Tag Archives: essays

Drum roll, please! (Long Vac)

Last Friday, the Board of Examiners met to render judgement on our dissertations and determine our final marks for the course. And today, at long last, the marks were released.

In the old days results were apparently posted as public lists in the Exam Schools, but in recent years this practice has been scrapped in favour of more discreet methods (a decision which is apparently still being mulled over at the Other Place), and sometime this afternoon we all received an email inviting us to log in to Student Self Service to view our individual marks and final award for our degree. Already a nail-biting moment, it was even more nerve-wracking for those of us with mark-based conditions on our offers for the DPhil, which was due to start in a few weeks.

A few tense clicks later, and I found that the examiners (bless them!) had given me marks to match my highest hopes, granting me a Distinction for my degree. Quite a thrill for someone who started the year just hoping to pass!

My mother’s response when I relayed the joyous news was ‘Hooray! … What does that mean?’ Unlike the undergraduate examinations, which result in a degree class (1st class, upper 2nd [2:1], lower 2nd [2:2], 3rd), the master’s degree classifies its final award in the same way as it does the individual papers: Fail (<60), Pass (60-69), or Distinction (70+). Distinction in the degree generally requires an overall average 70 or above, plus a distinction mark in the dissertation and at least one of the essays.

Bizarrely, my highest mark was for my first essay on historiography, which was easily the paper that I submitted with the most uncertainty and trepidation!

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The End’s Beginning (8th Week, Trinity Term)

And so, unbelievably, the end is upon us! Or at least, the last week of the last term of the year. Seminars and lectures are ended, undergraduates departing, and only those of us with research to complete over the summer are getting ready to bunker down in the (mercifully now much emptier) libraries.

A few events of note:

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The Penultimate Stretch (1st Week, Trinity Term)

Trinity may be the loveliest of the Oxford terms. The days are growing steadily longer, the steady April showers are giving way (in theory) to colourful May flowers, and colleges have started sending out emails about delightful things like croquet, punting, and garden parties.

Before these beauties could be embraced, however, the results of our ‘vacation’ labours had first to be submitted for the no-doubt eager perusal of our examiners.

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Recovering from Easter Vacation

In our programme, Easter Vacation is just the bit that comes before the due date for our two major essays. My six weeks of “vacation” therefore went something like this:

Weeks 1 & 2: Reading and research at a somewhat leisurely pace, attempting to define exactly what my essay ought to be about.

Easter Weekend: Took a few days off. A gorgeous sunny Good Friday spent with a friend roaming through fields and villages in the Cotswalds.

Week 3: Sick, in bed, miserable, for days. Recovered just enough to be struck down with paralyzing, gut-wrenching and very counter-productive stress, convinced my essays would never be finished in time.

Week 4: Pulled myself together, set myself a goal of 1,000 words/day, and hit the books. Forced to attempt simultaneous writing and research, with mixed results. Began to list the Radcliffe Camera as my home address.

Week 5: Reached the tipping point where the difficulty was no longer writing enough words, but rather cramming in everything under the word limit. Compressed everything into a semblance of an order and dropped off a draft in my supervisor’s pidge for comments. Intended to take a one-day holiday to recover; exhausted brain held out for three.

Week 6 (0th week): Re-attacked my other forgotten essay from Michaelmas Term which had received very thorough comments from the seminar convener during Hilary and now lay in deconstructed pieces which, like Humpty Dumpty, couldn’t be put back together again. Wrestled with the thing for days, mostly attempting every permutation of sentence and paragraph order in an attempt at a coherent argument flow. Resisted the urge to create a bonfire.

Received back my supervisor’s suggestions (unfortunately, sans any affirmative head-patting) on my second paper and attempted to incorporate with a maxed-out word limit, adding and shaving as I went along.

Sat back on Saturday night with two somewhat-shaky but definitely written essays and took a big sigh of relief.

I am very glad the vacation is over . . .

 

The Trouble with Words (7th Week, HT)

I have been panning in the river of Historiography this week. The experience has been intriguing, confusing, and entertaining, but I’ve yet to come up with nuggets of gold.

The immediate goal is to complete my historiography essay. I had more-or-less completed my first draft over Christmas Break, but the very thorough comments I received on my draft have sent me back the drawing board to deconstruct and attempt to build it up again. My primary difficulty is finding something useful of my own to contribute – at this point in my studies, I have a long way to progress along the spectrum of mimicry to originality. And the murkier the waters of historiographical theory, the easier it is to cling to the floats of previous critiques rather than push out on my own.

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Insert Title Here (6th Week, HT)

Over the course of the MSt in Medieval History we are assessed on three papers: an essay on Approaches to Historiography (coming out of our core module in Michaelmas Term), another essay based on our optional module in Hilary Term, and then of course the dissertation. The first two are both due the first day of Trinity Term, while the dissertation is due the last Friday in August. In order for examiners to be assigned to each paper (and, I suspect, to make sure we’re all somewhat on track), we students have all been required to turn in an official-looking form to the History Faculty with our chosen title for each paper by noon on Friday of Week 6, Hilary Term.

Easier said than done if you haven’t picked your topic yet . . .

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Essaying Essays (6th Week, MT)

It’s interesting that the etymology of the word essay goes back to the Latin word exigere, which means “to weigh, or put to the test”. While in Oxford the word does typically just refer to “a short piece of writing on a particular subject”, that older definition is actually feeling pretty accurate at the moment.

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