How I Mark Essays

I shall now attempt to give some idea of how I mark the essays. First, there are three common types of essay that will not get good marks: The last is simply bad practice. The first two may be perfectly good essays, but they are not appropriate to the context: they are not philosophy essays. It doesn't matter how good your history of philosophy essay is, there is no way that you will get more than a borderline II:ii/II:i.

I mark essays by approximate class. That is, I will assign a class, or tell you that it is borderline between two classes, or, sometimes, give it a class as it stands, and a class that it could reach after revision (this case generally applies to good ideas badly presented). The things I look for in an essay are as follows:

  1. Original ideas. These will pardon a multitude of sins, and without them there is no way at all that you will get a first. Take risks.
  2. Use of philosophical argument. This is a skill that you should be able to learn over the course of the year.
  3. Clarity. A wrong but clear presentation of the literature will not score lower than a wrong and obscure presentation, and a clearly right account will obviously do better than a confused, but correct, one.
  4. Understanding of the literature. The least important factor. You could get a good first for an essay that made no explicit mention of the literature. However, that is very risky: think of the literature exposition as the safety net, rather than the show.
For a first, you need original ideas. The better they are presented, the better the first. A really confused presentation of original ideas might only get a high II:i, but if there is a good idea, you are unlikely to get lower than that. Of course, if the presentation is so confused that I don't notice the idea, you won't get credit for it.

A clear, thorough presentation of the literature which uses philosophical argument to good effect will get a good II:i.

II:ii's are awarded to essays that are confused but basically right. Original thought will probably elevate such to a II:i. III's are rare: lots of errors are generally necessary. I have only ever classed one essay as a Fail, and that was because it was about UFO sightings, rather than HPS.

While I am not an examiner, my predictions of class tend to be fairly accurate, with only one or two surprises in a year. However, do not assume that you can calculate my prediction from the classes on your essays: if you are improving, your prediction will probably be higher. If you have a grave objection to having your essays classed, then tell me, and I will try to remember not to. It is supposed to be useful feedback (just how good is 'good'?) rather than a rigid assessment of your capabilities.