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Department of Mathematical Sciences

Assessment & Examinations Policies

General university regulations

The General Regulations for the B.Sc. and M.Math. degrees and the special regulations for the Mathematics degree programmes are printed in the current version of the Durham University Calendar (Volume II).

Full details of the University procedures for Examinations and Assessment may be found in Section 6 of the Learning and Teaching Handbook. The University's regulations for academic progression (from one year of study to the next) form part of the Core Regulations for First Degrees and flowcharts which aim to illustrate these regulations are available in the Student Survival Guide.

Modes of formative and summative assessment

Assessment is based on written examinations and marking of homework problems. For the project modules it is based on assessment of project reports; assessment of projects presentations to an audience, and assessment of the poster. Details of the summative assessment methods for each module can be found on the official module descriptions in the Faculty Handbook.

For summative assessments the Department follows the marking guidelines set out by the University Senate:

Degree Class Marking range (%)
I 70-100
II(i) 60-69
II(ii) 50-59
III 40-49
Fail 0-39

All courses include either summative or formative assessed work, with assignments being set on a regular basis in lecture-based courses. The purpose of formative and summative assessment of coursework is to provide feedback to you on your progress and to encourage effort all year long.

Regular assignments are marked A-E to the following conventions:

Grade Equivalent Mark (%) Quality
A 80-100 Essentially complete and correct work
B 60-79 Shows understanding, but contains a small number of errors or gaps
C 40-59 Clear evidence of a serious attempt at the work, showing some understanding, but with important gaps
D 20-39 Scrappy work, bare evidence of understanding or significant work omitted
E 0-19 No understanding or little real attempt made

Please note: If you submit work late it will receive a mark of 0. Make sure that you know when and where to hand in work. Plan ahead and leave time for last-minute problems such as the computer crashing or queues for printing. Always back up work.

The department has a procedure for requesting an extension to a deadline in the case of genuine problems such as illness. But you must put the request in as soon as the problem arises (i.e. before the deadline passes).

Assessment criteria

The department has a formal policy on assessment and a set of generic assessment criteria setting out the level of achievement required at each mark level. There are also university-level generic assessment criteria, which are contained in volume II of the university calendar.

Assessment in examinations

The summative assessment for the majority of the modules in the department is by written examination. Examination papers are usually set by the lecturer(s) for the module, who produce questions, marking schemes and model solutions. Fairness and objectivity in assessment by examination is achieved by:

  • Peer and external review of examinations questions and model solutions. All papers and model solutions are checked for correctness, suitability and balance by another member of academic staff. Papers at levels II to IV are also checked by external examiners.

  • Anonymous marking: all scripts are marked anonymously and the confirmation of marks and degree classification process are carried out anonymously.

  • Marking to a template, except for essay-style questions where a pro forma is used. Each question is marked against a detailed model solution and marking scheme; this ensures consistency of treatment and protects against bias and prejudice because of the tightly defined, and normally factual, nature of the answer required.

  • Script checking. Every examination script is checked by another member of academic staff to ensure all work has been marked, and marks have been correctly allocated and recorded. The external examiners have access to all scripts.

  • Statistical moderation. The department carries out statistical moderation of examination marks to ensure comparability of marks obtained on different modules and different years. Moderation is determined by the markers and checkers, in consultation with the chair of the Board of Examiners as required. The markers and checkers are guided by target average ranges for each module which are produced based on a statistical analysis of previous performance by students in the module. Moderation for each module is confirmed by the Board of Examiners.

Assessment of project work

Further information on the assessment of project work, including submission deadlines and guidance on the style and format for project reports, is available in the guidance notes for students on the project web pages. All students taking the project modules should ensure they are familiar with this information.

Examinations information

(This subsection provides further information on examinations structure and rubrics. Follow the link to see this information.)

Academic progression

For all degrees, you must satisfy the University rules on progression, as detailed in the Core Regulations for First Degrees. Flowcharts which aim to illustrate these regulations are available in the Student Survival Guide.

The final degree awarded depends on your performance in each year after your first one. The 2H, 3H and 4H results are weighted in the ratios 2:3:4 to produce the final mark on which the degree classification is decided.

Exam results will be available to you on-line before a Departmental interview held early in the last week of Easter term. You will be emailed the time and place of your interviews. The interview is an opportunity to discuss your progress and plans. It also deals with formal Registration for the following year, and cannot be missed.

Official transcripts are available from Student Registry on payment of the appropriate fee.

Candidates should not approach examiners individually to raise issues about examinations as this may jeopardise any formal appeal. Instead, concerns regarding particular exams should be taken directly to the Chair of the Board of Examiners.

Serious adverse circumstances

If you suffer exceptional personal circumstances beyond your control – for instance, illness or bereavement – at any time during your programme of study, you should inform the department as soon as possible, normally within five days of the occurrence, so that appropriate action can be taken to mitigate the effects of these circumstances on your academic study and on assessment. Where these circumstances affect summative work prior to the examination period it is expected that you will receive mitigation such as course work extensions. 

Where, for reasons beyond your control or that of your department, your circumstances could not be mitigated at the time (if they seriously affect your studies for a long time, making it impossible to catch up, or coincide with the production of a piece of coursework or the date of an examination, where it is not possible to mitigate the circumstances by granting an extension), you may wish to inform the Board of Examiners of these circumstances using the Serious Adverse Circumstances form. This form should be submitted as early as possible; for circumstances occurring during the examination period, it is expected that it will be submitted within five days of the occurrence. 

Your College Senior Tutor will be able to offer you support and guidance on SAC, and help you to complete a SAC form if necessary.

Do not wait to see how you perform in examinations or assessed work before letting us know about your SAC, because there is no University rule requiring the Board of Examiners to take SAC into account retrospectively to decide upon a degree classification, or a progression decision, or for an appeal to be upheld on this basis. In reality there are very few cases in which SAC can reasonably be taken into account retrospectively, quite simply because it is not fair or safe for anyone to guess how you might have performed if unaffected by SAC.

Supporting evidence such as a doctor’s certificate, or other evidence from an independent professional such as a counsellor or members of DUSSD, should be submitted with the form if available and appropriate. Students considering submitting a claim are advised to read Section 6 of the Learning and Teaching Handbook. The relevant section is: 6.2.6 Absence and Illness.

The Board of Examiners will consider evidence of serious adverse circumstances and has the ability to use discretion to ensure that a fair assessment is made of each student’s performance. Note that the Board of Examiners cannot alter a student's mark. The student's transcript will show the mark actually obtained. The Board of Examiners can:

  • grant a concession to allow you to take a resit which would not normally be permitted;

  • allow you to progress to the next year of study despite having marks which would normally make this impossible;

  • exceptionally, consider awarding you a degree class higher than the one which your marks would normally entitle you to have.

Assessment irregularities

Any form of malpractice associated with assessment of any kind is a very serious matter which can result in expulsion from the University without the award of a qualification. If a case of academic malpractice is suspected the formal university procedures outlined in section 6.3.5 of the Learning and Teaching Handbook will be followed.

Such malpractice may take the form of:

  • plagiarism: unacknowledged quotation or close paraphrasing of other people's writing, amounting to the presentation of another person's thoughts or writings as one's own. This includes material which is available on the world-wide web and in any other electronic form;
  • multiple submission: the inappropriate submission of the same or substantially the same work of one's own for multiple summative assessments, in connection with an academic award.
  • collusion: working with one or more other students to produce work which is then presented as one's own in a situation in which this is inappropriate or not permitted and/or without acknowledging the collaboration;
  • impersonation: presenting work on behalf of someone else as if it were the work of the other individual;
  • cheating: using any inappropriate or unauthorised means to achieve credit for a piece of coursework or an examination answer;
  • use of inadmissible material: using material which is not permitted to achieve credit for a piece of coursework or an examination answer.

It is departmental policy to check student work using the JISC Plagiarism Detection Service software and provision for this is made in our Data Protection Policy to which all students agree at registration.

It is also a disciplinary offence to use your academic work produced at Durham for an unethical purpose or in a way which would bring the University into disrepute. For example, it would be an offence to supply a copy of your own essay to a web-site which would allow other students to plagiarise your work. 'Buying' an essay from a web-site or any other source, or any similar practice, is, of course, cheating and is a very serious offence. Also be aware that the use of services offered as 'proof reading' or 'editorial services' may constitute cheating.

The department has zero tolerance towards any form of malpractice associated with assessment of any kind, including plagiarism or cheating in examinations. We consider these and the other offences listed above to be a very serious matter and students found guilty of such offences risk being expelled from the University.

If you are struggling with your academic work, please go to see your advisor or the Senior Tutor of your College straightaway. Do not struggle on regardless until it is too late. It may be possible for your College or the department to negotiate an extension for you, or arrange for you to take time away from University to recover if you are too ill to carry out your studies effectively at present – see the page on teaching and learning policies for further information.

Above all, it is imperative not to resort to cheating or plagiarism if you run out of time or cannot understand your work. If you cheat or plagiarise you will be found out and punished severely.

Departmental prizes

The department celebrates excellence through the award of a variety of undergraduate prizes each year in June. These are distributed during the Maths Graduation Party, immediately after Congregation in early July.