In finishing off TMA2 for the Open University A215 Creative Writing course I had a lightbulb moment. This was in response to some discussion on a student forum about how the marking didn’t necessarily follow the quality of the submitted piece of writing. This was attributed to the subjectiveness of ‘good’ writing. Or rather, that it is hard to mark the qualitative aspects of stories, poetry etc on an absolute scale.

Accepting that, and taking it from the university perspective. You need tutors to be consistent, and that leads to robust marking guidelines that are completely objective. This then avoids valid criticism and legal challenges that could be successful. Both of the last are a bad thing from an organisational perspective, especially a university.

So what do you base these robustly objective marking guidelines on?
The course materials.

As a student the key is to cynically work in everything you have learnt from the course materials into your work. You probably also want to¬†read the sources cited in the course books and then cite them directly too. Remember that academics are citation snobs, the more you can go back to the original sources the better (and I’ve always found reading original papers rather than¬†executive summaries written by others far better for understanding the subject).

What the markers want to know is that you have demonstrably learnt from doing the course, and that what you have demonstrably learnt has been because of the course materials rather than in spite of it. This is where the commentary comes in. With the exception of a Mathematics course I did (MST121) all the other Open University course I’ve done so far (M865, B301, B629 & A215) all featured a commentary as part of the assignments. Typically these want 3-500 words on how you did the assignment.

Things for a good commentary

  1. Don’t simply report how you did the assignment, show how useful the course materials have been
  2. Mention how you used every one of the main ideas in the relevant parts of the course so far (NB not just the bits the assignment seems to be about, you are supposed to keep on using the learning from the previous sections)
  3. Show how you have gone beyond the course material to find more material from the library/other sources (NB you can refer to a Bibliography here if there is a lot of it not otherwise referenced. Bibliographies are outside the word count allowances, as are references and titles).
  4. If there is anything in the course material you haven’t used in the main part of the assignment then mention why not (don’t just say lack of space, be creative and compare its usefulness to the bits you did include)
  5. Consider writing the commentary at the beginning of the assignment, and do a draft of it as part of your planning
  6. Keep notes all the way through the assignment (and reading of course materials) that could help you to write the commentary
  7. Find someone you trust to read the draft for typos, grammatic errors etc (but not another course student because you don’t want anyone to even hint at plagiarism).

I’m not guaranteeing that this will work and get you top marks, it’s just some things I’ve observed over a few courses and that I am now trying to consciously apply myself in the writing of commentaries. For all I know it is complete bunk, I’ve never actually seen any marking guidelines.



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