MA Assessment Criteria

All assessed work is marked by two Internal Examiners and will be made available to an External Examiner on the basis of the agreed mark. Marks will be awarded on a scale of 0-100. A mark of 50% or above is required for each of the four elements of the MA course.



Weighing the strengths and the weaknesses in each essay or dissertation and arriving at a summative mark is not an exact science. The following list gives you a sense of the criteria we apply.

MA DISTINCTION (excellent)

80%+ Not often given: indicates work which the examiners think of as being exceptional. An obviously superior command of the issues involved, and a clear ability to formulate responses to issues and documents in novel and productive ways; combined with the virtues which earn marks in the 70-79 range.

75 - 80% Outstanding

  • Sustained evidence of thorough and alert research and/or reading.• Sustained evidence of vigorous analytical and/or synthetic intelligence, and of the ability to think independently and critically.
  • Evidence of wide and/or deep familiarity with the range of topics and issues addressed in the course.
  • Highly articulate writing demonstrating a sustained ability to structure an argument and make points accurately, clearly and forcefully.
  • Sustained evidence of the ability to develop a coherent independent intellectual agenda.
  • Sustained evidence of the ability to develop and apply a productive methodology for the study of the issues under scrutiny

70 - 74% Excellent Work in this bracket will exhibit many or all of the above qualities, namely strong evidence of the ability to:• research, analyze and think independently.

  • effectively synthesize thinking within the field
  • demonstrate considerable articulacy as well as effective structure and accuracy in argument • have a coherent intellectual agenda
  • deploy methodology/ies in a self-aware manner and in a way that effectively illuminates the research questions at issueSuch qualities may not all be applied to the same high degree or with the same consistency as work in the upper 70s bracket

MA MERIT (very good)

Students may perform at a level which we know and acknowledge to be very good, and inconsistently demonstrate some or many of the qualities which earn marks above 70. The essays may provide evidence of:

  • wide relevant reading and productive engagement with the main issues of the course
  • good analytical and/or synthetic skills, and of informed critical thinking
  • the ability to construct and control a logical argument to make
  • the ability to develop a sensible and original research question or topic
  • a coherent response to a question or other intellectual/historical issue
  • an effective use of concepts and of examples to construct an argument
  • reliable command of scholarly apparatus (eg proper use and formatting of footnotes)
  • effective use of written English

MA PASS (satisfactory)

Essays on this level may demonstrate:

  • awareness of the main topics and issues of the course
  • generally competent employment of data and ideas from class notes and standard texts, without much clear evidence of productive independent work
  • only intermittent ability to argue logically and organise answers effectively
  • the predominance of narrative or assertion rather than argument
  • significant or repeated failures in factual accuracy and in command of scholarly apparatus
  • some weaknesses in the large- or small-scale structuring of written work
  • less than effective use of written English

FAIL (49 and below)

A failing performance may show a lack of awareness of the main topics and issues of the course, or a lack of understanding of the essay assignment. It may make serious factual errors, be confused in its use of concepts, show limited ability to think critically, to assimilate and integrate the ideas discussed during the course; it may be very poorly planned and/or written. It may suggest strongly that very little time has been spent reading (in the historiography, in relevant theoretical texts, or in available primary material), in looking at objects, thinking over issues raised in the course, or developing the scholarly skills required by the discipline. Work which demonstrates a serious lack of command of the scholarly skills required by the discipline may be failed for that reason, whatever the merits of the work in terms of other criteria.