By the numbers


in Daily updates, Oxford

Magdalen College, Oxford

According to the Examiners Reports from 2002-2006, here is the breakdown of results for second year students in the M.Phil in International Relations. Please note that the reports are not always entirely clear on whether people got a distinction on exams only, or whether it was on the entire M.Phil course. Results from before 2002 are not used, because they do not mention how many candidates sat the exams.

Year: Total candidates – Passes – Fails – Distinctions

2006: 17 – 17 – 0 – 0
2005: 18 – 16 – 2 – 0
2004: 23 – 22 – 1 – 2
2003: 25 – 25 – 0 – 2
2002: 23 – 23 – 0 – 1

Total: 106 – 103 – 3 – 5
Percentages: Pass = 97.2% Fail = 2.8% Distinction = 4.5%

Given that there are 28 people in our program, it is likely that one person will fail and that one person will get a distinction.

It should be noted that most people who failed re-sat the exam successfully the next year. They have thus been counted both as fails in their original year and passes in the subsequent year. People who chose to withdraw from the course are excluded from these statistics. Those on the Oxford network can read the reports on the departmental homepage.

[Update: 10 June 2007] The figures above have been adjusted in light of this comment.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

. June 9, 2007 at 10:52 pm
R.K. June 9, 2007 at 8:50 pm

With a 97% chance of passing, it would be awfully embarrassing to fail.

Antonian June 10, 2007 at 3:46 pm

I would guess that thr 97% pass rate reflects how anyone smart enogh to be in the M.Phil is smart enough to get through the exams. The low distinction rate probably reflects how exhausted everyone is after the thesis.

S June 10, 2007 at 5:52 pm

Your numbers for 2004 are off. One person got distinction on the overall degree; another got distinction on all four exams but not on the thesis because it was over length.

Milan June 10, 2007 at 8:51 pm

The reports aren’t written so as to be easily comparable.


17 candidates passed the course. While there were no overall Distinctions, the
Examiners bestowed a Commendation on one candidate who achieved two
Distinction marks and all marks over 67. Six of the M.Phil. theses received
Distinction marks. We would also like it to be noted that one student was penalized
a grade point for exceeding the word limit on her thesis.

One of the 17 passing students was the resit candidate from 2004.


16 candidates passed the course, with one Distinction. The Examiners also
bestowed a Commendation on one candidate. Five of the M.Phil. theses received
Distinction marks.

Two students failed the course: one failed to achieve a passing grade of 60 on his
thesis, and three of the written exams. In the future, given the changes made to the
2005 Exam Decrees and Notes of Guidance, it will not be obligatory for Examiners
to viva a candidate that has failed three or more components of the Final exams
(had this rule been in place this year, we would have chosen not to hold the viva for
the candidate mentioned above). The second student – the candidate from 2004 –
failed one of the written exams (since he did not have a mark of 70 or more on
another component of the course, we were not able to compensate for this failing
grade). The first student is permitted to resubmit his thesis in April 2006, and resit
his exams in June 2006. Since the second student did not appear for his viva, he is
deemed to have failed the course. The student is currently appealing this result.


The 2004 examination was unusually eventful: one student had to bring food into the examination hall because of low blood sugar; another had to be “incarcerated” between papers because of a wrist condition that prevented him from taking the papers at the same time as his peers; one script was illegible and had to be transcribed; and another student’s illness may have prevented her from finishing the third question on all her papers (requiring the examiners to apply the short-weight formula and in the event viva the candidate). Finally, the external examiner was unable to participate in the viva because of last minute emergency in his home institution. Nevertheless, the Junior Proctor apprised us, or was apprised by us, about all these events, and the requisite proctorial approvals were been obtained in all cases.

23 candidates took the examination and all except one passed. One distinction was awarded; another candidate obtained distinctions in all his papers but his thesis was a few points shy of a distinction in part because it was downgraded for exceeding (by a significant margin) the word limit. The average mark for the History paper was 66.1; for Theory it was 66.2. The examiners noted a skewing towards Questions 3 (collective security) and 10 (UN role post-Cold War) in the History paper; this is probably a sign that students may be very targeted in their revision. On the Theory paper, the vast majority wrote on the Neoliberalism vs Neorealism debate, and we found most of the answers rather formulaic.

2 candidates failed one or more papers and the external examiner read all the failed scripts. The two candidates were vivaed. One, who failed the Theory paper, had trouble persuading the examiners that he had sufficient familiarity with the key
concepts and materials of the course, or the key works by prominent IR scholars, to warrant the award of the M. Phil. He is permitted to resit all four papers next June. The other candidate, who had failed three papers (largely because she failed to answer the third question in each of her papers), was able to convince the examiners that not only did she have a good and strong grasp of the relevant materials, but that she had also used the latter to form interesting positions of her own. Based on her performance, the examiners, with the concurrence of the external examiner, decided to pass her.


There were 26 candidates. One withdrew. Two were given permission by the Junior Proctor to submit their theses at the end of the long vacation. The remainder passed in June. Two achieved distinctions and two others were sent letters of commendation on their performance. The examiners believe that the new criterion for a distinction (thesis and three of four papers must receive 70 or above, the fourth paper not less than 67) is working well and should be continued. Most of the scripts were satisfactory and there were a large number of high marks on the optional papers and theses. Some of the answers to the core papers could have benefited from more interaction between history and theory – there was a tendency to treat these as autonomous exercises – but the best candidates combined the two.


The standard of the final examination was very high in keeping with the expectations set by last year’s results. One candidates was awarded a distinction and three a commendation (each with only one mark below 70- see below). The 4 of them produced outstanding work across at least three papers and the thesis. Another 8 candidates were close to distinction. The external examiner again pointed to the degree to which our conventions for the award of a distinction are more severe than in many other comparable courses. There were only two candidates with marks in the low 60s. All passed and there were no vivas, although these two candidates were borderline. The standard of theses was quite astonishing (I have never so much enjoyed reading theses as this year). 9 theses achieving distinction marks above 70 (one of which a deserved 80!) and 9 above 67.

Milan June 10, 2007 at 8:52 pm

I changed the 2004 figure to show 2 distinctions.

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