Guidance for staff on student administration and support
The University’s educational philosophy is that students should acquire a range of critical skills in testing and judging evidence or propositions as well as a sufficient grounding in a particular discipline. Courses are designed to foster independent work and thought, and students learn how to think rather than being taught what to think. Accordingly, examinations should seek to assess the identified range of skills, knowledge and understanding identified in the learning outcomes for the course. The diversified approach to teaching and learning also means that candidates in the same examination might not have been taught exactly the same knowledge of the subject.
Education Committee regards the nature and pattern of assessment to be a matter for the academic judgement of those responsible for designing and delivering courses, who will be best placed to relate the desired pattern and type of assessment to the intended learning outcomes of the course concerned. The Committee endorses the position that a range of assessment and examining practices may operate across the University, within the University’s Examination Regulations and policy framework, and subject to approval by Education Committee and by the relevant division.
Overall, assessment practices should:
The Oxford Learning Institute is able to provide advice on course design and development, including assessment.
Postgraduate taught courses may make use of a range of examination and assessment methods according to the elements within the subject to be assessed. The assessment or examination norm for a Master’s level course which is completed within a year is traditionally the equivalent of two or three three-hour examination papers and a dissertation or thesis of 10,000 – 20,000 words. However, there are many imaginative ways in which postgraduate taught courses have designed their assessment to equate with this basic benchmark.
Approved forms of assessment include:
The University attaches great importance to both the rigour and the fairness of its public examinations. The Policy and Guidance for Examiners and Others Involved in University Examinations sets out Education Committee’s expectations for the design and conduct of examinations.
Departments should keep the nature and methods of assessment for each course under review, taking into account student feedback. In reviewing the assessment procedures used throughout the University or any unit or sub-unit of the University, departments should pay attention to:
Oxford maintains as a principle that those who examine students should be, as far as possible, independent of those who directly teach them. This principle is reflected in the arrangements for the appointment of the examination board which takes its instructions from, but is independent of, the supervisory body for the course. The principle is also reflected in other regulations and policies that seek to ensure, as far as possible, an independence of judgement by the examination board, not unduly influenced by close knowledge of students’ performance in class. However, there are a number of circumstances in which a supervisory body for a course might consider it necessary to appoint a student’s supervisor as one of the markers of their dissertation; for example, where there is difficulty finding sufficient specialists in a particular topic within a small department. If a department does elect to appoint the supervisor as one of the assessors of the dissertation, the following steps should be taken:
Departments should keep under review the mechanisms for their part in the nomination and appointment of examiners, including the chair and external examiner(s), and for ensuring the suitability of, and avoidance of conflicts of interest, in relation to all examiners, including external examiners. Departments should also be conscious of the need to ensure there is a sufficiently large pool of examiners for a course to continue to be viable. In exercising their overall responsibility for the membership, powers, procedures and accountability of examiners, departments should take care to ensure that boards of examiners are aware of:
Within departments, particular care should be taken to ensure that appropriate mechanisms are in place for the nomination and appointment of examiners for all postgraduate taught courses, and to ensure that all courses have an external examiner. Such appointments should be made in good time, and departments should ensure that those holding office both as internal examiners and as external examiner have sufficient information for the proper fulfilment of their tasks. Examiners should be made fully aware of the extent of their powers, and where to seek guidance if they have questions or concerns.
The qualifying test is the academic hurdle set in some postgraduate taught courses to ensure that students have sufficient grasp of the preliminary material (usually core units) in order to progress to the second part of the course (usually options and a dissertation). The test normally occurs at the end of the first year of an MPhil degree, but may apply in other courses as well at an early point in the year.
In many two-year courses, the qualifying test will simply consist of the examinations at the end of the first year, for which students may be required to achieve a minimum or average mark in order to progress to the second year. Whatever format is followed, it is important students are made aware of the hurdle and its timing at an early stage both in pre-application material and at induction – with clear guidance as to what is required and the consequences of failure.
Education Committee has a specific policy on the provision of feedback in postgraduate taught courses1. The policy has three parts and requires responsible bodies to:
This policy permits academic advisors and supervisors to be provided with copies of written feedback.
Regulations should indicate what arrangements will be in place for resits. For postgraduate taught courses Education Committee’s normal expectation is that any resits will be taken at the time the subject is examined the following year, unless the special regulations permit an alternative practice. However, departments are encouraged to consider alternative (earlier) re-sits or re-submission dates that will enable students who have incurred a fail, or who have had to withdraw from the examination at the end of the course for urgent reasons, to complete the award in a shorter time-scale. These arrangements should be reflected in the regulations and other course information.
Where an element of an examination has been successfully completed at the first examination, the mark for the successful element can be carried over to the succeeding year and only the element or elements which have been failed at the first examination re-taken unless otherwise specified by the special regulations for a course. In this context, ‘element’ refers to an individual paper, submission, or other exercise and not all the written papers or all the submissions3.
 This policy is also stated in the Policy and Guidance for Examiners, Section 13
 See also Section 5.4 of this Policy and Guidance
 This policy is also stated in the Policy and Guidance for Examiners, Section 13.
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