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Oxford dons worry about students' inability to revise and spell

London, Mon, 23 Jan 2012 ANI

London, Jan 23 (ANI): Some Oxford University students show a "distressing" grasp of their subjects and the answers to their final exams are often little better than A-level standard, according to their tutors.


However, new documents reveal that Oxford dons' despair at some students' failure to revise and inability to spell.


According to examiners' reports, some are unable to spell words such as 'erupt' or 'across' correctly and give answers that show a "worrying degree of inaccuracy".


Academics said a culture of box-ticking at A-level had left students with poor general knowledge and unable to think for themselves.


"We encountered a distinct sense of undeveloped critical thought, first year level work, or at the lower end of the run, A-level-style responses: information dumped but not tackled," the Telegraph quoted an English examiner as writing.


A tutor marking Cold War history papers also complained about the same.


"The clotted residuum of A-level work was noticeable in a clutch of questions," the history teacher said.


"Candidates would do well to abandon the assumption that they can use their schoolwork without significant addition to their reading and analysis.


"The intellectual thinness and out-datedness on topics such as the Soviet Union was embarrassing," the teacher said.


While examiners were delighted by some candidates, whose work they said was good enough to be published in academic journals, they were scathing about large numbers whose answers were "dull" or worse.


English papers carried "haphazard and random generalisations", they wrote. Only seven candidates in a class of 80 studying Irish poetry could say which country the city of Derry is in, and "very few" could explain the significance of 1916, the year of the Easter Rising.


"There was too much simply bad writing, which was poorly thought out and critically inattentive," the tutors wrote in answers on Jane Austen.


They said that students' knowledge of scholarship on Dickens was "plainly deficient".


Answers on Cicero were "tending towards the dreadfully banal" while Alexander the Great fell victim to "manifest guesswork".


In answers on Old English, "names were badly mangled and often forgotten - the tendency was, if in doubt, to call everyone Aelfric."


Modern languages tutors were no kinder. In German, some scripts were "depressingly poor". Spanish words, including the names of authors and their works, were "consistently misspelled". French translation was often "appalling". Italian candidates were "undeniably of a mediocre level" and the worst Russian oral candidates were "embarrassingly weak".


Tutors in many subjects complained that students had failed to revise properly, and instead memorised old class essays and regurgitated them regardless of the question asked.


Other candidates, meanwhile, were almost too clever for their own good.


"Some tyro de-constructivists perversely feigned not to understand the simplest phrases and tortured their texts into contradiction and unintelligibility," the examiner of a paper on modern poetry wrote.


But it was students' "startling" abuse of English that shocked dons the most.


Some could not spell 'illuminate' 'bizarre' 'blur' 'buries' or 'possess' correctly, with tutors blaming a dependence on computer spellcheckers.


Handwriting was so poor that "scripts from dyslexic candidates proved a welcome relief because they were typed," one added.


"Examiners were once again concerned that students graduating from Oxford having studied foreign languages should have such a precarious command of their own," one Spanish tutor wrote.


More than a quarter of Oxford students received a first class degree in 2010, with 63 percent receiving an upper second and just 1 percent getting a third. No candidates failed their degree.


"Kids are so constrained by being brought up thinking 'I only do for the exams at GCSE or A-level what the mark scheme says I should do, I never think out of the box because I don't get rewarded if I do'. What's missing is the cultural heritage," David Palfreyman, Bursar of New College and director of the Oxford Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies, said.


"You can't assume that if you say to a kid 'this is a kind of Micawber personality' that the kid understands what that means because the historian may not have ever encountered somebody called Dickens at school," he added. (ANI)


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