Examiners Reports – PtII Sociology – June 2022
External Examiner’s report:
Chair of ptII Examiners’ Report:
This academic year we had the unprecedented experience of not having an External
Examiner’s oversight of our assessment procedures during the Examination period
and Board due to strike action.
resigned in April 2022, so she did
oversee and confirmed our exam questions.
As soon as we knew she wouldn’t be overseeing the Exam Board, I email all
examiners to let them know and we approached two other people to come forward
as External Examiners and they declined for the same reasons. I informed them that,
after consultation with the DUGE and HoD we were going to proceed to this marking
period without an External Examiner. To conduct our examination procedure in the
best way possible, I urged all to read the External Examiner reports of the last three
years and note the suggestions they have made to us as well as the commendations
to our excellent standards of marking. I also asked everyone to specially be very
mindful that there is no one to help us if we have a serious disagreement with marks
and we will have to collaborate with each other and decide amongst ourselves. I
asked the Examiners to distribute the work of double checking if we can avoid
borderline marks as much as possible as usually we only notice this once both
marks have been averaged. I asked the UG secretary to send back to the pairs of
markers and the paper organiser the final marks lists to double check borderline
averaged cases and confirm them or adjust them and we did this. We also agreed
that If it is not possible to adjust marks and we have a serious disagreement we will
then ask in the first instance the paper organiser (if not involved in the specific
marking of that script) to make a decision or to another UTO in the department to
intervene. In the last instance I will look at these cases and decide. We were prepare
in case we might needed to ask the first set of markers for a couple of lines for the
decision so we can have this as evidence of our rationale and marking rigour which
will be followed by the one (paper organiser, UTO or Chair of Examiners) making the
final decision. While this didn’t occur as a request from the markers before the exam,
we did have to go through some borderline cases in the exam board, taking extra
time to confirm or amend marks.
We also had strikes affecting the teaching and making students nervous about
revising for topics they didn’t received lectures on. I asked examiners to revise their
exams and reflect on the way the strike as affecting their paper content and decide if
necessary to revise exam questions or add new questions to mitigate the affect of
the strikes. All examiners engaged in with some deciding to add extra questions to
their exam paper.
The examination was conducted online, open book and with no word limit for all
papers, with some few exceptions which had to do with the logic of the assessment.
The examiners reports below, and my impression as Chair, is that we continue to
deliver a highly consistent and rigorous marking with all markers approaching the
task with due diligence. Our students continue to deliver high quality work and
appear more adjusted to the online format with more opportunities to prepare for this
circumstance which seems to be continuing for the foreseeable future. Students and
markers in the Department continue to do extremely well with the preparation and
execution of online examinations.
However, there has been an on-going rise in overall firsts with this year having
70.3% (26 students) and 2.7% of starred firsts (1 student) and only 24.3% (9
students) in the 2.1 band. This is noticeable and requires further reflection. This was
already noticed last year, and it seems that the conditions of online examinations
being open book, with notes and books available for students plus the opportunities
afforded by word processors, even with a reduced time window, correlate with the
rise in overall first-class marks attained. Our marking criteria has not been adapted
to reflect these changes, which was already noticed by last year’s Chair of
Examiners and our markers below and I think we need to revise it to have a clearer
set of parameters, which also reflect the effect on markers of reading word-
processed exams. It is also worth noticing that overall, the exam questions and
coursework map onto the topics/lectures in most of the papers. This was encouraged
to lessen students’ anxiety around not knowing what would come up in the exams
but could be read now as predictability. The previous rationale still stands so this
year challenge is to explore more of a balance around reassurance and uncertainty.
One way forward is to explore more cross topics/lectures questions, but this would
need us reflecting on how supervisions are offered, as supervisions also are built on
We also continue to notice cases of academic misconduct – arisen mainly with the
online modality-, which were all thoroughly investigated. We held a special meeting
to consider them and were mostly found to be minor breaches that required marking
adjustments, to only take account of students original work. We have noticed the
need to remind students of the use of Turnitin and we have all agreed to bring the
issue of academic misconduct to lectures and supervisions.
It is also worth noticing that we have been trailing to great success other forms of
assessment. We have 2 papers (SOC9 and SOC12), blending exams and
coursework which is encouraging those students who are not as confident in exams
to perform better, and also given them some range of options. Also we have one
paper (SOC5) that uses a multiple choice exam section. And we continue with our
essay-based paper (SOC4) and dissertation. We have now more elements to
discuss if the standard three-question exam is sufficient, or whether we can
incorporate coursework, long essays, critical reviews, or essay portfolios into the
SOC2: Social Theory;
The overall exam performance was excellent. Some of the candidates made a real
effort to answer the questions and to develop independent arguments whilst
engaging innovatively with the reading material. Other candidates tended to
summarise authors’ positions and made less of an effort to develop an innovative
position. Here are some detailed comments:
Q.1 Essays often lacked an evaluative dimension, failing to demonstrate the
relevance of Mead’s understanding of the relationship between self and society.
Q.2 Answers on Goffman were notable for the inclusion of a wide range of his work.
Some candidates paid inadequate attention to his dramaturgical method.
Q.3 Responses generally concentrated on broad overviews of Existentialism with
scant references to texts.
Q4: Some students failed to elaborate on the precise role of language. As this was a
central component of the question, it needed further elaboration.
Q.5 Some candidates were inattentive to Bourdieu’s texts and key concepts –
turning too quickly to an analysis of contemporary examples.
Q8: Sometimes the students present an uncritical reconstruction of the main
arguments of the central authors covered under this rubric. More critical engagement
would have been welcome.
Q.9 The best essays included careful reflections on key theorists and incisive
comparisons and contrasts. Some students neglected diversity in theoretical
perspectives and failed to explain central concepts ex. coloniality, decolonial, anti-
Q10: Sometimes the candidates failed to explain clearly what genealogy entails. A
clearer exposition of ‘genealogy’ would have been important.
Q16: Surprisingly, some students focused on Arendt’s The Human Condition
replicating POL 1 essays. They failed to engage properly with her thoughts on
Q18: Some students failed to engage with Lakatos’ development of falsificationism.
There was the occasional misrepresentation (e.g. portraying Marx as ‘inductivist’ and
SOC3: Modern Societies II – Global Social Problems and Dynamics of
2021-22 was a year that kept some challenge but also some more flexibility in that
the teaching team and students were more used to a combination of teaching online
and in person, as well as mix of supervisions online and in person. SOC3 is very
popular and had a total of 106 students registered, although 6 students withdrew.
The 100 students that finally took the paper were offered 3, of the 4 modules that
make up the paper, online, with either pre-recorded or live zoom teaching as well as
live zoom seminars. One of the modules was offered in person. Unfortunately, the
paper, like most was affected by the strike so the in person module only had one
Students showed up unevenly to lectures but supervisions worked well as per usual.
Like all assessments, the SOC3 in 21-22 was remote, open book with no word limit.
Overall students performed well on the assesment. Of the 100 students that sat the
exam, 1% failed, 1% got a 3rd, 12% earned a lower band 2.1 (62-65), 51% an upper
band 2.1 (65-69) and 35% a 1st , of which 26 students earned a 70 or 71 and 8
ranged from 72 to 75.
This shows a rise of firsts from last year which had 96 students and 20% earned a
1st, but shows a different distribution in the 2.1 band. Last year 61% earned an upper
band 2.1 and 14% earned a lower band 2.1. and also had 3% with a 3rd and 3%
The issue of the difference of high 2.1s and lower 1sts (70-71) remains, and the
need of strategies to help markers differentiate.
As before, the exam was divided so that students had to answer one question from
the two modules in one term and two questions from the two modules in the other.
This ensured that students covered a range of topics. Similar to last year, students
were encouraged to seek out their own examples to test the theories and concepts in
this paper, and many demonstrated their facility with this type of analysis in their
exam answers. This often allowed these students to generate insight, which, when
combined with the presentation of excellent understanding and a clear and well-
structured argument, resulted in earning high marks.
SOC4: Concepts and Arguments in Sociology; examiner:
The marks for SOC4 were well-balanced and generally in the 2:1 and 1 range.
Students scored much better on the second essay than on the first one. Overall,
students did very well and enjoyed the variety of questions offered in the paper. We
outlined several issues that will be communicated better to students regarding the
essays’ aims in the introductory lecture this upcoming year.
First essay: students who scored lower on the first essay tended to spend more time
searching for their voice, and those who scored the lowest did not manage to
present a good case for their argument. We will make sure to highlight and present
the aim of the first essay in more detail during the introductory session at the
beginning of the new term to tackle this problem. We will also give clearer directions
to the supervisors to avoid other issues that examiners tackled in the first essay, for
example, weak structures, relying on heavy quotations instead of clearer
explanations, and confusions with some key theoretical concepts.
Second essay: students scored much better on the second essay. Examiners noted
how the essays were well-structured, engaging, focusing a lot more on original
arguments and exposing student’s voice. Students this year seemed to like the
paper, but specifically, the Lent term questions range as it prepares them very well to
explore their potential dissertation topics.
SOC5/CRIM2: Statistics and Methods; examiner:
35 students took the Soc 5 exam at the end of the 2021-22 academic year (a further
student was registered for the paper but did not take the exam, and the paper was
audited by 8 students, mainly postgraduates, who did not take the exam).
The exam format was changed from the previous year. The coursework option which
had been trialled last year was dropped, and a multiple-choice examination replacing
one of the written questions in Part A, was introduced. The multiple-choice exam
was online and open-book; cheating and collaboration were prevented by producing
different versions of each question and each student being faced with different sets
of questions plus potential answers appearing in randomized order. Students also
took a written exam where they chose one essay on quantitative methods, and one
essay on either survey methods or qualitative methods.
The multiple-choice exam
The introduction of this multiple-choice exam was, I believe, a huge success, for the
• It examined students on the entire course content. It may be appropriate in
other papers to assess students on essays on 2-3 topics, but arguably a
quantitative methods course should expect students to understand the entire
• It provides a change from the predominant form of assessment in Sociology,
which is via essay-writing (either in exam or long-essay context). The multiple-
choice test allows students to demonstrate a different set of skills relating to
• Students cannot prepare answers for this test, but have to prepare by working
on an understanding of the material. This is valuable in an age of online open-
• Marking is done automatically. This does not save time, because any time
saved in marking is taken up in setting the exam. But it does mean that the
marks for this section are definitive and reconciliation is not required.
There were some administrative problems, which I will outline below.
• As an “alternative form of assessment”, the multiple-choice exam did not
appear on the exam timetable, and I was responsible for scheduling and
administering the exam and ensuring that students were aware of the
arrangements. This placed a greater burden on me than was necessary, and
in future I will explore the possibility of this exam being covered in the
standard exam schedule.
Other changes to be explored for next year:
• The multiple-choice section included questions ranging from easy to fairly
challenging. Marks ranged from 57% to 100% (one student only) with a mean
of 85. I think the overall level was reasonable, and the test produced a good
spread of marks, but the mean of 85 was rather too high. This being the first
year that the multiple-choice exam had run, I had erred on the side of caution
and not included any “killer” questions; next year I will maintain a broadly
similar level, but will introduce a number of much more challenging questions
which will ensure that scores of over 90% will be obtained only by students
with an exceptional understanding of the material.
• The material in the quantitative section of Soc 5 is cumulative, and it’s always
clear that the students who do best are those who have attended regularly
and participated actively in lectures and labs. The hybrid delivery model
meant that fewer students showed up to classes in person, and this was
reflected in some rather low marks at the bottom end. Some students
suggested that having multiple-choice tests at more regular intervals may
encourage students to work steadily, and I think this is a good idea.
The quantitative methods written questions – Part A
Students chose one out of three questions in Section A (Quantitative Methods).
Factor Analysis had not been covered in the course due to industrial action, so a
question on that subject that would have appeared in the exam was replaced with a
question on cross-tabulations.
The quantitative methods questions cannot be prepared for except by learning the
subject matter and are mainly immune to the “cut and paste” issues which arise in
open-book online exams. The exception is the short initial section of each question,
which asks about a specific technique, but which don’t ask students to analyse
Average marks for questions A1, A2 and A3 were 51%, 66% and 64% respectively.
The low average mark for question A1 reflected the fact that this question was
selected by weaker students.
Survey Methods questions – Part B
In Part B, students chose one question from Survey Methods or Qualitative Methods,
with more students choosing a Survey Methods questions. The average mark for the
survey methods questions B1, B2 and B3 was 67% for each question, with marks
ranging from the 50s to the high 70s. I believe the Survey Methods questions did not
fare as well as the Part A questions in the context of the online, open-book exam,
since students were able to adapt essays that they had written for a survey methods
supervision, and if this section is to remain as part of the course, the relationship
between supervision questions and exam questions may have to be reconsidered.
Qualitative Methods questions – Part B
Mean marks for the qualitative methods questions A4, A5 and A6 were, respectively,
67, 66 and 66, with marks ranging from the low 60s to 77.5%.
SOC6: Advanced Social Theory; examiner:
Ten students took this paper in 2021-22 and nine completed the online three-
question exam. Of these nine students, one earned 1*, four earned 1, three earned
2.1, and one earned 2.2. The highest mark was 80, and the lowest was 58. The
exam consisted of nine question topics that corresponded to the lectures, and that
were presented in either/or format for a total of eighteen questions. Students could
opt to answer two questions for one topic, but no students selected this option.
Questions that students selected spanned across the full range of questions, with
pluralizing social theory (6), decolonial theory and CRT (5), more-than-human
sociologies (3), and environmental futures (3) being frequently selected topics.
Students engaged with these and other lecture topics to a very high level and
demonstrated exceptional understanding of advanced social theory.
The answers to questions that displayed the highest level of attainment include those
that effectively synthesized lecture readings to a high level of analysis, while
incorporating compelling empirical evidence along with additional readings. Answers
that were good had a solid grasp of the material but tended to focus on summary
more than extensive analysis and original insights. Responses that were less robust
tended to demonstrate inaccuracies in understanding and analysing social theory
The online format seemed to work well for ensuring that answers were well written,
effectively structured, thorough and rigorous.
SOC7: Media, Culture and Society; examiner:
The SOC7 exam in 2021-22 was a remote, open-book examination. It had to be
completed within a 3-hour window and there was no word limit. A total of 42 students
took the exam. One student withdrew.
On the whole, the students did extremely well. Of 42 students who took the exam, 18
students received a 2.1, 20 students received a 1, and 4 students received a 1*. The
lowest mark was 62 and the highest mark was 76. No students received a 2.2 and
no students failed the exam. No instances of possible plagiarism or misconduct were
The exam was undivided and consisted of 16 questions that mapped onto the 16
paper topics. Since there were UCU strikes in Lent Term, as exam mitigation
students were given an option of two questions for every topic that had fallen on a
strike day and could pick one.
The questions on mediated intimacy and everyday digital technologies and inequality
proved the most popular with more than 20 students choosing to answer each of
these questions. The questions on surveillance and privacy, the quantified self, the
visual field and racialization, and subcultures were also favoured, with each being
answered by over 10 students. On the other hand, the questions on photographs
and representation, audiences, and journalism were each answered by just one or
two students, and no student opted to answer the questions on intellectuals and
witnessing. The remaining questions were answered by between 4 and 10 students.
Students whose arguments were focused, sustained, and demonstrated insight and
originality (often developed through applying theories and concepts to their own
examples and reflecting back critically on the theories and concepts through this
analysis) received a 1 or 1*. Those who displayed good arguments from the
literature, and a good understanding of the literature, earned 2.1s. Overall, students
displayed a sound grasp of the material and were able to confidently engage with the
concepts and theories they worked with in their essays. Many also effectively applied
the concepts covered in the lectures to analyse contemporary developments in
media, culture and society.
SOC8: War and Revolution; examiner:
This was the second year that Soc 8 had reverted to its original topic (War and
Revolution) after a three-year pause. It was presented in the form of nine two-hour
sessions, five in Michaelmas and four in Lent – all taught in-person.
Four students registered, and two audited (one postgraduate and another on a term
abroad from the University of Pennsylvania). Three of the registered students sat for
the exam, and the fourth submitted a long essay due to medical reasons. All
received firsts: 73, 74, 74, 75.
This is an excellent performance, especially in light of the uncertainty and disruptions
of this transitional year to post-pandemic teaching. Students seemed quite engaged
with the readings and participated actively in class discussions.
SOC9: Global Capitalism; examiner:
Last year we introduced a new mode of assessment for Soc 9, so this is our second
year with the new format. Prior to 2020-21, students were assessed by an exam that
comprised one essay question and ten short answer questions. The new mode of
assessment introduced in 2020-21 was a 50-50 split between exam (two essay
questions) and one 5,000-word coursework essay. We also introduced a new
structure for the course, that directly relates to the coursework essay: the first 12
lectures are now the core course, taken by all students, then in the second half of
Lent term the students take an optional module for four weeks. Their essay topic
relates to the optional module – each module comprises four lectures and each
lecture has at least one suggested essay question.
The deadline for the coursework essay is early in the Easter break. In Lent term the
students receive three supervisions – the first is on a core course topic and the
remaining two are on the coursework essay. Optional modules this year were
beyond labour, finance, environment, biocapital/public health, and feminist and
gender economics (see below for further detail).
Results (2020-21 results are in brackets)
0 (1) *
This year, five students received a First, 12 students received a 2:1 and no students
received a 2:2 or a Third (and no students failed). As the table shows, by comparison
with last year, the performance is worse (although this year no students gained less
than a 2:1). Two more students gained a First in the essay than in the exam (last
year it was three more). Performance between exam and essay was less consistent
for Firsts but more consistent for 2:1s: only two out of six Firsts students gained a
first in both this year, whereas eight out of nine Firsts last year achieved this; seven
out of 12 gained a 2:1 in both essay and exam, whereas six out of eight students
achieved this last year; four students gained a first in the essay and a 2:1 in the
exam (three last year); and two students gained a first in the exam and a 2:1 in the
essay (only one last year). There were three students whose exam mark was four or
more points lower than their coursework mark, and two of these crossed the grade
boundary between 2:1 and First. Two students gained a First based on their essay
(i.e. exam was graded 2:1) and one student had the reverse (i.e. First overall but 2:1
Although less so than last year, these results are consistent with the view that there
is a portion of undergraduate students who perform markedly better in coursework
than in exam. As noted last year, this would suggest that the general reliance within
the Tripos on assessment by exam is unfairly penalising many of our students. We
continue to received positive feedback from students on the new mode of
My impression is that this year answers were more evenly spread across the range
of questions. Only the industrialisation question attracted no answers (it may be that
overlap with the varieties of capitalism question may have put students off). The
question on labour process theory was most popular, answered by six students (this
reflects the popularity of the new optional module on work, see below). The second
most popular questions were on varieties of capitalism, property rights and class,
each of which was answered by four students. The question on state regulation was
most popular last year but was only answered by three students this year, and the
same number of students tackled the questions on money, gender and
financialisation. The military-industrial complex remains unpopular but at least one
student answered it this year, whereas none did the previous year and the
competition/monopoly question also attracted only one answer.
The best essays both went well beyond the lecture and core readings, and brought
in interesting empirical examples to support their argument. Common issues with
weaker essays included failing to demonstrate reading beyond the core
readings/lecture and a failure to define key terms in the essay question.
We had one additional module on offer this year (on work/labour market). This was
the most popular option, chosen by seven students. Six students chose the finance
module (one less than last year), three students chose the environment module (but
one intermitted), and one student chose the feminist and gender economics module
(down from four last year) and one student chose the biocapital/public health module
(but this was another late intermission). As with last year, the supervisors reported
that they found that the students were much more engaged than in regular
supervisions. This is again reflected in the quality of the final essays, although not as
consistently this year. The essays were generally of a high standard but we had
fewer that were excellent.
Considerations for next year
We will continue with the blend of coursework and exam assessment and the blend
of core course and optional modules. Student feedback was positive on both these
SOC10: Gender; examiner:
This academic year we provided 17 lectures covering a broad range of topics in the
sociology of gender. This year, we had pre-recorded lectures and in-person
seminars. Final grades ranged between 52 and 76, with an average of 71.5. Despite
low attendance, the final grades show an excellent quality of students’ and lecturers’
All teaching should be in person next year (with exceptions when needed). During
the last UTO meeting, the concern with student attendance going down to historic
lows has been an important motivation to resume in-person teaching.
Reducing undergraduate teaching from 32 to 24 hours should give more time for
MPhil teaching/ supervising/increasing contact hours. The suggestion is to cut down
the number of lectures per term from 8 to 6. That way we will offer 12 lectures in
total. The lecture on queer and trans should become two separate lectures. Students
consistently suggested this in the evaluations.
As exams continue to be online, we need to talk with students about plagiarism. We
will run the papers through Turnitin to proof them before grading. Points will be taken
down from the final grade if students are caught plagiarizing in their final exams. We
need to convey this message strongly to students.
SOC11: Racism, Race and Ethnicity; examiner:
2021-22 was a year that kept some challenge but also some more flexibility in that
the teaching team and students were more used to a combination of teaching online
and in person, as well as mix of supervisions online and in person. SOC11 is very
popular and had a total of 39 students registered, with 1 withdrawing. The 38
students that finally took the paper were offered 14 lectures and 2 revision sessions.
Of the lectures half were offered in person and half were offered online, with either
pre-recorded or live zoom teaching as well as live zoom seminars. Unfortunately, the
paper, like most was affected by the strike so some lectures were cancelled,
although most supervisions were unaffected, and all topics were examined.
SOC11 was examined by an open-book, three-question exam which was taken
online and with no word limit. Overall students performed well on the assessment. Of
the 38 students that sat the exam, 1 got a 3rd, 60% got an upper band 2.1 and 39% a
1st. This is similar to last year were the range was from 64-72 although this year we
had one student achieving a 74. The issue of more strategies to better distinguish
higher 2.1s and lower 1sts (70-71) remains as something to keep exploring.
Like last year, students were encouraged to seek out their own examples to test the
theories and concepts in this paper, and many demonstrated their facility with this
type of analysis in their exam answers. This often allowed these students to
generate insight, which, when combined with the presentation of excellent
understanding and a clear and well-structured argument, resulted in earning high
The students overall are very confident with the material, as signalled by the range
and mean of the marks. Given that most of the firsts were marginal first, and given
that the 2is were mostly high 2is, it would be important to look at the differences
between the two for students to be aware of in future years. Overall, SOC11 -as we
stated last year- has proven to be a popular paper since it was launched, and the
student performance on this paper is testament to the interest that they have in the
issues which are explored in the course (and exam).
SOC12: Empire, Colonialism, Imperialism; examiner:
This was the second year of running SOC12 in its current iteration, and the second
year of splitting the assessment into a piece of coursework (50%), and two-question
exam (50%). The two-question exam was split into two sections, A and B, where
students had to take one question from each section. Students were not permitted to
write an exam question on the same topic as their coursework essay.
The range for the overall marks was 66-76. In more detail, the range for coursework
essays was 63.5-80, while the range for exam scripts was 67-74. Interestingly, this is
much different to examination year 2020/21, where the coursework essays were
much more clustered into the 2i/first class boundary (aside from one anomaly).
There was also a question after the 2020/21 exam about whether the use of
coursework would automatically result in higher marks for all students, and while we
are only in the second year of SOC12, it seems as though this question cannot be
answered in a straightforward manner. I do also wonder why the exam scripts scored
higher than last year, and whether there are any structural factors underlying this.
For example, this would be the third year students have now done online exams, and
there could be an added comfort level to this. Further, it could be the case that the
use of shorter time period to write exam scripts this year, compared to 2020/21, did
encourage students to write more concise essays that were much straighter to the
point. Given that the exam scripts were all high 2is and first class marks, again I
suggest that we need to think about rewriting the marking criteria in order to match
the reality that students are now doing online, open book exams.
SOC13: Health, Medicine and Society; examiner:
The overall performance on this paper was good this year. Twenty-nine students sat
the exam. Eight received 1sts, twenty-one received 2:1s. The mean mark was 67.
The most popular question on the exam was on alternative medicine (18), followed
closely by the sick role (16). Ten people wrote on addiction; Nine wrote on Foucault
and on medicalization respectively; Five wrote on health inequalities and on science
in clinical care respectively; Four wrote on medicine and technology; Three wrote on
mental illness, pandemics, explanations of medical practice, and the
deprofessionalisation of medicine; Two write on risky behaviour. The best scripts
were those that succeeded in: a) synthesizing an exceptionally wide range of the
relevant literature into a coherent and methodical answer to the question; b) provided
detailed exposition of the arguments of all major figures in a given literature and the
array of critiques that have been levied against them; c) took a position such that the
essay exhibited both whether and why the candidate agreed or disagreed with the
Some of the more common weaknesses that brought candidates’ marks down were
a) reliance on superficial summaries of the literature; b) answers that while exhibiting
an acquaintance with the relevant literature, failed to remain consistently on point
with respect to the specific question asked; c) omissions of relevant authors,
arguments, or critiques, and d) factual errors.
SOC15/CRIM4: Criminology, Sentencing and the Penal System; examiner:
A total of 9 students in HSPS took this Paper (as either CRIM 4 or SOC 15) and 24
students in PBS (as CR2).
(The Paper is owned by the Faculty of Law, but a separate
Examiner’s Report has been written for Law candidates). In 2022 ALL candidates
were required to answer four questions within a FIVE hour period.
The overall standard was very high, with a high number of Firsts being awarded.
Many answers were very impressive, revealing how far candidates had reflected on
what they had learned during the year and a good number of candidates had their
finger on the pulse regarding recent legal and policy developments; candidates
applied their thinking with precision in answering the questions. Only a tiny number
students failed to give sources for the evidence they were citing in their answers.
The very best candidates made thoughtful use of the material by referring to context,
research methodology or the meaning and significance specific research findings.
Candidates in both HSPS and PBS helpfully drew on sociological or psychological
concepts to inform their answers.
A very few students continued to bolt-on lots of references to claims without really
engaging with the research findings; this kind of approach does not reap reward. It
was clear that most candidates had planned their answers very carefully, organising
their ideas in a logical structure that responded to the different aspects of the question
being addressed, but do read and think about the questions before you write – so as
to avoid missing nuances in the Paper. Leave enough time to read through your
answers so as to avoid small but basic infelicities in expression or slips in detail (e.g.
the dates of Criminal Justice legislation).
Specific Comments in relation to the Questions:
The most popular questions were 8, 9 and 10 – on race and criminal justice, women
and criminal justice, and youth justice respectively. Q8 - The very best answers
showed wide reading and critical thinking in relation to progress made to tackle
discrimination in the criminal justice system. A number of candidates made reference
to the need for structural reforms to address social inequalities, as well as focusing on
training and judicial representation, for example. The weakest answers omitted
reference to important government updates on the David Lammy Report. Q9 - Again,
the very best answers showed critical engagement with issues, particularly the
limitations of the Female Offender Strategy 2018, and the subsequent National Audit
Office and other reports on progress. Q10 - The very best answers here got to grips
with different visions of youth justice which went beyond the notion of ‘children first’
and more proportionate sentencing to consider decriminalising youth justice or
reframing the approach as an educational rather than as a punitive one. Q11a was
also very popular with the very best answers addressing issues of effectiveness and
legitimacy as well as moral issues relating to ‘prisons for profit’.
In Q1 there was good attention to sociological as well as legal dimension of factors
which shape and give direction to contemporary criminal justice policy. In Q2 there
were also some constructive and well-informed suggestions for government in relation
to different ways of supporting offenders’ desistance. HSPS and PBS candidates
drew on material from other courses in their degree programmes – all very interesting.
In Q3 the very best answers addressed the new structure of ‘out of court’ disposals as
described in what was the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (and which
became an Act on 28 April 2022). (Both references to the Bill and Act were accepted
since the lectures referred to the Bill). Candidates successfully avoided repetition
of themes and illustration in Questions 4 and 6, though obviously a perceived lack of
legitimacy could be considered one of the contemporary challenges within the criminal
justice system. Question 5a was misunderstood by a few candidates, but essentially
called for consideration of whether or not it is possible to both punish and rehabilitate
or otherwise dissuade people from reoffending at the same time. Question 5b required
detailed consideration of evidence regarding the effectiveness of rehabilitation and,
separately, restorative justice. Q7 was answered well on the whole with the very best
answers recognising that there have been many attempts over time to make
community penalties more visible and more punitive so as to address public concerns
about a lack of legitimacy; at the same time, there was recognition of the need to
address the fact that the public are often ill-informed about community penalties and
that ‘populist punitiveness’ can shape responses to them. A few candidates
answered Q11b, but those who did drew on different notions of order very effectively,
making good reference to what makes prison regimes ‘legitimate’, and how ‘care’ and
‘control’ often need to be considered together to facilitate ‘social order’. Relatively
few candidates addressed Q12 but there were some excellent answers which
displayed up to date knowledge of proposed reforms as well as concerns. Very few
candidates answered Q13 on the different purposes of probation in managing ‘risk’,
punishing and rehabilitating offenders, and resettling and supervising offenders’ post-
custody, but those who did offered some useful suggestions as to how things could be
done more constructively for people who have offended. Both Questions 14a and
14b were answered well, with a good number of candidates addressing Q14b (the
sentencing problem) in particular. The best answers here drew on cases to illustrate
points and engaged in discussion about the complexities of custodial sentencing when
parents who have offended have sole responsibility for children.
CRIM1: Foundations in Criminology and Criminal Justice; examiner:
This year there were some very strong answers to the exam questions with
candidates demonstrating a sophisticated and nuanced understanding of
criminological theories and research. The best answers defined key concepts,
offered a well-justified and balanced consideration of the question, engaged
theoretically with the topic and demonstrated originality of thinking by drawing on
sources beyond the reading list and lecture material. Weaker responses provided a
descriptive rather than analytical presentation of criminological theories or research.
Some candidates omitted to give sources for claims and arguments but generally
there was good referencing.
Q1 This question was answered well overall. The best essays considered arguments
for and against the use of legal definitions from the perspectives of both
criminological study and criminal justice practice. They tended to examine in-depth
one of the definitions i.e. either crime, or offenders or victims, rather than trying to
address all three superficially. They provided a clear justification for the overall
argument presented, considering differences between legal definitions, social and
individual perceptions and cases where definitional distinctions such as between
victims and offenders are not always clear cut.
Q2 This question offered broad scope for a critical discussion on the current remit of
criminological research. Many relevant arguments were presented such as the need
to consider criminological writing from the Global South, the varying strengths and
limitations of criminological theories in different types of societies (individual and
collectivist) and a recognition of the value of temporal perspectives. These general
arguments were best supported by detailed examples from empirical research.
Q3 There was a number of excellent responses to this question. Many candidates
demonstrated a strong understanding of criminological theories which centre on an
individual’s relationship with others. The strongest answers considered in depth two
or three theories, demonstrated a critical engagement with these theories and their
conceptualisations of relationships and cited empirical research studies to support
Q4 This was a popular question and answered well by many candidates. The best
answers defined ‘inequality’ and provided a critical
discussion of its link to crime.
They reflected on the salience of one or two theories e.g. Strain Theory, Conflict
theories, Sub-cultural theories for explaining the crimes committed by different
groups of offenders.
Q5 The responses to this question were often innovative, with many candidates
taking the opportunity to demonstrate their lateral knowledge of the paper. This
question invited a discussion of the strengths and limitations of psychological and
biosocial theories of crime. Some of the most impressive answers showed detailed
knowledge and sound critical judgement of bio-psycho-social theories and evidence,
as well as drawing on societal and interactional theories of crime. They
demonstrated a clear and critical appreciation of research utilizing these theories and
the extent to which they offered full and convincing explanations of criminal
Q6 This was a generally well-answered question, with many candidates providing a
solid analysis of the relevance of childhood experience (e.g., drawing on the work of
Farrington, and Moffit) while recognising its limitations in explaining crime (usually
with reference to Sampson and Laub’s age-graded social control theory). They
demonstrated a theoretically informed and critical engagement with research findings
suggesting a link between childhood experiences and criminal activity and
considered the varying roles of personal, situational, and structural influences. The
most original arguments additionally drew on wider theoretical perspectives (e.g.,
bio-psycho-social theories, labelling theory) to further critique the explanatory value
of childhood experience.
Q7 This question was answered well by those candidates who attempted it. The
strongest answers presented an informed discussion of the literature on
intersectionality and provided a detailed and balanced consideration of the
intersectional contributions (or not) of specific criminological theories to explain the
crimes of particular marginalized groups.
Q8 This question allowed for a wide range of answers. The strongest responses
provided both a detailed analysis of social political and cultural influences of a
specific criminal justice system with reference to empirical research and drew on
macro-sociological theories to explain them.
Q9 This was one of the most popular questions. The strongest answers were those
that considered both the evidence for the media being ‘players’ in the game’ as well
as ‘observers of the scene’; demonstrated a nuanced understanding of the
relationship between the media and policy development, with reference to ‘public
opinion’; provided clear and often original examples of criminal justice policy
development; and recognised the differing role of the media across jurisdictions.
Some candidates also astutely highlighted the differing (and changing) roles of the
media and social media.
Q10 The best responses to this question made reference to relevant macro theories
linking societal conditions to political structures and actions and focused on specific
cases to illustrate general propositions about the role of political interest in criminal
justice policy formation.
Q11 Some candidates appeared to struggle with this question, interpreting it as an
invitation to describe different modes of punishment, rather than to apply this
knowledge to analyse the reasons for variation in types of punishment between
societies. The sharpest answers drew together material on the sociology of
punishment and political economy to make sophisticated arguments about the role of
socio-structural and economic factors in shaping punishment practices.
Q12 This was a popular question which allowed for a discussion of a range of
different monitoring and surveillance technologies: including electronic monitoring,
CCTV, body-worn cameras, and the use of IT for risk profiling and assessment. The
best answers engaged with theoretical analyses for the popularity of one or two of
these technologies from criminal justice, political and social perspectives.
Q13 This question was generally well answered with candidates supporting their
arguments with reference to specific examples of interventions and related research
evaluations. They offered nuanced and critical appraisals of models of intervention
assessment, academic debates on ‘what works’ and policies focusing on social
Q14 There was an interesting range of responses to this question. Some candidates
considered the merits of global versus local perspectives to crime and/or criminal
justice; others focused on the contributions of literature and research from different
global regions: the Global South and North. Again the best answers provided specific
examples of research, policy or practice that illustrated the arguments presented.
Q15 Candidates provided on the whole cogent discussions of this question with
reference to specific minority groups in criminal justice contexts. The best answers
offered a nuanced analysis of research findings on the experiences and effects of
criminal justice policies on particular groups (minority ethnic groups, women,
LGBTQ+, people with disabilities) in named criminal justice jurisdictions. CRIM3: Two essays on a Criminology topic; examiner:
Ten HSPS students chose to submit two long essays of 5,000 words each for this
examination. The essays were selected from a long list of choices. Each student
received supervision for the essays. The essay marks were mainly either first class
or good 2.i marks.
All the students produced good quality work which showed wide reading and
thoughtful critical analysis of the topics under scrutiny. The best of the essays were
not only well-argued but demonstrated detailed and sophisticated engagement with
the topic, and independent thinking. In one or two essays there was scope to use
more up to date evidence and to address ambiguities in concepts. Critical
engagement with evidence to illustrate points is always important.
The presentation of essays is important too. Thus page numbers for quotations
should be included; Netflix and other references to social media should be used
sparingly unless this is a topic under scrutiny. Always use up to date statistics rather
than statistics drawn from old textbooks.
CRIM5: Social Order, Violence and Organised Forms of Criminality; examiner:
Students were required to answer three questions, including one from each of the
two sections of the Paper. Section I posed questions about different concepts of
crime, including organised crime and cybercrime. Section II focused more on
explanations for changes in crime patterns and for linkages between different risk or
situational factors and crime. The majority of students chose one question from
Section I and two questions from Section II.
Six students took the Paper and all achieved Upper Second Class Marks or First
Class marks, with the majority achieving marks of 70 or more. The best answers
drew upon up to date evidence and showed strong indication of nuanced and
sophisticated independent critical thinking (by posing searching questions about
studies, for example, the utilisation of theoretical models of the methods used in
regard to empirical work). This work also displayed wide reading with evidence of
having gone well beyond supervision reading.
The more modest scripts lacked the sharp critical thinking of the best answers, but
nevertheless displayed a firm grasp of key concepts, challenges posed by research
findings, and showed some analytical thinking.
HSPS TRIPOS PART II; 2021-2022
HUMAN, SOCIAL AND POLITICAL SCIENCE TRIPOS
PART II EXAMINERS’ REPORTS
REPORT FROM THE SENIOR EXAMINER
This exam board covers the Politics and International Relations track and the
Politics and Sociology track within the HSPS tripos, at both Part IIA and Part
Examination procedures continue to be heavily marked by the legacy of the
Covid-19 pandemic. Most notably, an open book examination approach, with
students taking exams on their own computers in their own rooms, and then
submitting them online, was retained for this year. The most significant
difference from last year was that the window for examinations was reduced to
three hours, which is a return to the time of regular closed book exams. There
was no official word limit for examination scripts this year. Mitigation measures
introduced in previous years were no longer in place.
Maintaining this online open book method has raised a number of questions this
year. From an operational perspective, there were errors made during the
examination period stemming from links to wrong examination papers being
sent to students. In one case, POL16, the examiner had to rewrite their
examination paper entirely because it had been mistakenly released to students
by the exam team. This puts a great deal of unnecessary stress on examiners in
addition to what comes with the marking loads. If the online open book format
is to be retained, there needs to be a full overhaul of the way this format is run
and the relevant central university teams responsible for administering these
examinations. This matter needs to be taken up with some urgency by the
central university authorities.
Apart from these operational failures, the administration of the examinations
proceeded smoothly this year. This was the result of very hard work by the
undergraduate administrator and by a number of people around her in the
POLIS administrative office who generously gave up their time to assist during
the examination period. They are all very warmly thanked. The online Moodle
site used by examiners and assessors, as well as by the external examiners,
worked well this year.
Examiners and assessors worked hard to return their marks on time. A variety of
extensions to marking deadlines were granted over the course of Easter term,
mostly the result of staff illness. All markers worked hard and are to be thanked.
The two external examiners were
. This was the second year of service for our external
examiners and they performed their duties to a very high standard. Scripts were
returned promptly, moderation and adjudication of disputes was done in a
reasoned and thoughtful way. POLIS very much hopes that next year they will
be able to attend the exam board in person.
There was only one instance of minor plagiarism dealt with by the exam board.
All scripts were put through Turnitin and a 20% trigger was introduced. All
scripts above 20% were looked at by the chair of exams. In almost every case,
high scores were the result of direct quotation and reference lists. This was
noticeably the case for long essays where relatively high Turnitin scores were
the result of detailed and meticulous quotation and referencing.
The overall results for Part IIA Politics and International Relations are as
follows. Out of ninety-seven candidates, there were two Starred Firsts, sixteen
Firsts, sixty-seven Upper Seconds, two Lower Seconds, two Thirds, one Fail,
and seven candidates who withdrew. This means that 18.5% of candidates
receive either a Starred First or a First. 69% of candidates received an Upper
For Part IIA Politics and Sociology, the results are as follows. Out of forty
candidates, there was one Starred First, nine Firsts, twenty seven Upper
Seconds, one Lower Second, one Third and one candidate withdrew. This
means that 25% of candidates received either a Starred First or a First. 67.5% of
candidates received an Upper Second.
The overall results for Part IIB Politics and International Relations are as
follows. Out of seventy-four candidates, there were no Starred Firsts, there were
twenty-six Firsts, forty-one Upper Seconds, two Lower Seconds, one Third, one
Fail, and three candidates withdrew. This means that 35% of candidates
received a First. 55.4% of candidates received an Upper Second.
For Part IIB Politics and Sociology, the results are as follows. Out of twenty-
seven candidates, there was one Starred First, seven Firsts, seventeen Upper
Seconds, no Lower Seconds, no Thirds, and two candidates withdrew. This
means that 30% of candidates received either a Starred First or a First. 63% of
candidates received an Upper Second.
Gender Breakdown of Results
The ability of POLIS to conduct an audit of exam marks by students’
demographic characteristics is limited solely to a binary classification of gender.
The university’s information hub (Tableau) produces summaries of results by
other characteristics, but these are for the Triposes as a whole (HSPS and
History & Politics) and only use the overall class mark of the student. This
makes it of limited value in analysing any awarding gaps specifically within
POLIS. The information about this examination round will only appear on
Tableau in 2023. The Department’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Group
continues to try to obtain better information from the university so as to conduct
its own, more timely, analysis.
Working then just with binary characterisations of gender, the results from the
2022 examinations are that there is a significant awarding gap for students
taking second year papers (HSPS Part IIA, History and Politics Part IB) with
male students doing better than female students, and a smaller awarding gap for
students taking third year papers (HSPS Part IIB, History and Politics Part II).
This can be seen with both the proportion of students awarded firsts (including
starred firsts), and with the average marks received.
The results are similar to those from 2021, despite notable differences in
examination format and classing system. The existence of the same pattern in
2022 as in 2021 is striking as last year’s second years are this year’s third years,
and so the differences cannot be straightforwardly explained by the pre-existing
ability of the students themselves.
Here is the information for the past two years. The classing information is for
only the two HSPS tracks that are administered by POLIS – those in Politics &
International Studies and Politics & Sociology. The average mark is all students
taking those tracks (that is, it does not include History & Politics students, those
from other HSPS tracks and students from other Triposes who borrow POLIS
papers). The awarding gap is stated as female minus male.
Difference in % of students
Difference in average mark of
awarded firsts (female – male)
students (female – male)
In short, the awarding gap that means that more male students receive higher
marks in their second years than female students is reduced or even reversed in
the third year (though note that there is still an small awarding gap in third year
male students receiving more first class results than female students in 2022,
notwithstanding how female students receive on average slightly higher marks).
Broken down by POLIS paper, and looking at all students in both History &
Politics and HSPS taking those papers, in both years POL3 and POL4 had a
significant awarding gap that advantaged male students (2022: -2.6 for POL3, -
3.3 for POL4; in 2021: -3.1 for POL3, -0.9 for POL4). With over 100 students
on each paper in each year, these gaps are significant. POL5, POL7 and POL8
also had significant gaps in 2022 though smaller than POL3 and POL4 (-1.7, -
1.3 and -1.9 marks respectively).
By contrast, few third year papers had awarding gaps in 2022 larger than 1
mark. POL9 still has a reputation among some students as privileging male
students, but there is no recent indication that this is so. In 2021, the gap was
+0.5 marks (that is, women did on average very slightly better than men) and in
2022, it was -0.2 marks, which is statistically insignificant. The only third year
papers with more than 5 of both female and male students that had awarding
gaps of more than 1 mark was POL16, which had a gap of +1.1 (that is the
average mark of female students was 1.1 points higher than that of male
students on this paper).
This finding, which is largely consistent over two years, remains puzzling, and
worthy of further attention. There are no straightforward reasons why female
students tend to do worse, across all papers, in the second year than male
students, but do as well in the third year. Looking at this through other
characteristics, particularly the educational backgrounds of the students, may
yield more compelling explanations than further speculation on the basis of
these findings alone.
EXTERNAL EXAMINERS’ REPORTS
This is my second year as external examiner – I’d like to say thank you to
for what was an exceptionally smooth and easy to process. Using
Moodle to access scripts and marksheets and other documents relating the
examination process was very straightforward. As with last year, the provision
of benchmark essays to assist with the moderation process was very useful.
As was also the case for the 2020/1 academic year, I was extremely impressed
by the quality of the written work that I reviewed. The two dissertations that I
looked at were both exceptional pieces of first class work. The exam answers
were generally of a high standard. The changes to the examination process
(shorter online examination window compared to last year’s 6 hour open book
examinations) are, in my view, to be welcomed. The examinations that I looked
at certainly had more of the feel of ‘exam answers’ about them compared to the
polished essays that were produced under last year’s conditions. I have not been
able to compare the overall spread of grades between last year and this year as
this information was not available to me – but it would appear that students
continue to produce high quality work, even with the shorter exam timeframe.
I understand from my conversations with
that there are wider
concerns across the department about the reproduction of unassessed seminar
essays in exams. We have had a similar issue at
reproducing formative essay work in their summative essays, but are less aware
of this being an issue in examinations. Our advice has been to students that they
should avoid doing this, but it is not something that we are able to penalise
under rules around self-plagiarism/academic standards. A tighter policing of
overlap between seminar essay questions and exam questions might be useful.
More generally on assessment, POLIS does have a rather conservative
assessment regime (exams and essays). These methods certainly have
pedagogical merit and students do like the familiarity/certainty of such an
assessment regime. However, given that there is a certain level of dissatisfaction
with open book online examinations, this could also be an opportunity to initiate
discussion about the wider pedagogical benefits of looking to alternative/more
innovative assessment methods which might stretch students further and
develop a wider skill-set. Finally given the clustering of students in the 2:1
category – I do think that your marking criteria could make more explicit the
differences between low, mid and high 2:1 grades. I would be happy to share
with you the marking criteria that we use at Warwick in which the differences
between high, mid and low 2:1 grades are clearly set out for students.
Overall I was asked to look at the following
(a) Marking discrepancies – where the markers could not agree a mark. Of
which there were 6 cases with marks ranging from 57 to 80 (two of which
(b) Borderline cases – in which a slight movement in the grade towards one
of the grades given by a marker could result in them falling into a higher-
class mark overall. There were 18 cases that needed to be looked at.
(c) Three essays on POL17 (Gender & Politics) – a module that had a
slightly higher overall average mark compared to other modules. I
confirmed that I felt that the grades given were appropriate and grades
should not be revised downwards.
I was not given any failing scripts to look at.
I was not asked to look at any plagiarism cases.
In terms of process, it is very useful to be provided with marker comments –
especially in cases of marking discrepancies (these came in an excel file and
this was very much appreciated). I asked for mark books to be made available
also for the decision making around borderline cases. This was generally useful,
although the quality of comments varied and sometimes were hard to find. It
would be very useful to provide marker comments with the borderline cases as
was the case for the marking discrepancies.
These very minor concerns aside, I felt very confident that the examination
process was robust and fair. The process was also well managed throughout.
To begin, I’d just like to register a note of thanks to
accommodated my inability to make it up to Cambridge from
the period of the exam board and pre-meetings due to the rail strikes and for
enabling me to do the external examining work remotely. And I would like to
thank them for running a very efficient operation.
I do not have too much to say in my report this year. As ever, the very best work
that your students produce is of the very highest quality and I was particularly
impressed this year with the dissertations I had the privilege to read. Across the
board, and so not just with the very best work, I was struck by the degree of
intellectual independence and confidence with which students approached their
assessment and which was a delight to see. And though the external examiners’
were not required to be involved in awarding the prizes this year, I did take a
look at the winning pieces of work and they were truly impressive works of
scholarship that fully deserved the recognition.
I am aware that there is a discussion within the Department about the future of
the open-book exams and I can see why this is an issue for you, although
something of a relatively unique problem given your use of supervision or non-
assessed essays throughout students’ studies.
I think there’s two things for me to say here.
I did notice a clear distinction between exams which made heavy use of
secondary sources and/or statistics and data in their answers, which would have
been made possible by students’ access to the internet or previous work, and
those exams which did not. Interestingly, this did not correspond with success in
terms of grades. There were several cases I’d looked at where students had
provided answers that were data heavy or relied on much secondary literature
but where that either detracted from the overall quality by, for instance, them
trying to do too much in the space of a single answer or where it became evident
this was essentially a form of ‘padding’ for students who did not really know
how to answer the question. Indeed, I would say that in the majority of
borderline cases I looked at this was the main issue.
One way of maybe thinking about this is that as the experience of writing
essays, dissertations, and exams become more similar, it is understandable that
their distinctiveness as forms of assessment, aiming to test different sorts of
skills and abilities, might begin to blur in students’ minds. So, whereas you
might expect essays or dissertations to marshal larger amounts of data and
secondary sources in defence of an argument, that isn’t the same expectation we
have in exams. What makes for a good exam answer is not necessarily the same
as what makes for a good long essay. And if the open-book exams are here to
stay one thing I imagine you’ll need to be doing a lot of is making that clear to
students so they know what expectations are in place for the different
But clearly the biggest general issue here is the fact that students are able to
make use, if they so wish, of supervision or unassessed essays from their
studies. Matters are complicated by the fact that while there is clearly something
against the spirit and purpose of exams that students can essentially cut and
paste previous work, it is not clear that this is necessarily unethical in terms of
representing forms of self-plagiarism seeing as they were not assessed. I’m
afraid I do not see any easy options here, and as we’ve done away completely
with exams at Sheffield I do not really have any experience of what might work.
Where I encountered exams where the answers did not seem to directly address
the question as you would expect, I did wonder whether this was because
students’ have tried to shoehorn supervision essays into their answers where
they weren’t completely relevant. There is no way, of course, of knowing if this
was the case. But it certainly does seem important that those who run the papers
ensure that the exam and supervision questions are sufficiently distinct such that
students are only going to be disadvantaged by over-use of previous material,
and that this is communicated clearly to the students. This cannot be put in
terms of direct penalties for, again, this isn’t strictly self-plagiarism, but the
point can be stressed that the exam questions will be dissimilar enough from
their supervision essays that they are highly unlikely to benefit from using
As with last year, the examination process seemed rigorous, robust, and fair,
and I have been deeply impressed by what I have seen, so I’d just end my report
by congratulating everyone involved with the examination process at
Cambridge for another job well done.
INTERNAL EXAMINERS’ REPORTS
POL3: International Organisation
One hundred twenty-three scripts were received from students taking the POL3
exam this year, requiring 2 answers to be written in response to 13 possible
question choices. This resulted in 30 Firsts, 74 2:1s, 16 2:2s, and 2 3rds, and 1
Fail. The average mark was 65 and the standard deviation 8.39.
With 85% of students doing excellently or very well in the exam (earning a 2:1
or above, compared to 80% last year), these are rather remarkable results, not
least given the return of the three-hour examination timeframe. Although the
proportion of Firsts dipped somewhat (24.4%, from 35% in 2020-21,) this year
a much larger proportion students (60% versus 46% in 2020-21) managed to
produce persuasive, well-argued and well-written essays, earning them 2:1
marks. Fewer students received marks below a 2:1 this year (15.5%) versus last
These results suggest that the shorter (3-hour) timeframe does not hinder
students’ ability to do well or very well in the exam, although it may somewhat
constrain the capacity of some to produce excellent, innovative First-class
arguments “on the spot”.
Overall, the POL3 Examiners are extremely satisfied by these results, which we
read as a testament to the hard work of students and of the POL3 teaching team.
Congratulations to all!
Of particular note this year was students’ (generalized and positive) tendency to
offer arguments in their answers rather than to rely on summaries. The only
limited (and often-negative) effect of the open-book format seemed to have
been students’ use of pre-written text from supervision or mock exam essays to
construct their examination answers. We hasten to add that this is a risky
practice that tends to hinder students more than to help them. While a few
students were able to successfully adapt pasted text to respond to the exam
question actually being asked, most others were not, with their marks suffering
in turn. Generally we discouraged the use of recycling pre-written text; happily,
the overwhelming majority of students heeded our advisee, to their benefit.
Responses to questions were again unevenly distributed. Whether the question
was more explicitly theoretical or explicitly thematic/empirical however did not
seem to matter in terms of results: both types of questions elicited very good as
well weaker answers. The average individual score for all questions ranged
from 65 to 68, except for questions 4, 10, 11, and 12 which were each answered
by fewer than 10 students.
There were 8 outstanding exams receiving marks of 75 and above. These exams
featured essays that made clear, consistent, and compelling arguments showing
a sophisticated understanding of diverse readings, also combining theoretical
and empirical points to level original critiques of the literature. The twenty-two
exams in the 70-74 range also had clear, consistent and compelling arguments
showing deep understanding of a reasonably wide range of readings.
Exams in this upper (70+) range generally include a roadmap section indicating
the steps to be taken by the essay, and generally followed them. They featured a
strong authorial voice, announced and defended an argument throughout the
essays, and demonstrated analytical nuance by considering counterarguments,
or by referring to scope conditions, whether historical or theoretical.
Among those in the 60s range, those towards the top of the range made clear
and consistent -- if mostly conventional – arguments, using a reasonable number
of readings. Some faults included perhaps an odd mishandled or misinterpreted
text, briefly lapsing into summarizing, a slightly narrow analytical focus, and/or
some flaws in the organisation and structure of the answer. The lower 2:1s
tended to have more of a combination of these faults.
The exams in the 50-59 range -- despite having some discernable argument –
tended to feature one or more of the following flaws: an inability to sustain the
argument, long unstructured sections, reliance on a very narrow range of
readings, or reasonably serious misunderstandings of the readings.
The three exams below 50 did not have a clear arguments, featured important
contradictions and/or non-sequiturs, wavered in their argumentation, went into
tangents, or simply offered a pastiche of snippets from the readings without
clearly relating to the question asked.
The only failing exam resulted from the student answering one question
(poorly) rather than two.
POL4: Comparative Politics
This year 172 students took this paper. The exam followed the usual format,
consisting of 9 questions on the general section of the paper (Section A) and 2
questions for each of the country modules taken in Michaelmas term (Sections
B-H). Students were asked to answer a total of three questions, one from
Section A and two from different module sections.
The distribution of marks was as follows: 39 students obtained a first-class
mark; 112 students obtained a 2.1 mark; 19 students obtained a 2.2 mark; 2
students obtained a third-class mark. The average mark for the paper was 65.
Some questions were clearly more popular among students than others. In
Section A 38 students attempted Q2 while no student attempted Q8. For the
module sections, all questions were answered. However, in some modules there
was a markedly uneven spread between the two questions. For instance, close to
90 percent of students taking the Brazil-Bolivia module and the France-
Germany module answered Q18 and Q21, respectively. Answers were more
evenly spread within the other country modules.
The overall quality of the scripts was high. However, a common mistake, to
which the exam conditions may have contributed, was for students to recycle
materials from past supervision essays. Examiners encountered many such ‘cut-
and-paste’ answers, which often provided a discussion relevant to the general
topic of the question but generally failed to answer the precise exam question.
Many answers to Q4, for instance, failed to notice that the question is not (just)
about authoritarian stability but rather an invitation to compare authoritarian and
democratic regimes. In a similar vein, answers to Q7 often proceeded on the
basis of hazy notions of what ‘fragmentation’ of a national party system might
refer to. Another common mistake was to ignore key terms of the question. For
instance, two questions referred to trajectories (‘economic trajectories’ in Q13
and ‘regime trajectories’ in Q23) but many answers failed to specify what, more
precisely, these might refer to. As has been the case in past years, the very best
answers demonstrated a firm grasp of such conceptual matters and provided
direct and precise answers to the questions asked.
Students generally demonstrated very good familiarity with, and understanding
of, politics in different parts of the world. However, they did not always make
as good analytical use of empirical ‘cases’ in their answers as might be possible.
This was particularly evident in Section A, where the very best answers tended
to use different cases to make different analytical points, while weaker answers
tended to use several different cases to drum home a single point. For instance,
the stronger answers to Q2 tended to discuss cases where war had been an
obstacle to state formation but also cases where it had not, and the stronger
answers to Q5 tended to discuss cases of elite-driven democratization alongside
cases where other factors loomed larger. Answers based on an explicit
recognition of variation in political experiences across time and space tended to
develop more complex, nuanced, and insightful arguments.
POL5 & POL19: Themes and Issues in Politics and International Relations
POL5 and POL19 were operating on a larger scale than ever before, with almost
a hundred questions offered to the various candidates to choose from. Of the
272 essays that were dealt with by the Examiners, 83 were First class (70 or
more, of which twelve were 75+); 163 were Upper Seconds (60-69); 21 were
Lower Second (50-59); four were Third class (40-49); with one received a
failing mark. The mean mark was 66.4, the median was 67, and the mode was
Stronger essays were praised for a number of reasons: they were accomplished
and original, subtle and engaging, mature and confident, interesting, insightful
and compelling, they were well researched and analytically rich, contained a
clearly-stated argument that was persuasively and methodically presented and
sustained throughout, they proceeded from a sharp conceptual foundation and
developed a broad-ranging analysis, they addressed counterarguments
systematically, they were well structured, they stayed focused on the question,
engaging critically with the way it was posed, they focused on a manageable
number of central points, they selected case studies intelligently, they were well
anchored in the relevant scholarship, which was synthesised effectively, they
deployed a wide range of sources effectively, and a wide range of interesting
examples, they were well informed and carefully referenced, their conclusions
were underpinned by appropriate evidence, they were thoughtful, showed
independence of mind, and were well written.
Weaker essays, by contrast, were criticised for being overly descriptive, poorly
structured, lacking a clear or persuasive argument, paying insufficient attention
to the building blocks of the argument, not sustaining their argument over the
length of the essay, not presenting enough evidence to support the argument,
offering assertions instead of argument, wildly overstating claims, including the
making of grand claims that did not stand up to scrutiny, presenting examples
without consideration of their context, not grounding the discussion in the
existing academic literature, leaving too much unsaid as if the reader can fill in
the details for themselves, being too abstract and broad brush, answering a
different question to the one at the head of the essay, losing sight of or being
insufficiently focused on the particular question, in particular focusing on
normative argument when that was not what was asked for, discussing historical
periods other than the one specifically picked out by the essay question, lacking
a sense of comparative perspective, insufficient engagement with
counterarguments, adopting overly-broad categories, failing to link specific
claims to the broader question under examination, conceptual imprecision
(including contorted definitions of concepts, or concepts being deployed when it
remains vague just how they are being defined), over-reliance on particular
sources, misunderstanding the theoretical sources or historical material being
deployed, repetition, overuse of jargon, and having excessively short
bibliographies, as well as for errors in the presentation, including grammar,
spelling, punctuation, and typography.
POL6: Statistics and Methods in Politics and International Relations
As in previous years, the assessment for this paper consisted of a coursework
element (a report of maximally 5000 words on a data analysis project) and an
online exam (a two-hour exam). Both elements counted for 50% of the overall
mark. This year 44 candidates submitted the coursework assignment and 45
candidates took the exam (18 HSPS Part IIA, 10 HSPS Part IIB, 16 History &
Politics Part 1B, 1 History & Politics Part 2).
There were many good results, but also considerable variation. More
• For the overall marks
, the average mark was 63.9, with 11 candidates
receiving a First class mark, 26 candidates a 2.1 mark (2 of which were
69), 4 candidates a 2.2 mark, one candidate a third class mark, and 3
candidates a Fail mark.
• For the coursework element
, the average mark was 64.1, with 13
candidates receiving a First class mark, 23 candidates a 2.1 mark, 6
candidates a 2.2 mark, one candidate a third class mark, and one
candidate a Fail mark.
• For the exam
, the average mark was 62.2, with 10 candidates receiving a
First class mark (which included marks of 80 and 79), 23 candidates a 2.1
mark, 7 candidates a 2.2 mark, one candidate a third class mark, and 3
candidates a Fail mark.
It was noteworthy that while 21 candidates received at least one First class mark
for an element of the course, only two candidates obtained First class marks for
both the coursework and exam elements.
For the coursework, candidates had to choose a topic from a provided list. The
choices of topics were as follows: 19 candidates investigated voting behaviour
in elections, 8 candidates focused on patterns of conflict, 6 candidates looked at
attitudes towards globalisation, 5 candidates undertook a project on Sustainable
Development Goals, 4 candidates chose the topic of the political dynamics of
the COVID-pandemic, and 3 candidates focused on patterns of corruption.
The characteristics of the data analyses and reports were similar to previous
years, and there was some extremely good work. Almost all reports presented a
clear research question and a quantitative analysis to address it. The best reports
presented convincing interpretations of the statistical results. They provided
good accounts of the data that were used and analysed. The reasons for why
some reports did not receive marks higher than a 2.1 were very similar to
previous years: some lack of clarity in the links between theoretical arguments
and statistical results; a lack of balance between the different aspects of the
report (e.g. too much emphasis on background literature and descriptive
statistics); a failure to mention descriptive statistics and/or regression
assumptions; and sometimes mistakes in the interpretation of model results. A
few reports had a confusing focus and/or limited statistical analyses, and
received lower marks. It is, once again, worth emphasising that the best reports
usually had a relatively narrow but well specified focus, which allowed the
effective use of existing literature and provided sufficient to present data,
variables and results.
The large majority of exam scripts provided competent answers to the
questions, with some truly excellent scripts that provided clear and concise
interpretations of results and thoughtful reflections on the statistical analyses
that were presented. As in the past, some candidates were let down by not
reading the questions carefully enough and failing to answer some parts of
them. The scripts that received low 2.1 or 2.2 marks usually made some
mistakes in the statistical interpretation of results and included limited detail on
the substantive interpretation of these results.
It was concerning that several scripts received Fail marks this year (which then
also led to several candidates receiving an overall Fail mark for the paper).
These scripts failed to answer several questions, and – in the questions that were
answered – showed only a limited understanding of the issues covered in the
paper. The nature of these scripts suggested that these candidates had not
engaged much with the paper in the course of the year. If students keep up with
the taught material in Michaelmas term and the beginning of Lent term, and
come to the practical sessions and supervisions, then there will certainly be no
danger of failing the paper.
POL7: The History of Political Thought to c. 1700
37 POL7 scripts were submitted in 2022 (compared to 45 in 2021, 24 in 2020,
47 in 2019, 42 in 2018, and 38 in 2017). The quality of most of these scripts
reflected the excellence of the lectures offered for this paper as candidates did
not simply reproduce the knowledge they had acquired from them, but showed
considerable understanding of the concepts, issues, and contexts covered by the
lecturers. The average mark across all scripts was like last year just under 67.
However, some answers were unquestionably deserving of the very high firsts
(high 70s, indeed 80) that they received.
What contributed to making these scripts outstanding is that their authors
thought about the wording of the questions very carefully. They made most of
the opportunity these terms opened up to display detailed knowledge and
responsiveness to nuanced phrasing. Thus, they addressed what the people had
been blamed for by the different critics of democracy in ancient Athens in
answering question 9: ‘Did opposition to democracy amount to no more than
blaming the people’. The less impressive scripts merely listed what was said by
critics about the ignorance and self-interestedness of the people. Such answers
did not tackle the question as it stood. Likewise, candidates who tackled the
More question divided between those who reflected on what might (or might
not) be deemed fairness and those who did not in answering: ‘Does the
‘fairness’ that is identified by Raphael Hythloday as a key quality of the
Utopian commonwealth imply it should be regarded as a democracy’. The best
essays reflected on the nature of fairness in Utopia, whether its governance
could be deemed democratic, and whether a conception of fairness related to its
governance. Amongst the very best answers were some on Aristotle and
Roman political thought.
There were 12 first-class marks, 5 lower seconds, and the rest obtained upper
seconds. There 16 answers on Plato, 17 on Machiavelli, 11 on More, 7 on
Locke, and 6 on Aristotle. All other authors were discussed by at least one
candidate, with the question on Aquinas receiving 2 very strong answers. It
may be that the question on Hobbes was deemed particularly challenging as it
met with little response. Candidates who were not familiar with Machiavelli’s Discourses
inevitably struggled with the question: ‘What is the significance of
Machiavelli’s claim, in his Discourse on Livy
, that the ancient Romans were
more virtuous than they were fortunate?’. In such cases, they wrote of fortuna
in The Prince
, with no less inevitable consequences. For the Plato question, ‘Is
Plato’s ideal city best seen as an attempt to satisfy the requirements of human
nature?’, some reflected on the precise requirements of human nature according
to Plato’s Republic
, considered the city of pigs as well the ideal city in relation
to meeting such requirements, and specified whose (if not all human beings)
requirements might or might not be met in Kallipolis. In sum, whatever the
topic candidates who read questions attentively, thought of the issues
underpinning them, and demonstrated close attention to the detailed
argumentation in the set texts wrote engaging scripts and were duly rewarded
for doing so.
In Section B, there were some impressive answers amongst the 6 that tackled
Greek critics of democracy as well as those which discussed ‘For early modern
political theorists, how important was the question of origins in determining
both the nature and the location of sovereign power?’. Weaker responses to the
latter question tended to leave out or brush over one or more of the key terms
‘origins’, ‘nature’, or ‘location’. All Section B questions received at least one
answer bar two, namely ‘To what extent did medieval thinkers recover the
classical understanding of civic liberty?’ and ‘How important was justice in the
resistance theories of the sixteenth century?’. The question on Roman political
thought and early Christian thought each attracted 5 replies. The question of
Renaissance humanist political thought (‘How important in Renaissance
humanist political thought is the use of comparison?’) received most (8), some
of which were very impressive in that they revealed extensive reading of the
texts and the scholarly literature. They noted comparisons between individuals
as well as regimes and specified the precise nature of their use by various
noted in his report for this paper last year ‘a small number
of essays did read as if they had their origin in supervision essays that were
addressing a different question altogether, and candidates do need to be advised
on the one hand that it’s pretty obvious what they are doing when they hand in
an essay that speaks more to the themes of, say, last year’s Tripos question on a
particular topic than to the question in front of them, and that on the other hand
they are never likely to do especially well if they do that.’ It is to be hoped that
candidates do not resort to such strategies in 2023 and that
comment will therefore not need repeating.
POL8: The History of Political Thought from 1700-1890
One hundred and five candidates sat this paper, working remotely on an open-
book basis, and with a three-hour time limit.
Overall, the general standard of answers was lower than in previous
years. Eighteen candidates were awarded a mark of 70 or above; seventy-eight
candidates received a mark in the 60-69 range; seven in the 50-59 range; one in
the 40-49 range; and one received a mark below 40. The median mark was 66;
the mean was 65.4. The shorter time allotted for the exam may have played a
role in this, but it was also noticeable that a number of candidates were making
extensive use of material that did not directly bear on the question asked. In at
least some cases there was evidence to suggest the use of material from
supervision essays or notes with little regard to its relevance to the question. As
ever, it cannot be emphasised enough that strong answers focus closely on the
question posed; a generic overview of the topic is not sufficient. The best
candidates displayed in-depth, first-hand knowledge of the set texts and
provided analytical rather than merely descriptive answers to the questions.
There were 177 answers on Section A topics and 138 on Section B topics.
All questions received at least one answer. Overwhelmingly, the most popular
A topic was Wollstonecraft (46 answers), followed by Rousseau (27), Mill (21),
Marx (18), Burke (13), Bentham (11), Constant (9), Kant (7), Hegel (7), Hume
(5), Smith (5), Montesquieu (4) and Tocqueville (4). For Section B, Gender and
Political Thought was most popular (40 answers), followed by Empire and
Civilization (34), Nationality and the Theory of the State (17), the French
Revolution (14), the American Revolution (10), Luxury and Commercial
Society (9), Culture and Aesthetic Politics in Germany (7), Socialism before
1848 (3), Social Science (3) and Natural Law and Sociability (1). The spread of
marks across topics was less than it has been in some previous years, though
candidates outperformed the mean mark on Natural Law and Sociability, Kant,
Culture and Aesthetic Politics in Germany, Luxury and Commercial Society,
Hume, Burke, Bentham, American Revolution, and Wollstonecraft. On
average, candidates performed marginally better on Section A than Section B.
The three topics with the lowest average mark were (in descending order): the
French Revolution, Nationality and the State, and Montesquieu.
Turning to individual topics, I begin with Hume. This was a relatively
straight-forward question; weaker answers seemingly relied on lecture notes and
were not fully in control of the conceptual linkages in Hume’s argument; the
better answers were more textually grounded. The Montesquieu question
caused problems, with a number of candidates taking the reference to ‘popular
sentiment’ as a warrant to restrict their discussion to republican forms of
government, rather than think about the broader implications of the quotation.
The Rousseau question received a few conceptually sharp answers, but there
were rather too many instances of candidates giving a generic overview of
Rousseau’s thought with insufficient focus on the concept of the general will.
On Smith, most candidates had a sense of what was at stake in the question, but
answers engaged less closely with Part IV of the Theory of Moral Sentiments
than would have been desirable. Burke attracted some solid answers, confident
in the contrasts they drew between his treatment of the Glorious Revolution and
the French Revolution. Several candidates were able to draw on Burke’s pre-
revolutionary writings to elaborate their answer. The best answers gave a
sophisticated account of his thinking about the foundations of political society,
political judgement and the politics of necessity, drawing variously on Bourke,
Bromwich, Pocock and Armitage. There were some very strong answers to the
Wollstonecraft question, which combined full treatment of the first Vindication
with thoughtful, and in some cases rather original, discussion of its relation to
Wollstonecraft’s wider œuvre. Conversely, some candidates displayed only a
limited knowledge of this text, and their answers suffered accordingly. For
Kant, the standard of answer was generally high, though some candidates could
have been clearer in distinguishing between the set texts. The question on
Bentham gave scope for some nuanced treatment of the relationship between
the principle of utility and variations in the positive law of different countries;
the best answers took the opportunity to present Bentham as a more complex
thinker than he sometimes appears. The question on Constant attracted a
surprisingly large number of candidates who could not adequately define the
word ‘usurpation’, and one or two whose knowledge of the primary texts did
not appear to extend much beyond the lecture of 1819. Answers to the Hegel
question tended towards the basic; it would have been good to see more
discussion of the institutions of civil society and state. There were some good
responses to the Tocqueville question, suggesting a decent knowledge of the
text, though some candidates missed the significance of his comments about the
homogeneity of opinion in the upper echelons of French society. The best
answers on Mill gave a clear explanation of the ways in which his utilitarianism
differed from that of Bentham and proceeded to investigate tensions within his
thought. Some candidates displayed an impressive knowledge of the
intellectual context of Mill’s works. Answers on Marx were typically
constructed around a contrast between the discussion of alienation in the 1844
manuscripts and the analysis of commodification in Capital
vol. 1. Done well,
this could take answers quite far, but what was striking was that few candidates
showed any awareness of the break with Feuerbach in 1845-6, or its
implications for interpretation of the later works in the light of the early
On Section B, leaving aside those topics for which the number of answers
precludes meaningful generalization, we turn first to Luxury and Commercial
Society. There was a pleasing breadth of material brought to bear on the
question, with some good discussion of Melon and Ferguson. Over-reliance on
Hont’s essay on the early Enlightenment Luxury debate, often an issue in the
past, was less evident this year. The American Revolution attracted some
strong answers, many of which made effective use of material from lectures.
Weaker answers failed to give sufficient attention to the constitutional debates
of the 1780s, focusing instead on the 1760s and 1770s. The French Revolution
question divided candidates, with some struggling to adapt material on
representation to the question. The best answers found inventive ways to think
about the relationship between the changing political context and the political
thought of revolutionary actors. On Culture and Aesthetic Politics in Germany,
the standard of discussion of the set texts was generally high, but almost all
candidates could have usefully done more to distinguish criticism of the
’centralised state’ from that of the ‘mechanistic’ or ‘absolutist’ state. The
Gender and Political Thought topic attracted some very strong, conceptually-
focused answers. Many candidates could marshal impressive amounts of
exemplary material. Weaker candidates provided purely descriptive answers
that lacked analytical depth. Nationality and the State was generally answered
well with some strong discussion of Mazzini and Fichte. One candidate
answered solely with reference to material from the Empire and Civilization
topic; another answered predominantly with reference to C20th anti-colonial
nationalism and the work of Benedict Anderson. In both cases the answers
failed to adequately address the question. On the Empire topic, the standard
was up on last year, with most candidates having something useful to say about
the differences between settler colonies and the case of India, though some
appeared to have only patchy knowledge of the Mill and Marx primary texts.
POL9: Conceptual Issues and Texts in Politics and International Relations
There were seventy scripts for POL9. 21 received a First-class mark overall (of
which ten were marked at 75 or higher); 45 an Upper Second; three a Lower
Second; and one a Third. The median mark was 67, the mean 67.0, and the
mode 68. Answers were nicely distributed across the range of questions on the
exam paper. Every question was attempted at least once (though Q9 was
attempted only once), and no question dominated attention. Three questions
received more than ten attempts, with 15 for the question on international order
(Q4), 14 for the question on the legacies of past injustice (Q2), and 12 for the
question on technology (Q3). Students are often nervous in the face of POL9,
insofar as they have no experience of taking an exam paper in timed conditions
where they just have to write a single essay. On the basis of this batch they have
no reason to be. The essays, almost without exception, were substantial, well-
argued, and interesting.
Turning to the individual essay questions, those on whether politics was a game
required more sustained attention to just what might be being claimed in saying
that it was. The popular question on whether politics could overcome the
legacies of past injustice saw essays drawing on a pleasingly wide range of
theoretical perspectives (including Arendt, Césaire, Fanon, Foucault, Gandhi,
Lenin, Nietzsche, Nkrumah, Said, Shklar, and Williams), though sometimes the
balance between theoretical framing and empirical discussion required
adjustment, usually in favour of the latter. Case studies were often African
(Rwanda, Congo, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Burundi, Sierra Leone) and, less
frequently, from the Middle East (Israel/Palestine, Iran, Syria), often in
discussions of anti-colonial, post-colonial, or decolonising politics. Indeed, it
was striking that when Anglo-American examples were deployed they always
had a racial aspect: slavery, Black Lives Matter, Grenfell Tower.
Theorists informing the essays on technology and modern politics included
Arendt, Castoriadis, Condorcet, Constant, Foucault, and Runciman. African
case studies were quite popular, and while these were full of commendable
empirical detail they sometimes struggled to sustain broader claims about the
transformation of modern politics. Other essays, perhaps unsurprisingly,
focused on Facebook. Along the way there were some interesting treatments of
distinctions including state/civil society, public/private, and war/peace, and of
questions relating to political participation.
The question on great powers and international order often focused on the
United States in recent history, though strong essays often included discussion
of the rise of China. Good essays moved back and forth between empirical
material and some of the theoretical models in the literature. Less impressive
were boilerplate accounts of the Liberal International Order, there were some
curious choices of empirical detail, and some candidates might have reflected
more on the relationship between “unilateral” action and international order.
Good answers to the question about whether we are living in post-democratic
times were those that had a tighter grip on a plausible concept of “post-
democracy” or on relevant arguments in political economy, In the absence of
these, essays sometimes made things a little too easy for themselves, wandering
off into discussions of “populism” in general and Donald Trump in particular,
and substituting bien pensant
opinion for rigorous argument. The essays on
imagining politics beyond the climate crisis were strong, taking the question of
“imagination” seriously and offering meaty empirical treatment, including
serious attention to political economy (“green capitalism”, Tooze, etc.)
Answers to the question on masculinity were informed by a good range of
feminist theorists—Brown, Enloe, MacKinnon, Pateman, Young—sometimes
juxtaposed against Hobbes and Tilly, but essays sometimes had too much of a
tendency to survey gendered aspects of modern domestic and international
politics rather than engaging in a focused way with the problem of
“inextricability” picked out by the essay question, and sometimes the move
from particular examples to a more general case proceeded more by insinuation
The essays on liars in politics were not sharply focused enough on the specific
matter of lying, rather than, e.g., the “dirty hands” problem or thoughts about
morality in politics more generally. The one essay on the Global North and
Global South had a glorious simplicity to it, in the spirit of Lenin’s famous
question “who? whom?”, and was very well done. Essays on politics and war
were weaker, bringing relevant considerations into view or providing
summaries of authorities’ opinions when they might have been more
energetically engaging in focused argument.
Stronger essays on the benefits of inequality worked closely with an interesting
case study (Chile) or developed a complex philosophical argument; weaker
essays were either too short, or focused too much on questions of equality rather
than inequality. And the essays on secular politics were always decent,
including discussion of both Western and non-Western countries, but sometimes
a bit more attention to particular cases (France, the US) was required in order to
make their empirical claims persuasive.
POL10: The History of Political Thought from 1700-1890
Ten candidates sat this exam, which was conducted remotely, on an open-book
basis, and in a three-hour window. The standard of answers was high. Four
candidates received marks of 70 or above; five received marks in the 60-60
range; one received a mark in the 50-59 range. The mean mark was 66.4; the
median mark was 66. In total, there were sixteen answers on Section A topics
and fourteen on Section B. In two instances there was evidence to suggest
more or less extensive use of previously-prepared materials with a
corresponding drift in focus from the specific question at hand.
As was the case last year, answers were spread across a range of topics: four
answers on Rousseau; three each on Wollstonecraft, the French Revolution,
Gender and Political Thought, and Empire and Civilization; two on Kant and on
Socialism before 1848; and one each for Hume, Montesquieu, Smith, Bentham,
Constant, Hegel, Mill, Natural Law and Sociability, Luxury and Commercial
Society, and Nationality and the State. Natural Law, Luxury and Commercial
Society, Bentham and Constant attracted particularly strong answers; the
weakest answers were on Wollstonecraft and the Gender topic. In the former
case, weaker answers failed to give adequate attention to the concept of natural
benevolence; in the second, weaker answers were very limited in conceptual
depth. A similar remark might be made about the spread of marks in answers to
the Rousseau, French Revolution and Empire and Civilization questions; what
distinguished the better answers was a clear focus on the question, good
knowledge of the primary texts and the issues they raise, and an analytical
approach to the material. The same qualities characterise the best answers on
this paper year in, year out.
POL11: Political Philosophy and the History of Political Thought since
This year, 27 students took this paper from Part IIb HSPS (of which three did
not submit a final examination), and 37 took it as a History paper, the latter
comprising 20 from the History Tripos, 12 from History & Politics, and 5 from
History & Modern Languages. This year, History students and HSPS students
took the paper in different formats, with History students (including Joint
Honours) sitting the examination in a five-hour window, with a firm word limit
of 4500 words total per script, and HSPS students sitting the examination in a
three-hour window, without an official word limit. For all students, the
examination was open-book, open-note, and taken remotely. While the scripts
varied in total length, word count was in no way a predictor of success, and
many successful scripts were on the shorter side.
In 2022, each question received at least one answer, including at least one
attempt at either a or b for the two-part questions. This use of the full range of
the paper is encouraging, and suggests students are revising on a wider set of
topics. In HSPS, the most popular questions in §A were on imperialism (8)
Nietzsche (6), Second International Marxism (5), Weber (5), and Rawls (6),
while in §B, patriotism/decolonization (6), and the history of political thought
(5) had most takers. Among the several questions receiving no answers this year
by HSPS candidates, Marxism and the First World War, Lukács, rights,
ecology, the crisis of Weimar, and the early Frankfurt School. This stands in
some contrast to the division between History and HSPS student choices over
recent years, and is interesting to note. In the History and the History Joint
Honours scripts, the most popular topics were Weber, Theorists and Critics of
Imperialism, and Liberal Critics of Totalitarianism, with nine answers each.
Punishment and Postcolonialism received eight answers each. Other popular
topics included Nietzsche (5), Hayek (5), Politics and Morality (6), and Ecology
and the Future of Humanity (6). Three questions received no answers from the
History scripts, though were attempted by HSPS students: British Theorists of
the State; State, Sovereignty, and Political Obligation; and 22a, on Patriotism
and Nationalism (22b did receive answers). Several questions received only one
answer: the Crisis of Weimar; The Earlier Frankfurt School; Theorists of
Welfare and Democracy; Multiculturalism, Toleration, and Recognition (one
each on parts a and b); and Equality, Needs, and Welfare. These sole answers
were often excellent. Efforts at questions that have previously been largely
neglected by History students but often taken up by HSPS students, in particular
International Relations and War, generated some truly outstanding answers
from among the History scripts as well as HSPS.
This was a very impressive set of scripts, especially for having been written in
yet another unusual and difficult year. Successful scripts provided clear and
direct answers to the questions asked, using the question to structure and guide
the response. The most successful scripts managed to open up, rather than close
down, the question, taking the examination as an opportunity to consider the
wider conceptual stakes of what was being asked, and showing attention to the
nuance behind a seemingly straightforward answer. Weaker scripts often
interpreted the question reductively, so that it would read in line with previous
examination questions, with the risk (especially high for remote assessment) of
appearing to rely on previous supervision material. Again in line with earlier
reports, and all the more important for remote assessment, the best answers
combined conceptual sophistication and nimbleness with a deep base of
historical knowledge and keen selection of relevant sources.
The questions with a “two or more of the following” structure, or that otherwise
invited a discussion of a subset from a list of authors, pose a particular kind of
challenge. Here, offering a paragraph-by-paragraph summary of several authors
in turn could produce some interesting essays, but in general did not generate
first-class results. The strongest essays selected authors based on relevance to
the question asked; even if the reasons for the selection were not initially
obvious, the essay generated a justification for its selection through the
argument about the authors’ interconnections and the insights those connections
might yield on the question as posed. In some cases, the best essays could still
move author by author, yet would do so in a way that remained anchored in the
question asked, avoiding irrelevant summary, and that was structured around a
running argument, rather than appearing as a list of similarities and differences
(or, in the lower II.1 range, a list of authors).
As stated previously, we are looking not only for knowledge, but for what one
can do with that knowledge. This requires, in part, an understanding of the
relevance of one’s knowledge to the wider questions raised, and of the larger
theoretical and political stakes of a historical moment (Section A) or
philosophical topic (Section B). Section B offers the most obvious opportunities
to stake one’s own claims and defend a clear philosophical stance, but similar
opportunities are present in Section A as well. Making use of them requires
close attention to texts, in a manner that goes beyond lecture material. The best
responses were able to treat texts for their close nuance, complexities, and
ambiguities, while also taking a stance on how we understand their status as
both philosophical projects and political interventions.
POL12: The Politics of the Middle East
The exam was taken by 24 students, of whom 5 received a mark in the 70-79
range, 14 received a mark in the 60-69 range, and 5 received a mark in the 50-
59 range. Students taking it came from the Triposes in HSPS, History and
Politics, and Asian & Middle Eastern Studies, and it was pleasing to see that
there was at least one student in each of those Triposes who received a mark of
70+. Each script was each double-marked according to the same standards,
irrespective of Tripos.
In terms of the spread of answers, most students (19) took one of the ‘mini-
subjects’ in q.12, with the question on why the Gaza Strip serves a persistent
flashpoint being the most popular of the three options. The next most popular
question was q.10, on the conception of the Middle East as a zone of crisis,
which drew 11 answers; as this was a new topic for the paper, it was pleasing to
see the high level of engagement with the issues. In addition, q.5 on
sectarianism was also popular, drawing 8 answers. Most of the other questions
drew a fair number of answers too, so there was a quite good distribution across
the paper; the only exception was q.7, on post-nationalism, which drew no
The most successful answers this year adopted a clear focus at the start within
the scope of the question, explained that focus, and sustained it through a
detailed, critical evaluation throughout the scope of the essay. This year
however there were a lot of long essays that gave long descriptive or narrative
accounts, either not making an argument, or arguing about something that didn’t
really respond to the question. It can be presumed (not least due to their length)
that at least some of these accounts were prepared beforehand and simply
transplanted into the submitted essay, given that the exam was taken in an ‘open
book’ format. Although using prepared material was not prohibited, and
candidates were not penalised for this, it may have had the unintended effect of
making some essays drift away from relevance to what the question was asking.
There were a small number of cases in which the essay did not seem to be
responding to the question at all. This was particularly the case with q.1, which
asked about how “periods of rule in the Middle East by European imperial
powers” shaped nationalism, but which led to essays that discussed at length the
development of nationalism under the Ottoman Empire; and with q.2, which
asked about “authoritarian governments … under which no mass uprisings have
taken place since 2010”, but which produced two answers that heavily used the
case of Egypt, which experienced a mass uprising in 2011. In both cases, it was
difficult to see this as an honest mistake, since the question was clear, and the
individual essays could not be judged to have
“concentrate[d] on the subject matter of the question”, the requirement for a
mark of 50 or higher. It cannot be emphasised enough that a single essay of this
sort, which wholly disregards the question, can have a disproportionately large
effect in bringing down the overall mark for a paper, and indeed the overall
class of a student.
On the more positive side, it was encouraging to see that there was a lot of
critical engagement with advanced academic literature in the essays this year,
more so than before. A good number of the most successful essays brought out
a theme or theory out from a text, and used it often fairly centrally in the
development of the argument, but were also able to show its limitations or
provide another critical twist. There were fewer essays this year than usual that
were commentaries on current events, perhaps reflecting the lower extent to
which the Middle East has been featuring in UK news headlines, and the result
was more reflective, analytical essays which often tried to take in a broader
scope of recent history or made a more sustained effort at comparison.
POL13: British and European Politics
This is the third year that Pol 13 candidates have taken their examinations for
this paper online, but the first time that they were required to do so within the
traditional three hours available in Tripos examinations. The upshot of this
reduced timeframe, which was wholly outside the experience of the Finallists of
2022, was that many essays suffered somewhat from poor writing/editing, as
candidates seemed to lose the thread of their arguments and/or of specific
points. Whether this arose because candidates became distracted while writing
or was a result of poor editing arising from copying and pasting materials (this
was, after all, an open-book exam) is not clear. However, the disparity between
these scripts and both pre-Covid invigilated examinations (2019 and earlier) and
the two previous online examinations (2020 and 2021) was noticeable.
As usual, the paper was undivided, meaning candidates could answer solely on
British politics, solely on European integration, or write on a combination. A
majority of students focused solely on British politics but just over a quarter of
responses related to the EU part of the paper. The questions on Thatcherism,
New Labour and Devolution were the most frequently answered questions
overall, with ‘crises’ the most frequently addressed European question. No-one
attempted questions 10 or 16, and just one wrote on the issue of a German
Europe (Question 19). The average marks for most of the questions were very
similar, although responses to the British politics questions on policy paradigms
(Question 10) and inflation in the 1970s (Question 2) were perhaps not as strong
There are several solid scripts but very few were outstanding. The strongest
essays focused directly on the questions as set, rather than appearing to rehearse
pre-prepared answers, engaged with relevant academic literature and provided
considerable relevant detail. By contrast, particular problems arose from
candidates failing adequately to address the question as set and a reluctance or
inability to define their terms. For example, in response to question 7, few
candidates explained the normative criteria they used to assess whether the UK
Parliament is too weak or too powerful. The key lesson for candidates should
be to learn the mantra: answer the question.
POL14: US Foreign Policy
30 students attempted the POL 14 exam in 2021-22. Of these, there were 8 1sts
, 2 2.2s
, and 1 3rd
(though this exam script suffered from radical
incompleteness in two of the three answers). The highest overall score was 77;
the lowest overall score was 48; the average score was 66.33; the median score
was 67; the standard deviation was 6.11. In general, I was quite impressed with
the quality of the exam scripts.
The exam’s format changed this year. In previous years, students have chosen
three questions from across two sections. This year, students chose one question
from each of three sections, which were designed to provide comprehensive
coverage of all the material covered in the paper. This change generated some
anxiety among students due to the more restricted choice of questions, but a
comparison with results from last year suggests that overall performance on the
exam was not affected.
Students clearly gravitated toward some questions more than others. In Part I of
the exam (covering theory and concepts), 2 students answered question 1 (on
neorealism, security, and domestic conflict), 3 students answered question 2 (on
US domestic institutions and foreign policy), 9 students answered question 3
(on national identities), 9 students answered question 4 (on Donald Trump’s
influence on US foreign policy), and 7 students answered question 5 (on
whether the 2003 Iraq War was more a realist or a liberal war). In Part II of the
exam (covering the evolution of US foreign policy), 2 students answered
question 6 (on US expansion across North America), 2 students answered
question 7 (on the United States’ emergence as a great power), 3 students
answered question 8 (on US engagement in Europe during the first half of the
20th century), 6 students answered question 9 (on American strategic mistakes
during the Cold War), and 17 students answered question 10 (on US foreign
policy after the Cold War). In Part III of the exam (covering contemporary
issues and debates), 7 students answered question 11 (on whether the US should
accede to Russia’s demand to stop NATO expansion), 2 students answered
question 12 (on the role of ideology during the Cold War and today), 8 students
answered question 13 (on whether the United States should maintain security
guarantees or reduce them), 0 students answered question 14 (on whether the
erosion of American hegemony would make it more difficult to manage global
problems), and 13 students answered question 15 (on whether the unipolar
moment is over). Some of this variation likely represents variation in how much
emphasis different topics received in lectures and supervisions; some may also
represent variation in the perceived complexity of questions (for instance
question 12 may have seemed especially complex, while question 15 may have
seemed more straightforward).
Essays that scored exceptionally well shared some common characteristics.
They 1) offered a clear answer to the question; 2) demonstrated mastery of
relevant material from the paper (both readings and lectures); 3) clearly defined
all terms and concepts; 4) exhibited a significant degree of originality, in the
sense that the argument developed went well beyond simply summarizing
readings or lectures; 5) were well-structured, well-organized, and clearly-
Essays that scored poorly also shared some common characteristics. They often
1) failed to answer the question asked, or offered an answer to a question that
had not been asked; 2) failed to demonstrate mastery of relevant material from
the paper, due to a combination of sins of omission (ignoring obviously relevant
material) or commission (interpreting or summarizing material from the paper
incorrectly or ineffectively); 3) failed to define key terms and concepts; 4) failed
to demonstrate originality, by declining to go beyond summarizing material
from readings and lectures; 5) were poorly organized, poorly structured, poorly
written, and generally difficult to follow.
A final note is in order on the relationship between supervisions and exams.
During the period leading up to the exam, some students expressed anxiety
about whether the questions on the exam would match questions on which they
had prepared supervision essays. The implication is that some students expected
to use supervision essays as, essentially, templates for or drafts of exam essays.
This view is misguided and was an obstacle to success on the exam. The
objective of the exam is to incentivize students to master material across the entire paper
, in a way that allows them to synthesize ideas from different parts
of the class. To that end, the construction of exam questions is aimed at 1)
offering students the opportunity to demonstrate that ability; and 2) rewarding
students who read and learn broadly across the paper guide, rather than
restricting themselves to preparing to answer only specific questions related to a
small handful of topics. The latter approach was sometimes reflected in
unsuccessful answers that appeared to rely heavily on recycled material from
supervision essays. This is an understandably tempting practice given recent
changes in the administration of exams, but it results in essays that are
disjointed, poorly directed, and that do not provide full, coherent answers to
questions posed in the prompt. It is, in short, not an effective path to a first-class
POL15: The Politics of Africa
In 2021-22, 17 students took the Pol15 Politics of Africa examination. 12
students were from HSPS (10 single track Pol&IR; 2 Pol&Soc) and 5 students
were from History and Politics. The examination was open-book and taken
remotely. Per the University mode of assessment adopted by HSPS in 2021-22,
students had a three-hour window in which to answer three questions with no
word limits. This format varied from the previous year (open-book and remote,
but a 6 hour window and a 4500 word count limit for the total script).
Consequently, the scripts this year showed different strengths and weaknesses.
As with the previous year, students were given a choice of 16 questions (one per
each lecture topic over the course of the year) rather than 12 in years past when
the examination was closed book, but the questions were once again more
nuanced and specific to ensure students had to address the question at hand and
not just use pre-prepared content. Compared to the previous year, this strategy
was not as successful, and several students used pre-prepared content but
without fully addressing or answering the specific question.
Pol15 is a demanding paper, with wide-ranging content across time and space
that is interdisciplinary, critical, heavily empirical as well as distinctly
conceptual and thematic. Students who thrive in this paper develop their own
distinct specialisms over the course of the year, which in turn allows them to
develop their own argumentative approaches and empirical case study choices.
In finding their own scholarly voice, they proceed with confidence in the
knowledge that they cannot know ‘everything’ or divine the ‘perfect’ answer to
a question, rather it is the rigour, thoughtfulness, and depth of the arguments
that they choose to develop that will matter the most. Students who enjoy Pol15
and get the most out of it find their passion in the paper and direct their
examination strategy and preparation accordingly. It is in preparation for the
examinations that students ensure they develop original lines of argument that
are well substantiated through engagement with scholarly debates and case
evidence. Good exam preparation involves drawing from across the paper,
making connections and taking command of the key debates and disputes in
original and distinctive ways.
The 2021-22 cohort for Pol15 was an engaged, hard-working, and successful
group. The large majority of them clearly enjoyed the paper and this was
evident in their examination performance. Where it was not, it seemed
especially a problem of the open book format leading to pre-prepared essay
arguments that were not truly answering the examination question. The failure
to answer the question – always a risk with Cambridge exams – can be
especially pronounced with open book exams. Overall, though, the results were
strong. The average mark was a high II.i (67.9), and there were 4 First Class
marks. The top student scored 77 for what was a truly excellent script. This
student’s answers showed a combination of exceptionally well-reasoned and
well-evidenced argumentation on the questions with a passionate originality and
quality of scholarly engagement with the big debates in politics of Africa that
underlay the questions.
Students answered nearly the full range of questions, however they clustered
around certain topics. The most popular questions were Q14 (digital technology,
8 answers), Q13 (protest and social movements, 6 answers), and Q4 (post-
independence development, 5 answers), followed by Q1, Q8, Q12, Q15 (all 4
answers). The answers on Q13 were especially strong, but also on Q15 and on
Q16. The best essays were intellectually ambitious, but also fully engaged and
anchored in the scholarly debates, and they often developed arguments through
uniquely thoughtful empirical examples. These essays were vigilant in making
sure they answered the question, often taking command of the question to
demonstrate how it could only be adequately answered by addressing bigger
debates or approaching it with critical scrutiny. Where the essays used empirical
examples, they did so fulsomely, not just referring to cases and countries in
passing, but rather giving sufficient space to weigh and reason arguments
through these empirical examples and the scholarly debates that attach to them.
Some of these scripts went beyond the lectures and set texts, drawing upon
arguments from scholarship well beyond the reading guide. This was not
essential or even expected, however the value they brought was to the quality
and originality of argumentation in the answers.
POL16: Conflict and Peacebuilding
There were 48 candidates for this paper. One candidate wrote the exam through
two 3000-word essays, the remaining 47 candidates answered three questions
from a list of twelve questions. The exam was undivided and included one
question on Colombia and one question on the Democratic Republic of the
The standard was generally very high and we were pleased to see that students
were able to make connections between different parts of the course. In
revisions sessions, several students were worried about the fact that many
questions from past exam papers combined different topics but most students
coped with this very well on the exam. Indeed, some of the best scripts
connected topics and arguments in interesting, sometimes novel, ways.
Sixteen students received first class marks, two students received 2.2 marks, and
the remaining students received 2.1s. There were a significant number of
students with marks in the 67-68 range.
The strongest answers made coherent, convincing arguments with strong
supporting evidence. We were impressed by the use of the literature from across
different parts of the paper guide and the ability of many students to critically
assess different perspectives and arguments. The strongest answers were very
strong indeed, with thoughtful, creative and original answers. As usual, weaker
answers did not fully address the question or made an unclear argument or set of
arguments. Sometimes the evidence and examples were not carefully explained,
or did not seem to support the overall claims. It sometimes seemed that a
candidate had prepared for a slightly different question, and lost focus.
The most popular questions were Q5 (attempted by 19 candidates) and Q11
(attempted by 17 candidates). The answers for Q5 were mixed. Many
candidates discussed the role of China in peace operations, but did not fully
assess what this meant in terms of local dimensions of conflict. Some of the best
answers for this question interrogated or discussed which local dimensions of
conflict were relevant. The best answers were for Q1, where many candidates
presented sophisticated answers, often with interesting theoretical and empirical
discussion. Only a handful of students attempted Q2, with one student providing
an excellent argument about globalisation with relevant examples from
Cambridge. There was a wide range of marks for Q3, with some of the highest
firsts awarded for this question, but also some lower 2.2 marks. The weaker
scripts were simplistic, polemical or disconnected. The stronger answers
interrogated the underlying assumptions of the question and used the literature
effectively. The answers for Q4 were more consistent, although a couple of
scripts stood out with excellent analyses of examples, such as ebola. Answers to
Q6 tended to be very strong, with thoughtful reflections on the underlying
logics of humanitarianism and peacebuilding, whereas candidates struggled a bit
with Q7. Some answers for this question lost focus although it was clear that
candidates were familiar with relevant literatures. Q8, Q9 and Q10 generated
some strong answers with innovative examples. The case study questions of
Democratic Republic of the Congo (Q11) and Colombia (Q12) were generally
well done, with candidates showing an impressive knowledge of these two cases
and the ability to connect this case study knowledge to thematic arguments.
We were pleased that so many candidates engaged directly with the specific
examination questions and were able to construct insightful, convincing, and
sometimes innovative arguments. We were impressed by the breadth of
knowledge and general fluency with the material.
POL17: Politics and Gender
The exam for POL 17: Politics and Gender was sat by 27 candidates in
academic year 2021-2022. The exam was a three-hour, online exam that was
open note. Candidates answered three out of eleven questions. The average
mark overall was just under 69, with a standard deviation of about 4.5. Eleven
candidates earned overall marks of 70 or above for a first, and the remaining
sixteen earned marks in the 60s for 2.1s. The most popular question attempted
was #8 on war, with sixteen responses, followed by questions #1 on political
representation, #3 on human rights discourse, and #7 on humanitarianism and
development, all with ten attempts. Question #5 on technology and gender
inequality was only attempted by one candidate.
The strongest answers showed considerable originality, moving well beyond the
material from lecture presentations and engaging material from extended
reading lists, other courses, and beyond. The strongest answers also developed a
sustained response to the question on its own terms with appropriate examples,
displaying both strong authorial voice as well as nuanced engagement with a
wide variety of different theoretical perspectives. There were several
particularly strong essays meriting marks in the upper 70s and lower 80s.
A number of essays apparently relied too heavily on supervision essays and
other prepared material, and attempted to craft responses to the questions rather
obviously around previous work rather than answering the question on its own
terms. Such essays tended to score lower, with occasional marks on individual
essays falling into very low 60s and upper 50s.
POL18: The Politics of the International Economy
31 candidates completed the POL18 exam this year. 6 candidates received a 1st
class mark, 23 received a 2:1, 1 candidate received a 2:2, and 1 candidate failed
due to two radically incomplete answers.
Overall, the quality of the scripts was high, with a good level of knowledge and
understanding across the topics that were examined. The stronger answers were
distinguished by a more analytical framework, more consistent argumentation,
and a deeper level of insight and originality. They also demonstrated broad
reading and a high level of empirical accuracy. Some answers displayed good
knowledge and understanding, but focused too much on recounting historical
dynamics rather than developing a clear argument in response to the question.
Weaker answers were characterised by their descriptive nature, ambiguity
surrounding the core thesis, and an overreliance on lecture content.
There was some evidence of copying and pasting, with some very long answers
that demonstrated an unusually high degree of empirical detail and accuracy for
a 3hr examination. Some of these answers did not focus explicitly on answering
the question set, presenting large amounts of extraneous detail instead, and
these scripts were marked down accordingly.
In terms of specific topics, Bretton Woods and the Eurozone were both popular,
with a large number of students answering these questions and generally writing
very strong answers. A larger number of students wrote on the rise of the West
this year, with answers generally of a good standard. The questions on more
contemporary topics tended to be answered much less frequently.
POL20: Religion and Politics
The POL20 exam was attempted by 10 students. The quality of responses was
high, with 4 students receiving average marks of 70 or above, and the rest of
students receiving marks in the high 2.1 range. All questions in Section A were
attempted by at least one student, with the highest numbers answering 2 and 4,
and in Section B, all questions except 6, 7 and 13 were answered.
The very best answers demonstrated that students had independently considered
the course readings and supervision questions, and placed them in the context
provided by lectures and seminars. Strong answers addressed the questions with
clarity from their introductions, providing clear empirical support of the
arguments, a clear structure, a consideration of counter-arguments, and a firm
grasp of the conceptual issues at stake in debates over “religion,”
“secularization,” “modernity,” etc. They combined this with engagement and
critique of the major relevant theoretical perspectives, placing them in
conversation with each other, but without simply summarising the theories.
They explicitly considered which empirical cases worked best to illustrate their
arguments, and made clear how the cases demonstrated variation, critical
junctures, or similarities which elaborated upon the analysis presented.
Less successful answers typically did not address the actual question, showed a
more limited grasp of key concepts, made unfounded assertions, summarised
readings without providing arguments in response to the questions, and/or
leaned heavily on a limited range of readings. At times, these showed evidence
of having been drawn without further careful thought from supervision essays
or notes, and needed to have been better deployed to directly answer the
POL21: The Idea of a European Union
There were three candidates for POL21 The Idea of a European Union. On the
one hand it is hard to discuss an exam paper which only generates three scripts,
because there is not much to go on as a basis for generalisation. On the other
hand it is made somewhat easier in this particular case because—unusually—all
three candidates attempted the same three questions, on the Abbé de Saint-
Pierre, on nationalism in the earlier part of the nineteenth century, and on
imperialism in the period 1870-1914.
Essays on Saint-Pierre were good, though more careful attention to what it
might be to be “utopian” would have been welcome. Placing him in an irenic
tradition doesn’t exactly acquit him of the charge of utopianism, for example,
and an attempt to present him as a “pragmatic utopian” needed more on
discussion of the pragmatism. The essays on nationalism were often sharp but
could have done better to focus more sharply on the first half of the nineteenth
century; discussions of, e.g. Nietzsche and the foundation of the EEC were a bit
of a stretch. There was some excellent discussion in the essays on empire of
topics such as imperial expansion, international law, and federalism, though
they often had a constricted optic, focused either on the second part of the
period under examination (so 1890-1914 rather than 1870-1890), or too
narrowly on socialist reflection on imperialism rather than on broader