Master Dissertation Marking Uk

Dissertation Marking Criteria (HST399)

This is a guide to the criteria used by staff in assigning a mark to a piece of work. Broadly speaking, work is assessed on four criteria:

- Depth of research
- Quality of argument and analysis
- Range of knowledge
- Organization and presentation

To obtain a particular class of assessment a piece of work does not have to fulfil all the criteria listed for that class — judgements are formed on the basis of the predominant character of the work — but the guidelines help to show what examiners are looking for in their evaluations. Evidence of strength in some areas may compensate for weaknesses in others.

The normal assumption is that a dissertation will make use of primary source material. Dissertations may also have an historiographical focus, in which case the historical arguments, texts and debates under discussion will provide the substantial primary source base for the analysis offered in the dissertation.


  • First Class (70+)
    A well argued and perceptive piece of work, making excellent use of an appropriate body of primary source material; showing independence of thought, as well as an ability to locate a topic within the historiography; well written, with style and fluency; developing and articulating a clear thesis.

    Outstanding work in all aspects that is thoroughly independent, original and insightful; significantly pushes the boundaries of existing historiography; suggests major revisions to our understanding of the topic; writing that has attained the highest professional standards in the discipline.

    Exceptional insight, weight and sophistication. Indicates an ability to undertake advanced historical study with imagination and tenacity. Clear command of the primary sources used. Highly accurate work, analytically rigorous, demonstrating thoroughly original approaches and developing existing historical work in significant ways.

    High level of critical and innovative thought. Evidence of a capacity to pursue independent lines of enquiry and to conduct perceptive and scholarly research on the basis of primary evidence.

    Shows a clear awareness of the salient points and an ability to discuss them analytically and incisively as well as with some creativity. Undoubted quality in the use of both primary and secondary sources, but not sustained across the entire range. A mark in this range may reflect excellence in aspects of the dissertation but some technical or stylistic weaknesses.

  • Upper Second Class (60-69)
    Well argued and clearly focused, based on wide reading of both primary and secondary source material; well structured, revealing a clear logic; showing a breadth of knowledge but may lack creativity or incisiveness; weighing up and evaluating evidence, and identifying key issues, and, where relevant, appreciating the extent to which historiography is contested. Well written with few technical errors.

    A mark in this range suggests thoughtfulness, good use of primary sources and the ability to develop a cogent and nuanced argument on the basis of primary evidence.

  • A mark in this range indicates proficiency, coherent and defensible arguments and adequate examples from primary sources but a rather mechanical performance.

  • Lower Second Class (50-59)
    A competent delineation of a subject, using some primary source material, but may lack sustained focus, have a limited argument or tend towards the assertion of essentially derivative ideas. More descriptive than analytical, without the kind of critical reflection characteristic of answers in higher mark bands. Shows some understanding of strands in historiography where this is relevant. Based on limited reading and documentary work. Provides a reasonably structured account but with some signs of confusion; may contain errors of fact or interpretation. The writing lacks fluency and may be clumsy in places.

    A mark in this range reflects a reasonable degree of competence and knowledge but an insufficiently developed argument, with one or more key points/sources/interpretations neglected.

    A mark in this range indicates a superficial argument, but with little analytical awareness, some inaccuracies and little attempt to evaluate the status or significance of information. Reliant on only a small quantity of source material and reading, deployed in an illustrative rather than an analytical manner.

  • Third Class (45-49)
    A thin piece of work which nevertheless demonstrates some knowledge of relevant material and an ability to marshal it. Inadequately informed; erroneous in matters of fact and interpretation; poorly organised. Poorly written. Careless presentation; absence of references. A mark in this range may denote a failure to address primary sources, and consequent reliance on secondary sources to produce a survey-type account; an absence of serious argument or of any attempt to shape the topic and identify questions and problems; superficiality.

  • Pass Without Honours (40-44)
    Signs of some research but at an elementary level. For the most part confused and poorly expressed. A small element of analysis. Contains significant grammatical and spelling errors.

  • Fail (0-39)
    Work that displays little or no real understanding of the topic. There is no coherent argument. The piece relies on a very limited amount of descriptive material, without any critical reflection of its significance.

    No evidence of independent research; insignificant or no argument; superficial; often irrelevant or tangential. Inadequately informed, erroneous in matters of fact and interpretation, poorly organised. Poorly written with numerous grammatical and spelling errors.

    Failure to carry out the task assigned. Contains no relevant information. Some attempt at analysis, but misconceived and/or incoherent, and has a weak structure.

    No serious attempt to carry out the task assigned. No structure at all. No attempt at analysis. No understanding or knowledge of the topic.


  • Indicates work either not submitted or unworthy of marking.

MSc Project Marking Guidelines

In some cases (e.g., if the markers cannot agree) moderation will be required. Here is the policy on moderation.

The project is assessed on the basis of a written final dissertation. Dissertations will typically conform to the following format:

  • Title page with abstract.
  • Introduction : an introduction to the document, clearing stating the hypothesis or objective of the project, motivation for the work and the results achieved. The structure of the remainder of the document should also be outlined.
  • Background : background to the project, previous work, exposition of relevant literature, setting of the work in the proper context. This should contain sufficient information to allow the reader to appreciate the contribution you have made.
  • Description of the work undertaken : this may be divided into chapters describing the conceptual design work and the actual implementation separately. Any problems or difficulties and the suggested solutions should be mentioned. Alternative solutions and their evaluation should also be included.
  • Analysis or Evaluation : results and their critical analysis should be reported, whether the results conform to expectations or otherwise and how they compare with other related work. Where appropriate evaluation of the work against the original objectives should be presented.
  • Conclusion : concluding remarks and observations, unsolved problems, suggestions for further work.
  • Bibliography.

This format is given for guidance only. The structure of an MSc dissertation should be chosen to suit the project.

In addition, the dissertation must be accompanied by a statement declaring that the student has read and understood the University's plagarism guidelines. Examiners may use the Turnitin plagarism detection software.

The dissertation presents work of extended scholarship, often the result of original work or in-depth research of a topic. The work should demonstrate, amongst other things, advanced level of knowledge and understanding of the field of study, and an ability to undertake research. The dissertation must be satisfactory in its presentation and reference to other sources. Since the time and resources available to the candidate are relatively restricted it is not expected that the dissertation will report notable or original contributions to knowledge. The masters dissertation and associated works of scholarship are primarily teaching, learning and examining media, not media for the presentation of research of original work outcomes to public or peers.

Projects should be assessed in terms of a number of basic and other criteria. These are:

  • Basic Criteria
    • The problem is clearly stated and the student demonstrates an understanding of the problem.
    • The work is `complete', with a coherent conclusion and evidence in support of it.
    • The quality of the work demonstrates a thoroughness and clarity in approach.
    • The quality of presentation is of an adequate standard, with the arguments well-structured and the English fluent.
  • Additional Criteria
    • The student demonstrates extensive knowledge of the literature
    • There is an excellent critical evaluation of previous work
    • There is a critical evaluation of the student's own work
    • There is sound justification of design decisions
    • There is a novel solution of conceptual problems
    • The amount of work undertaken is more than one would expect, in the time available.
  • Exceptional Criteria
    • There is evidence of outstanding merit e.g. originality
    • The dissertation includes material worthy of publication in peer-reviewed outlets.

Note that according to the University's marking regulations (see the document Taught Assessment Regulations (PDF), and in particular page 32), a dissertation may be judged satisfactory, as presented and without alteration, despite containing small deficiencies and editorial imperfections.

Markers may not recommend that marginal fails be resubmitted with minor ammendments. Resubmissions are not permitted unless this has been approved by CSPC on the basis of a case submitted by the College of Science and Engineering. If the Board of Examiners wishes a student to resubmit, a case on the basis of special circumstances needs to be submitted to CSPC as a College-requested concession.

Accordingly, markers should assign projects their marks according to the following criteria:

The dissertation is inadequate or poor on each of the basic criteria. The candidate will fail for MSc, but may obtain a diploma based on exam performance.
The dissertation is poor on each of the basic criteria. The candidate will fail for MSc, but may obtain a diploma based on exam performance.
The dissertation is borderline, the Board of Examiners will consider whether to award an MSc.
The dissertation is fair on each of the basic criteria. The MSc will be awarded.
The dissertation is at least fair on each of the basic criteria and is fair on some of the additional criteria.
The dissertation is at least fair on each of the basic criteria and is fair on most of the additional criteria.
The dissertation is at least good on each of the basic criteria and is at least fair on each of the additional criteria.
The dissertation is at least good on each of the basic criteria and is at least fair and sometimes good on each of the additional criteria.
The dissertation is at least good on each of the basic criteria and is at least fair and most times good or excellent on each of the additional criteria.
The dissertation is good or excellent on each of the basic and additional criteria.
The dissertation is good or excellent on each of the basic and additional criteria and also has some elements of the exceptional criteria.
The dissertation is good or excellent on each of the basic and additional criteria and also shows clear evidence of the exceptional criteria.

Note that the 'completion' criterion, B, covers achievement of the original objectives, achievement of modified objectives or providing convincing evidence that the objectives are unachievable. The 'outstanding merit' criterion, K, includes originality and the excellence of engineering.

Many dissertations will not fit neatly into any category, e.g. strong on additional criteria, but weak on a basic one. In this case, examiners are asked to trade one criterion off against another as best they can, bearing in mind that failure on a basic criterion is a serious fault.

The degree may be awarded with meritor with distinction. For distinction, a candidate must have been awarded at least 70% for the dissertation and other work from the taught element of the course must have also be assessed and awarded a mark which is close to, or above the 70% standard. For merit, at least 60% is required on both criteria.

Markers should be particularly careful about assigning grades at these two borderlines. In particular, if the marks assigned by the first and second marker are on different sides of a borderline, then a special justification is required for the agreed mark, explaining why the agreed mark is either below or above the borderline. This justification should be entered in the agreed mark form as free text.

The dissertation may be judged to be marginally unsatisfactory if the examiner feels that an unambiguous pass cannot be justified. In this case the mark awarded for the work should be in the range 48-49%. The Board of Examiners will make the final decision, possibly based on any special circumstances. There is no longer a mechanism for a candidate to revise the dissertation. If the dissertation, as submitted, clearly does not demonstrate the required standard, an unambiguous fail mark (47% or below) should be awarded.

When examiners are aware of any mitigating factors which should be taken into account, these should not be compensated for in the assessment but should be mentioned in the appropriate section of the report with an indication of the degree of compensation felt to be appropriate. Similarly if an examiners feels that the dissertation does not do justice to the work carried out by the candidate, this should be made clear in the report together with an explanation. In all cases reasons for the overall grading must be given.

In the General Comments section, examiners should include a little contextual information as to what the thesis is about, in no more than one sentence or two. Supervisors should also note the extent to which the candidate was self-directed or required close supervision. Original contributions by the candidate or novelty in the project should also be highlighted. If the project involved extending existing code, the examiner should try to estimate how much work was put into researching the pre-existing background.

It is very important that the comments that are written on the mark sheet are sufficiently informative to justify the mark awarded the dissertation.

In all cases, it is the Board of Examiners that make the final decision, based on the mark sheets and agreed marks. Except under exceptinoal circumstances, individual mark sheets should be completed without consultation amongst examiners. If it is necessary to consult, this should be indicated appropriately on the submitted form.

Examiners are invited to nominate a dissertation for a prize if they think this is appropriate. Making such a nomination on the project marking form will allow External Examiners to adjudicate between competing projects.

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