Both the School of Humanities and the Department of Historical Studies take marking very seriously indeed and devote a substantial amount of time and effort to ensuring that your work is marked fairly. Only the first stage of what is a four stage process is actually obvious to students. This document explains the process in full.
The first stage, fairly obviously, is the marking of your essay by your unit tutor. Tutors mark essays using the guidelines set out in the Undergraduate Handbook. Once marked, the essay is handed back to you, but the mark awarded is only provisional.
Why does the mark have to be provisional? One reason is that we are eager to get essays back to students as soon as possible (your tutor has a three week target turnaround from the essay submission date) so that you can digest the feedback and talk to your tutor about the essay before you submit subsequent work. Thus you are able to learn lessons from one piece of work and feed those lessons into subsequent assignments.
However, there is another reason why the mark is provisional – because marks awarded by unit tutors are subject to a rigorous system of quality control.
The reason you are required to submit two copies of your essay is that the second copy is then available to the School to use in the ‘moderation’ process (and is also available to the external examiners, discussed below).
The role of the moderator is to assess whether the range of marks awarded by the marker is suitable, given the range of quality in the work submitted. The primary responsibility of moderators is to ensure that the marking criteria are being fairly and evenly applied by their colleagues.
The moderator must read and review the marking of:
first class items of work
any failed items of work
borderline items of work (39, 49, 59, 69 or, where not available, near equivalents such as a 68 or 58).
items from mid-class work (i.e., mid-2.1, mid-2.2 and third).
This will typically amount at least 6-8 individual items
So, for a seminar group of 15, the sample is around 50 per cent of the total.
In Lecture response units with a single hand in date, it will be more like 25-30 per cent. But for 2nd year LRUs with two hand-in dates, and thus two rounds of moderation, it can be up to 40-50 per cent.
In addition, on team-taught units (such as Researching History), the moderator must also ensure that marking is consistent between markers. Thus on these units considerably more items are reviewed. On a unit marked by four lecturers, for example, around 24-32 items will be reviewed, i.e. around a quarter to a third of all essays submitted.
All these figures are in excess of a stipulated minimum of 20 per cent sampling in the moderation process stipulated in Faculty guidelines.
Having examined a range of items, if a moderator is concerned about the marking of a unit they consider whether this is a single occurrence or a systemic issue by reviewing the entire unit. Moderators may raise or lower marks by agreement with the original marker. If agreement cannot be reached, the entire batch of essays for that unit is sent to the external examiner for their opinion.
Assuming there is no referral to the external examiner, the moderation process should be complete within 6 weeks of essays being returned to students.
In short, the provisional mark you were initially awarded is subject to change by the moderator as a result of what is a rigorous process of quality control.
However, where an adjustment of your mark has taken place, this is not communicated to you because the mark, as will be clear below, remains provisional. Nevertheless, once the moderation process has been completed (i.e. up to nine weeks after your essay deadline) you may ask your personal tutor to check what the current mark awarded to a specific piece of work is.
Once the final year summer exams are over, the third stage of marking control kicks in when external examiners review the assessment and examination process and consider borderline candidates' results. Our External Examiners (four in History and two in History of Art) are all established academic historians from respected research universities – their chief job being to determine whether our marking standards are in line with what those at other universities.
The external examiners automatically review all new units, all units taught by new members of staff, and all other units on a rota system (one third being examined per year). External examiners must consider whether any marks they feel are out of line are a ‘one off’ or a systemic issue and should review work for the whole unit. They consider a sample (typically 10 per cent, but with small groups they may review all the work on that unit automatically). Their sample must include examples of first class work, all failed work, a sample of work from the lower and upper second class division and the third class division.
In moderating unit marks, with the exception of borderline marks (see below), the external examiner reviews overall marking standards for the unit to ensure that the marking criteria have been fairly and evenly applied and the range of marks given is suitable for the range of work. If the external examiner is concerned, through consideration of the sample, about the marking of a unit, he or she must consider whether this is a single occurrence or a systemic issue by reviewing the remainder of the work for the unit. The external examiner may raise or lower marks for individual students, or for all students by a number of percentage points if he or she considers marking to be out of line across the unit.
In addition, external examiners are sent all second and third year coursework and examination scripts produced by candidates identified as being borderline by the Department’s internal examination board. External examiners are asked to consider whether any borderline unit marks for such candidates can be raised (the mark stands or is raised; the External Examiner cannot lower any marks for such candidates).
This, however, is still not the end of the process.
Finally, the candidate's overall degree result is approved by the Examination Board. In determining the classification of degree to be awarded, it can take into account any special circumstances (e.g. sickness or family problems) , which are likely to have had an adverse effect on a candidate’s performance.. For instance, if such a candidate’s degree classification is borderline (e.g. a 69% average with 100 credits at first class), the Board may decide to recommend that the candidate be awarded a first. The Departmental Examination Board may also recommend that a borderline candidate be awarded a higher classification if s/he has shown marked evidence of progression in their third year. For instance, if a borderline student’s average mark in final year was at 70%+ and s/he had produced an outstanding dissertation, the Board may decide to recommend that the candidate be awarded a first. Please note, however, that all recommendations to raise the degree classification of marginal candidates have to be approved by the Faculty Exam Board.
Thus it is only once Stage 4 is complete at the end of the final year that your mark is no longer provisional. At this stage, the Faculty communicates the results to Senate House and they publish them online on Student Info. This takes a while though (it is a massive process, involving thousands of students and tens of thousands of marks across the university). Students are notified as to the date on which the final results will be available.
We hope that it will be clear from the description above that we do everything that we can to ensure that your work is marked fairly and consistently, with several opportunities being provided for marks to be changed. Unfortunately, because the process is so thorough, it is not completed until after the final year exams are over, so it is also quite drawn out, to say the least.
Once the process is over, if you feel a material irregularity in the decision making process has occurred, you may appeal (however, you should note that disagreement with the academic judgement of your markers, moderators, External Examiners or the final Exam Board does not constitute a ground for appeal). You can find more details about the process at
Note prepared by Dr Hugh Pemberton, Head of Education for Historical Studies, 10 Feb 2010