English Literature

Grade descriptors

Here you will find a full explanation of the qualities associated with the marks and grades used in assessing your work. All written work you submit is marked in relation to these grade descriptors.

These grade descriptors can also be found in the English Literature Writing Guide.

Criteria for assessment

The numerical mark you receive should be understood in relation to these descriptors, which itemise for you not only the different aspects of your performance that are being assessed but also what you need to achieve in order to attain a particular class of mark.

We assess what you achieve in your written work with reference to four broad areas:

Knowledge
The extent and depth of your knowledge and understanding of the primary texts, your grasp of the conceptual, formal and historical issues and frameworks relevant to their analysis in this context, and your understanding of the scholarly and critical debates and analyses that bear upon the texts and topic.
 
Argument and Analysis
What you manage to do with the knowledge you’ve accumulated – how far you construct a logically clear and coherent argument in response to the question posed, how alert that argument is to textual and conceptual nuance, how wide-ranging your claim, and how aware you are of possible counter-arguments that you might need to address. In addition, we’re assessing whether you’ve been able to support your argument convincingly and thoroughly in referring to the primary texts under discussion, so that there’s sufficient evidence cited, and it is sufficiently telling, to ensure that your argument gains purchase on those texts. Finally, we’re looking here to assess how far you’ve managed to make your argument your own, or whether it is too substantially dependent either on lectures, tutorial and seminar discussions, or your reading in the secondary material.
 
Language and Expression
How you say what you say – whether your spelling is good and you write in a grammatically correct fashion, certainly, but also the extent to which your writing is clear and your vocabulary and tone appropriate to the task. We’re also looking here to see how far your sentence and paragraph structure help to support and convey the argument you’re looking to make.
 
Scholarly Apparatus
Have you provided references for all cited work, and is it completely and properly clear when you are speaking in your own words, and when you are paraphrasing or borrowing another’s? Is the risk of plagiarism successfully avoided? Are your references in the appropriate format? Is your Works Cited list consistent with the references in your text?

These four components are all important, and all related to each other, so we cannot give a fixed and single figure for the proportion of marks available for each one. However, it is fair to say that Knowledge and Argument and Analysis are clearly fundamental, and the balance of strengths and weaknesses in these areas will have a big impact on your overall mark. Some weaknesses in Language and Expression have a more serious impact than others: poor spelling is a problem, and needs to be addressed where possible, but significant problems in sentence and paragraph structure are likely to result in more serious impairment of your work.

The descriptors are the same for all years of undergraduate study, but we assume that your work should develop in terms of depth, sophistication and range substantially during your four years of study with us. Consequently, the application of assessment criteria takes account of the year of study in which work has been completed, and expectations are more stringent for honours assessment.

The grade descriptors