The Distance Mode of MA in Values and the Environment at Lancaster University


Assessment details for 2006/7

AwayMave is assessed by written work. In general this is one 5,000 word essay for each of the five modules and a 15,000 word dissertation. Essays are marked by the module tutor and returned with comments. For extensive details including the criteria against which work is marked please see the sections below.

Writing essays Submitting work
Using the discussion site for assessment Pass and Distinction
Criteria for award of marks Mid year review of progress

Writing essays

All of the modules rely on written work for assessment. However, we strongly recommend that you do not think of writing as just writing an essay. Most of us find that we can think much more clearly and productively 'with pen in hand'. The quantity of reading that you will do over the period of an MA is frighteningly large and if you want to be able to remember and use any of the ideas discovered you would need some kind of processing of the information in your own words. You can use a study diary or some system of note taking to keep track of what you have read, notes from your working through the exercises in seminars, informal discussions and, most importantly, your own thoughts.


All mention of other texts and to the ideas of other people needs to be properly referenced. The Institute does not have a recommended system although it is usual for social scientists to use the Harvard system (names and dates in brackets in the texts) and for Humanities scholars to use the Chicago system (numbers in the text and full references at the end). Getting used to the academic conventions is useful, but we require just that whatever you do is consistent and thorough. An important aspect of both careful note taking and good referencing is that you do not slip into unintentional plagiarism (presenting the words or ideas of another as if they are your own) which is a very serious academic offence and when intended can lead to exclusion from the university.

Length of essays

The essay work for each module usually takes the form of one long essay (maximum: 5,000 words) although there are a number of variations to this and advice on this is included in individual module assessment pages. An outline of the variations is as follows.
On the modules from the first term, particularly 503, students can opt to present two essays. The two essays should be a first one of 1,500 words and a second essay of 3,500 words. This allows you to get swiftly into the habit of writing and to get feedback on how you are doing. The different lengths mean that you still have the scope for an extended piece for the same module. The assessment weighting of the two pieces would be 30/70.

Please note there is a penalty of 5 marks for work that is seriously overlength (seriously overlength is defined as more than 10% longer than the maximum or guidline length).

Feedback prior to submission

People’s backgrounds differ quite widely on AwayMAVE, and some may be unfamiliar with writing essays from a philosophical perspective - or even with writing essays of any kind. To help with anxieties that may arise in this way, tutors are usually willing to read and comment on an essay plan or a penultimate draft of your essay (if you keep to schedule) before you hand it in for assessment. Check beforehand.

Essay deadlines

The Institute sets essay deadlines although the tutors might have to change these in the case of individual modules (check the module web site) and tutors will also set the earlier deadline where there are two pieces of work. It is very important that you keep on top of the work set to allow yourself time for each part of the MA. Students are often tempted to spend a disproportionate amount of time on essays and not leave enough for the dissertation, for this reason we only grant extensions in the case of illness or truly unforeseen circumstances. To get an extension on your essay deadline you will need to email your tutor who will fill out an essay extension form and submit it for you. Shown below are deadlines, but the earlier you hand in your essay the better.

Term start and end for 2006/7

Essay due

Michaelmas 9th Oct - 15th Dec 15th Jan 07
Lent 16th Jan – 23rd March 23rd April 07
Summer 24th April- 29th June 23rd July 07
Dissertation - ongoing 10th September 07

N.B. modules with more than one essay will set specific deadlines for the first piece and tutors are at liberty to change a deadline at the start of a specific module.

Discussion contributions

Distance students also have the option of, at the end of each module, pulling together a selection of their contributions to the discussion site and presenting them as a portfolio for part of their assessment. Average contributions are 1 screenful - approximately 200 words - and a reasonable portfolio would be approximately 7 contributions per module. You are welcome to modify the contributions in the light of your peers’ or your tutor’s comments although you will need to acknowledge this in a summary document. This portfolio would replace the short essay and would count for 30% of the module’s assessment.


How to submit work

There are two methods for distance students to submit work:
1. E-mail your essay, or portfolio as a ‘Word’ attachment, to Christine Dundas. She will check that it prints out OK, print out two copies, submit them and E-mail you confirmation of them being received in the Institute.
2. Send two copies by post to Christine Dundas IEPPP, Furness College, Lancaster University, Lancaster LA1 4YG.

Ensure that the essay has a title sheet with the following details:

  • essay title;
  • your name;
  • the relevant module number;
  • the tutor's name;
  • word count;

And please be sure to number the pages.


The essay should be accompanied by a cover sheet - download the coversheet.


All essays are marked by your tutor and also read by another member of staff. This does take time. However, if you keep to schedule, your work should be returned within three weeks of submission. Essays are returned to your pigeon-hole (by post to distance students).

Final Assessment

Work is returned with a mark sheet and a page of comments - do remember to read through the comments and reflect on them. The comments are more useful to you than the mark in terms of improving your writing and argumentation skills. Also note that the mark is open to moderation by the external examiner. This means that no marks are finalised until the Exam Board that sits in the October of your year of completion.

Criteria for the award of marks on MAs in the Institute

The criteria we use are the default marking criteria for MA course work agreed by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. The criteria show the features we expect to see in work of a given mark or grade. To achieve a given grade, students do not have to have met all the criteria listed; however, they must have demonstrated a preponderance of those qualities in their work. Although modes of assessment vary (essays, dissertations, other forms of written output) the principles by which markers arrive at their judgements remain the same. Below is a list of aspects of students’ work that may be taken into account during assessment, as appropriate.

Relevance of material in the essay to the title of the assignment.
Relevance to the content of the course.
Understanding of issues or problems under discussion.
Knowledge and understanding of relevant readings.
Critical discussion of relevant readings.
Use of suitable data.
Clarity and depth in the analysis of theory, data and issues under discussion.
Coherence of argument.
Clarity and relevance of introduction and conclusion.
Clarity and precision of expression.
Use of appropriate and consistent conventions for referring to other people’s work.
Clarity of presentation ( layout, including use of paragraphs and tables, for example).
Clarity of writing including grammar, punctuation, spelling and sentence construction.

Criteria for the award of marks

70 + (distinction)

A piece of written work in the 70+ range is one of exceptional quality, requiring a high level of conceptual ability and an extremely thorough and conscientious approach to study. Work in this range will clearly demonstrate the capacity to proceed to a higher research degree. It is distinguished by:

A clearly expressed and convincing argument which is used to develop a coherent and logical framework within which to answer the question or address the topic, and which is well grounded in existing theory and research, leading to a reasoned conclusion fully supported by the foregoing material.
A capacity to relate consistently the theoretical and empirical material to the conceptual framework.
Substantial evidence of independent research.
The absence of irrelevant or extraneous material.

A thorough understanding of the topic and its implications.
A clear and consistent focus on the issues raised by the question/topic.
An insightful argument showing signs of originality.

Good grammar, punctuation, spelling and sentence construction.
Thorough use of conventions of referring to other people’s work

Marks within this classification may vary due to–

An original capacity to develop arguments beyond those available in the literature.
The depth and sophistication of the conceptual argument.
The level of familiarity with the theoretical and research literature.

60-69 (Good pass)

A piece of written work of a good to very good standard, requiring clarity of thought and expression. It will display an ability to handle the relevant literature in an analytical manner. It will be more than a good description of the various theories and/or studies relevant to the question – it will demonstrate a marshalling of relevant information by means of analysis and interpretation. It will not necessarily have a watertight argument, but it will be clearly structured and its conclusions will not take the reader by surprise. Such a piece of work will generally show less independence of thought and mastery of detail that is required for a mark of 70 or over. There may be some errors or misjudgements with regard to issues that are not central to the argument. Work in this range will normally demonstrate the capacity to proceed to a higher research degree.
It is distinguished by:

A logical, coherent framework within which to answer the question or address the topic.
An ability to organise the data in a way that provides a clear and logical answer to, or discussion of, the question/topic.
A clearly expressed theme or argument developed from a critical consideration of relevant literature.

A good understanding of the topic and its implications.
Familiarity with the relevant literature and empirical data.
The avoidance of irrelevant or extraneous material.
Evaluation of competing arguments.
Conclusion supported by the body of the argument and evidence.
Some evidence of independent research.
Avoidance of unsubstantiated assertions.

Good grammar, punctuation, spelling and sentence construction.
Good use of conventions of referring to other people’s work

Marks within this category may vary due to–
The clarity and cogency of the overall argument.
The level of familiarity with the relevant literature and data.
The depth and coherence of the answer.

50-59 (Pass)
A piece of written work of a moderate to good standard. It will be descriptively strong. It is distinguished from the 60-69 piece by the level of analysis displayed and by the coherence with which the material is organised. There may be some significant errors, misjudgements or omissions of important details. A mark in this range would not normally demonstrate the capacity to proceed to a higher research degree. It is characterised by:

An attempt to answer the question or address the topic,
A conclusion not entirely supported by or relevant to the body of the essay.
A failure to adequately organise an answer into a coherent whole.

A reasonable understanding of the topic and its implications.
A level of empirical knowledge and relevant reading which demonstrates a conscientious attempt to tackle the question/topic.
The intrusion of some extraneous material.
A failure to grasp at least some relevant points or address some relevant literature.

Adequate grammar, punctuation, spelling and sentence construction.
Use of conventions of referring to other people’s work but with some minor omissions

Marks within this category may vary due to–
The level of empirical and theoretical knowledge displayed.
The seriousness with which an attempt has been made to answer the question or address the topic.
The number of major points that have been covered.
The coherence of the essay.
The degree of unsubstantiated assertion.
Written style (grammar, spelling, punctuation and sentence construction).

40- 49 (Fail - with the possibility of condonation in accordance with the Faculty regulations.)
A piece of written work in this category shows signs of engagement with the question or topic, but has inadequacies at Master’s level. It signals a failure to give sufficient thought to the work in hand, displaying inconsistent argument, unsubstantiated assertions, and a patchy acquaintance with the relevant literature. It may lack a convincing conclusion and it is likely to include significant errors, omissions and misunderstandings. It is characterised by:

A failure to order this material so as to provide an adequate answer to the question.
An ability to pick out some of the points required for a satisfactory answer.
Inadequate conclusion.

Some knowledge of appropriate empirical material.
The intrusion of irrelevant material.
An inadequate familiarity with relevant literature.

Marks within this category may vary due to–
The level of empirical knowledge displayed.
The extent to which an effort has been made to answer the question or address the topic.
Evidence of conscientious effort.
The degree of unsubstantiated assertion.
Written style (grammar, punctuation, spelling and sentence construction).
Sub-standard grammar, punctuation, spelling and sentence construction.
Inadequate use of conventions of referring to other people’s work

Marks below 40 (Fail - without possibility of condonation.)
Marks in the 30 - 39 range indicate that the piece of written work is inadequate in every respect with pronounced errors and misunderstandings. It is characterised by:
Some empirical knowledge.
Some evidence of study in the area concerned.
An inability to develop any but the flimsiest answer to the question.
Problematic conclusion.

Using the full range of marks
Like other departments we try to make use of the full range of marks available, including using marks of below 30% and of above 80% where this is appropriate.

High marks
Marks above 80 (High distinction)
Marks above 80% will be given to work that demonstrates the strengths listed for marks above 70%. In addition, it will show original thinking going beyond that in the existing literature and backed up by appropriate evidence and reasoning. Marks above 90% will be given to work that is of a quality suitable for publication in an international refereed journal.

Low marks
Marks below 30 (A poor Fail)
A mark below 30 means that the student has not given sufficient attention to study, has a lack of basic knowledge, and an inability to tackle the question or topic. It is characterised by –
Inadequate knowledge of relevant literature.
Inadequate understanding of relevant literature.
No or totally flawed attempt to examine the issue(s) posed in the question.
No or totally confused attempt to answer the question.
Little or no structure in the presentation of argument.
No, or irrelevant conclusion.

Marks of below 20% will be given to work demonstrating almost no knowledge or understanding of the literature and of the subject area. Any knowledge displayed will be completely misinterpreted.

Marks of below 10% will be given to work demonstrating almost complete incoherence and irrelevance.


Pass and distinction in the MA

These are the rules and regulations regarding the classification of your MA

1. Achieving an overall pass

1.1 The pass mark for each assessed module and for the dissertation is 50%.
1.2 In order to achieve an overall pass in the scheme, students must pass all assessed modules and the dissertation, although the board of examiners may condone marks for no more than two modules in the 40-49% range if the overall average for the scheme is at least 50%.
1.3 A student achieving an overall average mark of less than 50% and receiving marks of less than 50% in more than 50% of the scheme (including marks of less than 50% for modules subsequently condoned or successfully resubmitted), shall be recommended to have failed without recourse to further re-sits or resubmissions.

2. Re-assessment of dissertation and modules

2.1 The dissertation must be passed with a minimum mark of 50% - normally it is not possible for the Board of Examiners to condone a failed dissertation. A failed dissertation may be resubmitted once.

2.2 Students may re-sit/resubmit for a total of no more than 50% of the scheme. Students’ failing taught modules may resubmit assessed work up to one month after being informed of their original mark.

2.3 Students may re-sit failed taught modules only once.

2.4 Students successfully re-sitting modules or resubmitting a dissertation will be awarded a mark of no more than 50%.

2.5 Students may not resubmit a dissertation or re-sit a module that they have passed in order to achieve a higher mark.

3. The award of distinction

3.1 To gain a distinction, students must achieve a mark of not less than 70% in any combination of modules, dissertation or modules and dissertation, which comprise 50% of the scheme (i.e. 90 credits); and a mean mark of not less than 65% across the entire scheme.

Mid-year Review of Progress

Mid way through your registration the distance learning director will have a telephone interview with you about your progress. This is a good opportunity to share any concerns or seek advice on module choices and dissertation topics. The mid year review is there to help you and you should think of it as an opportunity to reflect on your progress and let us know if we can help in any way.

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