Notes from an EMA marker


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I’m currently in the middle of marking A863 EMAs. More precisely, I’m two thirds of the way through a daunting pile of forty-seven 3,000-word essays. Since I’m so immersed in EMAs  I thought it would be a good time to note down my reflections on the most frequent EMA problems I’ve observed, to benefit next year’s A863 students.

Here are my Top 6. Having encountered the same problems over and over I’m feeling pretty grumpy, so these are phrased as commands, not advice!


  1. Answer the question!

The Number 1 reason for failure is not answering the question. Many of the EMAs I’ve seen are essays on something that interested the writer, with a paragraph at the beginning and end to connect it, sometimes very vaguely, to the question. At MA level the entire essay, from start to finish, needs to be driven by an argument which answers the question fully and clearly. This is a trap which students of any standard can fall into, but I’ve noticed that particularly strong students are most vulnerable to it, since they can become fascinated by one specific area which isn’t entirely relevant, and they trust in the quality of their writing to carry them through. Sadly, that doesn’t work.


  1. Avoid media sources!

You may find a situation where these are appropriate; but in general, academic books and articles should be used in preference to the New York Times, Channel 4 News, or random science websites. A bibliography which features only module materials and media sources is a bad sign. This is such a pervasive problem that I’ve taken to checking each bibliography before I read the essay, to give me some warning! It’s one of the leading causes of failure, so you really do need to take this seriously.


  1. Do some research!

(This is linked to Point 2 above, although the two problems don’t always come together.) Remember that this is an MA project – even if it is just a little one. Research is expected. If you limit yourself entirely to the module materials, your marker will be disappointed, and will consume excessive quantities of chocolate biscuits as a result. Lack of research will affect both your grade and my waistline.


  1. Don’t rewrite the TMAs!

If you had to critique an article for one of the TMAs, don’t critique the same article again in the EMA. If you had to write about an extract from a play in a TMA, don’t write about the same extract in the EMA. The reason for this should be obvious: repeating yourself doesn’t show off anything except the fact that you once wrote a TMA. Surely you can do better than that!


  1. Look stuff up!

If you find something helpful on BrainyQuote, Wikiquote or Wikipedia, trace it back to its source and reference the original text. Shortcuts aren’t appropriate here: take the time to do things properly. A lack of proper scholarship could easily push you under the Pass/Fail border.


  1. Spell names correctly!

Just because your spellchecker doesn’t underline it, doesn’t make it right. The number of EMAs I’ve read in which the Greeks have turned into the Geeks without anybody noticing is terrifying. Granted, you probably won’t fail because of poor spelling alone; but it’s usually symptomatic of a general carelessness which can lose you a lot of marks.


Each of these issues has appeared numerous times in the pile I have in front of me. I was planning to turn them into a drinking game: but since I have a feeling that whisky is incompatible with responsible marking, I’ll have to stick to the chocolate biscuits…!

Cora Beth Knowles


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