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Course assessment

Four assessed components combine to make up the examination scheme for the MPhil in African Studies. These components are listed below:

The practice essay

The practice essay must be related to your dissertation topic, but its precise form will be agreed with your supervisor. The word limit is 5,000 words and the essay is submitted at the beginning of Lent term and examined as pass/fail. This means that a pass mark must be achieved, but the numerical result does not affect the final degree assessment. If necessary, a student awarded a fail mark for the practice essay will be permitted one resubmission.


The coursework essays

For the core course, students submit an essay on a topic chosen from a prescribed list of questions. For the option course, students are permitted to develop their own essay question, in consultation with their course lecturer. Option course essay topics are approved by the CAS Graduate Education Committee in Lent term. The word limit for each essay is 5,000 words. It is important that there is no overlap between the two essay topics and the student's dissertation topic.

The core course and option course essays are submitted in Lent term and each count for 20% of the final degree mark. Thus the coursework essays comprise 40% of the final degree mark. It is not permitted to resubmit either of the coursework essays.


The dissertation

A supervisor is appointed for each student upon admission; he or will have expertise relevant to the research proposal that you submitted with your application. Dissertation reading and research begins early in Michaelmas term when you and your supervisor discuss your compulsory essay. The word limit for the dissertation is 15-20,000 words. In Lent term, you are required to submit a formal dissertation proposal of 3-4 pages, which should include a title, a brief literature review, a set of research questions, and a statement on your research methodology.

Throughout Lent and Easter terms, you will continue to research and write up your dissertation, in regular consultation with your supervisor. The dissertation is submitted at the end of Easter term and counts for 60% of the final degree mark. Students are expected to remain in Cambridge until early July in case an oral examination (viva voce) is required.


Language training

All MPhil in African Studies students are enrolled for Swahili Basic 1 at the University of Cambridge Language Centre. Formal assessment in language training consists of two in-class assessments (10% each) and two exams at the end of the course in Reading Comprehension (30%) and Listening Comprehension (20%) as well as one Oral Presentation (30%). Unless you are granted exemption (see below), completing the Swahili Basic 1 course is mandatory for MPhil in African Studies students. Upon completing a CULP course you will receive a Certificate of Proficiency awarded by the Language Centre, which is recorded on your MPhil degree transcript.

Language training is a formal component of the MPhil in African Studies examination regulations, but the Course Director can grant exemption from Swahili Basic 1 to students who present a convincing academic case (with the support of their dissertation supervisor) to learn another language. Such students may apply to study for a Certificate of Proficiency in another of the eleven CULP languages or request to learn another African language by self-training and register for a Certificate of Attendance at the Language Centre. If you register for Certificate of Attendance you will be required to complete a minimum of 30 hours of language self-training in addition to submitting a portfolio of your language studies at the end of Lent term. Subject to this portfolio being assessed as satisfactory, you will be awarded a Certificate of Attendance.

All students must be awarded either a Certificate of Proficiency or a Certificate of Attendance in language training to meet the assessment requirements of the MPhil in African Studies. However, language marks are not counted in the final degree result.


Calculating the final MPhil mark

  • 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.

The essays and the dissertation are marked by two examiners, who are formally appointed by the CAS Graduate Education Committee. Dissertations are not marked by the supervisor. If necessary, dissertations and essays can be referred to the External Examiner for a third mark. Essays and dissertations are marked on a numerical scale, with 60% or above being a pass. If the examiners consider it necessary, they may conduct an oral examination on the dissertation before the final Examiners’ meeting in early July. For full details on assessment procedures, consult the Examination guidelines.