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Any social science academics around?
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Piggywaspushed · 26/08/2022 18:27

Hi all, and sorry to barge into your space but ,for a range of reasons, I didn't want to put this in HE.

I'd like to understand exactly how bad an undergrad essay needs to be to outright fail, without having plagiarised or failed to comply with word limits. There is, of course, a story attached to this. I have read through quite a few threads and am 100% confident that none of you is at my DS's uni/his tutor.

I'm not agitating for evidence for an appeal ; I am just a bit confounded by a whole process and wanted some expert input. My DF is a retired lecturer and I have his thoughts but he is in marketing and hasn't marked undergrad work for about 10 years now.

If you can lend me your ears and thoughts please let me know! I obviously won't add lots of chapter and verse wastefully unless someone responds.

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Phphion · 26/08/2022 21:36

It depends if it is a year that counts towards their degree classification.

If it's in a counting year, there would need to be quite fundamental, clear issues with the essay that could be easily referenced to the rubric. Often one big, terrible problem. If an essay was just not good in a general across the board way, it would probably scratch up enough marks to pass.

If it's a non-counting first year essay, the essay would not necessarily have to be terrible, but it would need to have enough evidence of bad habits and bad academic practice that need to be eradicated before they start doing essays that actually count towards their degree classification. A fail to make a point. A fail to say that we can tell when you have only read one paper no matter how many references you scatter about, and that your essay should be on the topic provided and not a thinly veiled version of the essay you would have prefered to write, and please don't use wikipedia as your main source of information, and author x did not say that, and actually we asked for an academic essay not a LiveJournal polemic from 2011, and did you even read this before you submitted it because there are entire paragraphs that I can't understand.

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titchy · 26/08/2022 21:42

Submitted late?

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Glorieta · 26/08/2022 21:48

Lack of demonstrating depth of knowledge
Poor analysis and evaluation
Sources that are not academically robust
Poor referencing
Late submission
Did not meet word count

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Piggywaspushed · 26/08/2022 21:53

Thanks phphion. It's a final year essay resit....

The first time DS did have a mare with both the essay and a marked plan ( hoist by his own petard). He improved everything in the feedback. His original essay was badly referenced, rather anecdotal and 1000 words over.

This one is bang on word count, adequately referenced, if perhaps a but shonky on specifics of Harvard stuff and definitely answers the question. Feedback focuses on references but does ,mildly, praise some aspects of content. Mainly though his tutor says he is terribly disappointed in DS.

I'm not an academic but teach essay subjects to A level . My dad has read it and picked out some issues about sloppiness. But didn't think it awful.

It's had two visible marks on Turnitin. Firstly, 56 which DS was so thrilled about. Two days later it changed to 38....

The plan has a decent pass mark at least.

All his other marks are in the 50s and 60s, so DS is so woebegone.

Very anxious that he will fail his overall degree now. And I really did think a fail would have major major issues.

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Piggywaspushed · 26/08/2022 21:56

Submitted on time. More academic references used than tutor recommended in his feedback...

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MedSchoolRat · 26/08/2022 21:59

Social sciences is a very broad umbrella. I work in a medical school, we have social scientists on faculty. I help mark under-grad essays sometimes. Ours is very much an assembly line standardised marking process. Our essays are broken down into separate questions, with pre-prepared exemplar answers for reference. I literally will mark the same question 200x.

Plagiarism has its own huge disciplinary process. Exceeding word limits means a small penalty but you wouldn't fail on that.

I'd say a fail is most likely completely not answering the stated question (topic), or addressing the right topic but without enough breadth or depth that corresponds with what they should know or know how to find out, at that point in yr1-2-3-4-5. One way to do that is to say the same basic thing in 50 different ways, when they needed to make other points, too. They wrote a lot of words but they didn't say very much. Our students lose marks for poor presentation, but the quality would have to be very low to fail simply because of poor presentation/writing/(referencing)/formatting issues.

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MedSchoolRat · 26/08/2022 22:02

Xpost: think your DS might benefit from comparing his essay with other student's, people who got good or better marks. Sounds like tutor wanted very specific content your DS didn't recognise was being asked for.

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DahliaBlue · 26/08/2022 22:03

He could ask why the mark changed. He also deserves detailed feedback given this is so crucial. He should start by asking the module leader. There must be something very wrong for the markers to class it as a fail at this stage so he needs to find out why. It might just be an error so worth him asking the module leader to check. If it turns out to be academic judgement there won't be a lot he can do.

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GrumpyPanda · 26/08/2022 22:08

Only thing that occurs to me offhand is the references. You emphasize the required number of them - so far so good but much more important, are they pertinent references or has he simply inserted random literature just to make up the total number? At that stage I'd expect students to be able to independently search and identify the pertinent literature.

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Piggywaspushed · 26/08/2022 22:19

The references are pertinent. The module leader is the one giving very negative feedback. Essay is submitted now. The marker didn't like the number of media references but the topic was very contemporary ( think covid deniers type topic) so evidence often came from the media. But he did also use academic texts and journals to attempt to build an argument.

The basic is the grade is capped at 40 anyway so he just needed to do enough to pass but he did think he'd done more than that. Apparently not...

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burnoutbabe · 26/08/2022 22:27

Maybe the 58 was the uncapped mark? Then capped to 40 but sone penalty applied after?

But yes it needs feedback about why it's a fail.

I have seen some failing masters papers and it's often -failed to answer question set. So the actual essay /exam reads fine but it's not on the topic it was supposed to be on.

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BadGranny · 26/08/2022 22:30

If the feedback focuses on references, here are some of the things that can lose marks.

  1. Fails to format references properly. It’s not difficult to follow the correct format - the uni will have provided referencing information, and it must be followed to the letter.
  2. Not all sources cited have been referenced. Anything cited in the essay must be correctly referenced in the text in brackets and at the end in the bibliography.
  3. Sources are included in the bibliography but have not been used in the essay. In other words, he may have inflated the bibliography without using the sources in the essay itself.
  4. He may have used sources that are not appropriate for a degree level essay. There should be academic level books, journal articles and academic papers, not general websites, blogs, YouTube videos etc.
  5. The content of the essay should engage with the material in the sources, not just say something and plonk a reference next to it.


Without seeing the essay I can’t give any specifics, but I’ve seen enough essays that make these kind of mistakes.

Excess length (more than 10% over the prescribed word count) may be penalised quite harshly.

Essay structure should be clear and focused on the question.

Use of English, including spelling, punctuation and the use of appropriate subject specific specialist language are essential.

The feedback should indicate what the specific weaknesses are. If that isn’t clear, he should ask for more detailed feedback from his tutor or the course leader.
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Phphion · 26/08/2022 23:15

'a bit shonky on specifics of Harvard stuff' may well have led to an automatic penalty.

Also, no matter how contemporary the topic, relying uncritically on media references as 'evidence' rather than as data to be critically analysed is an issue. If it is thought that the way he has used them shows a fundamental lack of understanding of how to address issues of reliability, validity, robustness and partiality which are central to the conduct of academic social science, if, essentially it is thought that at the end of his final year he still does not understand what academic work is and how to do it, then that could be considered a major enough problem to fail.

But really, no-one should ever fail and not be able to understand why they have failed. His feedback should set out every single issue clearly.

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Piggywaspushed · 27/08/2022 07:32

Morning!

Thee trouble with the essay is he fails his whole degree if he fails the module (which hopefully he won't as the marked plan is a high 2:2 (on the second mark he saw - a 2:1 initially) and he has a 80% for a seminar mark but the overall mark is weighted a bit towards the essay which seems to have 38 at the moment). I don't want him to throw three years away. If he passes (with a cap of 40) , he gets a 2:2 overall, and can proceed on to the next stage of his life.

Evidence was my poor use of word - I meant simply on things like crowd size at protests, not data as such. It's not a data analysis type essay which I would recognise myself form social sciences : there's no manipulating/mangling of statistical data in it. (in fact, to my surprise, his whole degree has included absolutely no modules on social research...)

I know he isn't a strong student - definitely not of 1st/good 2:1 calibre, and , yes, would expect some marks to be docked for errors in referencing style (which is what my DF says it is) but I guess, as a teacher, I find it a bit frustrating that there isn't a clear formula - eg poor referencing = 5 marks off. He has acknowledged all sources and there is no plagiarism.

Thanks all for the feedback, everyone, and for not assassinating his character . He can't now change the essay as deadline was 10 days ago : since then he has seen these two marks appear and vanish on Turnitin and then seen this rather wounding feedback. This is really just me asking to clear up my own confusions. Being sloppy is definitely something he needs to clear up. I guess because he has never failed anything (or even got a 3rd) for the same type of things in many previous essays, he is shocked. Plus, also, the resubmitted essay is SO much better (I have seen them both. His first one is dreadful) it's disheartening to think it's still not good enough to even squeak a pass.

He has a friend who did the same module and got a low 2:2 overall who gave him some advice. This friend got 2:1s and 1sts for every other module , so they definitely have come up against a very demanding marker.

Thanks for that clear and detailed reply granny.

He has definitely not done 2,3 and 5. The tutor's issues are with 1 but this is the thing DS has never been penalised for before, as far as he can tell, or not enough to fail anyway) and, according to the tutor , 4 - but I must emphasise he hasn't used YouTube and blogs! The academic sources he used have now been acknowledged as academic, but not fully properly cited in the bibliography. To give you a mark of the style of the tutor's summative feedback, he moved from saying there were still no academic sources to acknowledging there were three (2000 word essay; in fact there are five) so he does shift the goalposts. The non academic sources were really used as secondary sources (for example, there was a bit about how Twitter was used to gather popular support and manipulate public attention and a tiny bit of evidence on the world's largest popular protests - he then explored this idea a bit further through an academic source, but the 2000 word limit, including bibliography, was quite hard for him to keep to). He definitely answered the question, as far as he could , and the tutor had OKd the essay title and topic.

DS has asked a couple of times for the feedback to be cleared up and explained but I told him to stop emailing his tutor as he could be perceived as being a bit aggressive, and that may not help him.

My previous source for 'how hard is it to fail a uni essay?' was The Student Room ! (which basically says it's pretty impossible) so thanks you very much for a more 'grown up' input!

He gets the final overall decision on 17th September - it's like the Sword of Damocles...

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Piggywaspushed · 27/08/2022 07:35

ps the tutor is the course leader so he really only has this one person to communicate with.

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QuebecBagnet · 27/08/2022 07:45

Did the assessment have learning outcomes. I would fail a student who didn’t meet a learning outcome regardless of how good the essay was. I remember I second marked an essay once which the first marker gave 80% to and I failed it. We had a disagreement about who was right and it went to associate professor level to decide and they backed me up.

sounds like they didn’t hide the grade column on turnitin as they were marking as marks shouldnt be visible until officially released on day 15 after submission. The change in marks could be due to a second marker.

if it’s now day ten he could put a claim in for extenuating circumstances if he can think of any reason why he might get ECs, so anxiety, etc. He’d need to put the claim in today and then go and get evidence such as a doctors letter which he can then add to the claim. But the normal EC deadline is ten days, I have known students be allowed to submit a claim later. This would mean if necessary he’d get another attempt. Saying that if the other part of the module assessment he’s got 80% for that will increase his 38% essay mark to a total module mark of over 40% so he will pass the module.

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SudocremOnEverything · 27/08/2022 07:52

It’s not impossible to fail an essay. I know because I’ve seen so many students finding ways to fail essays, despite ever increasing amounts of guidance and support. I’ve failed dissertations because they’re so unbelievably poor.

uncritically relying on media sources is likely to be problematic. Poor referencing in the final year is just ridiculous, frankly. But the low mark is unlikely to be based on some technicality.

It’s likely that he’s fundamentally misunderstood some key aspects of the module and, in doing so, failed to demonstrate the learning outcomes. The fact he’s not been reading much academic material and is using stuff he googled for in its place is often associated with this. Students who do this very often just don’t learn the key stuff and can easily get entirely the wrong end of the stick. And/or the essay is full of entirely irrelevant material to the task set.

I once marked a dissertation where the student was writing about child development and outdoor play. The student had not read any actual developmental literature. The closest they’d got was psychology today. They had no understanding of any of the relevant debates (or even awareness of the debates) despite having been taught about them (and directed to them in supervision sessions several times). The only clear ‘finding’ in the dissertation was (and I wish I was joking about this) ‘sometimes it rains, but children could wear wellies’.

The referring was also shit (and commented upon in the feedback) but that wasn’t why it failed. It was just so fundamentally below the standard of subject knowledge required that it could not pass. it’s not fair on the students who actually learn things to pass students like this.

Often, the only feedback students whose work is like this are able to act upon is the technical, procedural stuff. Staying within the word count and referencing in a vaguely appropriate matter is an improvement but it doesn’t improve the substance of the work they’ve submitted.

Say you have to write an essay on the laws of thermodynamics but you’ve no real understanding of what they are and have them confused with the laws of motion… do you think addressing the word count and references should make it passable?

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LuftBalloons · 27/08/2022 08:02

Not answering the question or doing what the assigned task asks the student to do

Not making a coherent argument

Not writing in comprehensible English

Clearly not taking the assignment seriously and writing about irrelevant stuff, or writing about what the studio thinks the assignment/module/topic should be rather than what is set.

Any of these things puts an essay in the 2, ii range. A combination of these things and I’d be discussing a fail with my 2nd marker.

Plagiarism is dealt with separately

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LuftBalloons · 27/08/2022 08:07

More academic references used than tutor recommended in his feedback...

There’s no formula. It sounds as though he just doesn’t understand the topic or the assessment task.

And the changed mark will be because of second marking and/or random “check marking” by a 2nd marker, a module convenient, or an External Examiner - or any combination of these 3.

If his range of marks is generally in the 50s to 60s then a 38 isn’t that unusual. Sometimes we just don’t “get” something. Would you be asking about an “unusual “ mark if he’d received a 72, in relation to his usual 50 to 60? That would just as much out of range.

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Piggywaspushed · 27/08/2022 08:13

Not sure about 'learning outcomes'. There was a sort of marking criteria thing with 5, maybe 4, content descriptors. It was quite jargon heavy for me to understand but my DF did think he met most of it fairly unproblematically. Both DF and the tutor have used the word 'interesting' about the content so I don't think the content per se is as bad as some of you are imagining - although he definitely is guilty of a lot of what you say in terms of cutting a few corners but the essay is relevant . If anything, I'd say the tutor's feedback sounds more like someone describing a slightly weak, rather than failing, essay. Again, he has never even had a third before in any module. I guess this could mean every other course tutor has ridiculously low standards. I imagine the tutor probably does think this,
The task was self set - so wasn't set by the tutor. The initial problem when he failed his first go at the module was all put down to a not entirely relevant task, a plan which didn't follow the requirements, and an exceed word count , but , that was all changed and is now deemed entirely fine - even though the tutor says he has 'not responded to the feedback' when he plainly has. It's that kind of personal criticism that feel to me like the tutor just doesn't like DS (in a kind of 'what is this person even doing here on my course?' kind of way)

He isn't eligible for any ECs and has no time to delay anything, as he is signed up for another course reliant on a 2:2.

On a completely separate note, is it hard as an academic to adjust if your own background is very intellectual (eg KCL, Oxbridge, LSE) to adjust to students at fairly low tariff 1992 institutions? Is it the same, but the other way round, as my DH not understanding that the kids he teaches in his selective school aren't actually dim?

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Piggywaspushed · 27/08/2022 08:16

LuftBalloons · 27/08/2022 08:07

More academic references used than tutor recommended in his feedback...

There’s no formula. It sounds as though he just doesn’t understand the topic or the assessment task.

And the changed mark will be because of second marking and/or random “check marking” by a 2nd marker, a module convenient, or an External Examiner - or any combination of these 3.

If his range of marks is generally in the 50s to 60s then a 38 isn’t that unusual. Sometimes we just don’t “get” something. Would you be asking about an “unusual “ mark if he’d received a 72, in relation to his usual 50 to 60? That would just as much out of range.

Yes, I think I would but get your point! Am just as bamboozled by his 80% for the seminar mark!

The point on the more academic references is that the tutor actually explicitly stated a minimum number he expected in his prior feedback so DS made sure he responded to that by including at least that. (so tutor said 'at least 4' and DS had 5. Tutor then said there were none in this new essay. When DS disputed that he acceded there were definite at least three and didn't say 'but you haven't used them well')

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LuftBalloons · 27/08/2022 08:24

It sounds as though your DS isn’t a conceptual thinker. All this stuff about what sounds like a “formula” you think the tutor has - it’s not really what we’re looking for at the final year level of a degree. We want a demonstration of the capacity of a student to think and to argue.

That’s one of the differences between school teaching and university tutoring. We don’t generally have a formula for marking. We read essays holistically as arguments and demonstrations of thinking.

Given the subject matter, I wonder - it sounds like a number of dissertations a supervise every year where the student wants to make a judgement rather than make an argument.

If the mark is capped at 40, then the 38 may indicate that there are still problems with the essay.

And your point about post-92 universities is odd. Do you think tutors should demand less of students in those universities? That’s really quite an odd attitude, and potentially very discriminatory. Do you think “low tariff” students shouldn’t be pushed, or be held to high expectations? There’s quite a lot of pedagogical research which suggests that if tutors have high expectations of students, this raises their performance.

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SudocremOnEverything · 27/08/2022 08:25

Not responded to the feedback is not ‘personal criticism’ or any reflection on how the lecturer feels about your DS.

It actually sounds like he’s made the superficial changes but hasn’t engaged with the substance of the feedback. Which is incredibly common.

You have to try to be positive where possible in feedback. So ‘interesting’ can be a way of saying something not entirely negative about material that it’s really relevant and/or is poorly understood. ‘It was an interesting take on the topic’ is not necessarily a glowing endorsement. Especially if followed by ‘but’.

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QuebecBagnet · 27/08/2022 08:26

On a completely separate note, is it hard as an academic to adjust if your own background is very intellectual (eg KCL, Oxbridge, LSE) to adjust to students at fairly low tariff 1992 institutions? Is it the same, but the other way round, as my DH not understanding that the kids he teaches in his selective school aren't actually dim?

interesting point and I’m not sure as I’ve only taught at low tariff universities. 😁. But as far as I’m aware (and I maybe wrong) a degree from one institution is meant to be as robust as a degree from another regardless of how prestigious one course is compared to another. 🤷‍♀️ Not sure if that’s true in practice or not.

One thing I am sure of though is that your DS can’t appeal his grade. He can appeal the process if he thinks something has been done incorrectly but he can not say well I think it’s worth x and you said it’s worth y. I’ve had students over the years try this, they trot off to the students union for help in getting their grade increased and I never hear of them again. The only time I upgraded someone’s mark when they complained to me was where the marker said they didn’t have a reference list, they did the marker hadn’t scrolled down far enough! 🙈😁

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SudocremOnEverything · 27/08/2022 08:27

Piggywaspushed · 27/08/2022 08:16

Yes, I think I would but get your point! Am just as bamboozled by his 80% for the seminar mark!

The point on the more academic references is that the tutor actually explicitly stated a minimum number he expected in his prior feedback so DS made sure he responded to that by including at least that. (so tutor said 'at least 4' and DS had 5. Tutor then said there were none in this new essay. When DS disputed that he acceded there were definite at least three and didn't say 'but you haven't used them well')

Honestly, everything you say makes it clear that the problems are pretty fundamental. And also that your DS has a poor attitude to feedback.

The 80% for seminars could be purely based on attendance.

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