A number of second and third-year English students have criticised the feedback they were given after receiving the marks for their open exam essays on Wednesday.
Complaints posted on Facebook groups for English students at the University included that the marks they’d received were lower than their average for previous modules and that little feedback was given on the essays.
Many students said feedback that was given was written in illegible handwriting, with some being incorrectly criticised for spelling mistakes or including inaccurate quotations.
Rosie May Bird Smith, a second-year English student, told Nouse: “After getting my essay back that I slaved over for weeks, I was incensed by the feedback I received.
“There were two comments written on my essay, both of which were not only illegible but left me with no knowledge of how to improve. Many of my friends’ comments were also unhelpful and some even demeaning and sarcastic.
“I’m not someone to kick up a fuss, but when I’m paying nine grand a year for my education, on the one piece of written feedback we get all term, I would expect more than a couple of illegible comments and a very vague conclusive line of ‘this essay could benefit from being written from a wider perspective’.
“While the scientific courses are paying the same amount as us and receiving 20-30 hours of contact a week, lab materials [and] books… we get a limited seven hours a week and have to purchase our own books. So surely the one bit of feedback we get should take more than five minutes to write? It makes me wonder what we pay for.”
James Fellows, a second-year student, said: “I didn’t receive any written annotation on my essay. All I got was a circle around where I didn’t reference a quote correctly. The comments from the cover sheet should have been followed up with highlighted examples in the actual essay.”
Some third-year students expressed concern that the low marks would affect their chances of graduating with a first and several students felt that feedback was needlessly sarcastic. A second-year student, who wished to remain anonymous, told Nouse: “I was distraught to see the marker use sarcasm and call my writing style … akin to reading ‘nonsense’.
“Although parts of their marking was fair … the feedback was one-dimensional … and, in addition to reducing me to the verge of tears, has cemented the view that I’m clearly not good enough [for] this degree and the markers clearly don’t care quite enough to give personal and detailed feedback to help this.”
However, other students were satisfied with the marking. Dean Bennell, a second-year student, said: “I agree with my mark and I got really thorough feedback.”
Similarly, Alice Olsson, a third-year student, posted on Facebook: “Overall I can definitely see a consistency in the marking of my work, which has always been very reasonable.”
This is the first time the Department of English and Related Literature has used the new open exam in which period modules are assessed by one 3,000 word essay from a choice of questions, although third-year students have the option to choose their own title.Previously, the modules were assessed by a 1,500 word essay due in Week 5, and a 2,500 word essay due in Week 1 of the following term, both of which students chose their own topics for.
The changes were criticised at the beginning of last term when it emerged that third-year students had not been informed about them due to an administrative error.
Commenting on the recent feedback, Cherelle Johannes, the second-year single subject course representative for English, said: “The student reps as a whole are trying to gauge the level of dissatisfaction, as clearly there are some issues which can’t be ignored. There is a meeting next week where this will be brought up as a matter of urgency. Meanwhile, we need students to let us know their feelings on the assessment.”
The Department of English and Related Literature released a statement saying: “The Department is aware of the complaints, which have been garnered via Facebook. The Department will arrange individual meetings with each complainant to discuss the mark and the feedback that has been given.
“The Department is absolutely committed to ensuring that the assessment students receive is fair and constructive, as well as academically rigorous. We also completely understand students’ anxieties about results in the competitive and challenging world that they will face when they leave university. Final year students will soon receive further information about how their marks relate to the overall grade profile of the Department, and we hope that this will be both useful and reassuring. We wish all our third years well as they enter this crucially important final phase of their degree.”