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Human, Social, and Political Sciences - HSPS Tripos


Information for current students regarding examinations and assessment is compiled on this page.

Marking and Classing

Each year, students receive an individually classed result to indicate their progress on the HSPS Tripos. Guidance on the marking and classing criteria for each part of the Tripos is provided in Michaelmas term.

  • Marking and classing criteria - Part I  (2023-24 criteria will be available during Michaelmas Term 2023)
  • Marking and classing criteria - Part II (2023-24 criteria will be available during Michaelmas Term 2023)

Final Degree Classification

Students who started Part I in 2020 will receive an overall degree classification at the end of their final year. The algorithm for obtaining the final classification for the HSPS Tripos is Part I (0%), Part IIA (0%) Part IIB (100%). This means that the third year assessments account for 100% of a student's final degree outcome - marks from the first and second year do not count towards the final result. Further information can be found at the Camdata website here.

Examination and Coursework Information

Part I students can find examination information in the Part I Moodle. Part II students should consult the course information for their respective track.

Further information about the structure of Cambridge undergraduate courses can be found on the Camdata website.

The following section and FAQ lists questions students may have about HSPS online examinations in 2023-24.

The answers listed below are intended to supplement to the guidance documents provided on the University of Cambridge SharePoint site hereYou should also familiarise yourself with the information on the Universities policies and guidance SharePoint site here prior to your exams.

This FAQ predominantly addresses questions about the online examinations not covered in document above and the bullet points below. 

  • Examinations for 2023-24 will be as follows:

         Part I: POL1 & POL2 exams - unseen, invigilated, in-person 3-hour exams. SAN1, SOC1 unseen, open book, online and administered via Moodle.

         Part IIA & Part IIB for POL, SAN & SOC: unseen, open book, online and administered via Moodle.

  • Students taking online exams will be required to take their exams within a longer time ‘window’, so both two-hour and three-hour exams will be taken within the five-hour window and subject to a word limit.
  • Online examination scripts will be typed, although students will be allowed to handwrite and scan if they prefer.
  • Students will be classed on the basis of all four papers.
  • Any element of assessment other than exams will remain the same; this means dissertations, long essays, projects, etc.


Online exams - Why is there a word limit and what is that limit?

As per University requirements, we have introduced a word limit for each exam that is modelled on what is produced during a hand-written exam produced under normal conditions.  For example, for three-question papers, this is 4,500 words in total, which students are welcome to divide up as they wish, but generally that would work out to an average of 1,500 words per essay.

The word limit is a maximum and includes all text of the essays in the script, including footnotes if used.  You can discount the words in the essay title, the candidate number (if included) and other material in the script that is not part of the substance of the essay.

Students who plan to handwrite their scripts do not need to count every word, but instead to multiply the number of words on an average line by the number of lines per page to get an estimate so that they can keep within the word limit. 

Examiners will not read beyond the word limit, and only material within the limit will be marked.

We suggest you practice writing to the wordcount during your revision, as that will help you get a sense of how to best put forward an answer within the time and wordcount parameters.

Online exams - Our exams are within a five-hour window. How should I spend that time?

While each HSPS exam has a five-hour window, the format of the exam is no different from what it might be under normal three-hour, in-person conditions.  This window allows you extra time, which you might use to spend planning and editing, to take breaks and have snacks and look after yourself, and as a cushion for any technical glitches.  You should not be writing for five hours straight.  For a three-essay exam, for example, it is best to plan on taking about an hour to write each essay and practicing this when you write your mock exam essays.  You need to give yourself time to upload your completed exam answer as a Word document before the end of the five-hour period. 

Online exams - How does extra time work with relation to the five-hour exam window for those students with a Student Support Document (or SSD) from the Disability Resource Centre?

All students are responsible for ensuring that they are aware of the start and end time of their exams. Students with reasonable adjustments should speak to their College to confirm the end time of their exams or use the online calculator at the bottom of the SharePoint page here.

Online exams - Can I copy and paste material from a term-time essay into my exam essay?

The Tripos Management Committee, and in particular the Directors of Undergraduate Education and Senior Examiners, are very keen to stress that students must at all costs resist the temptation to cut and paste pre-prepared text – such as portions of their term time work – into their exam essays. Doing so is almost certain to have a disastrous effect on the quality of the resulting essay, and to seriously damage students' chances to get a good grade. These examinations are designed to assess students' ability to respond specifically to the questions which are set, and markers always read essays with a keen eye for coherence and relevance to the precise terms of the question. Essays relying on chunks of text prepared in a different context for a different question (even on roughly the same topic) inevitably stand out as lacking in coherence and for failing to engage properly with the question as set.

Online exams - Should my answers be written like an exam essay or a supervision essay? Should I include full referencing and a bibliography? Should I include my essay plan?

It should be written as if it were an exam essay, not a supervision essay. We do not encourage you to use your time towards full referencing or to compile a bibliography.

We do not encourage you to include long quotations in your exam essays. 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. Furthermore, an important part of the criteria for high marks is a well-focused argument – that is, an answer that directly addresses the exam question. Do be careful not to use up your time by giving long background or descriptive accounts.

Please do not include or submit your plans.  

Online exams - Am I allowed to look at my notes, the literature, and online materials during the exam?

Yes. These are ‘open book’ exams, so you are allowed to look at your notes, the literature and online materials during the exam. The exams, however, are under a time limit, 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.  Ideally, you would already have included points from the literature in your notes and would be able to recall them as you would have for a conventional exam.

Online exams - What counts as self-plagiarism for the open book exams?

Supervision essays are not part of formal assessment, so use of material from supervision essays in exams (or indeed in dissertations or coursework essays) is permitted.  Topics covered in supervisions will this year, as every year, form a foundation for most students’ revision strategies.  Students can reproduce material from supervision essays in exam answers; this would not be self-plagiarism.  However, since exam questions are different from the supervision question you may have answered, cutting and pasting is likely a risky strategy, unlikely to earn a high mark and best avoided. 

Learning through material that has been submitted for formal assessment, such as dissertations and coursework, can be drawn upon to be applied in a creative way to new questions.  However, students cannot reproduce this material verbatim, or simply rehearse exactly the same points with minor modifications of wording; this would be self-plagiarism.

Online and in-person exams - What is Plagiarism and Academic Misconduct?

The university guidance on Plagiarism and Academic Misconduct can be found here. Further information can also be found in your student handbook, and information about self-plagiarism can be found in the FAQ section (above).

In view of the emergence this academic year of AI tools such as chat GPT which are able to generate essay-like content, HSPS would like to stress the following points:

1) The use of AI-generated text in any assessed work including exams constitutes an instance of academic misconduct analogous to plagiarism, and would lead to same procedures and penalties outlined here.

2) Under current exam regulations, examiners are entitled to 'summon a particular candidate or particular candidates for interview on any aspect of the written work examined which in the opinion of the Examiners requires elucidation'. The examiners will use this power to interview any candidate whose work they have reason to suspect may have been generated in part or whole by using AI.

3) Last but not least, AI-generated text provides an extremely poor analogue for human-produced work, particularly in disciplines such as those represented on the HSPS Tripos, in which analytical skill, structural clarity, and originality are important qualities. Put simply, essays which use chat GPT will be extremely poor essays.

Please also see the Generative AI and your learning page here.

Online and in-person exams - What are the marking and classing criteria?

Marking and classing is approved by the Faculty Board during Michaelmas Term, then published at the links at the top of this page.

Online exams - Are there allowances for international students on different time zones regarding exams?

As per the University guidance above, the start times of online exams will be shown in British Summer Time (Greenwich Mean Time +1). Students who have been given permission to study remotely and are based in other time zones may prefer to calculate the start time (and in some cases start date) of the exam to their local time. This may mean that you have to take an exam at an unsociable hour. If you are studying remotely and cannot take the exam at the prescribed time due to medical or other reasons, you should contact your College well in advance of your exams.

Online exams - Is there further information on how the exams on Moodle will work?

The University has created a new SharePoint site for Moodle Assessments, please see here.

Online exams - How long do I have to upload documents AFTER the 5hr window?

All students have 15 minutes AFTER the 5hr window for saving, naming, and uploading their final answer scripts to Moodle.

Online exams - Is there a penalty for exceeding the time limit?

The University Guidance was updated for April 2024 - You can read the policy on the SharePoint page here.

Online and in-person exams - How does Turnitin work?

Departments will use Turnitin to check all scripts for plagiarism.  The University has prepared a guide for students to Turnitin. In a nutshell, as written in the FAQ, ‘Turnitin UK compares the text of submitted work to sources in its database, which is made up of internet content, selected journals, and previous student submissions.  The software then provides an originality report, which identifies the extent of matched text by highlighting the matches and providing an overall percentage match.  What Turnitin cannot do is to then interpret this report.  The matched text can often include a number of entirely innocent matches, such as entries in the bibliography, the essay title used by all students, or small matches like "the University of Cambridge".  Reports will be scrutinised by an academic member of staff, who will review the report to determine whether the matches may indicate wider concerns around poor scholarship technique or an attempt to gain unfair advantage, and whether any further action should be taken.’  The FAQ also states: ‘The University does not make its licence available for students to check their own work prior to submission.’

Online and in-person exams - Do we know anything yet about assessments next year?

The GBEC Assessment Framework for 2024-25 has recently been released, future assessment plans are being discussed with the student representatives during the HSPS Tripos Management Committee.