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External examiner reports

The quality of the teaching, based on the standards achieved by the students, is very good.

External examiner reports for undergraduate assessment

2018-19

External Examiner A

I had the pleasure to mark students’ work enrolled on the BSc International Relations and History, and BA History. Both programmes were well-taught and conscientiously examined. The system of moderation seemed to work well and I am impressed by the level of detail provided in the comments by internal examiners. The exam board was run with great care and attention to detail with a view to ensuring that all students were dealt with fairly and consistently. The whole exam process was conducted with great professionalism and dedication by all concerned, including especially the Chair of IH Undergraduate Examinations Sub-Board, the Undergraduate Programmes Administrator, and the Head of Department.

External Examiner B

The assessment scripts (both exams and coursework) that I read were of a very high standard and clearly demonstrated the learning and ability of the students. In particular, I was very impressed with the standard of research, argument and writing in the dissertations. The wide subject range of articulate, well-researched dissertation reflect well not only on the standard of teaching through the degree programme, but also the level of student engagement and the subject breadth offered in the degree as a whole.

External Examiner C

The materials from the modules I looked at our very strong indeed. Content of courses is at a suitable (albeit challenging level), course coordinators have called upon their considerable expertise and knowledge of their fields to devise innovative means of delivering teaching. Judging by the work I have received, the quality of the teaching received is of a very high standard, and students have felt encouraged to use their intellectual and historical imaginations in their assignments, particularly the project work in the more advanced modules. The methods of assessment test a variety of study skills. The exams looks to be the most important and frequently used form. The questions set are at an appropriate level. I noted that even individual candidates performed at a variety of levels, with some students getting both high and lower marks in individual scripts (something that rarely happens at my university!). In many cases the student performances were very strong indeed, especially in the higher first category of the final dissertations (HY300), where ambitious students were really given the chance to shine.

2017-18

External Examiner A

The programme is strong overall and there were some impressive results among the sample of scripts I received. The modules cover a diversity of topic and time period that stretches the students, whilst the diversification of assessment modes (noted above) tests different skill sets. The performance of the students is very strong overall. There seems to be quite a short ‘tail’ in the department. No doubt this is a testament to the quality of the teaching the students receive. All the best performing students have, without exception, an excellent grasp of the historical detail and narrative. The very best papers couple this with a grasp of the historiography of the topic. In previous years I have raised the issue of historiography in the assessment. It seemed to me that in some modules students had to show a much more explicit engagement with the historiography than in others in order to receive the highest marks. This year I felt that this was less the case. In most of the sample I looked at a student had to show a grasp of the historiography in order to achieve a high 2.i or First class grade. The department had just moved to a system of moderation (as opposed to second marking) when I began my tenure as External Examiner. Overall, I think this system works well and is comparable to procedures at other institutions. I did note, however, that this year I was asked to adjudicate on a number of disagreements between the first marker and the moderator. I was happy to do this, but I did wonder whether this was really in the spirit of moderation. Moderators look at a sample of assessed work rather than the whole body of said work. If moderators are recommending changes to individual marks might this not unfairly advantage or disadvantage students just because they happen to be amongst the sample? First markers should certainly seek a ‘second opinion’ from the moderator where they are uncertain about a mark. But otherwise moderators should really stick to assessing the range of marks rather than changing individual marks. If the moderator thinks that marks are too high/too low and, therefore, out of line with the department, then they can recommend that the first marker revisits the all the assessment. The feedback given to the students is generally very detailed. Markers provide a clear justification for their marks in all cases. However, I do feel that it would be best practice for markers to round off their feedback with some ‘feed forward’ comments about how the student could improve their work in future assessment. This could be as simple as providing a few bullet points at the end of the comments. I noted that for one module the feedback form provided a box for areas for improvement, but the first marker did not routinely fill this in.

External Examiner B

The Department of International History at the LSE offers the best programme in the UK in modern international history. It combines traditional strengths in diplomatic and military history with newer approaches to studying international history, including the history of ideas and social and cultural history of war. The geographic range is also enormously impressive, although there remains, not surprisingly given its location, an emphasis on British, European, and American history. The range of courses allows students to develop their interests in international history, leading to the dissertation in final year. I would encourage as many students as possible to write a dissertation, as it develops new skills and tests the ability of a student to manage a long-term research project. The quality of the exam papers and coursework is remarkably good. Students demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of particular issues, a sophisticated understanding of historical debates, and an appreciation of different historiographical approaches. The essays are generally written in a coherent fashion. This combination of writing and analytical skills is very impressive. There can be a certain relentless ‘sameness’ to the style of answer, but why depart from best practice? The methods of assessment remain the traditional three hour examination, but in recent years courses have introduced more scope for coursework. This is welcome. Other methods of assessment, such as seminar presentations, are trialed. The growing variety of methods enables students to develop a range of communication skills.

 External Examiner C

The two programmes I was asked to examine are clearly well-established and successful as exemplified by the high level of student achievement. Judging by the results attained by students and the diligence with which academic staff conducted the examination process, is it clear that teaching methods are both appropriate and of a high standard. As regards the methods of assessment, they were both fitting and, in some instances, demonstrably innovative. The very large proportion of students achieving either strong 2A degrees, or firsts, serves to highlight that the standard of student performance is undeniably high. There were some especially pleasing examples of exceptional work to be found among the third-year dissertations. I should add that the whole examination process is underpinned by strong support provided by the Department’s administrative staff.

2015-16

External Examiner A

I thought the quality of the best work was very high and the students should be commended for their grasp of the historical detail. I would point to HY118 as a particularly strong part of the programme as it develops different skills sets to other modules by virtue of the collaborative work and presentational elements. The quality of the teaching, based on the standards achieved by the students, is very good. The reference to class reports suggests that the interaction between staff and students is good. The class reports provide an indicator of student performance and are of great help when discussing unusual or difficult cases.The methods of assessment are appropriate. I was pleased to see some more diversity in the assessment, such as the presentations in HY221 and the continuous assessment in HY200. The overall standard of student performance was very high. There were some outstanding overall results that showed sustained intellectual engagement with the degree programme. The fact that academic prizes had to be split between several winners is indicative of some very impressive academic attainment among the student body.

External Examiner B

The quality of the work –dissertations, essays, and exam scripts –which I read was very high. The best candidates engaged extensively with historiographical debates, offered detailed analysis, and structured answers clearly. The best arguments tended to unfold the analysis, rather than list a series of points. Dissertations examined a range of issues, including some of the classic questions of international history, but others also raised some new issues –health and the environment, for example. It seems to me that students have the opportunity to think widely about the history of international relations.The three hour exam remains the fundamental basis for assessment, though a number of courses have introduced essays as part of the summative assessment. Essays provide students with a different challenge to the examination and variety in assessment methods is good, testing different strengths.I understand that the historiography/methodology course, which ran in previous years, but not this year, will be back on the curriculum next year. I would encourage students to take it. These courses are challenging but they also enlarge our capacity for thinking creatively about the discipline of international history. To return to remarks in the first paragraph of this section, it is also clear that students who engage critically with historiographical arguments perform to an excellent level in their dissertations, essays, and exams.

External Examiner C

Again this year I was struck by the range and depth of the programme, which allows students to master the political, diplomatic, and economic histories of a very wide range of places and topics. The courses that I examined focus on nineteenth-and twentieth-century political and diplomatic history, and gave students a real opportunity to get to grips with the fine detail of events and politics in their chosen fields of study. Judging by the standards achieved by students, methods of teaching are exemplary. In particular, students benefit from being able to take courses that span multiple academic terms, and thus to develop a real depth of understanding and breadth of knowledge. The opportunity to submit un-assessed, formative coursework really benefits the students, who are able to take risks and work in a creative fashion, without fear that a wrong step will lower their final marks. This shows in their assessed essays and exams, where they carry their creativity over into their summative work, and where the best students display the originality andcritical insight that marks out the really excellent scripts.The department’s rigorous internal marking procedures have ensured that student work is assessed in a fair and consistent manner. There is a great deal of transparency when it comes to presenting work and justification for marking decisions to the external examiners. The assessment process is scrupulous and extremely well-run, and a great deal of care is taken to ensure that all students are treated fairly and that all circumstances are taken into account. The department’s keen sense of its duty to its students is very apparent and is to be commended. The standard of student performance was generally very good, and often excellent. Most students are performing to a consistently high standard, and among the best students the level of attainment is very high indeed. Candidates often deployed a great deal of detailed evidence in a structured way, in order to support their own arguments. Dissertation work often shows a real ability to deploy the historian’s scholarly tools when working with primary sources. The best students engaged with the historiography in their assessed work –this is to be strongly encouraged among all students. Historical research and writing is much more than the recitation of facts –it is characterised by dialogue and debate among scholars, across national boundaries and across the generations. A critical understanding of how research and understanding develops and shifts over time, and the contestability of ‘facts’ and perspectives, is crucial to the training of any historian, and for a group of students who will undoubtedly go on toplay important and constructive roles in society. Students should be encouraged to take courses specifically focusing on historiography, and students should engage in critical analysis of historiography in all units and in all assessed work in order to make the most of their potential.

2014-15

External Examiner A

I felt that the programme was very strong overall. It offers students a wide range of different topic areas. Judging by the marks, the teaching seems of a very good standard. I was particularly impressed by the marks received for HY241: What is history? In my experience, students often struggle with this type of historiographical courses, but the marks werevery good here, a testament I think to the teaching. Most of the assessment I examined was in the form of exam scripts. This was the most marked contrast with my own institution, at which there is more emphasis on continuous assessment. I did wonder how students felt about 100% of a mark being based on the exam. However, I note that other courses did have elements of continuous assessment, so perhaps the students exercise their discretion when selecting modules. The student performance was also very strong. There appeared to be relatively few 2.1 marks. Again, I think this is a testament to the teaching and the engagement of the students.

External Examiner B

I graded papers in twentieth century international history. The geographical range was impressive. The courses are structured so that students can begin with an introductory course in the first year and then deepen their understanding of twentieth century history in the subsequent years. This may also have contributed to some excellent dissertation work, as students already have such a good grounding in the secondary sources, that they have the ability to identify key historical problems and sources for an undergraduate research dissertation. The feedback on thesummative assessments was detailed and helpful. I was also impressed by the ways in which the exam board considered mitigating circumstances. Staff clearly invest a good deal of time in teaching their students. As will be clear from my comments on the quality of the student performance, staff also communicate very clearly the principles of good essay writing and methods of critical analysis. The three hour exam is a particularly challenging format that requires considerable preparation and wide-ranging knowledge of the course. Some courses offered grades for coursework. This tests other skills –coursework essays are longer, require greater control, and more in-depth research than an examination answer can possibly demonstrate. Therefore coursework essays reward different skills. The combination seems to work well and it may be worth extending this combination to other courses. I was impressed by the quality of analysis and range of knowledge of the students. A three hour paper is very challenging, but the performance of students was generally very consistent. The best papers engaged with the historiography, put forward a clearly stated argument, developed the argument with cogent analysis, and demonstrated a depth of knowledge. In terms of the engagement of the historiography, students were willing to criticise the views of well-known works. In other words, they did not simply cite historians by approving their arguments.I was also struck by the ‘sameness’ of the answers. I do not mean in terms of the detailed knowledge or arguments, but in terms of their qualities. Students have a clear sense of what makes a good essay at the LSE. However I would also encourage greater engagement with methodological issues, such as transnational approaches and cultural history. Historiographical differences can often exist alongside methodological uniformity. Questions about the methodological assumptions that underpin much writing on international history would further enhance the excellent quality of these papers.

External Examiner C

This is an extremely impressive programme, which covers the history of many different places and issues. The courses that I examined focus on nineteenth-and twentieth-century political and diplomatic history, and give students a real opportunity to master their chosen fields of study.Judging by the standards achieved by students, methods of teaching are exemplary. In particular, students benefit from being able to take courses that span multiple academic terms, and thus to develop a real depth of understanding and breadth of knowledge. The opportunity to submit un-assessed, formative coursework really benefits the students, who are able to take risks and work in a creative fashion, without fear that a wrong step will lower their final marks. This shows in their assessed essays and exams, where they carry their creativity over into their summative work, and display the originality and critical insight that marks out the really excellent scripts.The department’s rigorous internal marking procedures have ensured that student work is assessed in a fair and consistent manner. There is a great deal of transparency when it comes to presenting work and justification for marking decisions to the external examiners. The assessment process is scrupulous and extremely well-run. The standard of student performance was generally very good, and often excellent. This year saw a particularly consistent and strong overall performance by the finalists. Most students are performing to a consistently high standard, and among the best students the level of attainment is very high indeed. Candidates often deployed a great deal of detailed evidence in a structured way, in order to support their own arguments. Dissertation work often shows a real ability to deploy the historian’s scholarly tools when working with primary sources. In some courses, students should be encouraged to engage more with historiography, and to demonstrate a critical understanding of historiographical debate. This would allow them to improve their marks by showing their mastery of another key aspect of the historian’s craft.

2013-14

External Examiner A

Let me begin by stating that I do not have an interest to declare. The quality of examination papers reviewed by me in this academic session has been, as in the three previous years when I served as External, of a very high standard. The range of courses on offer and the scope and breath of those subject areas they address is challenging and academically rewarding. I found that all are comprehensively planned with clear academic aims and expectations and propose critical engagement with the subject broadly and the relevant historiography specifically. I also examined freestanding work and twelve dissertations. This was the first year when I served as a moderating External Examiner, and I am not entirely sure it was clear to me, or to my two colleague External Examiners, just what that involved. Unlike in previous years, I was not disposed to suggest changes to marks awarded internally, as I was not entirely confident that this is what was being asked of moderating External Examiners in this academic session. That said, I did raise the marks awarded to a small number of dissertations (I raised them upwards in each case), because I felt that where excellent had been seen internally, and where I too saw excellent, then a greater range of marks at the top end ofthe scale could be used.All work sent to me was read. The examination papers, and dissertations, were generally of a high standard with –as reflects a quality and percentage slightly higher than the national average –and some 15-20% of all finalists attained First-class degrees, with the majority of candidates falling in the 2:i category. Marks awarded by the Internal Examiners were at all times, to my mind, fair and honest: Firsts were a true expression of high-quality, critical and analytic work of afirst-class range. Those few candidates who performed poorly typically did so (and I saw a very small sample of such scripts), because they signalled a more general lack of engagement with the subject in the particular academic session, as well as, typically, a failure to produce any supplementary work. This is not reflective of the average. Keeping a tally of the marks range in awarding degree classifications, I noted that, for the BA in History, one 2B classification was awarded with marks totalling 512; there was a range, then from the lowest total of 512 (2B degree) to 634 (the highest First class awarded); in sum, the range of marks for the classification First-class degree went from 634 to 607; the range in award of the 2A degree went from 623 down to 534 (a range of 89 marks; noting that the top 2B degree was 16 marks higher than the lowest First awarded). In the BA in International Relations and History, the top First was awarded with a total of 636 marks; the lowest First had 605 (a range of 31 marks); the 2A classification ranged from 596 to 500 (a span of 96 marks); and in the 2B range, from 516 (16 marks higher than the lowest 2A) to 483 (where 516 marks is the aggregate to get a 2A).In sum, I would (again) encourage internal examiners to beconfident in awarding marks across the full range; there is no ceiling at 70 or 80, and it in in students’ best interest to have examiners recognise solid Firsts, solid 2A and 2B classifications. Those candidates who did very well were very impressive indeed; this was particularly evident in dissertation work where independent research work was of a very high standard. Internal examiners were fair and consistent and appropriate in their comments. Internal examiners should be congratulated on the achievements of their students in the academic session 2013-14.

External Examiner B

This is an extremely impressive programme, which covers the history of many different places and issues. The courses that I examined focus on nineteenth-and twentieth-century political and diplomatic history, and give students a real opportunity to master their chosen fields of study.Judging by the standards achieved by students, methods of teaching are exemplary. In particular, students benefit from being able to take courses that span multiple academic terms, and thus to develop a realdepth of understanding and breadth of knowledge. The opportunity to submit un-assessed, formative coursework really benefits the students, who are able to take risks and work in a creative fashion, without fear that a wrong step will lower their final marks. This shows in their assessed essays and exams, where they carry their creativity over into their summative work, and display the originality and critical insight that marks out the really excellent scripts.The department’s rigorous internal marking procedures have ensured that student work is assessed in a fair and consistent manner. There is a great deal of transparency when it comes to presenting work and justification for marking decisions to the external examiners. The assessment process is scrupulous and extremely well-run. The standard of student performance was very good. Most students are performing to a consistently high standard, and among the best students the level of attainment is very high indeed. Candidates often deployed a great deal of detailed evidence in a structured way, in order to support their own arguments. Dissertation work often shows a real ability to deploy the historian’s scholarly tools when working with primary sources. In some courses, students should be encouraged toengage more with historiography, and to demonstrate a critical understanding of historiographical debate. This would allow them to improve their marks by showing their mastery of another key aspect of the historian’s craft.

External Examiner C

The major change this year was the shift from double marking to moderation. The process worked smoothly and did not, I think, causeany substantial problems. That said, moderation asks different questions of the second marker (now moderator) and the external examiner. Instead of “is this the right mark?”, the question is now “is this in the right degree band?” As a result, marks that might have been changed in the past, didn’t get changed this year and won’t in the future. The team may be happy with this –and I would not say they would be wrong to be satisfied –but some positive reflection on the change would be a good thing.The second issue I would like to highlight is marking in the first class band. This encompasses a large spread, namely 70-100%. However, while some of the staff are prepared to use a wide range within this band (I saw marks in the mid-80%), others seem unwillingto do so. This is not only inconsistent, but can disadvantage the student. Where a marker refuses to award marks above 70-72%, s/he makes it much more difficult for a student with a single mark below a first to end up with a first overall –70%, 70%, 65% will be a 2.I, whereas 75%, 75%, 65% will be a First. Another point that might be worth considering is the method of marking in assessed presentations. In most of the HEIs with which I am familiar it is standard practice to double mark all such presentations after the first year. This entails a considerable investment of staff time, but is the only way of protecting the institution from student complaints about procedure or even equity of marking. International History at the LSE might wish to consider ifit wishes to move in line on this. My recommendation is that it should do so as it takes only one student complaint, with all that this entails, to make this a sensible investment.

External examiner reports for postgraduate assessment

2018-19

External Examiner A

Strength are the research led teaching that underpins the whole course and the dedication of the teaching staff to providing an excellent learning experience for the students.  Weakness, ensuring that there is roughly equal level of written feedback provided for the students.  I flagged this last year.  The Department has improved, but a watchful eye still needs to be kept on this issue. The highest quality of teaching is provided for students on this programme.  The methods of assessment are varied but appropriate and their use well considered.

2017-18

External Examiner A

The MA/MSc courses in the Department of International History continue to offer an extraordinary level of choice of specialized research-led papers based on cutting edge research. Students can specialize in particular regions and periods. At the same time all courses strongly and innovatively make students reflect on global connections through a variety of approaches to international history. The results obtained indicated a very high quality of teaching. Assessments are designed thoughtfully to start from a critical engagement with the existing historiography to lead to the pursuit of original work, in particular for the dissertation. The application of the marking criteria was rigorous, the moderation processes robust and the feedback detailed and constructive. There was some variation in student performance, but overall the quality was very high, with publishable work at the top.

External Examiner B

While I had no concerns about the academic judgement exercised in the marking process, I did notice quite considerable diversity in the level of feedback offered to students.  Most tutors and moderators offered extensive and helpful feedback; some simply noted the grade and commented, for example ‘some points of relevance’.  I would not wish to be prescriptive about stating a word total for comments, but I do think some kind of agreement needs to be reached about what constitutes an adequate amount of feedback.

2016-17

External Examiner A

The MA/MSc courses in the Department of International History offer an extraordinary level of choice of specialized research-led papers. The coverage is truly global  – both in terms of regional expertise and in the manner students are made to think about global connections. The courses are characterized by a refreshing diversity of methods from classic history of international relations to ‘new’ international history and the cultural history of war with particular emphasis on understanding connections between local and global processes. Students can gain comparative insights and specialize in particular regions and periods. The course designs reflect cutting edge research. Based on the results students obtained, the quality of teaching must be praised. Assessments were thoughtfully designed to enable critical engagement with the existing historiography, as well as the pursuit of original work, in particular for the dissertation. The application of the marking criteria was rigorous, the moderation processes robust and the feedback detailed and mostly constructive. There was some variation in student performance, but overall the quality was very high, with publishable work at the top.

External Examiner B

The Department of International History offers a comprehensive suite of Masters courses. The teaching is excellent, the assessment is rigorous and fair, and the awards are meaningful in terms of the academic and intellectual reputation of those holding them.

2015-16

External Examiner A

The Department of International History delivers a suite of outstanding postgraduate programmes. Students can be sure that their work has been carefully assessed and treated with discernment. Any academic accolades are earned and are taken seriously elsewhere in the academic community.

External Examiner B

The Masters’ programmes offered by the LSE’s Department of International History continue to live up to their strong reputation. The programmes offer students plenty of flexibility and choice and include an appropriate range of coursework and independent research. The courses on offer are well designed. They cover a wide range of topics and periods as well as a wide range of approaches to the study of International, Imperial, and World History. Many are innovative in their approaches and methodologies. Students have excellent resources available to them and tutors offer top quality teaching and supervision, providing plenty of formative feedback and guidance. Seminars and assessments are designed in such a way as to foster the academic, professional, and personal skills required of students at postgraduate level. The modes of assessments employed encourage students to excel intellectually, think critically and independently, and make the most of their diverse range of skills, from language to IT. The standards and criteria of assessment are transparent, appropriate, and rigorously adhered to by all markers. The programmes themselves attract a strong, diverse and intellectually vibrant student body whose standard of performance is extremely high. Nowhere is this more evident than in the strong dissertations produced by students, which engage critically and imaginatively with historiography as well primary sources, and demonstrate a real ability to formulate original arguments and interpretations.

2014-15

External Examiner A

The purpose of marking is transparent, fair-minded and rigorous assessment. It should not give encouragement or advice. The LSE’s degrees are respected because of the rigour of the assessment.

External Examiner B

The Masters’ programmes offered by the LSE’s Department of International History have once again lived up to their strong reputation. The programmes are designed to offer students plenty of choice and include an appropriate range of coursework and independent research. The courses on offer are extremely well designed and cover not just a wide range of topics but also a wide range of approaches to the study of International, Imperial, and World History. Students have excellent resources available to them and tutors offer top quality teaching and supervision, providing plenty of formative feedback and guidance. Seminars and assessments are designed in such a way as to foster the academic, professional, and personal skills required of students at postgraduate level. The modes of assessments employed encourage students to excel intellectually, think critically and independently, and make the most of their diverse range of skills, from language to IT. While most courses follow a traditional pattern of assessment through essays and exams, it is encouraging to see that some are also embracing more alternative modes of assessment, like online discussion logs. The standards and criteria of assessment are transparent, appropriate, and rigorously adhered to by all markers. The programmes themselves attract a strong, diverse and intellectually vibrant student body whose standard of performance is extremely high. Nowhere is this more evident than in the strong dissertations produced by students, which engage critically and imaginatively with historiography as well primary sources, and demonstrate a real ability to formulate original arguments and interpretations.

2013-14

External Examiner A

Once again, I feel that the Masters’ programmes offered by the LSE’s Department of International History have lived up to their strong reputation. The programmes are designed to offer students plenty of choice and include an appropriate range of coursework and independent research. The courses on offer are extremely well designed and cover not just a wide range of topics but also a wide range of approaches to the study of International, Imperial, and World History. Students have excellent resources available to them and tutors offer top quality teaching and supervision, providing plenty of formative feedback and guidance. Seminars and assessments are designed in such a way as to foster the academic, professional, and personal skills required of students at postgraduate level. Through a mix of traditional and alternative modes of assessments, students are encouraged to excel intellectually, to think critically and independently, and to make the most of their diverse range of skills, from language to IT. The programmes themselves attract a strong, diverse and intellectually vibrant student body whose standard of performance is extremely high. Nowhere is this more evident than in the strong dissertations produced by students, which engage critically and imaginatively with historiography as well primary sources, and demonstrate a real ability to formulate original arguments and interpretations.