The formal regulations that govern the examination of the MPhil in African Studies form part of the University’s Statutes and Ordinances, and can be viewed here. You are also encouraged to consult the Student Registry’s Graduate examinations website for detailed advice on all aspects of the MPhil examination process.
Structure of assessment
Assessment in the MPhil in African Studies consists of four components.
- A practice essay on a topic related to the candidate’s dissertation; submitted at the beginning of the second academic term (Lent)
- The coursework essays; submitted during the second academic term (Lent) for the core course and option course
- The dissertation; submitted at the end of the third academic term (Easter)
- A certificate of proficiency or a certificate of attendance; this certificate is awarded by the University of Cambridge Language Centre to confirm a candidate’s successful completion of language training.
All assessed essays have a word limit of 5,000 words; the word limit for the dissertation is 15,000-20,000 words (including footnotes but excluding bibliography). The practice essay is marked as pass/fail and the numerical figure achieved does not affect the final degree classification. However, candidates must pass the practice essay to progress to submitting the coursework essays. One resubmission of the practice essay is allowed, but coursework essays and the dissertation cannot be resubmitted. Completion of language training is mandatory, but numerical marks achieved in Cambridge University Language programmes courses are not counted in the final degree mark.
Selection of examiners
All student work submitted for assessment is examined by two independent examiners/assessors. The CAS Graduate Education Committee nominates examiners and assessors for the practice and core course essays at its Michaelmas term meeting and for the option course essay and the dissertation at its Lent term meeting. Supervisors do not act as examiners of their students’ dissertations, but will normally act as an examiner of the practice essay. If necessary, dissertations and essays can be referred to the External Examiner for a third mark. For more information about the examination process read the examining and marking scheme.
The final classification of the MPhil in African Studies is calculated as follows:
- The core course essay is examined and a final mark is agreed. This is weighted at 20% of the MPhil mark.
- The option course essay is examined and a final mark is agreed. This is weighted at 20% of the MPhil mark.
- The dissertation is examined and a final mark is agreed. This is weighted at 60% of the MPhil mark.
- The weighted essay and dissertation marks are added together and rounded either up or down to produce the final mark for the MPhil degree.
Feedback to students
Your supervisor will discuss your practice essay with you early in Lent term, enabling you to receive advice and constructive criticism on the academic content and writing style of your work, which will help you to improve the quality of material you submit for final assessment. Coursework essay marks are communicated to students after the CAS Graduate Education Committee approves them at its first meeting in Easter term. These marks will indicate your academic performance and progression on the MPhil course, but are unconfirmed until approved by the Faculty of HSPS Degree Committee. The names of examiners remain confidential and cannot be released to students but, once confirmed by the Graduate Education Committee, anonymised examiners’ essay reports are released, so that students obtain written feedback on their assessed work prior to their submitting the dissertation.
Dissertation marks are not be communicated to students until approved by the Faculty of HSPS Degree Committee. The names of examiners remain confidential and cannot be released to students; however, the anonymised examiners’ reports are provided to students once they have been confirmed by the Graduate Education Committee sitting as Board of Examiners, and approved by the Faculty of HSPS Degree Committee.
Examiners of the Dissertation are asked not to discuss their reports with candidates even after the examination process has been completed, because it would be unfair for some students but not others to learn the identity of their examiners.
An examination allowance normally comes into effect if a student has been, or is likely to be, unable to undertake part or all of their examination, or failed part or all of it because of serious and unforeseen urgent cause. The Board of Graduate Studies considers cases based on medical, personal, cultural (including religious observance) and compassionate grounds, provided that the circumstances are unanticipated and beyond the student’s control. An examination allowance does not affect the marks received. Its purpose is to allow students a chance to obtain the qualification they have been registered for, if the Board of Graduate Studies accepts that their performance in the examination has been affected by serious mitigating circumstances. If a request for an examination allowance is upheld there are two possible outcomes:
- to approve the candidate for the graduate qualification without further examination if the appropriate degree committee has recommended that they have performed with credit in a substantial part of the examination;
- to allow candidates to be examined or re-examined under such conditions and at a time determined by the Board after consultation with the Faculty of HSPS Degree committee.
Applications must be submitted on behalf of the student by their College tutor as soon as it is known that he or she has been unable to undertake part or all of their examination, or has failed part or all of it because of serious urgent cause.
Requesting a review of examination results
A candidate who is not approved for the degree or whose progression to another course is affected by the outcome of the MPhil examination may request a review of the results of the examination. In order to be considered under these regulations, the complaint must be made on at least one of the following grounds:
- that there existed material circumstances relating directly to the examination (excluding circumstances relating to the candidate's course of research or course of study) of which the examiners were not aware;
- that procedural irregularities occurred in the conduct of the examination, which were of such a nature as to cause reasonable doubt as to whether the examiners would have reached the same conclusion had the irregularities not occurred;
- that there is demonstrable evidence of prejudice, bias, or inadequate assessment in the examination process.
Representations that fall outside these criteria, for example, matters of academic judgment, will not be considered.
MPhil in African Studies examining and marking scheme
All written work is marked independently by two assessors before a final mark is agreed, and may additionally be marked and/or moderated by the External Examiner, who will confirm borderline marks and adjudicate in the case of a significant discrepancy between markers.
Coursework (the two essays combined) cannot compensate for failure in the dissertation (and vice versa), although a High Pass in one component may compensate in cases of borderline failure (‘redeemable performance’) in the other.
The total mark awarded for the degree is reached by adding the thesis mark (60%) and the mark for the coursework essays combined (40%). The essays are weighted at 20% each.
Officially, the MPhil degree is awarded in two categories only, Pass and Distinction. To gain a Pass, candidates need to achieve an overall weighted mark of 60 or higher. To gain a Distinction, candidates need an overall weighted mark of at least 75. Final marks are rounded up to the nearest whole number. The threshold for leave to continue to the PhD is usually a 73 for the MPhil overall with a mark of 75 or more for the dissertation or the coursework.
In judging essays and dissertations, examiners are asked to bear in mind that candidates are at the beginning of their careers in research. At this stage, particularly in an interdisciplinary field such as African Studies, many MPhil candidates may well be writing about topics, or operating in whole fields or disciplines, which they are encountering for the first time.
Examiners should begin by attending to the academic content of submitted work. They should consider scope (i.e. the appropriateness of the topic and its larger context, and in current debate), research content (i.e. identification and study of appropriate sources and/or academic literature/historiography), quality of argument (i.e. analysis of academic literature/sources, development of analytical arguments, or reconsideration of existing accounts), and awareness of limits of knowledge. While originality might be possible even in an MPhil essay, it is not required at this stage. But examiners are asked to bear in mind that the African Studies MPhil is interdisciplinary, and students should be given credit for showing breadth of knowledge and a willingness to engage with more than one disciplinary approach.
Work at MPhil level, particularly the dissertation, should reveal high standards of intellectual enquiry, research skills and analytical sophistication. A mark of 67 or above should be awarded only if the candidate might reasonably be expected to go on to complete a successful PhD. Note that ‘leave to continue’ to the PhD is judged primarily on the basis of dissertation performance, although essay performance may be taken into account in marginal cases.
Candidates are also expected to present work which is clearly and correctly written and which has an adequate (though not necessarily full and complete) scholarly apparatus; they have been issued guidelines on these matters, which suggest either traditional or author-date style footnotes, while stating that any clear and consistent system may be used. Inadequacies on these criteria can be weighed against the standards attained on the criteria relating to academic content. The decision to balance judgment on content and presentation in marking MPhil essays, on how to mark relatively for weaknesses either of argument or of prose and presentation must rest with the examiner. High quality argument can be presented sloppily and meticulous presentational skills can hide shallow and undeveloped arguments. Examiners should consider the organisation of the narrative and the argument; capacity to summarise findings; style and clarity of prose and precision in documentation (including footnotes and bibliography). Many candidates are not native English speakers and examiners should acknowledge this, while commenting on shortcomings of linguistic skills if appropriate. Candidates are expected to make use of all available resources to ensure that their submitted work is written in correct English; such shortcomings can be penalised if their effect is to make the work unintelligible.
Distinction: 75 and above
Tackles a topic not widely covered in the literature or approaches a topic covered in the literature from a new angle; shows an excellent grasp of a wide range of relevant academic literature, historiography and/or sources and utilises this material in a scholarly fashion; shows superior understanding of relevant theoretical and methodological issues; provides a well-argued and referenced answer, with indications of insight and/or originality.
High Pass: 70 and above
Shows a firm grasp of a good range of relevant academic literature and/or sources and utilises this material in a scholarly fashion; provides a clear, well-organised and suitably referenced answer, showing understanding of relevant theoretical and methodological issues.
Pass: 60 and above
Shows knowledge of a good range of academic literature and/or sources and utilises this material in a scholarly manner; provides a clear, well organised answer but has some theoretical and/or methodological weaknesses and/or displays some weaknesses in written expression or argument. Marks at the upper end of the range will have minor and less serious weaknesses: those at the lower end will have more substantial weaknesses.
Fail: below 60
Shows an inadequate grasp of relevant academic literature and/or utilises sources in a casual manner; fails to provide a coherent answer; shows inadequate understanding of theory and/or methodology; displays significant weaknesses in written expression and/or argument.
Distinction: 75 and above
Tackles a problem not well covered in the literature or approaches a topic from a new angle; shows an excellent grasp of a wide range of relevant academic literature, historiography and/or sources and utilises this material in a scholarly fashion; shows a superior understanding of relevant theoretical issues and/or shows ingenuity in applying a particular method to an empirical problem; presents a well-argued thesis which integrates theory, methods and data and shows insight and/or originality.
High Pass: 70 and above
Tackles a problem from a new angle; shows a firm grasp of a wide range of relevant academic literature and/or sources and utilises this material in a scholarly manner; shows a good understanding of relevant theoretical issues; applies chosen research method(s) in a sound manner; presents a clear and well-argued thesis which integrates theory, methods and data and demonstrates some insight.
Pass: 60 and above
Shows an adequate grasp of a wide range of sources and utilises them in a scholarly manner; shows an adequate understanding of theoretical issues; applies chosen research methods in a sound manner; presents a clear and well-argued dissertation which adequately integrates theory, methods and data. There may be some limited theoretical and/or methodological weaknesses and/or weaknesses in written expression or argument. Marks at the upper end of the range will have minor and less serious weaknesses: those at the lower end will have more substantial weaknesses.
Marginal Fail: 58, 59
A dissertation that shows insufficient evidence of competence in conducting a scholarly investigation of a clearly defined empirical problem and does not reach the standards of achievement in several of the aspects defined under criteria for a Pass, but which exhibits sufficient signs of knowledge to be redeemed by other work of a higher standard.
Fail: below 60
A dissertation that shows insufficient evidence of competence in conducting a scholarly investigation of a clearly defined empirical problem and does not reach the standards of achievement in several of the aspects defined under criteria for a Pass.
MPhil in African Studies guidance for examiners and assessors
In addition to the guidance below, examiners and assessors are requested to familiarise themselves with the ‘Guide to examiners and assessors for the Degree of MPhil and MRes’ issued by the Board of Graduate Studies.
Submitting marks and examiner’s reports
The Graduate Education Committee will not defer students’ submission deadlines, except where there are serious grounds for an extension to be granted. If this occurs, examiners will be notified immediately. Normally, the MPhil Office will dispatch essays and dissertations to examiners the day after their receipt and examiners will have at least 7 days to submit their reports and marks. It is essential that examiners should regard their deadline for submission as unmovable and respond as early as they can. If an examiner, for whatever reason, anticipates any difficulty in meeting the deadline, the MPhil Office should be warned as soon as possible. In the case of dissertation examinations there is an unusually tight schedule, dictated by a need for a firm decision in late June so that candidates can receive their MPhil degree from the Vice-Chancellor at the customary Congregation in late July. Before final approval is given, the examiners’ marks must be submitted to the Graduate Education Committee sitting as Board of Examiners, then to the Faculty of HSPS Degree Committee, and finally to the Board of Graduate Studies. Failure to meet the entirely inflexible deadlines set by these committees, to which the MPhil’s own deadline is linked, will delay the approval of the degree and may do harm to the candidate’s career ambitions or plans for future study.
Examiners should not write specific comments or corrections on the texts of essays or dissertations (all submissions are returned to their authors after the completion of the examination process). The space provided on the second page of the report form should be used to complete the report, which should be at least 250 words long in order to provide sufficient feedback to students. The reports should give a brief account of the main claims and features of the work, including any particular achievements or flaws, and should explain the mark awarded according to the marking scheme and criteria set out above.
Reports and marks can be submitted in person to the MPhil Office on the forms provided, or sent to firstname.lastname@example.org as an e-mail attachment, so long as a hard copy with signature is submitted by the deadline. All essays and dissertations should be returned to the MPhil Office at the same time as the hard copy reports.
The role of the external examiner
For essay examinations of the MPhil the External Examiner is not required to attend the meetings of the Graduate Education Committee sitting as Board of Examiners, but coursework essays and reports should be made available to the External Examiner for moderation (or examination, if appropriate). The External Examiner attends the Board of Examiners’ meeting in late June/early July. For more information about the role of the External Examiner click here.
Concerns about plagiarism, footnotes and/or word count
If an examiner suspects that submitted work contains unattributed work from other sources, or infringes the guidelines in respect of use of footnotes or word count, he or she should report this on the marksheet provided. Examiners are asked specifically not to mark down work in a punitive way on suspicion of wrongdoing, but are asked to provide an assessment of the academic merit of the work of the candidate; this will provide a basis for the final result and for any possible disciplinary action. Such cases will usually be discussed at the Easter term meetings of the CAS Graduate Education Committee sitting as Board of Examiners, and normally also referred to the External Examiner.
Payment of assessors and examiners
Each examiner and assessor who is not an officer of the University of Cambridge is entitled to payment. For details, see point 14 of the ‘Guide to examiners and assessors for the degree of MPhil or MRes’. Payment claim forms and other useful information are available here.
Procedures for classification of final degrees
Examiners should confer before reporting their marks and endeavour to agree a single mark, before reporting both their own mark and the agreed mark to the MPhil Secretary. If an agreed mark cannot be achieved then the work will be referred to the External Examiner. The coursework essay marks are reported to the first CAS Graduate Education Committee meeting of Easter term, and then converted into average marks that are approved by the CAS Graduate Education Committee sitting as Board of Examiners in late June/early July. Dissertation marks are reported to the CAS Graduate Education Committee sitting as Board of Examiners in late June/early July. This meeting classes candidates for the final degree assessment approved by the Faculty of HSPS Degree Committee at its final meeting in early July.
Essays and dissertations of borderline candidates (i.e. those with average marks on borders of Pass/High Pass and High Pass/Distinction) are sent to the External Examiner for moderating. Upon of receipt of a fail or borderline fail mark, or if the two examiners cannot reach agreement on a mark, a third mark will be sought from the External Examiner (except where both marks are 75 or above). If the External Examiner is one of the regular examiners involved in such a case of manifest divergence, the Academic Secretary will ask an experienced Cambridge academic with relevant expertise to provide the third mark and report; the appointment of this examiners will be confirmed by the CAS Graduate Education Committee at the time the marks are confirmed. When a third examiner has to be appointed, he or she should reach an independent conclusion on the basis of the written work and should not see the marks or the reports of earlier examiners.
Where all the marks are pass marks, all three will be presented to the Examiners’ meeting and recorded in the candidate’s file. However, for the purposes of the scaled average, whichever two marks of the three are closest to each other will stand, the outlying mark being discarded. Where the three marks are equidistant from each other, the two marks most favourable to the candidate will stand.
In the case of one or more marks being a marginal fail or fail, all three marks are presented, with the third mark confirming whether that element is deemed to be a pass, marginal fail or fail. If the candidate is deemed to have passed, the marginal fail mark will be discarded.
Outstanding work in the MPhil should be rewarded with a mark of 75 or above. Examiners are encouraged to make full use of the range of marks above 75.
For outstanding performance on the MPhil as a whole, the Graduate Education Committee sitting as Board of Examiners may place students in the category of Distinction. Students and their supervisors are informed if they achieve this level so that the information may be used for further academic applications. Distinction will be awarded normally only to those candidates achieving a final weighted average of 75 or above. In addition, students awarded Distinction will normally be expected to have a majority of marks of 70 for the course work essays.
Marginal fail marks in the core course and option course essays
The marks of 58 and 59 are marginal fail marks. All work receiving a marginal fail mark will be read by a third examiner (normally the External Examiner). The third reader will examine and award marks independently, without reference to the marks already awarded. Whenever possible, the third reader’s mark should give a clear recommendation of Pass or Fail. If the External Examiner awards a mark of more than 60, the marginal fail mark or marks will be discarded. If confirmed by the External Examiner or other third marker, marginal fail marks on a single essay may be redeemed by the essay for the other course element where the mark for that essay does not fall under 63 (counting for this purpose only the third mark on an essay where one has been awarded).
If a confirmed marginal fail mark on an essay (with the other essay a clear pass) is not compensated by the evidence specified above, the candidate shall be deemed to be a case of ‘marginal failure’. MPhil candidates in this position will normally be advised to leave the course. However, in exceptional circumstances, point 3(a) of the ‘Guide to Examiners and Assessors for the degree of MPhil or MRes’ may apply, giving the Graduate Education committee sitting as Board of Examiners discretion to allow a candidate to submit a dissertation. In such a case, if the dissertation achieves two marks of 63 or above (or a confirmed post-viva mark of 63 or above), the Board of Examiners has power by this regulation to take this into account as a compensatory mark in making its final recommendation to the Degree Committee of the HSPS Faculty.
Receipt of a marginal fail mark from any examiner, confirmed by the External Examiner or by another third marker, in both essays will constitute an outright failure of the course work essays.
Fail marks in the core course and option course essays
As a consequence of confirmed marginal fail marks in two essays, receipt of a marginal fail mark from any examiner, confirmed by a third marker, on more than one essay will constitute an outright failure of the course. Normally this would entail failure of the course as a whole. The Graduate Education Committee sitting as Board of Examiners will make a recommendation to this effect to the Faculty of HSPS Degree Committee, which has the responsibility of confirming passes and fails in MPhil courses under its jurisdiction.
In the case of one or two fail marks (57 or below) the External Examiner is automatically asked by the Chair of Examiners to examine and enter a third mark for the essay. Fail marks submitted by the External Examiner acting as a regular essay examiner will be moderated by a third marker appointed by the Chair of Examiners and confirmed by the Graduate Education Committee sitting as Board of Examiners. The third reader will examine and award marks independently, without reference to the marks already awarded. Whenever possible, the third reader’s mark should give a clear recommendation of Pass or Fail. A third mark, which is a failing mark, cannot be compensated and constitutes grounds for failure of the course overall. The Graduate Education committee sitting as Board of Examiners will make a recommendation to this effect to the Faculty of HSPS Degree Committee. As noted above, the Board of Graduate Studies allows the Degree Committee discretion in the case of certain core course and option course failures to allow a candidate to submit a dissertation. In such a case, two marks of 63 or above (or a confirmed post-viva mark of 63 or above) for the dissertation would be required in order to compensate for the core course or option course failure. Referral of essays for further work and for re-examination at a later date is not allowed.
Marginal fail marks in the dissertation
The marks of 58 and 59 are marginal fail marks, which are redeemable by evidence of more than borderline performance overall in the essays submitted in the core course and option course. In giving such a mark examiners would indicate that the dissertation alone is not evidence enough to pass the course, but that it is sufficiently close that evidence of reasonably strong performance elsewhere in the course would warrant the award of the MPhil degree.
In the case of one examiner awarding a Marginal Fail (59) and the other a Pass (60 or above), the dissertation will be marked by a third reader (normally the External Examiner). The third reader will examine and award marks independently, without reference to the marks already awarded. Whenever possible, the third reader’s mark should give a clear recommendation of Pass or Fail. If the third mark is a Pass the candidate is deemed to have passed. If the third mark is a Marginal or an outright Fail, a viva will be held. In the case of both examiners awarding a Marginal Fail, a third reader (normally the External Examiner) is consulted. If the third mark is a Pass, a viva will be held. If the third mark is a Marginal or outright Fail, the candidate will be deemed to have failed. If the outcome of such a viva is itself a marginal fail mark of 59, this would constitute a ‘marginal fail’ of the dissertation, and point 3(b) of the ‘Guide to Examiners and Assessors for the degree of MPhil or MRes’ may apply, giving the Graduate Education Committee sitting as Board of Examiners discretion to judge whether the essays in the core course and option course, taken as a whole had achieved what the Memorandum calls ‘high performance’ and to take this into account in recommending a pass to the Board of Graduate Studies. Such ‘high performance’ would for this course be constituted by a set of essay marks none of which falls under 63 (and excluding for this purpose any mark of 59 which was not confirmed by a third marker). If such compensation is judged to be available, the candidate may be deemed to have passed the MPhil as a whole. If compensation is not available, the candidate will be deemed to have failed.
Failure in the dissertation
In the case of one Passing and one Failing mark (i.e. 57 or below) from examiners, the dissertation is sent to a third marker (normally the External Examiner). If the third mark is a clear Pass, the dissertation will be deemed to have passed. If that marker awards a Fail mark (i.e. 57 or below), the candidate will be deemed to have failed. If the third mark is a Marginal Fail, a viva will be held.
The third reader will examine and award marks independently, without reference to the marks already awarded. Whenever possible, the third reader’s mark should give a clear recommendation of Pass or Fail. In the event of two clear failing marks, the candidate will be deemed to have failed.
In each case where a candidate is deemed to have failed, a viva may be held, but only if the candidate wishes it. Candidates must be informed of their right to request a viva in such cases. In the event of two low failing marks, it is appropriate to advise the student that a conversion of the fail to a passing mark, though theoretically possible, is in practice highly unlikely.
Referral of the dissertation for further work and for re-examination at a later date is not permitted for MPhil dissertations. A fail mark (57 or below; or uncompensated marginal fail mark of 58 or 59) confirmed after the viva is grounds for failure of the MPhil course overall. The Graduate Education Committee sitting as Board of Examiners will make a recommendation to this effect to the Faculty of HSPS Degree Committee.
Viva voce examinations
A viva will be required only for certain candidates who receive a failing mark (or a confirmed marginal fail) or in other special circumstances (e.g. suspected plagiarism) recommended by the examiners and/or determined by the Graduate Education Committee sitting as Board of Examiners. Viva voce examinations (which normally last for thirty minutes) are held at a predetermined date (usually the day or the day before the Board of Examiners meet). All candidates are informed of this date well in advance. Unauthorised absence of a candidate from a viva implies a failure in the dissertation examination. Postponement of the viva will be allowed by the Board of Examiners only on the most serious (e.g. medical) grounds.
The Chair of Examiners’ will call a viva voce examination by the two examiners of the dissertation jointly with the External Examiner acting as adjudicator. Vivas caused by a mark submitted by the External Examiner acting as a regular dissertation examiner are moderated by a member of the Graduate Education committee sitting as Board of Examiners. The viva voce examiners (including the External Examiner or additional member of the Graduate Education Committee) must submit a joint written report to the Graduate Education Committee sitting as Board of Examiners and may recommend the raising of dissertation examination marks to pass level or higher. If a joint report is not possible and the two original examiners remain in disagreement after the viva, the view of the External Examiner (who will be present at the viva and have read the dissertation) will prevail; should he or she be one of the two original examiners, the Examining Board, of which the External Examiner is a member, will decide the matter. It should be noted that the normal expectation is that marks will not be reduced as the result of a viva. Confidential minutes of the viva examination will be taken either by the Academic Secretary or another member of the Centre’s staff appointed by the Academic Secretary. The officer attending in this capacity will be present at the viva only as an observer and will not participate in the discussion.