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Preliminary Examination for Theology 2015

Moderators Report

Sixty-five candidates sat the Preliminary Examination this year. Twenty-one gained
distinctions while one failed to pass in one paper (New Testament Greek). Two
candidates missed papers due to illness and will be given the opportunity to sit them at
the end of Trinity. Three candidates elected to take four papers, with the remainder taking
three. The highest average mark was 78.33; the lowest, 46 (from a candidate who just
scraped bare a pass on two of the papers). 29 candidates average marks were in the 60-
69 range with a further 26 candidates averages in the 70-79 range, indicating a high
quality of marks overall. Nine of the candidates with averages in the 70-79 range did not,
however, meet the criteria for a distinction; this generally reflects candidates who
performed very strongly on a language paper but only averagely well on their other
papers. Most of those who gained distinctions revealed some real ability, although some
were helped there by very high marks on a language paper (more on which at the end),
not least since this was a year in which performance on both the Greek and the Hebrew
papers was unusually strong. Both the lowest mark on an individual paper (34) and the
highest (97) were obtained in Greek.

In the main the process ran very smoothly. The Examination Schools proved most helpful
in accommodating timetabling requests and, with the exception of one apparent
misunderstanding, scripts were delivered to markers in a timely fashion. The support
given by the faculty office, in particular Dr Kathrin Gowers, was exemplary and greatly
eased the load of the Chair of Examiners. The Hebrew paper was afflicted with a few
minor glitches (see detailed report below), but since candidates performance on that
paper this year was exceptionally strong, this seems not to have had any significant
negative impact.

Five candidates received proctorial dispensation to sit all or part of the exam under
special conditions. In addition two applications for consideration of factors affecting
performance in examinations were received from the Proctors Office and were duly
considered at the final moderators meeting. In one case the moderators considered the
factors described to be sufficiently serious, and the marks sufficiently close to distinction
standard, to merit awarding the candidate a distinction. In the other case the candidate
was not sufficiently close to a borderline to allow any adjustment of the overall result to
be made. As noted above the moderators also received a statement from the Proctors
Office that one candidate who had failed to appear for one paper had good and sufficient
reasons for their non-appearance and should therefore be given the earliest possible
opportunity to sit the missed paper on another occasion. Arrangements will be made for
this candidate to sit this paper at the time of the June re-sits.

The reports which follow relate to individual papers.

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Introduction to Philosophy

27 candidates sat this paper. Average (mean) mark across paper: 64.93

70+ 60-69 50-59 40-49 39-


7 16 3 1 0

Section A: Logic

25 candidates sat the paper. 27 logic questions were answered: 2 candidates answered 2
questions each and 23 candidates answered 1 question each. The average mark per
question was approximately 15 out of 25 or 60%. The distribution of marks out of 25
was: 21, 20 (x2), 19 (x2), 17 (x7), 16 (x2), 15.5, 15 (x2), 13.5, 13 (x2), 12 (x2), 11, 10, 9,
6, 3.

Comments
Question 1 Reasonably well done. Several candidates answered part (a) incor-
rectly, by confusing validity and soundness. There was some confusion about
part (d): the statement was intended as having the overall form of a univer sal
quantification but several candidates interpreted it as existential in form (there
is some particular sentence that, when added to the premise set of any
argument renders the argument valid). Of course, this statement is also true,
but the universal/ existential confusion led to some poor justifications. Most
candidates got the correct answer to parts (f)-(j) but there were some weak
justifications. In particular, many candidates considered the corresponding
conditionals, without relating this back to the original formulation. The easi -
est way to justify the falsity of these statements is to offer a valuation of the
variables but, surprisingly, very few candidates took this approach.
Question 2 Reasonably well done. In part (a), several candidates failed to dis-
tinguish the notions of (i) function; (ii) truth function; (iii) truth functional
connective. In particular, there were several confusions of worldly and lin-
guistic entities. Part (c) was generally well done, but many candidates made
life difficult for themselves but not appealing to previous answers in later
questions. For example, once the material conditional has been defined, it is
straightforward to define the material biconditional in terms of the material
conditional, but most candidates started again from scratch. Part (d) was
generally poorly answered. Just a few candidates pointed out that both con-
junction and the material conditional yield true when both inputs are true and
so cannot express negation. Instead, most candidates just stated that
conjunction and the material conditional are two-place whereas negation is
one-place, which of course is not what prevents the former from expressing the
latter.

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Question 3 Very well done. The proofs given in response to part (a) were
generally very good indeed. The mistakes were usually due to
failing to respect the conditions that accompany the
quantifier rules. Question (b) was generally poorly
answered: only a very small number of candidates used the
distinction between basic and derived rules of inference.
Question 4 Reasonably well done. In part (a), several
candidates failed to read the question correctly and gave
their definitions in English, rather than 2, as requested. In
part (b), most mistakes were made by failing to appreciate
that some sets of properties were inconsistent. For
example, in response to part (iv) of (b), very few candidates
explained that a complete relation must also be reflexive.
Question 5 There were very few responses to this question,
but those who answered it generally did very well. There
was a typo in the question: an extra not appeared in the
initial setup. This was noticed and announced early in the
examination, however, and did not appear to have affected
responses to the question.

General Philosophy
28 candidates sat the paper. The questions were answered thus:

6a: 3 answers
6b: 0
7a: 5 answers
7b: 3 answers
8a: 3 answers
8b: 3answers
9a: 0
9b: 10 answers
10a: 0
10b: 7 answers
11a: 1 answer
11b: 8 answers

6b: 8 answers

Overall: The questions were all answered reasonably well with only a couple of
exceptions. I have not examined this paper for several years, but the character of the
essays have changed markedly over that time. There used to be less knowledge of
standard moves, but there were real attempts to grapple with issues. This time I noticed
that all the students were familiar with the same standard moves. I think this is evidence
that they all attend the lectures. As a result, there is a general impression of good work.

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However, there seems less evidence that students are really thinking through the issues
and showing a feel for the problem. Many seemed simply to be repeating the arguments
they had been given. There was too much reliance on my opinion, and phrases like
crazy argument and ludicrous were peppering these papers. In short, too much
assertion and not enough nuance.
Another overall point to make concerns the a/b option. On the whole the b
option question was 3 times as popular as the a option question (100 answers over all 3
papers for the b questions and 33 answers over all 3 papers for the a question). It was
notable that, even when answering the a option very few candidates were familiar with
the basic texts. Their references to Descartes, for example, were largely second hand, and
knowledge of Lockes text was non-existent. Knowledge of Hume was scant. In most
cases there was almost no difference between the way the candidate answered the a
questions and the way other students answered the b questions. I would recommend that
there is a statement on the examination explaining why the a/b/ option exists. I have
come across students who are simply unaware of the difference despite the attempt this
year to mention an author or give a quotation in each a question.

The least popular questions were the a questions on God and evil, the a question
on induction and the a question on freewill. All the b questions were answered by
between 8 and 28 candidates. Although 3 questions had only 1 or 2 answers, there was a
fair spread for the rest of the questions. 4b, on freewill, proved the most popular.

1a/b : There was a stronger understanding of the externalist moves with respect to
scepticism (mostly using Nozicks work) but little real assessment of the adequacy of
this. Very few students exhibited a real understanding of the sceptical question. This may
reflect the times, but it is still notable.

2a/b: The a question was answered with only the most rudimentary knowledge of Bk. II
ch. xxvii of Lockes Essay. Most candidates knew Reids objection, and some knew
Butlers. There was a poor grasp of the Williams argument in many of the paper, and a
very passing knowledge of Parfits work.

3a/b: The standard arguments were rolled out in response to a (with very little
understanding of Descartes) and in response to b most candidates discussed Jacksons
Mary argument.

4a/b: Very few candidates chose to answer a, and of these only there was a fair, but not
great, knowledge of Humes text. The answers to the b question were mostly good. This
question received the most responses (28 overall).

5a/b: Very few answers to the a version, but the b version proved popular. There was a
fairto-good grasp of the issues here.

6a/b: Only one person chose the a option, but many more chose the b option. This
question received rather good responses. The standard moves were rehearsed, but they
were done well. Arguably this question received the best answers.

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Moral Philosophy

Q1/Q12. Is Mills appeal to the quality of pleasures necessary


to successfully address the objection that utilitarianism is a
doctrine worthy only of swine?
This question was very popular, and was answered well on the whole.
Some answers suffered as a consequence of insufficient knowledge of
Mills text; too many relied heavily on Crisps discussion. Better
answers noted that Mill himself seems to think there is an adequate
response to the objection which does not make appeal to the notion of
quality of pleasures: utilitarian writers in general have placed the
superiority of mental over bodily pleasures chiefly in the greater
permanency, safety, uncostliness, &c., of the formerthat is, in their
circumstantial advantages rather than in their intrinsic nature. And on
all these points utilitarians have fully proved their case. (Utilitarianism,
Ch. 2, Chapter 4)

Q2/Q13. Is Mills account of the value of virtue in chapter 4 of


Utilitarianism convincing?
Students displayed mixed levels of knowledge of the passage in
question. Very few demonstrated awareness of Mills earlier discussion
of virtue in Chapter 2.

Q3/Q14. Should we try to have whatever beliefs will best


promote the general happiness?
Very few students answered this question. Those who did tended not to
address the question in hand, discussing motives and intentions
instead of beliefs, or focusing on specifically moral beliefs, rather than
beliefs in general.

Q4/Q15. Can utilitarians give a convincing account of just


punishment?
The few students who answered this question did so very competently,
focusing on the tension between utilitarianism being a forward-looking
theory, and our common conception of just punishment as involving
backward-looking elements.

Q5/Q16. Does the most plausible version of rule-utilitarianism


collapse into act-utilitarianism?
This was a very popular question, which was generally answered well,
and sometimes very impressively. Students were generally clearer on
which versions of RU do collapse into AU than on which ones might not.

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Many of the best answers successfully brought in detailed discussion of
multi-level act-utilitarianism. One nice point, made by a few students,
is that the word collapse may be unduly negative.

Q6/Q17. Utilitarianisms moral prescriptions simply stray too


far from common-sense moral thought to be plausible. Do you
agree?
Answers to this question were mixed. The best ones tended to be well
focused on specific counter-intuitive implications of utilitarianism. Most
of the better ones questioned whether departure from common-sense
morality need be a bad thing. Many answers would have benefited
from better selection of examples where utilitarianism and common-
sense moral thought most clearly come apart. Many students
addressed this question largely by discussing Williams, especially the
Jim and the Indians example, with varying degrees of success. There
were some apt references to the distinction between decision
procedure and criterion of right action.

A10294W1: The Christian Doctrine of Creation

38 candidates sat this paper. Average (mean) mark across paper: 66.34

70+ 60-69 50-59 40-49 39-


5 33 0 0 0

All questions were attempted. The scripts were generally good, though perhaps
candidates were aided by the fact that the questions did not vary much from previous
years. The best candidates made an effort to integrate the systematic theology and the
science and religion aspects of the paper. Candidates who earned high marks also offered
constructive theological arguments of their own, and critiqued those offered by others.
Future candidates should be aware that on any Oxford examination, candidates who do
little more than capably summarize material fed to them in lectures or tutorials are
unlikely to earn distinction-level marks.

A10295W1: The Study of Old Testament Set Texts

12 candidates sat this paper. Average (mean) mark across paper: 66.67

70+ 60-69 50-59 40-49 39-


2 10 0 0 0

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The standard was quite high, ranging from 70%-63%. The average mark was 67%.
Thirteen candidates were registered to sit the examination. One candidate was unwell and
therefore absent.
The gobbet questions were answered in a formulaic way by most of the candidates
beginning with historical context and then addressing theological issues.
Some candidates answered the questions in a disjointed order, attempting half of the
gobbets (on Genesis) before doing section B essay one on Genesis and then returning to
do the other half of the gobbets (on Amos) before returning to do the other half of section
B (on Amos).
Most of the candidates chose the gobbets on Cain and Abel and on the Tower of Babel for
Genesis and for Amos on the formulaic introduction. Very few answered Section A
(Genesis) gobbet B. In section B (Genesis) all of the questions were answered, although
question 1b was not popular. Nobody attempted 2c or d.
The second marked was asked to look at three papers. These papers were borderline first.
The marks were reconciled by taking into account issues of style, originality, knowledge
of the text and level of engagement with scholars.

A10301W1: The Study of a New Testament Set Text

29 candidates sat this paper. Average (mean) mark across paper: 64.86

70+ 60-69 50-59 40-49 39-


7 18 4 0 0

In the main this paper was done reasonably well, with the great majority of scripts falling
in the 60-69 range. While some individual candidates did better on some parts of the
paper than others, in aggregate the average marks for the different sections of the paper
show very little difference. Every short notes question, gobbet and essay question was
attempted by at least one candidate, with the sole exception of question 10 (b), on source
criticism. In question 1 Matthew and Pharisees were the most popular topics with Acts
and Galatians the clear runners-up.
The most popular essay questions by quite some margin proved to be those on the
divinity of Jesus and the parable secret. Most candidates showed good command of the
primary text, and quite a few were able to reference the opinions of named scholars, but
what most distinguished candidates in the essay questions was their ability to marshal
what they know into a cogent answer to the question asked. Too few candidates, for
example, stopped to question what divine might mean in the context of Mark or
managed to address both the functioning of parabolic discourse and the theme of secrecy.
Candidates who appeared simply to be trying to drown the examiner in a tsunami of
verbiage were marked down accordingly, but there were mercifully few of those.

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The more successful gobbet answers were those that combined accurate contextualization
with pertinent comment on aspects of the passage actually set. Weaker answers tended to
talk too much about the material surrounding the passage rather than the passage itself;
while there is a balance to be struck here, it clearly is not struck when the passage
actually set is hardly mentioned at all. Very few candidates proved unable to
contextualize the passages they chose to comment on, but in the few cases where this
occurred the comment suffered accordingly. The strongest short notes answers were
surprisingly good in relation to what students at this stage might reasonably be expected
to know, whereas the weakest were either thin or muddled. More difficult to judge were
some in the middle that appeared to be faithfully reproducing dubious material gleaned
from some introductory text, raising the question whether in such cases the exercise
becomes one of shallow draughts intoxicating the brain.

A10296W1: The History of the Church from Nero to Constantine

22 candidates sat this paper. Average (mean) mark across paper: 66.27

70+ 60-69 50-59 40-49 39-


4 17 1 0 0

The scripts were generally good, though unadventurous. All questions other than
Question 8 (Why did Donatism flourish in North Africa?) were attempted. The best
scripts showed an ability to marshal evidence from primary and secondary sources to
argue for a view.
More common were candidates who summarized what they had learned in lectures and
tutorials with little critical analysis of their own.

A10297W1: Introduction to the Study of Religions

25 candidates sat this paper. Average (mean) mark across paper: 63.92

70+ 60-69 50-59 40-49 39-


4 19 1 1 0

25 candidates sat this paper. The most popular question was question 4 (Rituals
accomplish nothing. It is therefore pointless to study them in order to understand
religions. Discuss.) (chosen by 20 candidates) followed by question 1 (Do attempts to
define the notion of religion have to presuppose that there is something all religions have

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in common?) (11 candidates), 10 (Describe the difference between investigating a
question from a theological perspective and from the perspective of the study of
religion.) (10 candidates), and 6 (Religion does not create social coherence. The social
understanding of religion is therefore fundamentally flawed. Discuss.) (9 candidates).
While most candidates showed adequate knowledge of the material covered, a persistent
problem was the lack of close attention paid to the question. Almost all candidates
answering question 6 completely ignored the questions assumption that religions do not
create social coherence and launched straight into a discussion of Durkheim. Even the
better answers only tackled this question in a historical manner, usually by contrasting
Durkheim with Marx. It is surprising that hardly any candidate considered this question
to have any connection with current affairs.
Similarly candidates answering question 4 usually ignored the assumed inefficacy of
rituals, going directly into a discussion of van Gennep. There was a tendency amongst
candidates to off-load pre-conceived and somewhat generic essays without making any
attempt to re-think matters in terms of the question asked.
A second concern I have is the lack of analytical approach displayed in many of the
essays. Answers almost always consisted of a paraphrase of the views of different
thinkers (often in chronological order), giving little evidence of any deep engagement
with the material, or the attempt to think through matters on ones own in a systematic
manner.
In the future it will be necessary to alert candidates to the facts that
a) dumping generic essays not really relevant to the question will not be rewarded by
high marks, and
b) the focus of the essay should be an account of the candidates thoughts on the matter
informed by the knowledge acquired during the course, rather than a paraphrasing
exposition of material covered in lectures and tutorials.

A10298W1: New Testament Greek

27 candidates sat this paper. Average (mean) mark across paper: 78.4

70+ 60-69 50-59 40-49 39-


20 2 2 2 1

In the main this paper was done very well, as is shown by the fact that a majority of
candidates obtained a mark of 80 or more, with a third of the candidates managing 90 or
more, whereas really poor scripts were rare. As ever, this mostly reflected whether or not
candidates knew the material; as last year, the mark obtained on question 1 (the
vocabulary list) was often a good predictor of the mark obtained overall. Many
candidates once again threw away marks by not observing the rubric requirement to give
the lexical form and English meaning when parsing, and there was fairly widespread
carelessness over the application of breathing marks. Translations of the sentences from
English into Greek also appeared to be marred by carelessness with too many elementary

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errors such as failing to put the subject of the sentence in the nominative, and instead
merely copying in the accusative from the Gospel passage in which it
was found. Both the translations and the grammatical questions that followed were
generally handled well, although in response to question 5(d) a surprisingly large number
of candidates identified as an adverb (perhaps confusing it with ). There was
once again a tendency for participles to be rendered with excessive literalism; it is
understandable that candidates may be anxious to convince the examiner that they
recognize participles when they see them, and no one was penalized just for that, but
candidates occasionally lost marks where this approach distorted the meaning of what
was being translated or where the translations in question 8 were unfairly criticised for
being less wooden..

A10299W1: Biblical Hebrew

11 candidates sat this paper. Average (mean) mark across paper: 85.00

70+ 60-69 50-59 40-49 39-


10 1 0 0 0

Eleven candidates sat the examination. The standard was exceptionally high this year
with an average of 85% and with marks ranging from 67%-96%. The second marker was
asked to consider the highest and lowest scripts.
Some of the scripts used the outdated KJV style, or approximations thereof (such as thou
may eatest), to translate the Genesis text (Q1 a-c).
Some problems emerged in relation to question 2 and 5 for all the students owing to a
number of words and elements of grammar which were after the stated rubric of p. 123 of
Weingreen, such as transliterations of well-known names such as Elijah, Elisha,
Jehoshaphat, and a number of popular verbs, and a verbal suffix which occurs on p. 123.
Both examiners were aware of this and candidates who did not manage to translate were
not penalised. Indeed, it was pleasantly surprising that most of the candidates did not
struggle with this. Question 2 also contained a printing error; the final pe was not on
the end of the word Joseph (Q2. C). Most candidates guessed, but those who did not
were not penalised.
Question 3 also contained a printing error the pointing was smudged. Therefore
candidates were advised not to answer this question. As a result, each of the parsing
questions which was answered (3 a, c, d, e) was weighed at 2.5%.
Question 4 was uncomplicated and candidates did well.
Overall, this paper was answered with confidence and accuracy, as is reflected by the
high average and by the fact that only one student went below the first class mark.

A10302W1: Sanskrit
2 candidates sat this paper.

A10303W1: Qur'anic Arabic


2 candidates sat this paper.

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Concluding Observations

The Junior Pusey and Ellerton Prize in Biblical Hebrew was awarded to Eva Chapman of
Trinity College (with a score of 96). The Gibbs prize for the best overall performance
was awarded to Cesar Manivet of Oriel College, with an average score of 78.33.

We are aware that the issue of scaling or capping the marks on language papers is already
under discussion, but the Moderators would like to call the Faculty Boards attention to
how the exceptionally strong performances on language papers this year may have
contributed to a relatively high number of distinctions, in particular in some cases where
candidates other papers were not all that distinguished. It was not felt appropriate to
depart from the immediately previous years practice (of not scaling marks) for the
penultimate year of the preliminary examination in its current format. It is also
recognized that the possibility of obtaining very high marks in a language paper to some
extent counters the in-built disadvantage candidates in humanities subjects otherwise
have compared with the marks often obtainable on science papers. On the other hand, it is
clear that when it comes to distinctions and prizes, candidates for the single school, who
all take a language paper, tend to have a built-in advantage over Philosophy and
Theology candidates, who generally do not (39.47% Theology and Religion candidates
obtained a distinctions compared with 23.08% of Philosophy and Theology candidates).
While straightforward capping of language marks would be unfair on the strongest
candidates (a candidate obtaining a raw mark of 97 should surely be more highly
rewarded than one with a mark of 80 or 85), some kind of scaling of marks might be
desirable, such that, for example, marks in excess of 40 (a bare pass) are scaled down to a
maximum of 85 (this was the system that was employed some years back, although more
recently it appears to have been abandoned on the basis of advice from the Proctors).

The Chair once again thanks the Moderators and Assessors for all their time, support and
good humour. Assessors have once again proved valuable both in setting papers that lie
beyond the expertise of the Moderators (in Sanskrit and Arabic) and in providing a
second opinion on borderline cases and a representative sample of scripts.

Moderators: Assessors:

Dr E.C.S Eve (chair) Dr A.Al-Akiti


Dr A. Avramides Prof. G. Flood
Dr K. Southwood Dr D. Lincicum
Prof. J. Westerhoff Dr A. Teal
Dr W. Wood Dr J. Williams

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