Exams encourage students to synthesise and contextualise material across the range of the subject, and in processes of revision they require students to produce an individual command of the subject and competence in the field.
Exams are also particularly appropriate to subjects, such as language-training subjects, where the recall of material is the central skill for competence in the field, or for subjects, such as writing courses, where competence in the field requires the ability to produce certain skills on demand.
Examinations are used to support a range of learning outcomes, including:
- individual capacity for comprehension of the crucial components of a question or task
- appropriate selection and clear execution of appropriate modes of critical analysis
- the precise definition and use of terms
- a capacity to write and argue precisely and in clear language.
While they also substantially avoid the risk of plagiarism of various kinds, and thus make an important contribution to a pivotal subjects like English IA and English IB, sit-down examinations (where the paper is written under supervision) do not allow for the practice of some other disciplinary and generic skills, and are always employed in conjunction with other modes of assessment.
The Discipline also employs take-home examinations, a mode of assessment that allows the student a very short period of time, usually three or four days, to complete an examination paper. Take-home exams address most of the same learning outcomes as other exams, but also allow students to pay closer attention to many of the skills associated with essay-writing, including:
- awell-informed general argument
- close reference to relevant texts
- understanding of issues raised by the topic
- quality of written expression
- standards of academic presentation.
In tutorials and seminars at level II and III, students’ oral presentations and written papers are often used to display students’ development of the discipline’s core skills. In these presentations, students learn to analyse themes, issues and debates from readings of set texts, and to read professional literature, identifying the author’s argument and the way concepts and supporting evidence are combined in constructing the argument. They also develop a substantive understanding of some of the emphases and methods of the discipline and develop and consolidate their skills in written and oral communication both specific to the discipline and generically available to their work in other disciplines or professional activities.
Seminar presentations ensure that students are not required to research the contexts, conventions and forms of all set texts and critical approaches covered by the subject in order to relate the subject materials in general to one another. As a complement to their own reading of set texts, the seminar group can benefit from the detailed research of individual students to introduce the subject’s range of key concepts.
Tutorial and seminar papers are assessed for their analytic contribution to the set topic, for their understanding and interrelation of set and recommended texts, for the coherence and persuasiveness of the argument conveyed in their presentation, and for their ability to stimulate discussion on the topic. Oral presentations are a particularly effective form of student-centred learning because students are encouraged to highlight particular aspects of the set texts and other readings that they believe are important. These presentations also encourage students to respond to one another’s work, to contribute to the learning of other students in the group, and to share experiences of the course and of the use of developing critical and research skills.
Both tutorial and seminar contexts can include set or informal in-class exercises to practice specific disciplinary skills — such as the application of new terms or concepts — or assess particular skills — such as written expression or command of particular terms and concepts. Both tutorials and seminars may incorporate group student work along the same lines.
Tutorial exercises at Level I usually involve written response to a question designed to encourage practice of reading skills or response to specific critical statements, and these exercises are also assessed with regard to basic skills in written communication.
Because of the emphasis allocated to seminars, they tend to incorporate a wider range of in-class work, including exercises designed to develop and consolidate specific additional tools or skills or the use of concepts particularly important to a subject or perspective being demonstrated.
Where these exercises are assessed, they are assessed according to their understanding of terms or issues put forward in the exercise and, if appropriate, the clarity of their presentation of this understanding.
Each subject incorporates a least a 10% mark for participation. This may be a mark for attendance, which necessarily assists the acquisition of desirable skills or engagement with subject contents, or it may be a direct assessment of a student’s engagement with subject contents. These participation marks are determined either by the tutor’s assessment of an individual student’s general contribution to class discussions and engagement with the subject or, in whole or in part, by specific tutorial/seminar exercises designed to test familiarity with the core skills and concepts emphasised in the subject.
The essay requires students to identify the central issues raised by a question or problem and form a logical argument in response to those issues, supported by evidence from set texts and research sources and by selection of appropriate critical perspectives. Because it thus coalesces so many of the desired knowledges and skills of the discipline, the essay is the most utilised mode of assessment in English Studies. Several other assessment forms utilised in The Discipline are, moreover, designed to produce skills which will be useful in essay writing, which is also a key activity of professionals in the discipline and a skill germane to many other career paths followed by graduates with majors in English Studies.
Essays are an opportunity for students to produce knowledge of the discipline for themselves and with their own selected focuses, and to develop critical and analytic skills. Close analysis of set and selected materials, as well as an understanding of related issues raised by the materials and the problem at hand, are skills refined in essay writing. Essays also encourage students to select appropriate methods and concepts for a given task and to develop skills in the reading practices that they find most productive.
Essay questions require students to offer a detailed discussion of a particular topic, and in this context they learn to respond directly to an assigned problem within set parameters. Essays allow students to practice both synthesising and contextualising available materials, and to construct an informed critical argument by locating and contextualising new information. All students are trained to credit research sources and avoid plagiarism.
Essays are assessed according to the following criteria that reflect desired outcomes for student learning. he final mark for a student in any undergraduate subject (while itself mathematically calculated) should also suggest the student’s competence with or capacity for these skills at the appropriate level.
Pass should demonstrate an effective combination of the following:
- adequate adherence to scholarly conventions (eg. proper citation and bibliography
- using the MLA system)
- adequate reading underpinning assignments
- adequate skills of written expression
- clear reference to set texts
- adequate grasp of key analytic concepts.
Credit should also demonstrate:
- the contextualisation of an argument in relation to other works, ideas, or frames of reference
- clear identification of central components of a question or problem
- identification of a central theme in the development of an argument
- appropriate substantiation of analysis by reference to set texts and research materials
- good skills of written expression.
Distinction should also demonstrate:
- the development of critical skills by testing the basic assumptions and argumentative logic of
- critical and theoretical materials
- presentation of a clear and precise argument
- effective definitions of key terms
- precise and accurate documentation of research materials
- analysis of the historical and/or theoretical frame and broader significance of key sources
- superior skills of written expression.
High Distinction should also demonstrate:
- high-level conceptual and analytic skills
- independent insight
- outstanding skills of written expression and presentation.