students taking Modern Languages in Oxford would 
certainly rank with the top 5 departments in the UK. The number of first-class classifications 
(24% in Modern Languages; over 50% in CML and EML; and 35% in PML) – justifiably 
awarded and not attributable to grade inflation, to judge from my sampling of French 
examinations – compares very favourably with statistics and profiles elsewhere.  
v) 
 issues for further consideration 
The absence of raw marks made it more difficult, in some cases, to establish borderline 
candidates. 
Electronic submission of marks would facilitate the preparation of exam lists, which could 
consequently contain more information and be more readily updated following moderation by 
externals. Academic staff, it would seem, are spending a disproportionate amount of time on 
administrative tasks. (Social Studies, I understand, have been able to submit marks on a 
secure electronic site.) The problem is compounded by the lack of administrative support. In 
fact, but for the sterling efforts of exam officers and Anna Staszewska from the Modern 
Languages Examinations office, it is doubtful whether the profiles would have been ready for 
the examiners meetings. 
Arrangements for coordination between 2 schools could be tightened as borderline candidates 
often emerge after externals have left. One case this year was satisfactorily resolved in favour 
of the student with external and internal examiners having the opportunity to revisit the 
scripts in the examiners’ meetings. On this occasion, it was fortunate that relevant parties 
were in situ (otherwise a deferred result would have had to be recorded pending further 
consultation).  
More time could be given to scrutiny of exam papers by externals – the timetable this year 
was very tight, giving insufficient time for both vetting and proof-reading. 
The excessive choice given in Papers VII and VIII; it must take the candidates about 15 
minutes to read some 40+ questions, time which could have been better deployed planning 
answers. 
The lack of take-up of the optional research-driven essay. A number of departments 
elsewhere have found that a compulsory undergraduate dissertation has led to an increase in 
their postgraduate community. The skills which this exercise develops also enhance 
employability.  
vi)  
Good practice 
Blind double marking: many universities have reluctantly had to give up this practice on 
account staff losses.  
Rigorous control of the timetable for orals; the help given by the proctors’ office in the 
supervision of students preparing passages is invaluable. 
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The flexibility allowed by the proctors with regard to difficult cases with extenuating 
circumstances. 
The use of externals this year as moderators (in previous years the tendency has been to ask 
the externals to be third examiners). It was very helpful to see the reasons for the 
discrepancies in internal assessments. 
Excellent teaching over a broad range of subjects, which has resulted in intellectual ambition 
and sustained argument in essays on literature. 
As in previous years, while some of the comments above require consideration, the 
examiners are to be congratulated on a rigorously conducted and generally well-marshalled 
examination process, and on the excellent outcomes, as seen in the results and what lay 
behind them. My thanks to all who have made my experience as external in Oxford so 
stimulating and enjoyable. 
 
 
70

FINAL HONOUR SCHOOL OF HISTORY AND ENGLISH 2011 
 
Part I   
 
A. Statistics 
 
 
All candidates, Numbers and percentages in each class/category 
Class Number 
Percentage 
(%) 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I 5   
  62.5   
 
II.I 3 
 
 
37.5 
 
 
II.II 
- - - 
-  - 

III 
- - - 
-  - 

Pass 
- - - 
-  - 

Fail 
- - - 
-  - 

 
All candidates, divided into Male (M) and Female (F) 
 
Class Number 
Percentage 
(%) 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Male 
Female 
    Male
Female
       

3  2 
    100 
40         
II.I 
  3 
      60         
II.II 
-  - 
- - - - -  - 
-  -  -  - 
III 
-  - 
- - - - -  - 
-  -  -  - 
Pass 
-  - 
- - - - -  - 
-  -  -  - 
Fail 
-  - 
- - - - -  - 
-  -  -  - 
 
B. 
Examining methods and procedures 
(TBC?) 
 
 
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Part II 
 
A. General comments on the examination 
Although a very small school, with only eight candidates this year, the overall quality of 
performance was extremely high. Five of the eight candidates achieved firsts, while one of 
the three II.1s was on the I/II.1 borderline and was closely scrutinized for a first.  
 
B. Equal opportunities issues and breakdown of the results by gender 
It is disappointing that a higher percentage of men than women achieved firsts. However, the 
numbers are very small, and it would be unwise draw too many conclusions from these 
results. 
 
C. Detailed numbers on candidates’ performance in each part of the examination 
The general standard of performance across both History and English elements was very 
pleasing indeed. There were no II.2 marks in any paper, and there were some absolutely 
outstanding marks in individual papers across both schools. Most impressive was the strong 
showing by several candidates in the two bridge papers. Five of the eight candidates achieved 
a first class mark in one of these papers; and two candidates were awarded marks of 80 for 
their bridge paper extended essays.  
 
D. Comments on procedure 
There was some concern that while the History School had adopted the new route to a first, 
English adhered to the old single-route system. However, as none of the II.1 candidates could 
have achieved first by the alternative route this was not really an issue. Next year English will 
be adopting the alternative route and both schools will be operating according to the same 
rules.  
 
E. Names of members of the Board of Examiners 
Eugenio Biagini (External) 
Ben Jackson 
Paulina Kewes 
Maria Misra (Chair) 
John Watt 
David Womersley 
 
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REPORTS OF THE EXTERNAL EXAMINERS FOR THE HONOUR SCHOOL OF 
MODERN HISTORY AND ENGLISH 
 
For English External Examiner’s comments (Helen Wilcox) see the FHS English Examiners’ 
Report. 
 
Final Honour School History 
Examiner: Prof. E. F. Biagini 
 
This was my first year as an external examiner at Oxford, and I am happy to report that my 
experience was both enjoyable and rewarding. The whole process ran smoothly, and my 
workload was manageable.  
In what follows I shall comment on specific aspects of the process. 
(1) Academic standards – These are entirely appropriate and indeed very high. 
(2) Assessment process – It was rigorous and yet conducted efficiently. It was completed in 
less time than we had anticipated, although students’ scripts were scrupulously scrutinized, 
and many of them were read again and marked a third time.  
(3) Standards of student performance – The quality of the scripts which I read – including 
dissertations, extended essays and exam scripts, especially from British History and General 
History – was generally very good, with some dissertations being really outstanding, 
particularly those selected for the various national and University prizes. 
(4) Comparability of standards and achievements – My general impression of the aims, 
structure, and contents of the papers I examined is overwhelmingly positive. Oxford 
University students benefit from an unusually wide range of papers and the topics taught 
cover geographical areas and chronological periods often neglected in other British 
universities. The quality of the scripts was consistently high and is indicative of the excellent 
teaching provided. There was an admirable mix between different forms of examinations – 
including long essays, dissertations, and traditional in-class exams. Such mix results in an 
exam structure which reflects accurately the preparation and academic ability of the 
candidates.  
(5) Issues for attention – There are a few: 
It might be advisable to expand the examiners’ handbook. In particular, the notes which 
examiners receive could explain more clearly the mechanism through which the ‘established’ 
mark is reached, the cases in which a third reading is required, when this should be done by 
an external and the extent to which the external examiner’s adjudicating mark is ‘final’.  
I am glad to hear that what is described as an ‘alternative route to a First’ was introduced this 
year. This is a classification scheme depending on the preponderance of first-class marks (of 
70 or above), provided that none of the other marks falls below a II.1. The ‘older’ route to a 
73

First, with the average of 68.5, seems to me anomalous, and I am encouraged to see that other 
external examiners – including Professors Stuart Jones and David Carpenter – expressed 
similar reservations in their independent reports last year. In particular, I would like to stress 
that, in my view: 
An overall First should reward first-class quality, which is not the same as the ‘solid 
competence’ associated with a high average. Indeed, in other universities an average of 68.5 
would be regarded as too low for a first, and Cambridge would require something like at least 
an average of 69 or 69.5, with a preponderance of marks above 70. Therefore I hope that the 
‘old’ route will be phased out and that the present ‘alternative route’ will in due course 
become the only route and be made even more demanding (incidentally, my impression is 
that the ‘old route’ may have resulted in a tendency to under-mark scripts, because of the 
reasonable assumption that a 68.5 would indicate First-class quality). 
The marking conventions for the Second and Third class ought to be updated to reflect the 
new practice for the awarding of First-class marks (i.e., a preponderance of marks in a given 
class): there ought to be parity across the classes in the marking system and equal attention 
ought to be paid to borderline cases in each of the classes. 
The ‘English and History’ Board did not seem to be fully aware of the ‘alternative route’ to a 
First and the relevant new marking conventions. In order to avoid similar confusion in future, 
I strongly recommend that the marking conventions be tabled at the beginning of each Board 
meeting. They ought to be appended to the agenda of the meeting, which ought to be 
produced for each Board meeting (see also point 4, below).  
The process is run in a more informal way than at Cambridge, and, as a newcomer, at times I 
was not really sure as to what was expected of me and when. For example, I was under the 
impression that my first meeting was Monday 11 July at 9.30, but I was then told that my 
presence was not really necessary until 3 p.m., although eventually I was involved in marking 
from about 11.30 a.m. It is likely that this misunderstanding and resulting confusion was 
primarily due to my misreading of the timetable and lack of familiarity with the Oxford 
examining culture. However, for future reference and the benefit of newly-appointed external 
examiners, it would be helpful to make it absolutely clear from a very early stage, in the 
covering letter and materials sent to the examiners, when precisely the externals are expected 
to be in attendance and for which specific task. 
It would be reassuring to be able to say that the problem of bad communication was limited 
to new externals. However, this does not seem to be the case. On Tuesday 12 July the Faculty 
of English members of the joint Honours Board complained about lack of information as to 
where their meeting was taking place: they were under the impression that it was expected to 
meet in room 8, while the History Faculty members were waiting for them in room 9. There 
were no pre-circulated papers for this meeting, no minutes of the previous meeting and no 
agenda. This was really the source of the problem, but the solution is simple: agendas and 
minutes of the previous meetings ought to be produced and pre-circulated among all the 
members of each of the Boards.  
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The examiners’ reports for the previous three years, including the external examiners’ 
reports, ought to be circulated to all the externals well in advance of the meetings.  
At present the Examination School has no facilities for printing, e-mailing of files and the 
screening of results. This resulted in the Administrator having to cycle up and down Oxford, 
in order to reprint the class list, while the Board was in session waiting for the revised 
printout, with an extraordinary and totally unnecessary waste of highly-paid senior 
academics’ and administrator’s time and energy. Such arrangements are unsatisfactory. The 
Board ought to be moved to a venue where adequate facilities are available, or the 
Examination Schools ought to be provided with computers, printers, e-mail connection, 
projectors and screens.  
The projection of provisional class lists on a screen would facilitate the process and save a 
considerable amount of paper, ink and time. It is questionable whether we require hard-copies 
of all the provisional class lists. 
Despite my membership of, and examining experience at, the other main collegiate 
university, I was surprised by the extent to which, at Oxford, College authorities are allowed 
to interfere with the exam process in order to defend the claims of some of their candidates. 
In particular, it is extraordinary that they have the right to appeal against the decisions of the 
Board. I am not sure or whether this can be reconciled with the rule about the candidates’ 
anonymity during the process, but such interference is counterproductive in all other possible 
ways. The Board’s sovereignty in examining and classifying ought to be absolute and 
unchallengeable. There ought to be clear guidelines and procedures for the submission of 
medical evidence before the Board’s final meeting, but the Board should have exclusive 
authority as to the handling of claims, without any possibility of appeal. 
The decision process about penalties was unnecessarily clumsy and complicated. The Board 
was not confident that the Proctors were applying the rules consistently. In particular, the 
Proctors’ Office seemed to be unable to process applications with adequate rapidity and 
efficiency, thus creating considerable delay and some confusion during the Board’s meetings. 
Such situation requires urgent attention. The Proctors’ Office should be strengthened to 
enable them to discharge their duties more effectively; or, alternatively, the University may 
wish to delegate the relevant responsibilities to some other office.  
Decisions about penalties for late submissions of scripts and the classification of candidates 
are two operations which should be kept completely separate and distinct. The Proctors 
should alert the Board about late presentations, with a note indicating how late each of them 
was. However, the decision about the precise penalty to apply in each case ought to belong to 
the Examination Board alone. Furthermore, the Proctors should not be expected to consult the 
Colleges about the causes for late presentations: students may submit the relevant medical 
evidence or other justification together with late scripts; such evidence should be endorsed by 
the College Senior Tutor when appropriate. But there ought to be no further College action or 
any interference in the matter and the Board ought to be absolutely sovereign in its decision 
about classification. 
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 (6) Examples of good practice – The system of double marking is operated in a rigorous way 
and the full comments independently provided by each of the two examiners in turn allows 
for a more effective moderation of their disagreement when the external is called upon to 
adjudicate. Last but not least: altogether commendable were the patience, common sense, 
humanity and humour of the chairman and the other Board officers. They made my task – 
and the whole examination process – not only easier, but also more enjoyable. 
 
 
 
 
76

MST AND MPHIL (MEDIEVAL STUDIES) IN ENGLISH (INC. MST IN 
ENGLISH AND AMERICAN STUDIES) 2011 
 
Part I 
 
A. Statistics 
(1) 
Numbers and percentages in each class/category 
 
(a)  
Unclassified Examinations 
Category 
 Number 
  Percentage 
 
 
 2010/11* 
2009/10 
2008/09 
2010/11 
2009/10 
2008/09 
Distinction 
28 
( 35 ) 
( 29 ) 
(37.3) 
( 43.2 ) 
( 40.3 ) 
Pass 
47 
( 43 ) 
( 43 ) 
(62.7) 
( 53.1.) 
( 58.3) 
Fail 

( 0 ) 
( 0 ) 

( 0 ) 
( 0 ) 
*One student (1.3%) has yet to complete; each piece of ‘failed’ work can be re-submitted 
once (by Monday of 0th week of Michaelmas term); should re-submitted work not pass 
(60 or above), 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 changes to examination methods or procedures. 
The Final Examiners’ Meeting was later than usual this year in order to facilitate the 
administrative turn-around between internal and external dissertation marking. 
Nevertheless, the time pressure on internal markers was still too great (one week at the 
busiest part of Trinity term) and a revision of the calendar will be considered next year. 
This was discussed at the final meeting and External Examiners agreed to sacrifice a day 
or two of their marking time next year in order to ease the pressure on internal markers.  
 
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. 
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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. Another document covering the specific criteria for the MPhil 
was sent to MPhil candidates separately. (See attached document). 
 
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 2010/11  2009/10 2008/09 
MSt School 
63 / 37 
69 / 31 
67 / 33 
Distinction 
57 / 43 
60 / 40 
52 / 48 
Pass 
 66 / 34 
74 / 26 
79/ 21 
Fail 
0 / 0 
0 / 0 
0 / 0 
Incomplete 
100/0 
100** / 0 
100* / 0 
*this refers to one candidate who subsequently passed the MSt. 
** this refers to three candidates who subsequently passed the MSt. 
These figures show, like last year, that men were significantly more likely to gain a 
Distinction than were women. Please see Appendix 2 that gives a full breakdown by 
strand of the results achieved by candidates. 
 
C. Detailed numbers on candidates’ performance in each part of the examination 
N/A for M.St. 
 
 
78

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 
Dr Sue Jones (Chair) Dr Richard Dance (External) 
Professor Malcolm Godden Professor Brian Cummings (External) 
Professor David Norbrook Professor Penny Fielding (External) 
Professor Lucy Newlyn Professor Andrew Thacker (External) 
Professor Kathryn Sutherland Professor Ian Bell (External) 
Dr Michèle Mendelssohn 
Dr Peter McDonald  
 
Chair of Examiners’ Report  
This year, 37.3% of the candidates who took the MSt received Distinctions. Although it 
reflects a creditable performance, this was lower than the figure for 2010 (43%).  
The number of External Examiners remained the same this year and, with the exception 
of Dr Richard Dance, none was new to the experience. All External Examiners remarked 
on the high achievement of the candidates, and the high quality of work at the top end of 
the range. Examining criteria and timetable were approved, and C option marking was 
assigned at the first meeting of the internal Examiners in Michaelmas 2010. At this and 
subsequent meetings throughout the year marking was assigned for the C and B options 
and the dissertation by the internal Examiners. In most cases second marking for the C 
options and first marking for the B options were assigned within the internal Examiners 
(course convenors are first markers in every instance for the C essays). Both internal 
Examiners and Assessors were used for examining the dissertations. The Board was hard 
pressed to find enough first and second markers for the full range of B options and for 
second marking of C options and dissertations that fell outside its range of expertise. 
While the Board took on the largest burden of the marking in all cases, it was forced to 
appoint a greater number of assessors than in previous years. In particular, the 
representation among internal Examiners of those who can appropriately examine the B 
option may need to be considered when appointing the Board in future. Apart from the 
first internal meeting in Michaelmas, and the Final Examiners’ meeting, when all internal 
and external Examiners were present, at all other meetings External Examiners were 
79

consulted by telephone to confirm the marks of Michaelmas and Hilary B and C options. 
The final Examiners’ Meeting was conducted in a single, morning, session. The internal 
Examiners are indebted to the Externals for the care and diligence with which they read 
scripts, scrutinized borders and adjudicated a few disagreements, and for offering 
extremely helpful observations on the process as a whole.  
 
Administration 
Emily Richards and Claire Rylatt deserve enormous thanks for their oversight and 
administration of this year’s examination.  
 
Tests Administered in the St Cross Building 
The B paper requires candidates to pass a palaeography/transcription test. All candidates 
taking the B paper in the MSt (Medieval or Modern) and those taking the MPhil in 
Medieval Studies are required to sit a test in transcription. Most MPhil candidates are 
required to take tests in transcription or translation (depending on their choices of paper). 
This year administrative procedures were tightened up, and except for one test that 
required consultation of a manuscript in a library (the test was agreed by the board), all 
were again taken at the St Cross building. Papers were set by individual convenors of the 
relevant courses, and the rubric checked against convenors’ requirements by the 
administrative staff. One clerical misunderstanding nevertheless occurred, and the 
Proctors advised that procedures be tightened further next year. The Chair will ensure 
that, next year, all papers for all tests pass through a second level of checking between 
setter and invigilator before the test is conducted. 
 
Internal Marking and Comment Sheets/Feedback Forms 
Remarks recorded in the report of the Chair last year still hold regarding the pressures of 
time, need for care and attention to the technicalities of marking, collating feedback and 
release of marks. We continue to release marks and feedback to candidates across the 
course of the year, and so increasing demands are put on the Examiners, the Assessors, 
the course tutors, the period convenors and administrative staff. A new ‘tickbox’ was 
included with the feedback form for B and C option essays this year. This was intended 
to make the process lighter for those markers who opted not to write extensive comments, 
although in most cases written comments were also included, and these still remain the 
most helpful form of feedback for the candidate. However, it is essential that the 
tickboxes and written commentary correspond, and that great care is taken by the first 
marker, whose responsibility it is to provide the combined feedback for the candidate, to 
make sure that tickboxes and comments agree, and that the agreed mark is justified in 
terms of the assessment criteria. The section of the assessment form asking how the two 
initial markers agreed the final mark must be completed with precise information. The 
first marker must collate full feedback for the candidate that corresponds to the final mark 
awarded. 
80

In previous years a feedback form for the dissertation has not been required but the 
Graduate Studies Board has been discussing requests for feedback to be provided. A step 
towards fulfilling that requirement was made this year by making clear on both 
dissertation markers’ comment forms that their comments could be requested to be 
viewed by the candidate. A feedback form on the dissertation could be pedagogically 
justified for those who are continuing to the DPhil and may for those disappointed in 
their mark clarify the final mark actually awarded. However, if the requirement of 
providing a feedback form on the dissertation comes into force in future then the 
following context of marking should be taken into consideration: the pressure of time on 
Examiners, under the current timetable, to read, agree marks and write feedback (the first 
marker would incur an additional burden of collating the comments of both markers); and 
to consider the further work for administrative staff. Candidates also need to be reminded 
of the requirement to provide titles and descriptions of their dissertations in good time, 
and if in collaboration with their supervisors they wish to alter their topics, they must get 
approval from the Chair of Examiners in good time. This year an inordinate number of 
changes to titles was made. Changes to topics can require a change of markers, and this is 
difficult to accommodate after the initial appointment of markers. 
 
Marking and Distinction Criteria 
These were retained from last year. The classification criteria for a Distinction in the MSt 
require that candidates achieve both a mark of 70 or above on the dissertation and an 
average across all four elements (three essays and the dissertation) of 70 or above. In 
previous discussions the justification for the requirement of 70 on the dissertation has 
been that because this is the only part of the degree that does not come out of a taught 
course it is the only indicator of entirely independent research. This mark ensures the 
quality of the degree as a research degree and provides a way of distinguishing those 
equipped to continue study at doctoral level. 
The classification criteria for the MPhil are different. As candidates for the MPhil are not 
required to complete a dissertation (they may opt to take an extra paper instead of doing a 
dissertation), they cannot be required to achieve a Distinction in the dissertation in order 
to get a Distinction in the degree. If candidates who do complete a dissertation are 
required to get a Distinction in the dissertation, then two separate sets of criteria would 
maintain for candidates taking the same degree. This could not be required. Thus, a 
Distinction in the MPhil requires merely an average across all elements of 70 or above. 
So, as explained in last year’s report, a different weight is given to the dissertation in the 
two degrees. It forms a distinctive part of the assessing of the MSt and continues to give 
rise to discussion. 
I refer you to last year’s report (Jeri Johnson) for an outline of the procedure: 
 
81

‘1) at the end of Michaelmas term, candidates submit a C essay; it is double 
marked, marks are agreed, the external Examiners scrutinize, the marks (and 
agreed feedback) are released to candidates. 
2) at the end of Hilary term, candidates submit two essays (a C and a B, or 
two C essay(s)); these are double marked, marks are agreed, the External 
Examiners scrutinize, the marks (and agreed feedback) are released to 
candidates. 
Obviously, these marks, comprising three of the four components of the 
MSt, are fixed at this point and cannot subsequently be changed at the final 
Examiners’ meeting. 
3) at the end of Trinity term, candidates submit their dissertations; these are 
double marked, marks are agreed, the External Examiners scrutinize; marks 
are fixed. (This constitutes the first part of the agenda of the final 
Examiners’ meeting in the summer.) 
4) only once the dissertation marks are agreed and lodged are the 
candidates’ entire runs of marks scrutinized for final classification, and 
classifications determined. (This constitutes the second part of the agenda of 
the final Examiners’ meeting.)’ 
Like last year, it was the case that a few candidates failed to achieve a Distinction 
because they failed to meet one of the two criteria: (i) they failed to achieve a mark of 70 
or above on the dissertation or (ii) they failed to achieve an average over all four elements 
of 70 or above. It was particularly hard on candidates who achieved (often very high) 
distinction marks in all the essays and who just failed to achieve the same in the 
dissertation.  
It must be reiterated that External Examiners scrutinize all pieces of work where the first 
marks of the two internal Examiners have fallen either side of the 69/70 borderline, no 
matter what the final agreed mark is. They also read the work that achieved the highest 
and the lowest marks in a strand. All Examiners (including External Examiners) are 
aware that if the dissertation is not awarded a mark of 70 or above that candidate will not 
be able to achieve a Distinction no matter what their average. This, of course, means that 
extra care has been taken in marking the dissertation in the first place. As was stated in 
the report last year, the integrity of that marking has been guaranteed precisely because 
Examiners do not know whether the dissertation in question is that of someone who 
already has a high average (and so might get a Distinction) or someone with a low 
average (who might get a mark of 70 or above on the dissertation and still fail to get a 
Distinction overall).  
Because this issue is a recurring source of concern for Examiners and candidates, the 
problem was again discussed at length at the Final Examiners’ meeting this year. It was 
agreed that the committee had to adhere to the criteria as they currently stand. Any 
change to the criteria themselves is not a matter for the Examiners, but for the Graduate 
Studies and Faculty Boards. However, there were several proposals put forward for how 
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to deal with these cases in future and to ensure a further degree of rigour and fairness in 
the ways in which the current criteria are upheld. It was suggested that the best way to 
proceed would be for the Externals to be sent the dissertations of all those candidates who 
had narrowly missed out on an overall distinction by virtue of missing a distinction in the 
dissertation. The Graduate Office would identify those who needed a distinction on the 
dissertation by calculating the total of the 3 marks gained up to that point. Those with a 
mark of 210 or above would be in this category. All dissertations from this category 
would be sent to the External Examiners. These dissertations would not be identified to 
the Externs as belonging to a specific category but would be sent to them along with 
other borderline cases. After lengthy discussion of this suggestion the Chair invited a 
show of hands and this proposal was carried unanimously by the External Examiners and 
by a majority of the internal Examiners. As the criteria for distinction is not a matter for 
the Examiners and is a matter for discussion by the Faculty Board it was agreed that the 
Chair would present this proposal in the first instance to Graduate Studies Committee in 
Michaelmas Term 2011. 
Beyond this, the Board reiterated last year’s comment that candidates and supervisors 
need to realize the importance and weight of the dissertation in the final degree result.  
 
External Examiners’ Remarks and Concerns 
External Examiners were divided on the matter of classification described at length above 
but all agreed on strict adherence to the marking criteria as they stand, that the guidance 
to markers was very helpful, and that the discrete marking of the dissertation was right 
and justified according to those criteria. (See above under ‘Marking and Distinction 
Criteria’ for the outcome of this discussion).  
Most agreed that the amount and type of work sent to the Externals was right and useful. 
Several commented on the high standard and accuracy of the internal marking and in the 
cases where an agreed mark was not found by the internals said that it was easy to see 
why each assessor had reached the mark that they did. Except for one, External 
Examiners felt that the internal markers made good reference to the marking criteria. 
However, it was agreed that next year mark sheets should encourage markers to show 
why the particular mark was given according to the marking criteria. This point would be 
beneficial to those who have not previously marked this course. Another recurring point 
referred to a sense that candidates were not leaving enough time to check bibliographical 
details and presentation of their work. The importance of leaving sufficient time for these 
issues should be emphasised again by convenors next year. 
Several commented that the course was well run from an administrative point of view. 
Most Externals praised the general consistency and high standard of work, and at the very 
top end praised some remarkable achievements in producing original, provocative, and 
publishable work. One also noted candidates’ confidence in choosing less well-known 
authors and texts and another praised the remarkable achievement of students in 
completing this amount of work in nine months. One examiner, however, felt that the 
83

work was not as good as last year and that the best work was bibliographical. Examiners 
nevertheless referred to the evident quality of the teaching in the course and praised the 
efficiency of all the procedures. 
Sue Jones, Chair of MSt Examiners 
 
 
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REPORTS OF THE EXTERNAL EXAMINERS FOR MST AND MPHIL 
(MEDIEVAL STUDIES) IN ENGLISH (INC. MST IN ENGLISH AND 
AMERICAN STUDIES) 2011 
 
Examiner: Dr Richard Dance 
 
This was my first year as External for the MSt and MPhil in English. I would like to 
begin by thanking all involved for making my initiation into examining at Oxford such a 
pleasant experience. I am happy to report that all the preliminaries, and the work of the 
Board of Examiners itself, were carefully and effectively managed, and to register my 
impression of the scrupulous care taken by all those involved in marking. I would like to 
record my thanks to Dr Sue Jones (Chair of Examiners) and the other local members of 
the board (particularly Prof. Malcolm Godden, who oversaw the MPhil) for their 
hospitality, and for their careful and sagacious handling of the examining process. I am 
also very grateful to Emily Richards (Graduate Studies Officer) and Claire Rylatt 
(Graduate Studies Assistant) for their excellent administrative support (they responded to 
all my requests efficiently and exceptionally promptly). 
I very much enjoyed reading the work of the candidates for both the MSt (650–1550 
study group) and the MPhil in Medieval Studies (unless otherwise stated, the remarks that 
follow apply equally to both degrees). The best candidates produced terrific work, some 
of it of a publishable standard, showing an intellectual sophistication and an impressive 
control both of the material and of critical approaches to it. [Redacted reference to 
identifiable student.
] I read other very good dissertations, as well as some excellent B- 
and C-course essays ([redacted reference to identifiable student]). As the subjects of 
these pieces of work imply, I read material dealing with the whole gamut of languages 
and literatures that one could hope to see covered on a ‘medieval English’ master’s 
course. It is indeed one of the great pleasures, and great achievements, of the Oxford MSt 
and MPhil that they range across the full chronological scope of the Middle Ages and 
offer such a wide choice of disciplines and focuses (Old English, Middle English, Old 
Norse; literary critical analysis of every sort, textual criticism, palaeography, metrics, 
philology). It is rare to find all these aspects of the subject offered to such a high level, 
and this is a feature of your provision in which you should, of course, take considerable 
pride and strive vigorously to maintain. The quality of the best work I read is redolent, 
moreover, of the expertise of those teaching on the various courses, and of the height of 
the standards they evidently set. 
I was sent work to read from each stage of the course. As a matter of routine, this 
included the essays with the highest and lowest marks (a useful way of gauging the 
marking range), and those instances where the two internal examiners had agreed a mark, 
but where the original marks had crossed a classing boundary. Almost always I concurred 
with the internal mark as originally agreed, and never felt that it needed to be adjusted by 
more than a mark or two. This is a reassuring indication of the accuracy of the internal 
85

marking process, i.e. that marking standards are wholly appropriate, and I am furthermore 
happy to confirm that the full spectrum of marks was justly applied. I was also sent those 
pieces of work for which the internals had been unable to agree a mark, and which were 
therefore forwarded to me for adjudication (an especially important use of the external). 
In such cases I could always see the reasons for the original disagreement, in that it was 
possible in each instance to recognize indications of higher and lower quality in the 
candidate’s performance (I should add that it was very helpful to have access to the 
internal examiners’ marks and comment sheets); this confirms again that the internal 
examiners are marking at absolutely the right level, as well as reaffirming the fairness of 
seeking a third pair of eyes when it comes to individual pieces of borderline work. It may 
be added that there is currently no mechanism for those MSt candidates to be re-assessed 
whose full profile of marks across the course puts them on a borderline (specifically the 
Pass/Distinction borderline). There was some discussion of this principle at the final 
meeting of the exam board, and it was agreed to propose that, in future years, a candidate 
whose dissertation receives an internal mark of below 70, but whose running average 
otherwise stands at 70 or above, should have the mark of the dissertation confirmed by an 
external. I am happy to support this proposal. 
Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if I can provide any clarification of these remarks, or 
if there is any further information that I can supply regarding my experiences this year. I 
look forward to returning to the Faculty for next year’s round. 
 
Examiner: Professor Brian Cummings 
 
This is the second year of my stint as External Examiner on this programme. Once again, 
I have been given ample opportunity to oversee the full range of work done on the MSt, 
including coursework, bibliographical exercises, and Dissertations. In addition, I was able 
to attend the Final Meeting of the Exam Board in person. I would like to record here that 
it has been a pleasure at all times to conduct this work, in a friendly and professional 
atmosphere. I have read some excellent work, often a pleasure to read and sometimes 
straightforwardly rewarding from a point of view of the scholarship on display.  
1. 
Appropriateness of standards for examination and qualification 
The mark scale is in line with comparable Masters courses in English in the UK (my own 
experience is based on periods as External Examiner in London and Cambridge as well as 
in my own institution). The Pass mark is 60 and the mark for Distinction is 70. Markers 
are encouraged to use the full scale up to 100; however, while last year marks as high as 
85 were sent to me, this year the highest mark I saw was 80. I felt the marking overall 
was very appropriate. I was able almost always (except in cases where a mark had not 
been agreed internally) to confirm the mark within a very narrow range of the internal 
examining. The standards both for Pass and Distinction are well understood and 
scrupulously scrutinized within the marking system. I am especially impressed by the 
procedure for sending to the External any scripts where the internal marks cross the 
86

borderline for Pass and Distinction. This ensures both parity between candidates and a 
highly sensitive understanding among internal examiners of the meaning of their marks. 
This is reflected in marks sheets, which include comments on how an agreement has been 
made in relation to a borderline. Standards are strictly applied and the Oxford degree 
therefore imposes stringent tests of its students, which ensure that the degree carries 
weight nationally and internationally. This also applies to not inflating the marking at the 
top end. I would have to say that, unlike last year, I did not see any truly outstanding 
work (approaching publishable quality). This was reflected in the fact that I saw only one 
mark of 80 and the next highest was 76. The best work that I saw was of a technical kind, 
especially in the bibliographical exercise (B Essays). The Dissertations, of longer word-
length, were comparatively disappointing. However, this may reflect this particular 
cohort’s strengths. 
The work that is produced for the MSt shows that students understand the requirements 
made of them. There is no doubt that this is one of the most competitive and well-taught 
programmes of its kind in the country. The programme clearly offers first-class training 
for doctoral study. 
One area where discussion broke out at length in the final Examiners’ Meeting was in 
relation to the rules concerning the award of a Distinction. These demand a threshold in 
both the overall average and in the Dissertation mark. This rule happens to be the same as 
applies in my own university, and every year we have discussions about the outlying 
cases where a student has just missed the criteria on one component, while meeting it in 
the other. As was the case in Oxford last year, in one case this year a student did miss out 
with a very high overall average. At least one examiner felt this was a manifest injustice. 
I do not hold this view, as it seems to me that such a rule is entirely justifiable, and I 
routinely argue in favour of it in my own university. It is quite proper to award a 
Distinction only in the case both of general high quality and a particular achievement in 
the Dissertation (which corresponds to the work pursued at doctoral level). There will 
always be cases that invoke the rule; that is after all the point of having it. However, I 
agree that it is desirable to ensure transparency on this rule, by ensuring if possible that 
an External looks at the Dissertation in every case where the rule is applied. However, I 
am not in favour (as some Externals are) at looking at the whole range of material 
presented by single candidates. This seems to me a misunderstanding of the criteria for a 
Distinction, which are the combination of an overall average and the particular stipulation 
of excellence in the Dissertation.  
2. 
Comparability of standards  
The structure of the degree and the methods of the assessment are in line with those 
found in other Masters programmes in the UK. The emphasis is placed on discursive 
essays and dissertations which prepare the student for doctoral work, but there is also 
some room for technical skills such as in textual bibliography. Perhaps there might be a 
little more room for manuscript work in view of the special riches of the Bodleian. 
Although not every student has skills in this area, it is clear from the B Essays that the 
bibliographical training the students gain at Oxford is distinctive and special.  
87

I was sent full information concerning course outlines, Exam Board regulations, a 
breakdown of overall marks, a representative sample of written work, including 
borderlines, and examiners’ comments. I received a commensurate number of 
dissertations to moderate in line with other elements of the programme. The External sees 
a range of scripts across the marks reflecting the full scale of marks awarded. Every script 
marked on both sides of a borderline is seen by the External. 
The examiners’ comments, last year and this, struck me as the most professional I have 
seen. They are almost uniform in length and in style; they adjudicate precisely in relation 
to borderlines; they indicate why agreement has been made, and if not, they give an 
argument for each interpretation. However, in one case [redacted reference to identifiable 
examiner
] the comments were quite vague and inadequate. They gave a general sense of 
the opinion of the examiner but not a precise sense of the criteria used in awarding a 
mark. [Redacted reference to identifiable examiner.
In the previous year, I commented on the leeway sometimes given over poorly presented 
scholarly apparatus. It is crucial in a postgraduate degree programme that scholarly 
referencing is properly rewarded, and if inadequate, properly penalised. I felt this year 
that this had been properly observed. In cases where scholarly rules were not observed, 
the essay was penalised. There was one area, not exclusive to Oxford, where some 
warning could be given to students. This is that the reading undertaken for postgraduate 
work should include specialist items. In one extraordinary case, which did not receive a 
high mark, every secondary reference was from a Cambridge Companion.  
3. 
Processes for assessment, examination and determination of marks 
The procedures ran extremely smoothly this year. I do not think I have ever encountered 
an administrative staff more efficient, including where necessary gently correcting the 
errors of Externals. I would like to thank both the officers of the Exam Board and the 
administrators of the English Faculty for their help at all points. I was given sufficient 
time to undertake all tasks, and clear guidance in the application of the rules. I was kept 
informed both by the Office and by the Chair (Susan Jones) of everything needed to 
ensure equitable standards.  
The Exam Board was conducted in an exemplary fashion and allowed ample time for 
discussion of substantive issues. The Board meeting gives the Externals a sense of the 
programme in action, which it would be impossible to gain from scripts alone.  
In conclusion, I would reiterate that this is an excellent programme. The work of Oxford 
postgraduates is very often a pleasure to read, and their teachers work energetically and 
inspiringly in training them. 
4.  
General Comments and Good Practice 
It is clear from the standard of work produced that the Bibliographical elements in the 
course are an exceptional feature of the Oxford programme. 
 
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I would also single out as good practice the design of the comments sheets and, in general 
(with the one reservation above) the application of comments in relation to published 
criteria. Many institutions have difficulties agreeing on a precise form of words for 
criteria, and also seemingly in understanding their usefulness. 
 
Examiner: Dr Penny Fielding 
 
i) 
Academic standards. These are rigorous but fair. The amount of work, variety of 
challenges, and academic expectations presented by this programme are all appropriate 
and clearly draw the best out of the students on the M. St. The attention to bibliographic 
skills, archival research and scholarly practices equips these students well to progress to 
further research. 
ii) 
Assessment procedures. These are very satisfactory. Double blind marking is 
rigorously practised and the students’ work is clearly carefully scrutinised. Marking was 
generally very accurate and in the only major disagreement I was sent the cases were 
clearly put. Last year I had had a slight problem deciphering examiners’ handwritten brief 
notes but this didn’t occur this year. 
All regulations and guidelines were adhered to. The amount of written work sent to me as 
an external and the method of selection were appropriate. The exam office functioned 
very efficiently and the work was very promptly sent. With the final exam board in the 
middle of the summer there are likely to be issues with externals’ availability but the 
exam office coped magnificently with my being in the US during the moderating period 
and I was sent all the necessary information. 
Difficult cases were given proper attention. I felt I had a fully representative overview of 
the work undertaken for the programme. Cases where the student had just missed a 
distinction were highlighted in the final exam board and I was satisfied that the rules had 
been properly applied. 
iii) 
Student performance. This is very good indeed. I examined a range of intelligent, 
thoughtful, substantial and largely very well presented work. This year I observed an 
enthusiasm for dissertations on less well-known authors or ‘minor’ works by well-known 
authors and these choices paid off well. The best dissertation I read [redacted reference 
to identifiable student
] was an impressive combination of original thinking about a little-
read text and extensive knowledge of [redacted reference to identifiable student] other 
works and their critical context.  
 Research methods were largely excellent and there was an impressive historical 
awareness. I was again impressed by the imaginative range of topics and the excellent 
scholarly practice on display in the bibliography course, in many cases producing work of 
genuine scholarly value in its field. The very best work was quite outstanding, and I felt 
this year that examiners were confidently and appropriately using the high distinction 
marks. 
89

 
iv) 
Comparability. The standard of student achievement is as high as any institution 
in which I have examined and wholly appropriate for a major research University.  
There were a few cases of rushed work in the dissertation and internal examiners had 
commented on this in their notes. Given the relatively short time in which the dissertation 
is written (compared with masters courses in other universities) this is perhaps inevitable, 
but it would be worth stressing to students that they should leave plenty of time for final 
checks. 
As I noted last year, the pass mark is quite high at 60, when compared with other 
universities, and this means that some perfectly satisfactory work is only a couple of 
marks above the fail line. However, given the general high standards and the importance 
of identifying those candidates suitable for proceeding to Ph D, the higher pass mark is 
appropriate. 
v)  
Issues for wider discussion.  The final exam board debated the idea of sending 
dissertations that just missed a distinction to external examiners in order to demonstrate 
the security of the marking system. I would be happy with this.  
 
Examiner: Professor Andrew Thacker 
 
It is with pleasure that I report for the second time upon the M.St. course in English 
(period 1900-present day). Yet again I have been very impressed with the quality of 
work, the organisation of the course, and the attention paid to assessment during the year 
and am happy to confirm that standards for this course are equivalent to or higher than 
those of comparable universities. 
I saw a range of essays from various options across the first two terms and then a sample 
of Dissertations from the Trinity Term. The overall quality of the work was excellent, 
with some outstanding essays, especially those from the Michaelmas term on 
psychoanalysis and literature. I did not see any work that failed. This year I saw perhaps 
less work overall that gained marks at the very top end (the highest marked piece that I 
saw was 78), but this strikes me as no cause for concern as the standard of the work is 
generally very impressive. I read some well-constructed essays that took a traditional 
close reading approach to literary texts, along with others that took a more innovative and 
exciting theoretical approach to the material. The range of options available to students in 
Michaelmas and Hilary terms was again excellent, and clearly draws upon the 
outstanding research strengths of the staff.  
The standards of the marking at all times seemed appropriate with staff being diligent and 
precise in their comments. Standards of marking also seem fair and comparable across 
the different option essays and I was pleased that I saw only piece of work upon which 
internal markers could not reach a decision. The use of the feedback sheet for work was a 
welcome innovation and made very clear the basis upon which marks had been awarded. 
90

This year I think that almost all of the reports contained comments from both internal 
markers explaining their decision, which was very much appreciated. 
I also read a number of dissertations, including three which were borderline marks. 
Although I did see some notable work here I still feel that overall the work here is 
slightly disappointing in comparison to the essays, which was an issue discussed once 
again at the examiners’ meeting in July. It seems that students, quite rightly, choose 
ambitious topics for their dissertations, hoping to indicate an advance over their essay 
work, but find that the execution of the dissertation sometimes does not fulfil their 
promise. There were also a couple of cases where the choice of topic seemed rather 
unfortunate ([redacted reference to identifiable student]) and one might have expected 
the supervisor to direct the student towards a more suitable topic earlier in the process. As 
the dissertation is currently a key factor in determining the award of a distinction it is 
clearly important to ensure that students who produce excellent work earlier in the course 
are placed in the best possible position in which to fulfil their potential with their 
dissertations. 
Overall, then, I was extremely happy with conduct of the examination process for this 
course and look forward to reading the work for next year. I would also like to commend 
the Chair of the Examiners, Dr. Sue Jones, for the efficient and helpful way in which she 
ran the meetings, and to thank Emily Richards, the Graduate Studies Officer, and her 
assistant, Claire Rylatt, for their excellent administrative support throughout the year. 
 
Examiner: Professor Ian F A Bell 
 
I continue to find the experience to be a happy one. The entire examination process was 
conducted to a high degree of professionalism, and the academic standards are entirely 
commensurate with Oxford's immediate competitors, as are those of student performance. 
The assessment processes match the criteria of rigour, equity and fairness. The work I 
examined (six dissertations and eleven essays) marked a welcome increase in volume 
over last year (in the light of the comments made in my last report) and, again, were 
invariably interesting and adventurous. Of these seventeen elements, ten were graded at 
Distinction level and three were pushing at the borderline; so there was quality in 
abundance here, characterised by energy, a strong research base, fine discrimination, 
astute conceptualisations and very sophisticated argument. I enjoyed in particular the 
diversity of the topics chosen, both in the essays (where the Hilary work was especially 
eager to take things on) and the dissertations (where thoughtfulness, confidence, and a 
real sense of authority was embedded in nearly all of the work I saw). Above all, the 
products of this programme was coloured by intellectual curiosity and energy. 
There are two issues I wish to raise. The first is to consider the possibility of introducing 
a 'Merit' category between 'Pass' and 'Distinction' (say at 65%). This is common practice 
amongst many Master's programmes, and for those wishing to pursue Doctoral work, it 
could give a student an extra edge in the increasingly straitened funding regimes we are 
91

experiencing at present. The second is to return to the issue of the criteria for a 
Distinction that I commented upon last year, those students who achieve an overall 
average of 70+ (sometimes impressively so) but fall short at 68 or 69 for their 
dissertation. The Board spend some considerable time on this matter, but felt unable to 
come to any resolution. Clearly the situation would not be tenable anywhere else that I 
have examined at Master's level - particularly since all four elements of the classification 
carry equal weighting. One solution might be for an external to be charged with reading 
the student's performance in its entirety to arrive at a more judicious assessment, and the 
GSC (as the ultimate authority here) might consider this as a fairer way of dealing with 
such a student. 
 
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MST IN WOMEN’S STUDIES 2011 
 
Statistics 
There were 15 candidates for examination; all of them were women. One candidate 
submitted a dissertation deferred from last year (2009-10). Two candidates applied for 
extensions to the dissertation deadline on medical/personal grounds and were granted an 
extension until July 8th 2011. All candidates submitted their dissertations on time. Of the 
15 candidates 9 (60%) were awarded a Distinction, and none failed. In comparison with 
the previous two cohorts, more Distinctions were awarded this year. No viva voce 
examinations were held. 
Year Gender 
Distinction 
Pass 
Fail 
Unclassified 
Total 
2008-2009 Female 2 
9  1 0 
12 
 % 
17 
75 

0  100 
Male 2 
0  0 


% 100  0 


100 
2009-2010 Female 3 
12  0 0 
15 
 % 
20 
80 

0  100 
Male 1 
0  0 


% 100  0 


100 
2010-2011 Female 9 
6  0 0 
15 
 % 
60 
40 

0  100 
Male 0 
0  0 


% 0 




 
Examination Board 
The Examination Board comprised representatives from each of the contributing 
faculties, with one extra from English: 
Dr Pamela Anderson (Philosophy); Dr. Sally Bayley (English); Dr Felix Budelmann 
(Classics); Dr. Jane Garnett (History); Dr. Maria Jaschok (International Development); 
Dr Lynn Robson (English, Chair of Examiners), and Dr Helen Swift (Modern 
Languages).  
The External Examiner was Dr Rebecca Langlands, University of Exeter. She once again 
carried out her duties judiciously and with exemplary thoroughness. This was her final 
year as External Examiner and the committee extends its warm thanks to her for her 
careful work and her interest in this course and its development.  
93

As in previous years, a large number of assessors (24) was used. This is made necessary 
by the interdisciplinary nature of the programme and the variety in the work undertaken 
by the students. New examining methods and procedures (see below) were introduced 
this year to ensure consistency across the three examined elements of the course: Theory 
and Methods essay; one Option essay, and a Dissertation. 
 
New Examining Methods 
The method for examining the essay for Theory and Methods essay was retained: one 
member of the examination board marked the whole run, with 3 other board members 
acting as assessors. Once again, this approach ensured consistency, with little divergence 
between the two sets of marks. 
A new examining method introduced this year was that Option tutors and Dissertation 
Supervisors acted as first markers for the work of students they had taught and overseen. 
This change was introduced to: mitigate perceptions of unjustified bias from specialist 
assessors when they marked work undertaken by students outside their main academic 
discipline; increase the efficiency of the examining process by reducing the number of 
assessors needed, and bring the MSt in Women’s Studies into line with the examining 
conventions of other Humanities subjects within Oxford University. Two Option tutors 
refused to act as first markers, voicing concerns about this practice and they were 
replaced by experienced assessors from the relevant discipline. Some members of the 
exam board also voiced their concerns about the possibility of unjustified bias in favour 
of a student’s work. However, the External Examiner expressed her confidence in the 
system, noting its efficiency and the care taken by all examiners and assessors. She 
confirmed that she had not seen any evidence of bias in the marking. She requested that 
the examiner and assessor should be identified on the assessment forms in order to clarify 
decision-making between the markers. She also requested that examiners and assessors 
should record rationales for their final marks more clearly and in more detail. The Exam 
Board endorsed her requests. 
 The wording on the assessment sheets was expanded to remind all examiners and 
assessors of the interdisciplinary nature of the course and to take this into account when 
awarding marks. 
 
Procedures 
Approval of Titles: The Exam Board met in 7th Week of Hilary Term to approve titles 
for the Approaches to Feminist Research essay and Dissertation. Further clarification was 
requested and received from two students. Students submitted their titles electronically 
which improved the speed and efficiency of this process. 
Marking: The marking went very smoothly this year. Concerns about the tight timetable 
between the submission of the Dissertations (Friday of 8th Week of Trinity Term), the 
deadline for final marks and the final Examiners’ Board – with the consequent pressure 
94

on the examiners, assessors and (particularly) the External Examiner - were addressed by 
moving the Examiners’ Board back by one week and moving the deadline for marks for 
the Theory and Methods and Option essays forward to the end of 7th Week in Trinity. 
Although this still represents a heavy workload for the External Examiner, with a very 
tight timetable, the earlier deadline for 2 of the 3 assessed components meant that she was 
able to see these pieces earlier than in previous years. The improved administrative 
support (see below) meant that markers received scripts much more quickly which also 
eased the pressure on timing.  
 
General Comments 
The quality of work across all assessed components was very high which is reflected in 
the number of Distinctions awarded this year. The MSt in Women’s Studies is a strong 
programme which attracts high-achieving students who produce work notable for its 
quality and range. This year the portfolios of the 3 assessed elements displayed a much 
greater coherence and often demonstrated creative engagement with some of the most 
recent developments in feminist thinking and writing. One student was sent a 
congratulatory letter after achieving an overall mark of 78%.  
The request from the previous Board that the Dissertation should be double-weighted has 
not been implemented. The Board repeats its request that this change in calculating the 
final marks should be implemented in 2011-12. 
The administration of the course was much improved this year with every element of the 
examining process running smoothly and to schedule. The Board thanks Dr Stephen Lay 
for his efficiency and dedication in working to bring about such welcome improvements.  
 
Dr Lynn Robson 
Chair of Examiners    
95

REPORTS OF THE EXTERNAL EXAMINERS FOR MST IN WOMEN’S 
STUDIES 2011 
 
Examiner: Dr Rebecca Langlands 
 
This was my third and final year as external examiner on this degree programme and I 
would like to express my gratitude to all who have been involved in it over the past three 
years, and have made it a pleasurable and rewarding experience for me. The programme 
itself continues to thrive and to attract high quality students from a range of disciplines. 
The range of courses that are on offer to them and the quality and intensity of teaching 
they receive are exceptional. The academic standards set by the programme are 
appropriate and comparable to those in other institutions This year every single piece of 
work produced was of high quality, meriting at least a pass mark, and the majority of the 
students were justly awarded distinctions overall. I am happy to see that, perhaps as a 
result of amended marking criteria, markers are making more use of marks in the high 
distinction range (76%+) for work at the high end. 
Administrative support 
Following my criticisms of last year, I would like to record how smoothly the 
examination process went this year, and to thank Dr Stephen Lay for his efficiency in 
conveying all the material to me and responding to my queries throughout the process. 
Marking and responses to last year’s comments 
The Women’s Studies Standing Committee has responded very effectively to all my 
comments and suggestions from last year’s report. The examination conventions have 
been amended so that Dissertations will receive double-weighting in 2011-12, and the 
cover sheets and handbook have also been amended. The responses to my comments 
about the special challenges of undertaking and of marking interdisciplinary work seem 
to have had very beneficial results. This year there was very little discrepancy between 
the two markers for each piece of work, and the agreed marks seem to have been arrived 
at with ease. Each student produced a coherent portfolio of work that by and large 
seemed to have allowed them to realise their potential. One change in procedure is that 
the supervisor of the dissertation is now one of the markers. There was some discussion 
in the Exam Board about the possible disadvantages of this system – especially that the 
supervisor is personally invested in the final mark – and some markers had felt 
uncomfortable with it. However, it had also brought significant benefits; it made it much 
easier to find markers for the dissertations and ensured that they could be subject 
specialists. Last year problems had arisen when markers were not specialists in the area 
of dissertations they were marking. My own feeling is that having the supervisor as one 
of the markers is absolutely acceptable (and indeed it is the practice in most other 
universities). It is imperative, of course, that all marks should be reached fairly, with clear 
reference to the published marking criteria, and that they be fully justified by comments 
96

from the marker, and that the marking process be fully transparent. The clear marking 
criteria that you have in place, and full documentation of the marking process will ensure 
that the system remains fair.  
Full documentation of marking process 
It is all the more important that the marking process is fully documented. This year the 
process was mostly very transparent and the comments of the markers were very helpful 
in showing how they had reached their marks. However, despite the addition of a section 
for explaining how agreed marks had been reached when there was a significant 
difference between the marks of the two markers, there was a very small number of 
occasions were this was not documented on the sheet and I had to ask for further 
information. It should be standard that any discussion between markers – whether via 
email, in person, on the telephone – should be reference, at least briefly, on the sheet, 
with explanation of the agreed mark provided. I suggest that the system could be 
streamlined slightly by identifying the two markers not as First and Second (which can 
cause confusion and leave it unclear whose responsibility it is to record this agreed 
mark), but as e.g. Assessor and Examiner, where one is the supervisor and the other the 
blind marker, and by specifying which of these needs to record and explain the agreed 
mark. My feeling is that this small change would clarify the process for the makers and 
lead to a better “paper trail”. 
 
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MST IN FILM AESTHETICS 2011 
 
Still awaiting report from Dr Reider Due. 
 
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REPORT OF THE EXTERNAL EXAMINERS FOR MST IN FILM AESTHETICS 
2011 
 
Examiner: Dr Geoffrey Nowell-Smith 
 
This is the fourth year the course has been in operation and also my fourth and final year 
as External Examiner. I am pleased to report that all teething troubles have been 
overcome and that this year – partly due to the work of the course team and partly to the 
exceptional cohort of students recruited – has been the best yet. 
My answers to the questions raised in the university guidelines, are as follows: 
 i) Whether the academic standards set for its awards, or part thereof, are appropriate 
They are. 
ii) The extent to which its assessment processes are rigorous, ensure equity of treatment 
for students and have been fairly conducted within institutional regulations and guidance 
The processes are rigorous, ensure equity of treatment, and follow best practice in all 
relevant respects.  
iii) The standards of student performance in the programmes or parts of programmes 
which they have been appointed to examine 
Student performance was of a high standard overall and even higher this year than in 
previous years. 
iv) Where appropriate, the comparability of the standards and student achievements with 
those in some other higher education institutions 
The standards compare very favourably with those in other institutions where I have 
examined. The pass mark is set at a level which in some institutions would constitute a 
Merit. This year all the students comfortably achieved this level. There was also a high 
proportion of Distinctions awarded (6/10) and three more students came close to the 
borderline. In my judgement all the awards were thoroughly justified. 
v) Issues which should be brought to the attention of supervising committees in the 
faculty/department, division or wider University 
None, really. 
vi) Good practice that should be noted and disseminated more widely as appropriate 
Nothing in particular to note. But I was struck, as in previous years, by the thoroughness 
and scrupulousness of the marking of all components of the examination (unseen paper, 
essays, dissertation). 
 
 
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vii) Other comments 
During the first three years when I was external examiner most of the teaching and 
marking was done by the two specialists responsible for the course, with various inputs 
from non-specialists from related fields. This introduced a beneficial variety in the course 
as a whole but with occasional slight (and I mean slight) inconsistency in marking 
procedures which needed to be ironed out in the final stages when the external examiner 
was asked to approve the marks after a paper had already been read by three tutors. This 
year the outside input was limited to the provision of seminars and all supervision and 
marking was carried out by the two specialists. The result was greater consistency but 
also, I thought (though cause and effect are not easy to determine in such cases), a certain 
narrowing of focus. I am told that next year a third person will be more involved in the 
teaching and marking, thus restoring some of the variety, but without the attendant risk of 
incoherence. My successor as external will thus have less to carp at – indeed, quite 
possibly, nothing at all. 
Finally I should like to congratulate the tutors involved on creating an excellent and 
unique course and on continuing to refine it over the years. The students enrolled on the 
course also deserve congratulation for the quality of their work. I offer them all my very 
best wishes and hope that, despite funding cuts, those who hope to pursue further study in 
the field, for example as students for a higher degree, will be able to do so. 
 
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MST IN MEDIEVAL STUDIES 2011 
 
Part I 
 
Statistics  
Category 
Numbers Numbers Numbers Percentage Percentage Percentage
 
2010/11 2009/10 2008/09 2010/11  2009/10 
2008/09 
Distinction 
3 4 4 37.50 
44.44 
50.00 
Pass 5 5 4 62.50 
55.56 
50.00 
Partial 
re-sit 
      
 
Incomplete 
      
 
Fail 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Summary of innovations in practice  
This was the third year of the full programme. The eight candidates once again spread 
their choice of options across disciplines and periods, and their dissertations engaged 
with a very diverse range of issues in medieval history and culture. The Examination 
Board included two members from the previous year – Dr Cathy Oakes (Continuing 
Education, History of Art) and Dr Gervase Rosser (History of Art Department: Chair) – 
and two new members – Dr Nicholas Perkins (English Faculty) and the External 
Examiner, Dr Craig Taylor (Centre for Medieval Studies, York University). 
The teaching, supervision and assessment process followed was essentially the same as 
that observed in 2009-10. Following previous practice but in a slightly more controlled 
and consequently effective way, candidates made presentations of their developing 
dissertation projects at meetings of the Medieval Church and Culture Seminar in Trinity 
Term, giving the opportunity to learn from feedback from a range of medievalists.  
 
Summary of further changes proposed  
No changes to the course are proposed by this Board. However, there was some 
discussion of the assessment of Latin Palaeography and Codicology, especially in 
comparison to the parallel classes offered in English Language and Literature and 
Medieval and Modern Languages. No criticism was voiced, but only a concern that 
students taking these various courses should have a broadly equivalent experience of 
teaching and assessment. The question is referred to the Steering Committee for review.  
 
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Examination conventions are currently published on the faculty website.  
 
Part II 
 
General comments on the examination  
(i) Standards of performance 
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 
[teaching provided by]:  
•  Aquinas – Advanced Reading Class [Theology] (3);  
•  Medieval Arthurian Literature [English] (1);  
•  Jews and Christians in Medieval Europe [History] (1);  
•  Byzantium: History, Art and Archaeology [Late Antique and Byzantine Studies] 
(1); Gothic Art [History of Art] (1);  
•  Ecrire la sainteté au moyen âge [Modern Languages] (1);  
•  The Twelfth-Century Renaissance [History] (4);  
•  Saints and Sanctity in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages [History] (2);  
•  Magic and Witchcraft in Medieval Western Christendom [History] (2).  
Thesis topics chosen were equally varied: 
•  Langland, self and sacrament: The conjunction of Piers Plowman and the Lay 
Folks’ Mass Book in Cambridge, Newnham College, MS. 4 
•  Pathways to knowledge in the ‘Didot-Perceval’ and the second continuation of the 
‘Conte du Graal’ 
•  The status of the ‘sacred’ tree in medieval Ireland 
•  Jewish-Christian visual exegesis: Architectural drawing in Richard of St Victor’s 
‘De visionem Ezechielis’ 
•  ‘In this strangest of theatres’: The interpretation of difference in later medieval 
pilgrimage to Egypt 
•  Ritual magic and hypnotism in the late Middle Ages 
•  Male saints, male bodies, and masculinity as represented in Old French 
hagiographies 
•  The survival of the pagan gods in MS Rawlinson B.214: The form and formation 
of a fifteenth-century cycle 
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This paragraph repeats the remarks of the previous year’s Board, since the sentiments 
were equally felt this year. The Board considered that the work in general showed an 
impressive range and ambition. With regard in particular to Theses, it was again felt that 
while some had embraced the challenge of crossing disciplinary boundaries, in one or 
two cases very good work could have yielded still better results, had this core aim of the 
MSt programme been more fully engaged. Another general impression noted by the 
markers of the Theses was that while some candidates showed a sophisticated awareness 
of theoretical issues and methods, others appeared to be less aware of these. It would be 
worth reiterating these points in future years to Supervisors. 
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. This seminar was 
again complemented by a public lecture from a distinguished Medieval Studies Visiting 
Lecturer: Dr Christopher Page (Cambridge University), who spoke about medieval 
music. 
The separate Research Methods Workshop complemented this, uniting students around 
discussion of common core issues. 
(ii) Comments on examination processes  
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, including the 
recently agreed Tariffs for Inadequacies in History Examinations (Appendix). 
The marking of the Palaeography and Codicology element this year gave rise to some 
discussion in the Board as to the aims of this part of the degree, and as to the appropriate 
mode and weighting of its assessment. The Board was strongly encouraged by the 
External Examiner to affirm the value of the Palaeography and Codicology component in 
its present form. In his judgement the use of relevant manuscript skills displayed by 
candidates in their theses indicated that the teaching of these core skills for medievalists 
was effective. The Board, however, recommends that the Steering Committee for the 
course give fresh attention to the question of the parity of the different courses offered 
under this heading, for example Old English, German, French, and Latin. There had been 
no issue in this connection this year affecting any classification, but it was important that 
students should feel that these different options were genuinely equivalent. 
General faculty management of the process (please comment specifically on whether all 
aspects of the prescribed timetable were adhered to, and if not, why not) 
The Graduate Studies Office of the History Faculty again provided valuable support to 
the course throughout the year, including the examination process. The Secretary for 
Graduate Studies in History, Hubert Stadler, oversaw the various stages of assessment. 
The timetable agreed in advance was adhered to.  
 
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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 Chair of the Examination Board 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, with one exception. An assessed essay arising from the Option in Medieval 
Arthurian Literature, which is taught within the English Faculty, remained in the English 
Faculty rather than being passed over to the Medieval Studies Examination Board for its 
final meeting. This did not affect any issue of classification in this instance; but it is 
important for the future to ensure that all essays are available to the Medieval Studies 
MSt Board, including its External Examiner – not with any intention to revisit the marks 
awarded, but in order that the Board should have a complete picture of each candidate’s 
performance. Having access to this material could, for example, help to explain or 
contextualize an apparently anomalous mark in a candidate’s profile. 
Role of external examiners 
The new External Examiner for the degree, Dr Craig Taylor, was kept informed of the 
examination process throughout the academic year. He arrived in Oxford in time to be 
able to assess the marked components of the degree prior to the final Board meeting. He 
was asked to moderate marks in a small number of cases, and he was able to sample 
materials from across the range of work completed by candidates. He was able to 
comment on the course from the perspective of one involved in delivering the longer 
established Medieval Studies Master’s programme in York University. His contribution 
was much appreciated and he was formally thanked. 
At what date was all paperwork completed, allowing examiners to be paid? 
July 2011. 
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? 
One candidate for the degree in 2010 had been granted permission to submit the thesis in 
Hilary Term 2011, for marking in due course by the present Board. Although the 
candidate was given informal guidance to assist the completion of this thesis, it was not 
in the event submitted. 
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? 
No. 
 
 
 
 
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Equal opportunities and gender issues  
 
2010/11 2009/10 2008/09 



Category Number 
Number 
Number 
male 
male 
male 
wom
wom
wom
  
men 
 men 
 men 
 
en 
en 
en 
25.0
25.0
Distinction 
0 3 0.00 
1 3 
1 3 


25.0
20.0
75.0
Pass 1 
4  1 4 
3 1 



Fail 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Incomplete 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
12.5
22.2
50.0
Total 1 

2 7 
4 4 



Name of chair of examiners: Gervase Rosser  
 
105

REPORT OF THE EXTERNAL EXAMINERS FOR THE MST IN MEDIEVAL 
STUDIES 2011 
 
Examiner: Dr Craig Taylor 
 
I am pleased to offer my report on the MSt in Medieval Studies for the academic year 
2010 to 2011.  
In this, my first year of external examining for this MSt, I was delighted to find an 
outstanding degree run with the highest professionalism by a range of staff from different 
faculties and with the able administrative support of Hubert Stadler from the History 
Faculty. The structure and design of the academic programme is exemplary, with 
candidates offered an impressive range of taught options and particular emphasis placed 
on training in the specific skills required of a medievalist. 
The eight candidates this year have produced work of the highest calibre, demonstrating 
great scholarship and learning, together with outstanding proficiency in palaeography, 
codicology and the comprehension of Latin and the appropriate medieval vernaculars. 
The success of the skills training is demonstrated by the fact that the majority of 
dissertations made excellent use of manuscripts, taking advantage of the resources 
available here in Oxford or in nearby locations. Three students merited distinctions, but 
the real measure of this year's cohort lies in the fact that even the lowest ranked 
individual still produced very good work and earned a strong pass. 
The majority of students prepared dissertations that built on the work that they had done 
for earlier Options, which in turn ensured a strong academic foundation for these research 
projects. There was a clear line of progression and development in their work, with the 
dissertations effectively serving as extended explorations of themes that had emerged 
from the Options. The unique challenge for the students on this particular MSt is to 
engage with the wider opportunities represented by interdisciplinary approaches to these 
projects. The fact that the degree runs for nine rather than twelve months, as is the case 
for most comparable Masters in Medieval Studies in the United Kingdom, does make this 
task somewhat harder, but to a large degree the students were successful in this effort. I 
would encourage the Convenor and tutors running this MSt to continue to think about 
ways in which to develop interdisciplinary approaches on the part of the students.  
 
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