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Teaching and Assessment in Part I HSPS in 2020: some frequently asked questions

This page is to set out the changes to how teaching and assessment will work in Part I over Easter Term 2020.

If you are taking the second or third year papers please visit the relevant Departmental FAQ pages at the following links - Politics and International RelationsSociology - Social Anthropology

The basic arrangement is that all exams will be taken on-line, via a Moodle site. You write timed essays, and there will be word limits for each exam script. As a Part I student you are strongly encouraged to take all four examinations, if you are able to do so, though this is not strictly an all or nothing choice (see below). The purpose of these exams is to give you an assessment of your work so far, and you will receive back indicative marks per question.  The marks however will not be recorded on your transcript, and won’t lead to a formal class.

There is no requirement to sit these exams and no one needs to provide any kind of evidence of extenuating circumstances if they decide not to sit them.  We only ask that you communicate with your Directors of Studies about this issue to discuss your thoughts and seek their advice, and to inform them of your choice so as to allow them to prepare to provide revision supervisions and to arrange marking with us for those taking the exams.

Part I teaching – online lectures, seminars and revision supervisions – will continue throughout the first half of Easter term.

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about these arrangements. They should be read in conjunction with the communications sent by the Tripos Management Committee Chair saved on Moodle here and the University’s frequently asked questions about assessment and teaching, which set out the general University-wide policies on these matters, and with the information provided by other departments and Faculties in relation to their papers. We have not replicated the information already in those documents, but only included the information that is relevant specifically to students in HSPS Part I. If you are in any doubt whether this guidance applies to your papers, please check with your supervisor or Director of Studies.

The questions are broken down into four sections: the format of the exams, the exam timing and scheduling, the results from the exams, and the teaching in Easter 2020.


1.      The format of the exams

Am I allowed to look at my notes during the exams?

Yes. These are being treated as ‘open book’ exams, so you are allowed to look at your notes and use the internet during the exam. The exams however are under a time limit – 3 hours for all HSPS Part I papers – so you have to use your time well. You won’t have the opportunity to read up on the topic if you are to complete the exam essays to an adequate standard within the time limit.

Why is there a word limit, and what is that limit?

Because the exams are open book, we are conscious that this would make it possible for students to prepare sections of text in advance and incorporate them into an exam essay. We do not want to encourage this. It would not be useful as training for taking exams under regular circumstances in the future.

For HSPS Part I papers, the word limit for your examination script is 4,500 words. This includes the full text of your essay, but not the wording of the examination questions. The examiners will not read any text beyond the first 4,500 words of your essays.  

Under these conditions, copying previously prepared material is likely to result in a weak performance, because it will mean that the answers are not sufficiently focused on the questions.

Should my answer be written like an exam essay or like a supervision essay? Should I include full referencing and a bibliography? What are the marking criteria?

It should be written as if it were an exam essay, not a supervision essay. We do not encourage you to use your time and words to write full referencing or to compile a bibliography. The marking criteria for exams remain the same as if these were exams taken under invigilated conditions, and the advice on writing exam essays in our Part I handbook remains valid. For the marking criteria please click the link here, and for general advice, please see page 18 of the Part I handbook.

Two points are worth emphasising from that guide, which are especially pertinent to open book essays. First, we do not encourage you to include long quotations in your exam essays, which will just use up your word limit. It is especially important in an exam essay to explain points in your own terms, not to copy and paste text from other people to explain those points. Second, an important part of the criteria for high marks is well-focused essays – that is, those which are directly addressing the exam question. Do be careful not to use up your words by giving long background or unfocussed descriptive accounts. 

I can’t access relevant printed books. Will this put me at a disadvantage?

We are ensuring that all primary texts are available for free on-line, and that no exam questions require you to have read texts that can only be accessed in a print-only book. There is already a wide range of journal articles and electronic books available via the University portal. No student will be penalised in their exam marks for not referring to texts that can only be accessed in print format or for which payment is required for electronic access beyond those already purchased by the university.

On what system do I type my essays? Can I handwrite the essays if I so choose?

We are offering all students to either type their essays in a Word document, which you would then upload to Moodle, or to handwrite their essays and scan them in. This applies to all exam papers.

If you choose to handwrite your essays, the University Information Service has provided instructions on how to do this, as well as a list of recommended iOS and Android apps, in the following Moodle course: You will need to self-enrol in order to access this. You can test the process of uploading and submitting scanned documents in the practice area, and we strongly recommend you look at this and practice before arranging to take your exams through handwriting.


2.      The exam schedule

When will the exams be?

The original schedule for the exams has been cancelled. The university is currently devising a new schedule. The objective will be that no student has more than one exam per day. We still anticipate that almost all exams will take place in the period from 26 May to 9 June. The university has announced (22nd April) that the exam timetable will be published in early May. We will let you know when it is ready, and will update this page, as soon as we know ourselves.

The University has now published the timetable here

What about the second sitting?

There is no second sitting for Part I students.

Will students in the Far East or Americas have their exams in the middle of the night?

The current expectation is that all exams will be held in the 5-hour slot from 12:00-17:00 BST. This means that students in the Americas will be able to take the exams in three hours in the morning (standardly, 6am-9am by Pacific time) and students in the Far East and Oceania will be able to take exams in the evening (for Eastern Australia, 9pm to midnight). We consider this to be a workable arrangement for the large majority of our international students, but please do let us know if you anticipate specific problems.

Is the exam for three hours or for five hours?

HSPS Part I exams will be for three hours. You will though have a five-hour window in which to take each exam, and you can choose when you will take the exam within the ‘window’. We will understand if it takes a few minutes extra beyond the three hours to upload your exam scripts etc. within the 5 hour window. The final saved version of the exam script itself should be within 3 hours of starting. Please remember these formative examinations are being held for pedagogic reasons, so treat them as a useful educational experience or 'mock' examination, and this will best prepare you for your second year exams.

I have specific examination access arrangements. How will these be respected?

It is important to be in touch with your College if you have any concerns about this. We expect that in the large majority of cases, specific access arrangements can accommodated within the five-hour window. If you are not sure this is possible, your College tutor should be in touch with the Exams, Assessment and Mitigating Circumstances officials at the Student Registry to discuss alternative examination arrangements. 


3.      The results

Will I receive marks for each paper and a class mark?

As a Part I student, you will receive a mark for each paper, and a mark for each question within each paper. These will be sent to you and your director of studies by email. You will however not receive an official class mark.

What will my results be if I take some exam papers but not others?

If you are able to do so, we do encourage you to take all your papers, as this gives you the most practice in taking exams and best consolidates your knowledge from the interdisciplinary foundational Part I year. For various reasons, there may be some among you who want to do the assessments but cannot do all of them; if this is your case, speak to your DoS about how best to proceed. If you don’t take some or all of your exams, you simply won’t receive any marks for those papers. There will be no hindrance in progressing to your second year.

When will I receive my results?

We aim to have the marks for first year students by the 10th of July. Sadly, there may be some delays with the first year marks this year, and we will keep you updated. Specific dates will be published on this page during Easter term when we can be confident of what those dates will be.


4.      Teaching

How will supervisions, seminars and lectures work next term?

We are moving to remote teaching. In general, we are trying to be as flexible as possible with the timings, so as not to disadvantage students who are in different time zones. If you are not within three hours of British Summer Time, please let your DoS know so that they can organise revision supervisions at appropriate hours.

Supervisions will generally be carried out via Microsoft Teams. As the university has purchased this system, all students automatically have accounts on it. It works best if you download the browser via and log in via your Raven account. Your supervisors have been asked to either plan out supervision groups with you on MS Teams, or if not to give you a clear explanation of an alternative vehicle through which they will be in touch with you.

Revision sessions will mostly be conducted via MS Teams and Moodle and possibly Zoom. You should receive an invitation to participate in the revision session with a link for joining (if Zoom is used).  Please maintain an email folder in which you carefully save all the emails with links you are sent pertaining to various bits of teaching or supervision, as you will need them (as you do a virtual “ticket” to attend an event) in order to access the session.   The majority of revision sessions will be recorded, so if you cannot join at the time it is being conducted, you will be able to watch the session at your own convenience after it has concluded. You should either see a link from within the Moodle course site or receive an email with a link to a recording of the session.

Lectures will largely be pre-recorded and uploaded directly to the relevant Moodle course page. This is being done on the system Panopto, which you can view directly within Moodle.