Masters and PhD Examiners

Once you are studying at postgraduate level, an examiner is any person who evaluates some aspect of your coursework that will contribute to the final result of your course.

This means that, an examiner can be a faculty member in your department, a post-doctoral student, or even a researcher from another university.

Given that postgraduate assessment usually consists of evaluating exams, essays, or theses/dissertations, it is important to know which examiners are responsible for which part of your coursework.

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Written Exams

The purpose of a written exam is to evaluate whether you have accumulated sufficient knowledge to pass a taught module in your course. Exams tend to be undertaken by masters students, and it is uncommon for PhD students to take exams. Exams are usually graded by the faculty member of your department who has organised the module, but in some cases they can be graded by other faculty members or even by post-doctoral students, depending on their scope and importance.

Essays

If you are a masters student, you will probably need to write various essays on different topics assigned to you. Some taught modules will be assessed through essays rather than through written exams, however assessment is sometimes done via both methods. In some cases, your essay may be graded by the faculty member of your department who organised your postgraduate course. However, you may also be assigned two other faculty members of your department to grade your essay. In this case, the final grade for your essay will be determined by adding the grades given by both examiners and dividing the sum by two. In the unlikely event that the two examiners give you very different grades, a third examiner, usually another faculty member, will be called upon to reach the final decision.

Theses / Dissertations

The most important part of many postgraduate courses is probably your thesis or dissertation. If you are a masters student, your dissertation/thesis will probably be graded similarly to an essay. That is, two faculty members of your department will read your work, and the final grade will be determined by taking into consideration the grades given by each of them. In the unlikely instance of there being a large discrepancy between their individual grades, a third examiner will be called upon to make the final decision. You will usually not need to defend your thesis in an oral examination – this will only be needed if your examiners think that you are close to failing. 

If you are a PhD student, the assessment of your thesis will be somewhat different. First of all, your thesis will be graded by an internal examiner, probably a faculty member of your own department who is NOT your supervisor, it will also be graded by an external examiner, who will be a researcher from another university. Your supervisor is required to choose the two examiners for you, and usually your supervisor will ask you for your own opinion regarding who your preferred examiners are.

In the first stage of PhD thesis assessment, the two examiners will read your thesis separately and decide whether it is “good” enough to be considered at doctorate level. Further, they will determine which questions to ask you during the oral defence of the thesis – which is known as a viva.In the second stage, your examiners will meet on the day of your viva and share their own reports on your thesis. Further, they will decide on the quality of your thesis and what to ask you during your viva. The final outcome will depend on the quality of your thesis and on your performance in the viva.

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