Marking: How we mark your essay to improve your grade
The essay marking service we provide here at Oxbridge Essays seeks to provide students with a better insight into their own essay writing so they can, in turn, improve their grades. But how do we go about marking your essay, dissertation or other assignment? What do we look at? What feedback do we give? How do we arrive at an estimated grade for your work? How can all of this help you in your own writing? And, how does this compare to the marking process your university tutor or lecturer will use? If you're interested in knowing how the academic marking process really works (and you should be – it will help you immensely), then read on.
When writing essays, it can be challenging to take a step back and read your work as the audience would. For students, this audience is usually a lecturer or tutor: a person with the power to give good or bad grades. That's why having a professional pair of eyes review your work before you submit it can be invaluable.
What we look for in a great essay is likely to be the same as what your tutor is looking for. Where we differ is in the level of attention devoted to providing feedback. We are not just seeking to critique your essay – our ultimate aim is to help you improve your essay to its very best potential.
The marking process
It may sound obvious, but no two markers are the same. We are human beings, after all. We may have different stylistic preferences, and what interests us will vary. Despite this, there are certain constant elements that go into writing a great essay. We look for these elements during the marking process and then give feedback on any areas that need attention. In this sense, we are the critical reader to you as an academic writer.
1. The brief
The first thing a marker will likely do is examine the writer’s brief. This indicates essay type, subject and content focus, word limit and any other set requirements. The brief gives us the guidelines by which to mark the essay. With these expectations in mind, critical reading of your essay begins. There are five key elements that we examine, all of which form the basis of any great essay:
A well-crafted essay will have a clear sense of structure. This is the template upon which to hang your message. Get your structure right and you’re well on the way to creating a great essay. Getting it right is all about organisation and ensuring you include all the necessary elements. The essential structural components of any essay should be an introduction, the main body and a conclusion.
An effective introduction sets the scene immediately. Within the first few sentences, it should be obvious what the rest of the essay is about. The context of the question and, therefore, the overall scope of the essay should also be explicit. This manages the reader’s expectations for the rest of their experience reading, and marking, your piece of work. The more satisfying introductions justify both the question itself and any areas of particular focus.
So, while seeking to improve an essay, we look for whether the writer has answered the what, where, who and why questions in the introduction. What is the writing about? Yes, the essay title gives us some idea but here is where we expect to see it made explicit. Who is it written for, and why? Where is it relevant?
Of course, the question of how tends to be the focus of the main body of the essay. And the main body forms the bulk of your assignment. Its organisation will depend on the type of exercise you have undertaken, and what requirements and constraints have been set by your assessors. We always take these points into consideration when marking. Markers are also aware of formatting conventions and are sensitive to these when developing critical feedback. Independent of these constraints, we check your work to determine how well different sections relate to each other and that there is a logical flow of content. This flow is the primary demonstrator that you have understood what you are writing about and how you should be presenting it. Logical flow can easily make the difference between grades. When marking your work, we aim to give you pointers on how to strengthen this area.
A strong essay conclusion serves to summarise to your assessor how well you can reflect on what you have written about. It is another vital part of the whole picture that we look to ensure you’ve mastered. We check to see if your ideas have been brought together and are coherent. If we see it, your assessor will too.
3. Knowledge and understanding
Here is where we assess how well you have understood the question and how much you know about the subject. We do more than simple fact checking (though we do ensure you have got your stuff right). We want to see how clear things are and if they’ve been linked together in the right way. We ask, how well is your message conveyed?
Often, in academic writing, it can be tempting to cram as much detail into a sentence as possible. Or to include every single point of view on the topic in hand. Really, this is the wrong way to go. At first glance, it may seem a point of style, but the best way to show your understanding of a subject is to lay your knowledge and research out in plain terms. And keep your work focused. This level of clarity is something we examine. You can find some helpful tips on perfecting your essay writing style here.
Despite a need for focus, we do expect to see breadth and depth of knowledge. This means you provide a suitable level of detail to answer the question but also evidence of a wider understanding of the subject. In short, has the detail been put into context?
Is it clear that you understand what you talk about? We have mentioned this already, but it’s the main thing your examiners are looking for, so it bears repeating. The facts you’ve researched, the way you’ve worded and structured them, the logical flow between them, and any insights you’ve discussed all contribute towards this. Your level of comprehension is foremost in the marker’s mind.
Have all things been considered? Are there any issues left out or missed? Sometimes, you’ll intentionally omit an area, and so this should be indicated when you talk about scope in the introduction. But if you’ve missed something and it seems like you’ve just forgotten it, we will remind you.
Focus – do things stay on track or are there any digressions? There’s nothing wrong with tangents, as long as they add to the story. We assess exactly the value of each phrase in the work and let you know if anything is diluting your message. Remember, your marker is knowledgeable in your area of study. If we don’t understand it, chances are your tutors won’t either.
4. Argument and critical thinking
To get the good grades, this is an area to give attention to. Convincing the reader of your argument is, essentially, what essay writing is all about. This is about how you’ve used the information to tell your story or make your point. What we look for here are coherence and evidence. Argument needs to be seen strongly throughout the work. Do you follow your line of argument right through and are counterarguments presented? We’ll let you know if, and where, your particular argument is well-formulated and substantiated. Most important for you, we give feedback on any holes in your logic.
As said, we look to see if the argument is solid, well-reasoned, examined from all angles and supported by evidence. This support comes from the literature. As we cast a critical eye on your writing, we check to see if you have, in turn, done the same to the literature. Can you discuss critically complex, even abstract, ideas and concepts? Evidence of clarity and independent thought is great to see. Going beyond what the accepted norms are is a clear indicator of your capabilities.
5. Use of sources
We examine the type and range of sources used in the construction of your essay. The best of essays will demonstrate analysis beyond any core texts to include current, respectable works, and maybe even discuss controversial ones.
All information sources must be cited in your work. This is more than simply showing where you gathered your information from. A well-placed citation gives the reader confidence in what has been claimed by the writer. So, here we look to see how suitable the sources are in supporting your text. In other words, have their contents been properly understood and are they appropriately represented?
Of course, we check to see that sources are accurately referenced in your bibliography.
6. Style and presentation
This is all about how you have packaged your content. You could have the best story to tell but it may be missed if hidden by poor presentation.
We examine the usual mechanisms of English, such as spelling, punctuation, grammar and sentence construction. Stylistic factors such as tone, formatting and quality of figures, are also considered. What we’re really looking for, is whether you’re giving your examiner a tiring read or an easy ride.
We also check conventions related to reference style, data presentation, quote placements and so on.
One of the most important elements in presentation is consistency. It is essential to maintain high standards throughout and we pay close attention to this detail.
Having your work marked by an experienced academic not only provides you with valuable and actionable insight – it can be the difference between good grades and great grades.
How Oxbridge Essays can help you
Your tutor or lecturer will grade your work. Few have the liberty of time to feedback, in great detail, on how they arrived at this decision. But our marking process is thorough and detailed. From our notes on your work, we compile a report that explains our thoughts and, importantly, gives guidance on any areas that could be improved.
What did you do well? We’ll tell you. This is more than a simple exercise in making you feel good. Knowing where your strengths lie gives you the opportunity to refocus your energies to areas more in need of attention, and also learn from your successes.
This is where we lay it all out. To improve your work, it is vital to know the parts that need some attention. This applies when editing the current work, but also in deciding which skills to focus on developing as you progress further in your career.
List of suggested improvements
Here, we don't just list of things we had trouble with. As markers, we identify problem areas and make actionable suggestions for how these could be altered to make your essay stronger. This expands on the weaknesses section but is specific and, as mentioned, actionable. We order this by value. Most impactful changes first; least impactful last. This means you can work through the list from top to bottom, and even if you don’t manage to make all the changes by hand-in date, you’ll be safe in the knowledge that obvious weaknesses have been turned into strengths.
As well as an overall grade, part of our marking process involves assessing different components of the work. Each of the five main areas, mentioned above, are given scores (from 1-5, very poor to excellent), to let you know how you rate.
In addition, we gauge your merits in other areas, such as originality, creativity, readability and independent thought. It is strength in these areas that, generally, separate the good work (B) from the great work (A).
Your overall grade is a guide. We follow similar criteria that academic institutions do, so you can be sure to have a good idea of how you are doing. An excellent essay will demonstrate strong critical and accurate analysis of a wide range of appropriate subject material, clear and substantiated arguments, independent thought, impeccable presentation, organisation and expression. The very best of these will show a level of originality beyond the expected.
Our summary is the take-home message: a little round-up of how your work was viewed by a critical reader.
What this means for you
While there’s a lot of detail and formality in the work we do to grade your essay, what we’re really trying to give you is some useful advice on how to raise the quality of your work. Ultimately, our marking service is there to help you – no matter your current skill level, subject area or level of study – get closer to achieving the grades you need.