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Examination Conventions

These conventions apply to the MSc in Software Engineering and the MSc in Software and Systems Security, for the Academic Year 2017-18.

These conventions are approved by the Department of Computer Science's Supervisory Committee for Professional Programmes. No student will be disadvantaged by changes to conventions that occur during their period of registration.

Examination conventions are the formal record of the specific assessment standards for the course or courses to which they apply. They set out how examined work will be marked and how the resulting marks will be used to arrive at a final result and classification of an award.

Board of Examiners

The University appoints a board of seven examiners to oversee all assessment activities on the part-time professional programmes. Two of these examiners are external to the University. Another is the Department's Director of Professional Programmes. The others, including the Chair of Examiners, are drawn from the academic staff of the Department of Computer Science.

The Board meets at least once in each University term to: confirm the marks awarded for assignments and progress reports submitted during the previous term; consider the performance of candidates who have entered the final examination; review any changes in the course handbook; consider any cases of poor academic practice; review these conventions; and agree a schedule for future examinations.

The Examination Board consists of the following Examiners and External Examiners:

Prof. Ivan Martinovic (Chair, MT 17)
Prof. Andrew Markham (Chair HT and TT 18)
Prof. Jim Davies
Prof. Andrew Simpson
Prof. Cas Cremers
Dr Tim Muller (HT and TT18)
Dr Steve King (External, MSc in Software Engineering)
Dr Tom Chothia (External, MSc in Software & Systems Security)

Candidates should not under any circumstances seek to make contact with individual internal or external examiners.

Examination Process

Written Assignments

The lead lecturer for the module will provide a proposed assignment for review in advance of the teaching week, together with a precise model solution and marking scheme: a detailed specification of how marks are to be awarded. This will be considered by an internal examiner, who may ask for changes prior to approval. The approved assignment will be issued at the end of the teaching week.

Where assignment questions do not have a precise model solution and marking scheme, for essay style questions, the students should be independently double-marked. When double-marking results in discrepancies of judgment between the two markers, the appropriate reconciliation will take place; the markers will identify the reason for the difference and agree an appropriate mark.

A deadline will be set for the submission of student responses to the assignment. The time required for the successful completion of an assignment should be no more than 25 hours. In many cases, students will be able to complete the assignment within a single weekend. However, the period allowed will be approximately six weeks.

The length of the period should be sufficient to allow students to address any backlog of work that might have resulted from their attendance on the teaching week, and to deal with any professional or personal commitments that might fall within the period, while also having time to complete and submit the assignment. Late submissions will not be accepted.

A student who fails to submit before the deadline for a particular assignment will be deemed to have withdrawn from that part of the examination. They may register to take a subsequent assignment in the same subject, provided that another module in that subject is scheduled within their period of study, without the need to attend the teaching week for that module.

A student may choose to withdraw an existing submission for an assignment at any point before the deadline. In this case, they are deemed to have withdrawn from that part of the examination, exactly as if no submission had taken place. Again, they may register to take a subsequent assignment in the same subject, without the need to attend the teaching week for that module.

Extensions to assignment deadlines are not permitted.

If a student has submitted work for an assignment, then they may not take a second assignment in the same subject. An exception to this applies in the case of failure to satisfy the Examiners in the first occasion of a final examination for an award: see below.

The student submissions are assessed by the lecturer, who provides a report and recommended grade for each. The reports and recommendations are considered by an internal examiner, who may request further explanation or adjustments to the grades. The finalised reports and approved grades are released to the students as preliminary results, to be finalised at the next meeting of the Board of Examiners.

Projects and dissertations

After attending a project week, candidates for an MSc award will submit a short proposal describing the topic and outlining the planned contents of their dissertation. This will be assessed by the student's supervisor, and graded as satisfactory or unsatisfactory. The proposals and grades are considered by an internal examiner, who may request further explanation or adjustments. The approved grades are released to the students as preliminary results, to be finalised at the next meeting of the Examiners.

A student may submit a dissertation for assessment only if they have submitted a proposal on the same topic, and that proposal has been graded as 'satisfactory'. If a submitted proposal is not approved, or if there is a change in topic, the student may submit a fresh or revised proposal for consideration following a subsequent project week, without needing to attend the teaching week for that module.

Each submitted dissertation will be assessed separately by two members of academic staff, one of whom will be an internal examiner, who each provide a report and a recommended grade. The two assessors will then attempt to reconcile their reports and arrive at a shared recommendation. If reconciliation has yet to be achieved, another internal examiner may be asked to arbitrate.

The student's supervisor will be asked to provide a brief report commenting on any matters that may not be evident from the dissertation, such as difficulties in accessing materials, and the degree of engagement between student and supervisor during the execution of the project and the preparation of the dissertation.

Dissertations should be submitted in A4 format, with a normal font size no less than 10pt and no greater than 12pt, and margins no less than 2cm and no greater than 2.54cm. As stated in the regulations, they should not exceed 20,000 words in length, excluding diagrams and appendices. Submissions that are clearly in violation of these constraints will not be considered by the Examiners.

The reports and grades will be considered at the next meeting of the Board of Examiners. A finalised report and approved grade will be released following that meeting.

The submission of a dissertation will normally mark the point at which a student has met the overall attendance and submission requirements for the MSc award. If this is the case, then the consolidated report and approved grade for the dissertation are released with the results of the final examination.

Marking Guidelines

Written assignments

All submissions are awarded a numerical grade between 0 and 100.

A mark between 0 and 49 indicates that the student has failed to demonstrate an adequate appreciation of all the essential concepts and techniques and/or the ability to apply them, successfully and reliably, to a range of standard situations.

Mark RangeInterpretation
0 - 9Little progress has been made in tackling the assignment.
10 - 19Some progress has been made, but the student has failed to demonstrate an adequate appreciation and understanding of any of the essential concepts and techniques.
20 - 29The student has demonstrated an adequate appreciation and understanding of some of the essential concepts and techniques, but this represents less than half of the material tested in the assignment.
30 - 39The student has demonstrated an adequate appreciation and understanding of most but not all of the essential concepts and techniques.
40 - 49The student has demonstrated an adequate appreciation and understanding of all of the essential concepts and techniques, but has not yet demonstrated an ability to apply them, successfully and reliably, in a range of standard situations.

In each case, the mark within the range may indicate: the extent to which the student has demonstrated an appreciation and understanding of the essential concepts and techniques, or others that are relevant but not essential; the extent to which the student has demonstrated an ability to apply them; or the quality of the explanation and presentation.

A mark between 50 and 69 indicates that the student has demonstrated an adequate appreciation and understanding of the essential concepts and techniques and an ability to apply them successfully and reliably to a range of standard situations.

Mark RangeInterpretation
50 - 59The student has demonstrated an adequate appreciation and understanding of the essential concepts and techniques and an ability to apply them reliably and successfully. However, they have not demonstrated any greater understanding, nor have they demonstrated an ability to evaluate, select, and prioritise the application of different concepts or techniques according to the situation.
60 - 69The student has demonstrated a greater appreciation and understanding, and an ability to evaluate, select, prioritise, and explain the application of different concepts and techniques according to context, within a range of standard situations. However, their submission falls short of excellence in some respects: in terms of the extent of the application; in terms of the quality of their explanation; or in terms of their ability to extend, adapt, or refine the essential concepts and techniques.

A mark between 70 and 100 indicates that a student has demonstrated an excellent appreciation and understanding of the essential concepts and techniques, and has applied them to their full extent within the context of the assignment.

Mark RangeInterpretation
70 - 79The student has demonstrated an excellent appreciation and understanding of the essential concepts and techniques, and has applied them to their full extent. However, their work falls short of a model answer in terms of the quality and extent of the explanation and presentation.
80 - 89The student has produced work that could be used as a model answer. The application is complete, and the quality and extent of the explanation and presentation is excellent.
90 - 100The student has gone beyond that required for a model answer: through extension, adaptation, refinement, or clarification of the essential concepts and techniques; through their use in combination with other methods and tools; or through their application to non-standard situations.

Short weight convention

A mark of zero shall be awarded to any part of parts of questions that have not been answered by a candidate but which should have been answered.

Dissertations

All submissions are awarded a numerical grade between 0 and 100.

The specific challenge of the project and dissertation should be sufficiently challenging as to allow scope for a convincing demonstration of professional competence and academic ability at Masters' level, and the student's understanding must be clearly demonstrated through a coherent, logical presentation of context, application, and reflection.

A mark between 0 and 49 indicates that the student has failed to demonstrate an adequate appreciation of the chosen application domain and/or the ability to understand and apply an appropriate selection of concepts and techniques to the specific challenge of the project and dissertation.

Mark RangeInterpretation
0 - 9Little progress has been made in producing an appropriate dissertation.
10 - 19Some progress has been made, but the student has failed to demonstrate an adequate appreciation of the chosen application domain.
20 - 29The student has demonstrated an adequate appreciation of the application domain, and has chosen an appropriate selection of concepts and techniques, but has failed to demonstrate an ability to understand and apply the greater part of this selection.
30 - 39The student has demonstrated an adequate appreciation, chosen an appropriate selection of concepts and techniques, and has demonstrated an ability to understand and apply most but not all of this selection.
40 - 49The student has demonstrated an ability to understand and apply all of the selected concepts and techniques, but has not applied them, successfully and reliably, to the specific challenge of the project and dissertation.

In each case, the mark within the range may indicate: the extent to which the student has demonstrated an appreciation of the chosen application domain; the extent to which they have demonstrated the ability to understand and apply an appropriate selection of concepts and techniques; or the extent to which the student has applied them to the specific challenge of the project and dissertation.

A mark between 50 and 69 indicates that the student has demonstrated an adequate appreciation of the chosen application domain and the ability to understand and apply an appropriate selection of concepts and techniques to the specific challenge of the project and dissertation.

Mark RangeInterpretation
50 - 59The student has demonstrated an adequate appreciation of the chosen application domain and the ability to apply an appropriate selection of concepts and techniques. However, the student has not demonstrated any greater understanding, nor have they demonstrated an ability to evaluate, prioritise, or explain their application of the concepts or techniques.
60 - 69The student has demonstrated a greater appreciation and understanding, and an ability to evaluate, prioritise, and explain their application of concepts and techniques. However, their submission falls short of excellence in some respects: in terms of the extent of the application; in terms of the quality of their explanation; or in terms of their ability to extend, adapt, or refine the concepts and techniques.

A mark between 70 and 100 indicates that a student has demonstrated an excellent appreciation and understanding of the concepts and techniques, and has applied them to their full extent within the context of the project and dissertation.

Mark RangeInterpretation
70 - 79The student has demonstrated an excellent appreciation and understanding of the essential concepts and techniques, and has applied them to their full extent within the context of the project. However, their work falls short of a model dissertation in terms of the quality and extent of the explanation and presentation.
80 - 89The student has produced a submission that could be used as a model dissertation. The selection and application of concepts and techniques is complete in context, and the quality and extent of the explanation and presentation is excellent.
90 - 100The student has produced a dissertation that exceeds expectations, not only in terms of the excellence of explanation and presentation, and the application of an appropriate selection of techniques, but also in terms of the quality and novelty of that application: for example, through the extension, adaptation, refinement, or clarification of the concepts and techniques, their use in combination, or their application to non-standard situations.

Penalties for over-length work

Dissertations should be submitted in A4 format, with a normal font size no less than 10pt and no greater than 12pt, and margins no less than 2cm and no greater than 2.54cm. As stated in the regulations, they should not exceed 20,000 words in length, excluding diagrams and appendices. Submissions that are clearly in violation of these constraints will not be considered by the Examiners.

Awards

Students are able to choose the point at which they enter the final examination, and it is important that they are able to determine when they have done enough, in principle, to satisfy the Examiners. Below are sufficient conditions for passing or for achieving a distinction for excellence; while the Examiners have the discretion to set these conventions aside in individual cases, this gives a clear indication to both student and supervisor of the likely outcome.

Students are expected to attend every morning and afternoon session of each teaching week. Students who are absent for more than two sessions will not normally be considered to have attended that course. In exceptional circumstances, with the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies, a longer period of absence may be allowed. Students should approach the Programme Office in the first instance.

Although the regulations make provision for an oral examination, students will be dispensed from the requirement to attend one. Students have the opportunity to discuss their project work — the application domain, and the selection of concepts and techniques applied — during the project week.

To be awarded a pass in an MSc, it is normally sufficient to:

  • attend modules and submit assignments in 10 different subjects
  • achieve an average grade of 50 or more in those assignments
  • achieve a grade of 45 or more in at least 8 of those assignments
  • attend a project week
  • achieve a grade of 50 or more in the dissertation

To achieve a distinction for excellence in an MSc, it is normally sufficient to:

  • attend modules and submit assignments in 10 different subjects
  • achieve an average grade of 70 or more in those assignments
  • achieve a grade of 65 or more in at least 8 of those assignments
  • attend a project week
  • achieve a grade of 70 or more in the dissertation

Should a student attend modules and submit assignments in more than 10 subjects, the Examiners will consider the 10 assignments that would best advantage the student in the examination.

Additional requirements apply to candidates for the MSc in Software and Systems Security:

  • the selection of assignment submissions considered by the examiners must include at least 6 security subjects (as defined by the degree schedule)
  • an average of 50 or more in the assignments in security subjects (in addition to having an overall assignment average of 50 or more) is necessary to pass the MSc
  • an average of 70 or more in the assignments in security subjects (in addition to having an overall assignment average of 70 or more) is necessary to be awarded a distinction in the MSc
  • the topic of the dissertation must have been approved as a topic in security

A candidate who fails to satisfy the Examiners on the first occasion of their final examination, but would satisfy the Examiners in respect of another, lower qualification, will be given a choice between failure (and possible re-examination), and the award of that other qualification.

To be awarded a pass in a Postgraduate Diploma, it is normally sufficient to:

  • attend modules in 8 different subjects
  • achieve an average grade of 50 or more in written assignments for those modules
  • achieve a grade of 45 or more in at least 6 of those assignments;

To achieve a distinction for excellence, it is normally sufficient to also:

  • attend modules in 8 different subjects
  • achieve an average grade of 70 or more in written assignments for those modules
  • achieve a grade of 65 or more in at least 6 of those assignments

To be awarded a Postgraduate Certificate, it is normally sufficient to:

  • attend modules in 4 different subjects
  • achieve an average grade of 50 or more in written assignments for those modules
  • achieve a grade of 45 or more in at least 3 of those assignments

To achieve a distinction for excellence, it is normally sufficient to:

  • attend modules in 4 different subjects
  • achieve an average grade of 70 or more in written assignments for those modules
  • achieve a grade of 65 or more in at least 3 of those assignments

If a candidate fails to satisfy the Examiners on the second occasion of their final examination, but would satisfy the Examiners in respect of another, lower qualification offered by the Programme, then they will be awarded that other qualification.

Approved grades, reports, and the results of the final examination will be published as soon as possible after the Examiners' meeting.

Plagiarism

The written assignments for modules, the project work, and the dissertation are all examinations of the University of Oxford. The University Examination Regulations, http://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/examregs/, apply to all students.

No student shall present for an examination any part, or the substance of any part, of another person's work, as if it were the candidate's own work. To do so would be plagiarism.

In an assignment submission, project proposal, or dissertation, any material that is copied, quoted, or closely paraphrased from another person's work must be properly identified as such, and an appropriate reference must be included to the source of the material.

Candidates must provide a declaration with every submission that the work submitted is their own, except where otherwise indicated; without this declaration, the submission will not be accepted.

If the Examiners determine that a small proportion of a submission — representing no more 10% of the overall substance or contribution — has been copied, quoted, or closely paraphrased from another person's work, without being properly identified and referenced, then they may reduce the grade awarded for the submission by up to 10 marks.

If they determine that a larger proportion of a submission — representing more than 10% of the overall substance or contribution — has been copied, quoted, or closely paraphrased from another person's work, without being properly identified and referenced, then they will refer the case to the University Proctors for consideration.

The University Proctors may refer the matter back to Examiners, to the Academic Conduct Panel, or to the Student Disciplinary Panel, depending upon their determination of the seriousness of the case and the potential impact upon the student's final examination. The Student Disciplinary Panel has the power to expel students from the University.

Failure and resubmission

Any candidate who fails to satisfy the Examiners on the first occasion of their final examination will be given one year in which to retrieve the situation. Final examination refers to completion of the dissertation and the taught component. This additional period of study begins with the start of the next term following the publication of results; no extensions or intermissions to this period are permitted.

During this period, a student may register for and attend additional modules in the usual way. They may also take assignments for scheduled modules in subjects for which they have previously attended a teaching week, even if they had previously taken an assignment in that subject.

A student who has failed to satisfy the Examiners with regard to the project and dissertation may submit a fresh dissertation on one occasion only. If the subject of the dissertation has changed significantly from an original submission, then a fresh proposal will be required.

Any submissions accepted during this period will be assessed in the usual way. No cap will be applied to the marks awarded. However, any candidate who fails to satisfy the Examiners on the first occasion of their final examination will not be considered for a distinction in the same award, should they be examined on a second occasion.

Appeals

If any student wishes to have clarification of their results, or the contents of an assessment report, they should contact their supervisor via the Programme Office. If the student is not satisfied with the response, then they may make a formal appeal against the decision of the Examiners by writing to the University Proctors via the Senior Tutor of their college.

The University Proctors will ensure that all examinations are conducted in accordance with the University's Statutes and Regulations. They will not challenge properly exercised academic judgement.

The same route of appeal is open to a student who has failed to submit work before an assignment deadline, and who wishes to request that a late submission be considered. As the student will have had six weeks in which to submit their work, and will normally have the opportunity to take other assignments — including fresh assignments in the same subject — such a request will not normally be granted.

Factors Affecting Performance

Where a candidate or candidates have made a submission, under Part 13 of the Regulations for Conduct of University Examinations, that unforeseen factors may have had an impact on their performance in an examination, a subset of the board will meet to discuss the individual applications and band the seriousness of each application on a scale of 1-3 with 1 indicating minor impact, 2 indicating moderate impact, and 3 indicating very serious impact. When reaching this decision, examiners will take into consideration the severity and relevance of the circumstances, and the strength of the evidence. Examiners will also note whether all or a subset of papers were affected, being aware that it is possible for circumstances to have different levels of impact on different papers. The banding information will be used at the final board of examiners meeting to adjudicate on the merits of candidates. Further information on the procedure is provided in the Policy and Guidance for examiners, Annex C and information for students is provided at www.ox.ac.uk/students/academic/exams/guidance.