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The examination process

Nomination of Examiners

Masters’ theses are normally examined by two examiners: an examiner external to the University and an internal examiner. The supervisor is not an examiner.

It is advisable for Departments to begin the process of informally contacting and then nominating examiners in advance of the proposed submission date of the thesis. If this process is begun six to eight weeks before submission then it is likely that examiners will have been approved, and formally invited to act as examiners, by the time the thesis is submitted.

Examiners of a Master’s thesis are suggested by the supervisors, with endorsement from their Head of Department/School and final approval by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (or their nominee). External examiners should normally be from New Zealand or Australia. A supervisor cannot be an examiner, but may make a report on the work of the student to the Head of Department concerned.

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Examination Procedures

Details of the examination process for specific degrees are set out in the relevant degree regulations and in Divisionally-approved policies but general examination procedures at Master’s level are as follows:

• Each thesis is assessed independently by two examiners – normally an internal examiner and an examiner who is external to the University.

• Written reports are required from the internal and external examiners.

• Once the reports of both the external and internal examiners have been received and considered, the Head of the Department (or their nominee), through the Dean (where applicable), shall forward a final recommendation on the grade for the thesis and the level of award of the degree to the appropriate Pro-Vice-Chancellor (or their nominee) for approval, and transmission to the Student Records Office.

• Where examiners cannot agree on a result, the Head of Department should so report to the Pro-Vice-Chancellor, who shall arrive at a decision after consulting a referee who should normally be external to the University.

• If a thesis is assessed as not meeting the criteria for the award of the degree, the examiners may recommend to the Head of the Department that it be revised and resubmitted by a specified date (normally not later than six months after notification of the result), or rejected.

• A candidate shall be permitted to revise and resubmit a thesis for examination once only.

• If a revised and resubmitted thesis is finally accepted, the result shall be either ‘Pass’ or ‘Fail’ (i.e. ungraded) and without eligibility for the award of the degree with Credit or Distinction.

• Once the final result has been approved, the Student Records Office (not the Department) will inform the student.

• If the award of the degree has been approved, two hard bound copies of the thesis, together with the standard Author Declaration Form (available at http://www.otago.ac.nz/graduate-research/policies/index.html) must be forwarded to the Student Records Office. Note that the cost of the two hard-bound copies will be met by the University provided that the thesis is submitted within 1.5 years of full-time Master’s research study. If eligible, the candidate should obtain an order form from the Doctoral Office (phd@otago.ac.nz) to cover the printing and binding costs of the two hardbound copies of the thesis.

• The two hard bound copies will be sent to the Library where one will be retained as the University’s permanent record of the research, and the second copy will be returned to the Department in which the research was conducted.

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Examination Criteria

A thesis submitted for a Master’s degree at the University of Otago should contain the results of a piece of independent research, conducted under supervision, which might reasonably be expected of a diligent and competent candidate after not less than twelve months of full-time study (or 9 months for a Master of Business). It should normally be limited to 40,000 words of text (or 30,000 for a Master of Business), excluding appendices, footnotes and bibliographies. The thesis is distinguished by the relevance of the arguments or creative work to the student's discipline, the quality of the evidence collected or the design or performing principles deployed and the light the thesis sheds on current disciplinary concerns and interests.

The thesis, as is relevant to the discipline, must demonstrate the candidate's ability to:

• Master theoretically sophisticated subject matter
• Identify and evaluate critically the findings and discussions in scholarly literature and other forms of information
• Design a well-structured, relevant and integrated plan of research
• Carry out such research using appropriate methods of investigation and analysis
• Analyse, argue and reach conclusions which are informed by independent enquiry and other available information
• Engage in rigorous intellectual analysis, criticism and problem solving
• In addition to the demonstration of research and scholarship, mastery in design, creative and performing arts may also involve a demonstration of virtuosity, i.e. the mastery of the medium of production of the discipline

Examiners' Reports

Examiners are asked to provide a recommendation including a grade and mark, and a written report on their assessment of the thesis.

(1) Recommendation, Grade and Mark
Examiners are requested to recommend one of the following four options:

(a) The thesis should be accepted without amendments; or
(b) The thesis should be accepted subject to amendments as indicated being made at the discretion, and to the satisfaction, of the Head of Department concerned; or
(c) The thesis does not meet the criteria for the award of the degree (i.e. it fails), but may be revised as indicated and resubmitted for examination by a specified date; or
(d) The thesis does not meet the criteria for the award of the degree (i.e. it fails), and should be rejected without right of resubmission.

One of the above options should be chosen on the basis of the thesis as submitted.

In addition to recommending one of the above four options, examiners are also asked to award a mark and grade on the basis of the thesis as submitted. A mark and grade should be awarded irrespective of the particular option recommended by the examiner (for example, if option (d) is recommended, a mark and grade must also be awarded). The following cutting marks and grades are used at the University of Otago:

A+90 - 100B+75 - 79C+60 - 64Fail D

40 - 49

A

85 - 89B70 - 74C55 - 59Fail EBelow 40

A-

80 - 84B-65 - 69C- 50 - 54

The University awards a Master’s degree with distinction (equivalent to First Class Honours) to a candidate whose overall mark (including papers where taken) falls in the range 80 to 100 (A-, A, A+), and with credit to a student whose overall mark falls in the range 70 to 79.


(2) Written Report
The examiner’s written report should provide comments about the thesis for the benefit of the candidate. It is most useful if the comments in the report could be presented in three sections:
• Major
• Minor
• Recommended corrections/amendments/revisions (corrections may also be marked in pencil on the thesis itself)

If options (c) or (d) are chosen (see above), the report should contain details of the major deficiencies that must be corrected before resubmission of the thesis is allowed (option (c)) or the reasons why the thesis is unacceptable and cannot be considered for resubmission (option (d)).

Determination of the final result
Where there is no significant difference in marks between examiners, the final mark for the thesis is normally an average of the marks recommended by the two examiners.

Where there is a significant difference in marks between examiners, the examiners are requested to consult, through the Head of Department (or nominee), and arrive at a final mark. Differences are considered to be significant when the marks differ by more than 10%, or fall either side of an award grade (distinction, credit or pass).

If a significant difference in marks cannot be resolved by consultation, the thesis and anonymised copies of the examiners’ reports will be sent to a third person who will act as a referee.

Where the examiners have recommended that the thesis should be revised and resubmitted, the same examiners are requested to re-examine the revised thesis. A specific date will be set for the resubmission of the revised thesis (normally not more than six months from when the candidate is advised of the result).

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Right of Appeal

There is no automatic right to appeal a Master’s examination outcome. However, where a Master’s student believes that he or she has grounds for appealing an examination decision, they may seek leave to appeal under the University’s Appeals Statute 2011 (http://www.otago.ac.nz/administration/policies/otago029949.html). The Statute includes information on the process and timelines for seeking leave to appeal. In the first instance the student is encouraged to discuss the matter with their Head of Department or with the Dean or Manager of the Graduate Research School as they can instigate an inquiry into the result and determine whether the matter can be resolved.

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Important Notes about the Examination Process

• It is important that thesis students understand that, as a result of the examination of their thesis, revisions may be required. Sometimes these are relatively straightforward and will not take very long to complete. However, examiners may decide that more substantial work has to be undertaken.

• The examination of a thesis is similar to the critical scrutiny that academic work receives when it is submitted for publication in a scholarly journal or by scholarly publishers. When work is submitted for publication, there will be two to three critical readers of the work. It would be unusual for work to be accepted without revision. Often the revisions required can be very substantial before the article or chapter will be accepted for publication. In that case there is a choice: either the revisions are done to the satisfaction of the reviewers and editor, or the work is not published. The examination of theses is similar to the processes involved in peer review for scientific journals.

• Students should be aware that when they submit their thesis for examination it is read and critically evaluated by at least two examiners. There is no guarantee of the outcome of any examination process. A thesis may pass; it may fail; it may require revision. When a thesis is submitted, the student and supervisor may believe that it is ready to be examined. However, submitting the thesis for examination does not mean that the thesis has been "completed". It means that the point has been reached where the student and supervisor believe that the work is ready to be scrutinised by people knowledgeable in the field of study.

• If revisions are required, students should remember that this is part of the process of being a thesis student. The revisions will make the thesis a better thesis. This means that the quality of the final version will be higher than that of the thesis as initially submitted. That is good for both the completed thesis on the library shelf and for the student’s training as a researcher.

• If revisions are required, then this may affect when students are able to graduate. It is important to be realistic about that. A thesis will not be passed unless, in the view of the examiners, it reaches the standard required for a university degree.

• It is difficult to estimate the length of time that might be required for the examination process. Examiners will always have other commitments to meet and the time of year at which the thesis is submitted can also be a factor. In general, there may be approximately 12 weeks between submitting the thesis and receiving notification of the final result.