Oxford/RG unis - harsher grading? Watch

am3liepoulain
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I'm a graduate student set to start a masters degree at Oxford in October. I did my undergraduate degree at a non-Russell Group university; while I had an amazing time there, I have the utmost respect for all the lecturers I had there, and I absolutely adored my course, this does make me feel a little anxious and unprepared. Everyone I met at the open day had studied at Oxbridge, Durham, York, et cetera. I didn't even meet one other person from a non-RG university - while I'm sure they were there, they were definitely a minority, at least for my course.

That being said, I won't be modest and say I didn't do well in my undergrad degree. I scored top of my year for three years straight and achieved a final grade of 79% in a humanities degree, so I'm very proud of myself for that. However, I was talking to some other, clearly intelligent, people who had offers who were saying how difficult they found it to get firsts on their courses, and it sounded like grades of 80+% were unheard of. I'm not saying everyone got firsts all the time at my uni - most people got the standard 2:1s - but I do know quite a few people who consistently managed firsts, including the occasional 80+%, and I never personally found it difficult to do well as long as I put some decent work in. It just seemed like other people's courses were more difficult to do well in.

I'm just worried that Oxford is going to be a shock to the system. I'm expecting the intensity of the course and prepared to work hard, but I'm scared that even with hard work I might not be able to perform as well as I'm used to being able to, gradeswise, and get the distinction I want. I'd like to do a PhD one day and pursue a career in academia, so this means a lot to me.

That being said, the lecturer who graded my work in my soon-to-be specialist area used to work at Oxford herself, and surely wouldn't mark any more leniently at one institution than she would have at a previous one?

Has anyone been in a similar situation, or have any advice? 😊
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am3liepoulain
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Justmac
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Also wondering this 😫 going from non RG to kcl 🤷🏻*♀️ hard to know if we are just being paranoid or if there will be a difference. I'm currently publishing my diss so im not stupid but.... i also only did btec so that makes me even more paranoid. What are you studying?
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am3liepoulain
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(Original post by Justmac)
Also wondering this 😫 going from non RG to kcl 🤷🏻*♀️ hard to know if we are just being paranoid or if there will be a difference. I'm currently publishing my diss so im not stupid but.... i also only did btec so that makes me even more paranoid. What are you studying?
KCL is lovely, I have lots of friends there, you'll have an amazing time I'm doing English, what about you?

If you're publishing your diss I'm sure you have nothing to worry about <3
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Princepieman
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100% yes.

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am3liepoulain
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(Original post by Princepieman)
100% yes.

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What's your experience of this?

As I've said, I've no doubt it's much harder to do well at more prestigious unis, I'm just wondering if the difference is huge enough that I should be worried.
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username1230881
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(Original post by am3liepoulain)
I'm a graduate student set to start a masters degree at Oxford in October. I did my undergraduate degree at a non-Russell Group university; while I had an amazing time there, I have the utmost respect for all the lecturers I had there, and I absolutely adored my course, this does make me feel a little anxious and unprepared. Everyone I met at the open day had studied at Oxbridge, Durham, York, et cetera. I didn't even meet one other person from a non-RG university - while I'm sure they were there, they were definitely a minority, at least for my course.

That being said, I won't be modest and say I didn't do well in my undergrad degree. I scored top of my year for three years straight and achieved a final grade of 79% in a humanities degree, so I'm very proud of myself for that. However, I was talking to some other, clearly intelligent, people who had offers who were saying how difficult they found it to get firsts on their courses, and it sounded like grades of 80+% were unheard of. I'm not saying everyone got firsts all the time at my uni - most people got the standard 2:1s - but I do know quite a few people who consistently managed firsts, including the occasional 80+%, and I never personally found it difficult to do well as long as I put some decent work in. It just seemed like other people's courses were more difficult to do well in.

I'm just worried that Oxford is going to be a shock to the system. I'm expecting the intensity of the course and prepared to work hard, but I'm scared that even with hard work I might not be able to perform as well as I'm used to being able to, gradeswise, and get the distinction I want. I'd like to do a PhD one day and pursue a career in academia, so this means a lot to me.

That being said, the lecturer who graded my work in my soon-to-be specialist area used to work at Oxford herself, and surely wouldn't mark any more leniently at one institution than she would have at a previous one?

Has anyone been in a similar situation, or have any advice? 😊
Relatively few people will have had experiences of both RG/Oxbridge universities and non-RG universities, and those who have will most likely have experienced it through your approach - and even then, Masters work is inevitably going to be a step up from undergraduate - so it's a difficult question to answer. The standards will likely have been higher at the 'better' universities - the entry requirements are higher, so it follows that students who got A*A*A at A level will want to be pushed more than those who got, say, BBB, otherwise either 'everyone' at Oxbridge would get Firsts and the percentage of 2:1s and Firsts at other universities would be low.

University grades aren't broadly standardised by an external body so they have that freedom to generally set their levels - your tutor attended Oxford, but her marking will have to be in line with that of her colleagues at your old university, who will have general targets to maintain so roughly X% of students each year get Firsts and 2:1s. If a disproportionately-large percentage of students at your old uni were getting 2:2s or Thirds compared to all other universities, then it would be harder to attract new students each year, and in that way unis are more or less a business. However, external examiners are brought in to check the overall standard of work, so it's still academia and degrees are still comparable in their worth.

I'm at York and 80% grades in my degree (Politics) and other Humanities subjects are virtually unheard of - they do occasionally happen but they're rare, and lots of people who graduate with Firsts never got above low/mid-70s in anything. A commonly repeated phrase by students at least, though I don't know if it's true, is that 80+ would be 'publishable' standard.

However - Oxford wouldn't have accepted you if they didn't think you were capable. 79% is a really, really good final grade and while the standards of unis differ, that's clearly indicative of you excelling at academia. Oxford will inevitably be a step up and so I wouldn't count on the very highest grades at least initially, but they wouldn't accept someone who they thought wouldn't excel. Seek out support when you're there if you need it, but it already sounds like you're prepared for an initial shock and hard work so you'll be fine. Masters obviously entail a lot of independent study but their aim isn't to leave you to struggle!
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random_matt
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Well, I've transferred from Bangor to Durham, have a feeling my work will drop to 2.1 level, not much I can do about though, I cannot work any harder or differently.
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am3liepoulain
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(Original post by doctorwhofan98)
Relatively few people will have had experiences of both RG/Oxbridge universities and non-RG universities, and those who have will most likely have experienced it through your approach - and even then, Masters work is inevitably going to be a step up from undergraduate - so it's a difficult question to answer. The standards will likely have been higher at the 'better' universities - the entry requirements are higher, so it follows that students who got A*A*A at A level will want to be pushed more than those who got, say, BBB, otherwise either 'everyone' at Oxbridge would get Firsts and the percentage of 2:1s and Firsts at other universities would be low.

University grades aren't broadly standardised by an external body so they have that freedom to generally set their levels - your tutor attended Oxford, but her marking will have to be in line with that of her colleagues at your old university, who will have general targets to maintain so roughly X% of students each year get Firsts and 2:1s. If a disproportionately-large percentage of students at your old uni were getting 2:2s or Thirds compared to all other universities, then it would be harder to attract new students each year, and in that way unis are more or less a business. However, external examiners are brought in to check the overall standard of work, so it's still academia and degrees are still comparable in their worth.

I'm at York and 80% grades in my degree (Politics) and other Humanities subjects are virtually unheard of - they do occasionally happen but they're rare, and lots of people who graduate with Firsts never got above low/mid-70s in anything. A commonly repeated phrase by students at least, though I don't know if it's true, is that 80+ would be 'publishable' standard.

However - Oxford wouldn't have accepted you if they didn't think you were capable. 79% is a really, really good final grade and while the standards of unis differ, that's clearly indicative of you excelling at academia. Oxford will inevitably be a step up and so I wouldn't count on the very highest grades at least initially, but they wouldn't accept someone who they thought wouldn't excel. Seek out support when you're there if you need it, but it already sounds like you're prepared for an initial shock and hard work so you'll be fine. Masters obviously entail a lot of independent study but their aim isn't to leave you to struggle!
Thank you so much for the detailed reply - I really appreciate it
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am3liepoulain
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(Original post by random_matt)
Well, I've transferred from Bangor to Durham, have a feeling my work will drop to 2.1 level, not much I can do about though, I cannot work any harder or differently.
Best of luck
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Princepieman
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(Original post by am3liepoulain)
What's your experience of this?

As I've said, I've no doubt it's much harder to do well at more prestigious unis, I'm just wondering if the difference is huge enough that I should be worried.
Did a year at a mid ranking uni, now at a near the top ranked RG.

You should never be worried! If it's harder all it means is you have to put in more effort per piece of work than you would have at your old uni.

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Justmac
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(Original post by am3liepoulain)
KCL is lovely, I have lots of friends there, you'll have an amazing time I'm doing English, what about you?

If you're publishing your diss I'm sure you have nothing to worry about <3
Education, but part time study and full time teaching. Hoping it'll give me more time to adjust. Have you managed to speak to any of the lecturers at Oxford? One of my lecturers at uni had a mutual friend who was able to put me in contact which was incredibly reassuring and they were able to talk through some of my concerns. Have you spoken to any of your undergrad lecturers about these concerns?

I'm more concerned about whether kcl will accept my maverick style/approach or if i'll have to be mindful with it. I agree with another poster who mentioned the 80+ being close to publishable, if rumours are to be believed, which means on a 79 you are close and shouldn't flounder too much. I'm going back through some of my work and seeing where it needs improvement and how to push up, that may help you to do so. Lots of people within academia suffer from imposter syndrome so we won't be the only ones!
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am3liepoulain
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(Original post by Justmac)
Education, but part time study and full time teaching. Hoping it'll give me more time to adjust. Have you managed to speak to any of the lecturers at Oxford? One of my lecturers at uni had a mutual friend who was able to put me in contact which was incredibly reassuring and they were able to talk through some of my concerns. Have you spoken to any of your undergrad lecturers about these concerns?

I'm more concerned about whether kcl will accept my maverick style/approach or if i'll have to be mindful with it. I agree with another poster who mentioned the 80+ being close to publishable, if rumours are to be believed, which means on a 79 you are close and shouldn't flounder too much. I'm going back through some of my work and seeing where it needs improvement and how to push up, that may help you to do so. Lots of people within academia suffer from imposter syndrome so we won't be the only ones!
Oh lovely! I have a (very clever) friend doing a PGCE there so I know how how prestigious their Education courses in particular are - congratulations on getting your place

I spoke to the lecturer I mentioned in my original post - she used to teach on the exact course I'm doing, and wrote one of my references, so the fact she believes in me that strongly is reassuring. Oxford also gave me a very generous studentship so they must have faith in me for now at least; here's hoping it's justified...! 😂 So that's reassuring too, in a sense.

At the end of the day I suppose all we can do is our best!
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The_Lonely_Goatherd
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I wouldn't necessarily worry about it at this stage - just see how you go! It may well be a big step up but you'll likely rise to the challenge :yes: I can't speak personally for English courses at Oxford at either undergrad or postgrad level but if it's anything like music (and I get the impression it's more stringent with English, at least at undergrad), I wouldn't bank on getting scores like 79 (or whatever the equivalent would be on an MSt English course) as easily/at all. So don't be disheartened if your grades aren't as high as you'd like/expect :nah:
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The_Lonely_Goatherd
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Also worth mentioning that different unis have different pressures/expectations. At my current non-Oxbridge, non-RG uni where I'm doing my PhD, there is a lot of pressure on staff to award higher marks to undergrads, well into the high 70s/80s. This is despite various staff and PhD students marking the papers disagreeing with such a system! It's one of the reasons I don't wanna be a teaching assistant in my dept :ninja:

Such marks were virtually unheard of in my Oxbridge undergrad degree! So just because the person who marked your undergrad stuff used to mark at Oxford, doesn't mean she would (be allowed to) mark the same way as she did at Oxford :nah:
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am3liepoulain
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(Original post by The_Lonely_Goatherd)
Also worth mentioning that different unis have different pressures/expectations. At my current non-Oxbridge, non-RG uni where I'm doing my PhD, there is a lot of pressure on staff to award higher marks to undergrads, well into the high 70s/80s. This is despite various staff and PhD students marking the papers disagreeing with such a system! It's one of the reasons I don't wanna be a teaching assistant in my dept :ninja:

Such marks were virtually unheard of in my Oxbridge undergrad degree! So just because the person who marked your undergrad stuff used to mark at Oxford, doesn't mean she would (be allowed to) mark the same way as she did at Oxford :nah:
(Original post by The_Lonely_Goatherd)
I wouldn't necessarily worry about it at this stage - just see how you go! It may well be a big step up but you'll likely rise to the challenge :yes: I can't speak personally for English courses at Oxford at either undergrad or postgrad level but if it's anything like music (and I get the impression it's more stringent with English, at least at undergrad), I wouldn't bank on getting scores like 79 (or whatever the equivalent would be on an MSt English course) as easily/at all. So don't be disheartened if your grades aren't as high as you'd like/expect :nah:
Oh, I'm certainly not expecting any more 79s haha - just really hoping to be able to do well enough to be in good standing for a PhD later on.

Thank you for your insight and best of luck with the rest of your PhD
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The_Lonely_Goatherd
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(Original post by am3liepoulain)
Oh, I'm certainly not expecting any more 79s haha - just really hoping to be able to do well enough to be in good standing for a PhD later on.

Thank you for your insight and best of luck with the rest of your PhD
Thanks! Am sure you should be able to put yourself in good standing for PhD applications (though funding in the humanities is hard to come by!)! Just work as hard as you can and keep your eye on the prize - that's all anyone can ask of you
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SerBronn
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It's obvious there's been some ghastly mistake in admitting you onto this course. You are completely stupid compared to everyone else and will fail miserably.

But seriously ... you're being very silly here. Enjoy the course but don't obsess over the work. It will be fine.
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a9493r
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(Original post by Justmac)
Also wondering this 😫 going from non RG to kcl 🤷🏻*♀️ hard to know if we are just being paranoid or if there will be a difference. I'm currently publishing my diss so im not stupid but.... i also only did btec so that makes me even more paranoid. What are you studying?
I just completed my grad in KCL, I had done a btec before Uni and tbh the standard of marking is tough but if you put the work in, maintain contact with the lecturers/supervisors it is okay.

But also, it depends on the course you are going into.
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Justmac
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(Original post by a9493r)
I just completed my grad in KCL, I had done a btec before Uni and tbh the standard of marking is tough but if you put the work in, maintain contact with the lecturers/supervisors it is okay.

But also, it depends on the course you are going into.
I didn't find that there was a jump in my undergrad tbh, even though I was expecting there to be. I'm hoping there won't be too much of a jump at MA. I work hard (most of the time) and try to be unique in my approach to assignments. I also teach which I think helps in being able to pick apart the marking criteria? I got an 89 in my last essay, how that would have been marked at an RG i don't know but the external examiner requested to see me about it and was quite impressed so probably a good sign. Thank you for the advice!
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