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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


Each piece of coursework is read by two assessors, neither of whom will have supervised the work. The coursework must cover a range of topics and, taken together, show evidence of a broad knowledge of history and philosophy of science (and technology and medicine).

When marking coursework, assessors will be asking:

  1. What is the main achievement of this work? Is there an original contribution? If so, what is it?
  2. Does the candidate show a good understanding of relevant material? Is the content of the work informative and insightful?
  3. Does the candidate advance effective arguments contributing towards well-articulated conclusions?
  4. Has the candidate used a sufficient number and range of appropriate sources? Are they effectively used and properly credited and cited?
  5. Does the work have a clear and effective structure? Is the writing clear, grammatical, and free of typographical and other errors? Is the style of the references and footnotes clear and consistent?

The weighting of the different components of the Part III is as follows:

  • Research Paper 1: 17%
  • Research Paper 2: 17%
  • Two Set Essays: 16% (8% each)
  • Dissertation: 50%

The following mark scheme is used:

First Class (I)

A first-class mark may be awarded on various grounds. The argument may be sophisticated, incisive or demonstrate excellence in composition and clarity; 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, and distinctive in character and scholarly voice. The best first-class performances will combine elements of all these qualities.

In addition to these general criteria, different assignments have the following specific requirements:

Set Essays: Close engagement with the question set; ability to express complex ideas clearly and concisely.

Research Papers, Dissertation: Well-researched and independent, with either an original thesis or a known thesis presented and defended in an original way.

Upper-Second Class (II.i)

Work in this class should show evidence of good understanding of the relevant material, and contain clear and convincing argument and analysis. Within this class, the best work is given marks in the range of 67–69 (High II.i), which may be earned by meeting the general II.i criteria and also providing more complex argumentation, broader base of relevant information, clearer understanding of difficult issues, or new and interesting ways of dealing with the material.

Lower-Second Class (II.ii)

Work in this class displays significant weaknesses, although broadly relevant and generally competent. Major weaknesses may include neglect of important literature or argument, faulty argumentation, insufficient detail, lack of clarity, poor organisation, and failure to address the set or declared topic.

Third Class (III)

Work in this class is seriously deficient in knowledge and understanding, for which the following signs may be taken as evidence: undue brevity, failure to formulate a cogent research topic or address a set question, and evident haste and carelessness.


Work in this class displays only a minimal understanding of the relevant material, consisting of irrelevant, incoherent or extremely superficial discussions.

All marks are subject to approval by the External Examiner. At the end of the course, examiners may decide to hold an oral examination, for instance if the Dissertation is judged to be a marginal failure or if there is a very marked discrepancy between two assessors' independent reports.

An overall First Class performance at Part III is normally necessary for continuation as a PhD student in the Department. Potential supervisors for students failing to meet this condition will need to make a special case to the HPS Board, along with a statement from the student.


The Jacob Bronowski Prize is awarded each year for the best performance in the first half of the Part III course.

The Peter Lipton Prize was endowed in memory of Professor Peter Lipton, a former Head of Department. The prize is awarded each year to the Part III student who has the best overall performance.

Student prizes


Results are posted as soon as possible after the final examiners' meeting.