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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


Exam papers

Each paper will be assessed by a 3-hour online open book examination with a word limit. There will be additional time for students with disabilities who have made the necessary application via College (following the standard practice for examination arrangements).

Guidelines for open book exams 2024

The papers will be divided into two sections, Section A and Section B. Candidates will be required to answer questions from both sections of each exam paper. In each paper, Section A will consist of general questions that range over the paper; candidates will be required to answer one question chosen from a possible three in this section. Section B will consist of more specific questions; candidates will be required to answer three questions chosen from a possible nine. Each question will carry the same weight.

Past exam papers

Exam revision

The Part II Manager holds a general revision session early in Easter Term (after the dissertation deadline).

In the week following, dedicated revision sessions are run for each paper. The Paper Manager and supervisor(s) will talk about key themes in the paper, identify major changes in the lecture programme from previous years, and run through some sample questions. Arrangements for revision supervisions will also be set out at these sessions.

Students should aim to have one or two revision supervisions per paper, ideally based on practice scripts written under examination conditions, that is, timed, written without consulting lecture notes or any outside sources, and handwritten.

Examination advice

Learning strategies and exam skills

Marking criteria

Class Description Amplifications for Part II dissertations, primary source essays and unseen examinations
Mark 85+
First Class
An outstanding and memorable performance in which all, or virtually all, the qualities deemed to constitute first-class work are present in a remarkable degree. Dissertation: An outstanding dissertation might be considered the basis for a publication in a journal.
Mark 70–84
First Class
Work which is excellent both in the range and in the command of the material and in the argument and analysis that it brings to bear. The examiner would regard independence of thought as a clear sign of first-class potential. A first-class mark may be awarded on more than one set of criteria. The argument may be sophisticated, incisive or demonstrate flair; there may be a wealth of relevant information, showing exceptional knowledge and understanding of the issues involved; the approach may be unorthodox in the best sense, suggesting new and worthwhile ways of considering material. Many first-class performances will combine elements of all three. Primary source essay: A first-class essay does not necessarily need to engage extensively with a full range of secondary sources, although it may do so.
Dissertation: May display evidence of extensive research imaginatively and convincingly employed.
Unseen examinations: An answer judged first-class will always be felt to have engaged closely with the question set, even if it approaches it from an unexpected angle. First-class answers can be unusually long, but they can also be unusually concise.
Mark 60–69
Work showing evidence of a good and broad-based engagement with and understanding of the relevant material and organised in a clearly-argued, well-illustrated and relevant fashion. Work at the top end of this class will usually contain material which displays evidence of high intelligence, and which is regularly, but not consistently, sophisticated in analysis, impressive in its display of relevant knowledge, and occasionally demonstrate flair. The bottom of the range would be competent and accurate in the reproduction of received ideas, the upper end more stylish in thought or apt in its use of example. Primary source essay: An essay in this class and above will always be judged to have engaged closely with the source. This may involve close analysis of specific passages, extended discussion of the principal arguments, characteristics or theses of the source or the light shed on the source by a closely related work or response to it.
Unseen examinations: Credit can be given to a script that for reasons of organisation or irrelevancy would normally be a II.ii if it shows some elements of first-class work. A well-informed and intelligent performance with some first-class quality may fall into this category if the focus is blurry.
Mark 50–59
Competent and broadly relevant work. Lacking organisation or breadth of reference. Essays in this class may occasionally show evidence of poor judgement, contain sections which are poorly related to the main argument and read more like 'prepared material' than an answer to the question, or display lack of clarity in writing. Primary source essay: An essay that did not engage closely with the source should not be marked higher than II.ii. A II.ii is awarded if the source is treated as a pretext or some of the material is extraneous.
Primary source essay and dissertation: An argument that is consistently waffly will be awarded a II.ii. A thin and inadequately researched dissertation might well receive a lower second.
Unseen examinations: A good answer to the wrong question should not be marked higher than II.ii. An answer which would normally fall into the II.i category may fall into this class if it is too short, rushed, unfinished, badly organised, or does not answer the question, even though it may make some good points in other ways.
Mark 40–49
Work that, while showing some knowledge of the material, is yet seriously deficient in understanding and breadth of reference. Candidates whose work falls into this class may have occasionally completely missed the point of the title, be unduly brief, or fail to adhere to the rubric (for example, by answering intelligently, but on material which was specifically excluded). Dissertation: Sloppy and badly organized argument and presentation, clear evidence of haste and carelessness will be taken to be evidence of a third class performance.
Mark 0–39
Irrelevant, ignorant or extremely superficial work. Minimal understanding of material. Writing little or nothing is a common reason for being placed in this range.


The Jacob Bronowski Prize is awarded each year to the student who has the best overall performance in the HPS Part II course. The Frances Willmoth Prize is awarded for the best performance in the dissertation component of the HPS Part II course.

Student prizes