Students left in the dark over changes to English assessments

Students are complaining over the way the English Department has handled changes to the degree structure

Students have complained after a lack of communication regarding recent changes to assessment methods in the English Department.

Previously, Period Modules were assessed by two essays, one submitted and marked during a term, and another one completed over the holidays.

exam paper

Under the new changes, second and third years wil be assessed by an open exam taking place over eleven days for their Period Modules.

Special Modules previously consisted of a 1,000 word procedural essay and a 3,000 essay to be completed over the holiday period.

They will now be assessed by of the larger essay, coupled with a one-to-one essay planning tutorial.

Special Module Office Hours will also be held during Weeks seven to ten provide more opportunities for discussion between tutors and students.

Meanwhile, first year students now have two eleven-day open exams in their Translations and Victorian Literature modules. These modules were previous assessed by two 1,500 word essays.

The Approaches to Literature and Global Literatures Modules now contain one textual analysis task per term, with the intention of better preparing students to write essays.

Students were upset not by the changes themselves, but by the way the University handled them.

The alterations were announced via email at the end of last term, but the email was only sent to second years, leaving third year students unaware of the changes until they were informed by their peers this month.

Many also felt the change had been implemented too late in their degrees, and that they would struggle to adjust to the new conditions.

One English student, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “On the grounds of it being my third year and the most important one, this change means I will be undertaking a method of assessment that I am inexperienced in.

“The Department […] made the mistake of only telling the second years and my peers and I have had no time to prepare or figure out the implications of this change before it was thrust upon us.”

The English Department said that the changes to assessment methods were implemented “in response to student and staff feedback about current practices”.

However, one student told Nouse: “As a year group we were advocating a change in the critical questions examination procedure, but that has remained unaltered.”

Some people reacted more positively to the changes. One student said: “Despite the fact that we were informed of the changes so late, I think the extra breathing room across termtime will be invaluable.

“This will…be especially true when it comes to our tutors being able to spend their efforts on developing our understanding across the module, rather than marking a silly amount of essays.

“As long as they retain the same freedom as the old system, the dissertation time we gain over the Christmas and Easter breaks will, I’m sure, be more than worth it.”

Another student commented: “Overall, I am really positive about the changes, and excited to see how the paper will be formatted!”

After a variety of responses were shown to them, the English Department quickly pointed out through an email to all student that these were not the “frenetic two-hour exams and fragmented replies” some of them were dreading.

The Department reassured students that the questions provided would be as broad as possible, and incorporate all of the topics in the module.

The open exams were originally meant to be completed over five days, but this was subsequently extended to make the workload of students doing two Period Modules at the same time more manageable. An email sent to students last week also revealed exam papers for second years may also include tasks alongside the main essay, such as a close reading exercise, although students graduating in 2015 will assessed by a single 3,000 word essay.

The English Department claims these changes will allow students to better reflect on feedback given to them and implement it in their next essays while stressing that students will be “fully prepared” beforehand.

It also praised “the maturity, efficiency and promptness English student representatives, for working alongside the English Department to implement the changes and for informing staff members of students’ concerns.”

Dr Emma Major and Professor David Attwell released a joint statement saying: “Since becoming aware of the problem, we have have acted promptly and carefully to engage with student representatives.

“Following two days of meetings and discussions we are issuing a revised set of assessment guidelines that address worries about assessment timing and support.”

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