Can’t spell, read or think: Oxford dons’ verdict on their students

OxfordUniversitySome students at the elite university found it ‘difficult to express their thoughts in writing’

London: They are supposed to be the cream of the academic crop. But Oxford University students have been excoriated by their tutors for their poor spelling in exams and displaying a lack of “basic common sense” in essays.

Some students at the elite university found it “difficult to express their thoughts in writing” and spoke as if they were “down the pub”, according to examiners’ reports in a range of subjects.

Many examiners were delighted by their students’ work, which was good enough to be published in academic journals. But they were scathing about a number of students whose performance was “depressing” — or worse.

“In general there was far too much ‘bloke down the pub’ waffle and in some cases exceptionally little evidence that the candidate had actually read anything of relevance,” sociology tutor Prof Colin Mills wrote.

“It is indeed troublesome to read scripts that might as well have been written by someone walking into Schools [Oxford’s examination hall] off the street without even the slightest acquaintance with lectures and tutorials.”

Prof Mills said: “I am the kind of bloke who says what he thinks. “The report was about a very small class of no more than ten students, as far as I can recall, and it is true that the performance overall was poor. However, it is also true that I have had classes over the years who have been extremely good.”

Another report on a languages paper read: “Sections of some of the worst scripts did not read like post-A-level German at all, but more like a transcript of the Swedish chef from the Muppets. “I reckon this was a fair test, but what it revealed was depressing. My sense is that there has been a significant decline since I last marked the exercise.”

One of the “most common errors” among jurisprudence students who sat one exam was “failing to use the basic common sense with which all lawyers should be endowed”.

“Thus the examiners were repeatedly informed that rainfall is an extraordinary/non-natural/dangerous use of land by the owner, as are trees, silt and drainage ditches, and that grazing cattle on pastures is an hypersensitive (and non-natural) use of farmland,” read the report.

Some classics students managed to misspell the word “Mediterranean” even though it is derived from Latin and was on the front of the question paper.

Another student doodled “a rather attractive pencil sketch” of a book character during a translation exam, causing the examiner to complain: “One can only ask quite how s/he had the time.”

“A disconcerting number of candidates seemed to find it difficult to express their thoughts in writing,” complained a psychology professor in another report, while a French tutor bemoaned the “extremely weak” grasp of grammar and syntax. The reports were all published after exams taken between 2010 and 2014. Alice King, a 20-year-old studying German at Oxford, said: “I’m well aware of just how scathing they can be. However, the examiner’s report provides our tutors with an all too rare chance to prove that they are indeed in possession of a sense of humour, albeit as part of a package deal with encyclopedic knowledge and ruthless expectations.”

An Oxford University spokesman said: “A minority of colourful comments by examiners makes interesting reading, but they reflect neither the opinion of most Oxford examiners nor the overall academic competence of Oxford undergraduates.”

Article Source : The Telegraph Group Limited, London 2015

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