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For successful completion of the course, you must submit the following written work for examination:

  • A ‘formative’ essay of not more than 3,000 words. This essay is internally assessed, but does not contribute towards the final mark.
  • Two essays of no more than 5,000 words.
  • A dissertation of 10,000-15,000 words.

Essays two and three each account for 20% of the final mark, and the dissertation accounts for 60%.

Once submitted, each essay and dissertation is read by two senior academic members of staff, neither of whom will have supervised the work being marked. Both will submit independent reports.

When marking coursework examiners will be asking:

  1. What is the main achievement of this work? Is there an original contribution? If so, what is it?
  2. Does the candidate show a good understanding of relevant material? Is the content of the work informative and insightful?
  3. Does the candidate advance effective arguments contributing towards well-articulated conclusions?
  4. Has the candidate used a sufficient number and range of appropriate sources? Are they effectively used and properly credited and cited?
  5. Does the work have a clear and effective structure? Is the writing clear, grammatical, and free of typographical and other errors? Is the style of the references and footnotes clear and consistent?

Assessment standards

Formally, this MPhil is a pass/fail course, and no marks are made publicly available. However, you will receive feedback, including provisional marks, throughout the year, and internal transcripts at the end of the year.

The essays must show evidence of a critical engagement with health, medicine and society; they are not required to present original research in order to pass. The dissertation must be clearly written, take account of previously published work on the subject, and represent a contribution to learning. It must show evidence of independent research.

The standard for a pass begins at 60. Internally, the Degree Committee differentiates between several different categories of pass, described below.



80+ (Starred Distinction)

An outstanding and memorable performance in which all the qualities deemed to constitute first‐class work are present in a remarkable degree. The work should be well researched and substantially original, bearing in mind that originality has many dimensions: It may reside, for instance, in the thesis defended; or in the way a known thesis is presented and defended. Such work might well form the basis for publication. Potential for outstanding PhD work.

70-79 (First Class)

Work which is of high calibre both in the range and in the command of the material and in the argument and analysis that it brings to bear. The assessor would expect some elements of originality — which may consist in putting together material in novel ways — although originality alone would not guarantee marks in this range.

Work in this class will generally meet the following criteria: the argument may be sophisticated, incisive or demonstrate flair; there may be a wealth of relevant information, showing exceptional knowledge and understanding of the issues involved; the approach may be unorthodox in the best sense, suggesting new and worthwhile ways of considering material. The submitted work may display evidence of extensive research imaginatively and convincingly deployed.

75 to 79 (DISTINCTION): In addition to the criteria listed above, it will show evidence of a very strong performance demonstrating clear originality, and the qualities deemed to constitute first‐class work will be consistently well represented. Clear potential for good PhD work.

70 to 74: A solid performance in which some of the criteria for first class work will clearly be present but not necessarily all. Shows potential for PhD work.

65–69 (High Performance) Clearly proficient with a proper coverage of relevant material. Work may indicate broader range than the Pass. Category and should be reasonably well presented. Solid but on occasion unimaginative. Ambition of work clearly visible but not always carried through. The analysis and argument are generally good. Work at the upper end of this category shows evidence of a good and broad‐based engagement with, and understanding of, the relevant material and organised in a clearly‐argued, well‐illustrated and relevant fashion. The essay or dissertation will usually contain material which displays evidence of high intelligence, and which is regularly, but not consistently, sophisticated in analysis, impressive in its display of relevant knowledge, and occasionally demonstrates flair.
60–64 (Pass) Work which is basically competent, and, in the case of dissertations, reasonably independent. Interesting and provocative ideas may not be not carried through fully convincingly. The main thesis may be vague, too general, too unambitious or else over‐ambitious. There may be gaps in the bibliography, deficiencies in the overall structure; and weaknesses of analysis and argument. A piece of work which is not always clearly written.
59 and below (Fail)

58–59 (MARGINAL FAIL): Work which although it is broadly relevant and in parts competent lacks organisation or breadth of reference. Work in this category will often be derivative rather than independent. Essays and dissertations in this range may show evidence of poor judgement, contain sections which are poorly related to the main argument, display cogent argument only fitfully or display lack of clarity in writing.

Mark 0–57 (FAIL): Work that, while it may show reasonable knowledge of the material, and serious effort, reveals deficiencies in understanding, organisation or breadth of reference. Work that is derivative or irrelevant, ignorant or extremely superficial. Work showing minimal understanding of material or serious deficiencies in argument.

Candidates are required to pass in the essay and dissertation components of the examination separately except in the following special circumstances:

  • A candidate whose failure in the essays is marginal shall be allowed to submit a dissertation, and a high performance in the dissertation may be taken into account by the Degree Committee in determining their recommendation to the Board of Graduate Studies. Candidates whose overall essay mark is a marginal fail will be warned by the MPhil Manager in April.
  • Where a candidate's failure in the dissertation is marginal, a high performance in the essays may be taken into consideration by the Degree Committee in determining their recommendation to the Board of Graduate Studies.

At the end of the course, examiners may decide to hold an oral examination. Such an examination will in any case be necessary if the essays are judged to be a marginal fail or if the agreed mark for the dissertation is a fail.

If you wish to proceed to doctoral research you will normally be expected to achieve a First Class overall. Your exact academic condition will be clarified if you are successful in your application to a PhD programme.


The Habib Prize, endowed by Benyamin Habib, is awarded each year to the MPhil student who has the best overall performance in the formally assessed essays.

The Forrester Prize, endowed by the family of John Forrester, is awarded each year to the MPhil student with the best performance in the dissertation component of the course.

Results and Degree approval

You will receive informal verbal feedback on your MPhil performance from the MPhil Manager after the Degree Committee meeting in late June. Transcripts and copies of the examiners' reports will be available after your marks have been formally ratified by the Board of Graduate Studies.

Your College will be your primary contact regarding graduation arrangements. For further information, visit the Student Registry website.


Guidelines on Examinations, 2019-20