Written assessments: Marking criteria

In the run up to assessments, I’m running two workshops in the coming weeks:

  • Essay Structure and Assessment Criteria (02/03/2017)
  • Presentations and Poster/Pitch (30/03/2017)

As examiners, members of staff will be marking your essays and presentations based on objective criteria.

Note: If you want to access the marking sheet in the LLM Programme Handbook, which can be accessed online via Blackboard. The LLM Handbook is a handy reference point because it gives you examples of dissertation title pages, permission form for the dissertation, and deadlines.

For written assessments, examiners are looking for 5 main elements, which you should bear in mind as a ‘checklist’ to see whether you are meeting all of the following criteria.

  1. Identification of the principal legal concepts and issues – i.e. what are the main legal problems or relevant laws?
  2. Understanding of the law – your ability to apply the law to the question/issue you’re examining.
  3. Critical analysis – Synthesis of the legal arguments, law, theories, ideas for reform and the wider context, as well as engaging with academic literature.
  4. Originality and creativity – Are you adopting an interesting stance or arguing in a persuasive way that reflects solutions/challenges with regards to the law?
  5. Research process and presentation – Spelling/grammar, use of OSCOLA, bibliography, structure of your essay, use of subtitles and clarity of your work.

Of course, the above is just a short summary of the marking criteria and feedback sheet, which is more detailed (see: LLM Programme Handbook). But it gives you a quick introduction as a starting point.

 

 

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Workshop: Assessment Criteria & Essay Structure

It was lovely seeing you at the workshop on ‘Assessment Criteria & Essay Structure’ yesterday.

Here are the slides that were used: Assessment Criteria Powerpoint Slides

We highlighted that it is important to have a good structure to help develop your arguments and make it easier or the reader/marker to understand the point that you are trying to make. To do so, we revisited the burger analogy from an earlier post.parts-of-a-paragraph

A good essay like a burger, will have an introduction (the bread bun), analysis (the filling – with different/separate components that support each other) and a conclusion (the bread bun base). It should have a logical and coherent structure, where the central argument is evident and the sections complement each other.

  1. Introduction

The introduction should outline the rationale behind your approach/work – that is, why it is relevant. Also, what is relevant i.e. what law you will use; scope and limitations – recognising the parameters of the task, as well as, your central argument. From there, it should also briefly touch upon how you’re going to answer the question, which primarily refers to the structure of your essay e.g. Part 1… Part 2… Part 3…

2. Analysis

In a burger, the ‘filling’ is arguably the best ‘bit’ of the burger, so the analysis should be the main section and ‘best bit’ or bulk of your essay. It will be formed of different components, which should be linked to each other and your central argument.

As per the assessment criteria, you should:

  • Summarise and synthesise issues arising from the law;
  • Be able to use academic arguments to support your work in a concise manner;
  • Be able to engage with these academic arguments;
  • Narrow and focus on relevant issues;
  • Consider areas for reform or recommendations

(For further details, please refer to the LLM Assessment Criteria in the LLM Programme Handbook, which can be found on UWE Blackboard).

To help your analysis, sub-headings can help ‘sign-post’ different aspects of your work and help break it down into specific sections.

3. Conclusion

The conclusion will finish your essay. It should link back to your introduction and the central argument that you introduced and summarise the earlier analysis. Because you’ll have already undertaken the analysis, the conclusion can draw on these earlier arguments. It should be noted that the conclusion is not a place to introduce new arguments or concepts.

 

 

 

Essay Structure

In this post, you can access an example of an LLM essay:  Example essay

This essay has been annotated to give an explanation of how essay structure has been used to answer the question. It must be stressed that there are many ways to structure an essay, and that a lot will depend on your personal writing style, the topic and the argument/s you wish to build. This example is intended only to show how structure may be used to form an answer, and illustrate the importance of structure within essays.

Please note: If you have problems downloading the essay, open the folder containing the download, right click on the file, and open with Microsoft Word.

If comments aren’t appearing on the right, you can click on the comment icon and this will open the comment bar.

Workshop 17/11/2016 – Presentations & Poster/Pitch Advice

It was good to see so many of you yesterday. We hope you found the session helpful.

Here are the slides we used, as well as some key points, which you will no doubt remember, and be itching to put into practice!

slide2slide3If you are late for your presentation you will not be able to present, and will receive a no-score for your presentation.

Avoid holding large bits of paper, these can be distracting, encourage you to simply read from the page, or the paper can start to creep up and begin to cover your face!

While you are not expected to wear a suit, it is important to set the appropriate tone for the presentations, it is a formal assessment so please dress appropriately

slide4Do not rely on cloud storage, bring a USB drive with you, and then use the cloud as a back up.

Your presentation will need to be backed up by research, evidenced by a bibliography, this is best completed in a word document and printed separately, as it will be harder to read on a slide

Print out your slides so the examiners can follow the presentation, and refer back to slides after you have finished.

slide5Your examiners are the audience, talk to them, and not the cameras

They will be taking notes, so will not always be looking at you, do not be put off by this, it is not a bad thing, just continue with your presentation.

The questions will relate to your presentation, they are not there to trip you up they are to help you expand on your argument and improve your marks.

slide6slide7Avoid speaking in a monotone  voice, there should be natural inflection to your speech.

Pace yourself, try not to speak to quickly

Breathe! It helps a lot, honestly. Do not be afraid to pause for a moment, collect your thoughts and carry on with your point.

There should be a clear structure to your slides and this should be conveyed to the examiners with an outline slide which you then follow.

Link your presentation together, make sure you set out your aims at the start and refer back to them at the end.

slide8Avoid extensive text, keep to bullet points and expand on them in your presentation. It is too tempting to just read from the slides if you have this much text. Also, you will then loose the attention of your audience as they will be reading the slide, and not listening to you.

slide9Avoid animations, if you do use them, keep it simple.

slide10The text needs be big enough to read and in a colour which can be read.

 

slide11

Attention to detail is important, check your spelling!

slide12slide13slide15slide16

slide17The focus of your poster should be on how your methodology and methods will be used to answer the question.

Your question needs to be a legal issue!

It needs to be justified, but you should not answer the question in the poster, you have not completed the research yet, and the poster is to demonstrate HOW you will do the research.

 

slide18

 

A good poster will be easy to read and guide the reader around it.

Think about the structure of your poster

Avoid pictures that make it harder to read the poster, if you have text over images make sure the text is legible.

If you are using colours, make sure they do not render the text unreadable.

Keep text to a minimum, be concise, this will help the reader understand the poster in a short amount of time, excessive text will take up space and is unlikely to be read.

 

 

Satisfying Assessment Criteria with a Restrictive word Limit

This is a short post aimed predominantly at those of you on the International Banking and Finance Law module, but also, hopefully, useful advice in general for constructing arguments and satisfying the assessment criteria.

Question:       “I am not able to answer the blog questions as the issues discussed are too broad and cannot be answered within 583 words!”

Critically consider this statement, and demonstrate how a blog answer can be achieved within 583 words.

Answer:

A blog answer can be completed in 583 words, the answer should have 1 principal argument, supported by 2 main points; this reduces the size of the answer, while still satisfying the assessment criteria, further by selecting 2 arguments relevant to the main argument, the answer may be focussed and concise. If required, a very short definition may be provided in the introduction, but it may be more beneficial to refer the reader to a definition using a reference.[1]

Having a clear statement at the beginning of the answer will tell the reader which issue the answer will address; this immediately begins to fulfil criterion 1 of the assessment criteria; identifying the key concepts and legal issues.[2]  This approach also helps to create an engaging answer. For instance, Jackson and Newberry argue that “the purpose of an argument, and thus an argumentative essay, is to convince the reader of some- thing, an inviting and compelling introduction is vital.[3] Jackson and Newberry claim this is to demonstrate the importance of the issue and to make it clear to the reader what point the essay will make.[4]

Secondly this approach will begin to demonstrate analysis and evaluation; having identified the concept, the issue is then framed by 2 arguments that support the conclusion. In considering just 2 supporting points this will naturally limit the length of the answer, but still allow around 150 words to explore the argument.

When only a limited number of words are available, being able to focus on the relevant points is vital; only selecting the 2 most relevant points will allow the essay to be focussed, only discussing those points supporting the main argument. By labelling these 2 points and keeping them in mind when writing the answer, losing focus may be avoided. The skills required for successful blog answers include being concise; the marker is fully aware that the answer will not, and cannot address the entire issue. When selecting 2 points, ensure these points support the main argument of the essay, or select one supporting point and one counter point, the important point here is that the 2 supporting points relate directly to the main argument of the essay. An answer can make reference to additional issues to demonstrate awareness, but the bulk of the word count should be prioritised to the 2 main points.

If the essay is to cover additional points these should only be summarised, this would naturally come before the conclusion or as part of it. In order to write a high scoring answer, the writer will need to demonstrate originality and creativity.[5] This can also be demonstrated within this framework as the writer can show these skills through the argument they choose to make. A well thought out main argument, supported by 2 main points can “evidence an ability to independently appraise knowledge.[6]

In selecting 2 points to support a main argument it can be seen that the assessment criteria can be satisfied; by following this format the writer can be analytical, also demonstrating originality and creativity. Secondly the essay can remain focussed on the issue set out by the author; as well as setting a clear structure for the reader, and the use of 2 key points can focus the mind of the writer too, allowing them to be concise. Keeping to a simple structure will allow the writer to clearly convey an argument, and if they choose to, still inform the reader that there are other elements to the issue.

 

[Word Count – 582 Words]

[1] For more on what a critical blog is see C. Jones, ‘How to write a critical blog’ <https://blackboard.uwe.ac.uk/bbcswebdav/pid-5167762-dt-content-rid-9932985_2/xid-9932985_2&gt; accessed 07 November 2016.

[2] E. Grant and L. Singh-Rodrigues, LLM Programme Handbook (UWE, Bristol, 2016) at p.64.

[3] D. Jackson and P. Newberry, Critical Thinking: A User’s Manual (Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2016) at p.287.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Criterion 4 of the assessment criteria: E. Grant and L. Singh-Rodrigues, LLM Programme Handbook (UWE, Bristol, 2016) at p.64.

[6] Ibid.

Planning and Organising Research – Henry’s Approach

img_20161006_093517Dealing with the blank page!

My main issue when starting a piece of work is the blank page, being at square 1 with no words on paper frustrates me.

I am going to deal with things in three broad areas as the way I write can generally be split into a spider diagram/word cloud stage, which leads into a skeleton writing stage and finally a fleshing out stage. I also like to change the scenery in which I work in from time to time, I sometimes attend shut up and write sessions, or just work in a café as the change of environment can help me focus.

Prior to any writing, I need to read, and I will read a variety of sources; my PhD research concerns virtual currencies and money laundering, so my reading can be quite wide, and because my research concerns government policy, I often start with government commissioned reports proposing changes in the law, or new laws, as there are very few relevant laws applicable to virtual currencies.

Amy suggested a list of questions she asks herself when starting research; my approach is similar, if a little less formal, and I start by re-reading the question, if there is one, and jotting down a few key terms or objectives of the piece of writing. These key terms will assist me when I am undertaking my broad Westlaw search, similar to Coralie’s. I will first determine if there are primary sources I need to read, then I will use my key words to search Westlaw for relevant journal articles, I will then widen my search to the library database using similar key terms.

 

Spider diagrams and Word Clouds

img_20161011_091717

When I am reading I find it helpful to write key points down, I often do this in the form of a spider diagram or word cloud. This allows me to group similar points from multiple authors in naturally forming clusters on a page, which in turn can assist me in determining the key arguments I will make in my writing. A further benefit to this method is that I find I am more likely to understand/remember something if I have physically written it out; this may sound strange, but the tactile nature of hand writing my thoughts, or the key points of an article, helps it stick in my mind. I will organise my ideas on the page and also use colours to group ideas on the page, as you can see from my messy example above.

Once I have completed my main reading, I use the spider diagrams to begin to plan the essay; I will often number the clusters of words, which will then form sections of my essay. Having the plan in this form allows me to physically organise my thoughts on the topic and I can draw links between these thoughts, which helps me to formulate my arguments; this is really important as it makes it easier to analyse a topic. Once I have my numbered and linked spider diagrams I will move on to the skeleton stage.

 

Skeleton stage

skeletonThe skeleton stage is simply my spider diagrams in a linear form, I will set out my essay in bullet point form, with each numbered key point forming a heading in my work. Under each heading I will set out the points I wish to make under that term and I will include any quotes I wish to use, adding references for them as I go. Once I have completed this for each heading I will have a skeleton of my essay. I will play my conclusion at this stage as well, it will be clear from my plan which points I will make in the conclusion of my essay. It will not be in full prose, but my main points will be visible, at this point my skeleton needs meat adding to the bones. I SAVE A COPY OF MY SKELETON ARGUMENT NOW!

 

Fleshing out

The fleshing out stage simply means expanding my skeleton points into full sentences. I find it helpful to change the colour of the skeleton argument to another colour, usually red, and then I will write my essay around this red text. The red text forms a checklist for me to follow; I will only delete the red text when I am happy that I have addressed the point I wanted to make in the red text. This keeps my essay plan highlighted in my document to prevent me from deviating from the plan. While I will delete the red text as I have addressed each point, I will keep and refer to my saved skeleton essay plan when I am proof reading the essay.

 

Tying the Introduction and Conclusion

I will not write my introduction until I have drafted all other sections, this may sounds backwards but the point of the introduction is to guide the reader through what they are about to read (or in some cases for them to decide if they will read it at all) and therefore I am in the best position to do this once I have written the text the reader needs to be guided through. I will also ensure I link my introduction to the conclusion; ensuring I have addressed the questions I aim to answer, this is an easier way, as I am framing the questions after I have answered them.

 

Take a break!

This process does not take place in one sitting, I need to step away from my research, contemplate, and come back to it again. I advocate stepping away from your work for a number of reasons, firstly you will lose concentration if you try to do it all at once, and if you don’t lose concentration in that time it’s likely you have not spent long enough doing it. Secondly, you think more about things without thinking than you think… This sounds stupid, but taking a break, and thinking about something else, can often lead to you quietly solving a problem you had with your work. I find cycling works for me to go out and think about very little, other forms of exercise are great too, but it doesn’t need to be exercise, it could be cooking, eating, reading, watching countdown, whatever allows you to relax.  Thirdly, by coming back to your work with fresh eyes you will see your mistakes and see new links; I always need to re-read my work a day after finishing writing, the gap in time allows me to see the small errors I do not see because I am so familiar with the text. This is best done by printing your work off if you can; it’s much easier to spot errors on a page rather than a screen.

 

Conclusion

People write in different ways, this is a way I find works for me, my main bits of advice are to always fully plan before you write the essay, take plenty of breaks, and by writing things down I find I can see my thoughts and I am not looking at a blank page.