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School of Social and Political Science: Undergraduate study

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Marking Descriptors

The following marking criteria for coursework, exams and dissertations, have been established as guides to both staff and students about what is normally expected of work receiving a particular grade. 

Criteria for Grading Coursework 

A1    (90-100%)

An answer that fulfils all of the criteria for ‘A2’ (see below) and in addition shows an exceptional degree of insight and independent thought, together with flair in tackling issues, yielding a product that is deemed to be of potentially publishable quality, in terms of scholarship and originality.

A2    (80-89%)

An authoritative answer that provides a fully effective response to the question. It should show a command of the literature and an ability to integrate that literature and go beyond it. The analysis should achieve a high level of quality early on and sustain it through to the conclusion. Sources should be used accurately and concisely to inform the answer but not dominate it. There should be a sense of a critical and committed argument, mindful of other interpretations but not afraid to question them. Presentation and the use of English should be commensurate with the quality of the content.

A3    (70-79%)

A sharply-focused answer of high intellectual quality, which adopts a comprehensive approach to the question and maintains a sophisticated level of analysis throughout. It should show a willingness to engage critically with the literature and move beyond it, using the sources creatively to arrive at its own independent conclusions.

B     B- (60-63%)    B (64-66%)        B+ (67-69%)

A very good answer that shows qualities beyond the merely routine or acceptable. The question and the sources should be addressed directly and fully. The work of other authors should be presented critically. Effective use should be made of the whole range of the literature. There should be no significant errors of fact or interpretation. The answer should proceed coherently to a convincing conclusion. The quality of the writing and presentation (especially referencing) should be without major blemish. 
Within this range a particularly strong answer will be graded B+; a more limited answer will be graded B-.

C     C- (50-53%)    C (54-56%)        C+ (57-59%)

A satisfactory answer with elements of the routine and predictable. It should be generally accurate and firmly based in the reading. It may draw upon a restricted range of sources but should not just re-state one particular source. Other authors should be presented accurately, if rather descriptively.  The materials included should be relevant, and there should be evidence of basic understanding of the topic in question.  Factual errors and misunderstandings of concepts and authors may occasionally be present but should not be a dominant impression. The quality of writing, referencing and presentation should be acceptable.  Within this range a stronger answer will be graded C+; a weaker answer will be graded C-.

D     D- (40-43%)    D (44-46%)        D+ (47-49%)

A passable answer which understands the question, displays some academic learning and refers to relevant literature. The answer should be intelligible and in general factually accurate, but may well have deficiencies such as restricted use of sources or academic argument, over-reliance on lecture notes, poor expression, and irrelevancies to the question asked. The general impression may be of a rather poor effort, with weaknesses in conception or execution. It might also be the right mark for a short answer that at least referred to the main points of the issue.  Within this range a stronger answer will be graded D+; a bare pass will be graded D-.

E     (30-39%)

An answer with evident weaknesses of understanding but conveying the sense that with a fuller argument or factual basis it might have achieved a pass. It might also be a short and fragmentary answer with merit in what is presented but containing serious gaps.

F    (20-29%)

An answer showing seriously inadequate knowledge of the subject, with little awareness of the relevant issues or literature, major omissions or inaccuracies, and pedestrian use of inadequate sources.

G     (10-19%)

An answer that falls far short of a passable level by some combination of short length, irrelevance, lack of intelligibility, factual inaccuracy and lack of acquaintance with reading or academic concepts.

H     (0-9%)

An answer without any academic merit which usually conveys little sense that the course has been followed or of the basic skills of essay-writing.

Criteria for Grading Exam Answers

In assessing coursework there will be greater emphasis on the breadth of material, more engagement with the literature and a more refined presentation. Exams require more concise and focused answers, with less emphasis on the literature incorporated, or on sophisticated expression and presentation.

A1    (90-100%)

An answer that fulfils all of the criteria for ‘A2’ (see below) and in addition shows originality and independent thought, together with flair and an ability to present and analyse things from different perspectives.

A2    (80-89%)

A comprehensive answer that remains focused on the topic and provides an authoritative response to the question. It should be fully conversant with the main issues and literature and able to incorporate these into the analysis while showing awareness of their complexities and wider ramifications. It should display strong critical and analytical skills, mindful of other interpretations but not afraid to challenge them. A high level of quality should be sustained throughout.

A3    (70-79%)

A sharply-focused answer of high intellectual quality, which adopts a comprehensive approach to the question and maintains a sophisticated level of analysis throughout. It should show a willingness to engage critically with the course material and move beyond it, using the sources creatively to arrive at its own independent conclusions.

B    B- (60-63%)        B (64-66%)        B+ (67-69%)

A very good answer, showing qualities beyond the merely routine or acceptable. The question should be addressed fully and directly within a coherent and well-structured discussion that demonstrates awareness of the main issues and reading. The answer should have a clear focus and engage with the topic in an analytical rather than descriptive way. There should be no significant errors of fact or interpretation of concepts or data. Within this range a particularly strong answer will be graded B+, a more limited one B-.

C    C- (50-53%)        C (54-56%)        C+ (57-59%)

A satisfactory answer with elements of the routine and predictable. It should be generally accurate and show awareness of the main issues and/or evidence of independent reading, which will be presented accurately, if rather descriptively. There may be some errors of fact or interpretation, but the materials included should be relevant, and there should be evidence of basic understanding of the topic in question. It should attempt to engage critically with the question, though with some possible unevenness. Within this range a stronger answer will be graded C+; a weaker answer will be graded C-.

D    D- (40-43%)        D (44-46%)        D+ (47-49%)

A passable but superficial answer which understands the question and displays some learning, though with omissions and inaccuracies and scant evidence of reading. There should be a discernible structure, although the answer may lack focus or coherence. There will be few signs of insight or critical awareness and the approach will be overwhelmingly descriptive rather than analytical. This could also be the mark for a short answer that at least referred to the main points of the topic. Within this range a stronger answer will be graded D+; a bare pass will be graded D-.

E    (30-39%)

An answer that attempts to address the question, but contains serious inaccuracies, omissions and/or misunderstandings. The structure will be weak, and the focus vague. There will be no or very little evidence of reading or critical awareness and a tendency to descriptive narrative, some of dubious relevance, rather than analysis. It might also be a short and fragmentary answer with merit in what is presented but containing serious gaps. Within this band, an answer conveying the sense that with fuller analysis it might have achieved a pass should be marked between 37% and 39%. More substantial fails should receive a mark of 30-36%.

F    (20-29%)

An answer showing no awareness of the relevant issues or reading and seriously inadequate knowledge of the subject. The structure will be incoherent and lacking in logical development, with no evidence of critical awareness or insight and major omissions and/or inaccuracies in the material presented.

G    (10-19%)

An answer that falls far short of a passable level by some combination of short length, irrelevance, lack of intelligibility, factual inaccuracy and lack of acquaintance with fundamental concepts or issues.

H    (0-9%)

An answer with no academic merit, conveying little sense that the course has been followed or of the ability to develop a coherent argument.

Criteria for Grading Dissertations

A1    (90-100%)

A dissertation that fulfils all of the criteria for an ‘A2’ (see below) and in addition shows an exceptional degree of insight and independent thought, together with flair and originality in tackling both methodological and substantive issues. These should be seen as yielding a product that is of potentially publishable quality in terms of scholarship, originality and contribution to the field.

A2     (80-89%)

An authoritative dissertation that displays a sophisticated grasp of issues raised in the literature and develops an appropriate design and methodology to address a clearly-articulated set of questions stemming from that literature. The analysis should achieve a high level of quality early on and sustain it through to its own independent conclusions. It should also show an ability to be reflexive, pointing to lessons learned from the research and making suggestions where appropriate as to how future studies in the area might benefit from experience gained in the course of the investigation. Referencing, presentation and use of English should be of commensurately high quality.

A3    (70-79%)

A dissertation of high intellectual quality, which has clearly-stated aims, displays a good grasp of methodological issues and maintains a sophisticated level of analysis throughout. While presenting the data obtained from the research accurately, the discussion should move beyond a mainly descriptive account of the results, to develop its own comments, points and interpretations.

B     B- (60-63%)        B (64-66%)        B+ (67-69%)

A very good dissertation that shows qualities beyond the merely routine or acceptable. The research question should be clearly stated and an appropriate methodology used to test or answer it, with effective use made of the literature. There should be no significant errors of either fact or interpretation. The presentation and use of the research data should be accurate and the discussion should show a willingness to speculate on their implications for theoretical, empirical or practical developments in the area. Referencing and the quality of the writing should be without major blemish. The answer should cover the question fully and present only relevant material. Within this range a particularly strong dissertation will be graded B+; a more limited one will be graded B-.

C     C- (50-53%)        C (54-56%)        C+ (57-59%)

A satisfactory dissertation, though showing elements of the routine and predictable. While generally accurate and firmly based in the reading, it will tend to draw on a more restricted set of sources. It will probably also be based on less clearly-stated aims and/or a less coherent methodology. Indeed, it is the grasp and handling of methodological issues that will most likely differentiate between the B and C grades. The data will be presented accurately, if rather descriptively, although there should be no serious weaknesses in their portrayal or interpretation. Factual errors and misunderstandings of concepts and authors may occasionally be present but should not be a dominant impression. The quality of writing, referencing and presentation should be acceptable. Within this range a stronger dissertation will be graded C+; a weaker one C-.

D     D- (40-43%)        D (44-46%)        D+ (47-49%)

A passable dissertation, which displays some familiarity with relevant literature and the issues under investigation. The aims may be poorly articulated and this incoherence will undermine the quality of the research. The work should be intelligible and factually accurate, but will contain deficiencies such as restricted use of sources, poor expression and failure to analyse or discuss the implications of the data in anything more than a thin and descriptive way. The general impression will probably be of a rather poor effort with weaknesses in conception or execution. It might also be the right mark for an obviously hastily-executed piece of research which attempted to address a relevant set of questions. Within this range a stronger piece of work will be graded D+; a bare pass will be graded D-.

E     (30-39%)

A dissertation showing clear lack of understanding of the nature of research, but conveying the sense that with clearer aims and better developed instruments it might have achieved a pass. It might also clearly have been written in a hurry, with some merit, but serious gaps, in what is presented.

F     (20-29%)

Work showing seriously inadequate knowledge of the subject, with little awareness of the relevant issues or literature, major omissions or inaccuracies, and limited use of inadequate sources. It could also be the mark for a very short answer with some relevant material.

G     (10-19%)

Work falling short of a passable level by some combination of poor methodology, unclear aims, incoherence, factual inaccuracy and lack of familiarity with basic concepts or literature.

H     (0-9%)

A dissertation containing no academic merit or evidence that the author understands the nature of the research enterprise, or made a serious effort to address the topic.

Freshers 2013