Alex Orgee, Classics Subject Advisor
With the A Level Classical Civilisation qualification now being examined for the third time, excluding the Covid exceptional examination series, there still seems to be some uncertainty about how our examiners go about marking the scholarship requirement in the 30-mark essays. Therefore, we thought it would be useful to produce this blog that covers where you can find suitable scholarship, what we expect students to do with it and then finally how our examiners go about marking it.
There are many places where you can find suitable material that meets the subject content document’s requirements for “secondary scholars and academics”. This includes, but is not limited to:
Omnibus back issues are available online and the articles are written to be accessible to A Level students. In addition, the Bloomsbury companion website contains links to relevant materials, some of which are to Omnibus articles.
It wasn’t the intention of the scholarship requirement to allow students to quote the authors of the endorsed Bloomsbury books which are primarily designed to convey factual detail. The books do include suggestions for scholarship and these suggestions would obviously count.
The A Level Classical Civilisation specification states on page 7 that learners are required to “make use of knowledge and understanding of relevant secondary scholars and academics in order to further develop their analysis and argument.”
The second bullet point in the AO2 marking criteria mentions both “classical sources” and “secondary sources, scholars and/or academic works”.
If a student were to use and analyse Aristotle’s theory about Greek drama in Greek Theatre, or Plutarch’s Life of Julius Caesar in The Politics of the Late Republic, these would be classified as “classical sources” rather than meeting the requirement for “secondary scholars and academics”.
We are looking for a candidate to engage with the secondary sources and academic works and use it to help further their argument. This can be through agreeing or disagreeing with the scholarly view.
The scholarship should be relevant to the essay title: examiners have reported that the use of scholarship in some essays had been shoehorned-in and was not always relevant. Examiners also reported that sometimes candidates referred to genuine scholars but attributed to them some irrelevant statements, for example in Democracy and the Athenians “I agree with Sommerstein, that in Knights Cleon is portrayed as a sausage-seller.”
The 30-mark essay questions are anticipated to be answered in around 40 to 45 minutes. They require ancient sources to be brought in, and obviously need to contain arguments addressing the question posed as well as engaging with modern scholarship. This is quite a lot of things to do in the time, so examiners are only expecting students to make reference to at least two different scholars within their 30-mark essay. They can include different ideas from the same scholar but should aim to mention at least two different scholars.
Over the last few examination series, examiners have seen examples where candidates have made greater reference to scholars rather than to the ancient sources. As stated in the June 2022 World of the Hero examiners’ report, “Clearly, this is not a good approach. The emphasis in the examination needs to be on the ancient texts, not the modern scholarship.”
As the 2022 World of the Hero examiners’ report noted, “it is not enough to say, ‘A scholar says …’ ”. We are expecting students to name the scholar or school of thought they are using. If the school of thought does not have an obvious name like the Harvard School of thought on Virgil's Aeneid or a feminist interpretation, it would be fine to state something along the lines of something like “very recent scholarship, building on the work of Edith Hall, have argued” … or “scholars such as Edith Hall and Tom Harrison have argued …”.
The requirement to engage with modern scholars is only required in the A Level 30-mark essays. It is not required in the 20-mark questions. However, if a candidate were to use scholarship in a relevant way in their 20-mark answer, it would still be credited.
There is no need to students to engage with modern scholarship in the AS Level 25-mark essays. It is an A Level only requirement and one of the ways in which the AS and A Level qualifications differ.
At the beginning of each summer exam series, before any of the H408 A Level Classical Civilisation standardisation meetings take place, all of the lead markers meet to discuss the application of the marking grids. This helps ensure that the marking grids are applied consistently and reliably across all of the nine different components.
All examiners, when marking the 30-mark A Level Classical Civilisation essay responses, will use the first bullet point of the AO2 marking criteria to determine which level is most appropriate based on the overall quality of the response. Thereafter examiners will use the second bullet point, which includes mention of secondary sources, scholars and/or academic works, to determine what mark is awarded based on how well they have engaged with the modern scholars. Therefore, producing a good answer to the question posed is really important. Including lots of scholarship at the expense of creating a convincing argument based on knowledge of the key topic areas is unlikely to lead to a high mark.
When marking, examiners tend to see the same corpus of scholars mentioned and these are often mentioned in the examiners’ reports. For example in Greek Theatre the 2022 examiners’ report noted that the most commonly mentioned scholars were Garvie, Goldhill, Wyles and Beard. When examiners come across a name they are not familiar with, they will do a quick check on the internet to ensure that a candidate is not chancing their arm. In the unlikely event that an assistant examiner cannot work out where the scholarship has come from, they can ask their team leader or lead marker for their thoughts too.
If the answer does not include any secondary sources or scholarship in the answer, the response is very likely to get the bottom mark from within the level. If a candidate has convincingly engaged with the views put forward by two different scholars, they are likely to receive a mark from the top of the level. A response that cites two or more scholars in their answer but does little more than this is unlikely to score a mark from the top of the level.
The following is a series of extracts from a candidate response to Question 8 from the June 2022 Invention of the Barbarian paper that demonstrates the type of thing we are looking for. The overall response gained full marks.
“… This attempt to legitimate himself caused Mitchell to describe the Bisitun relief as a ‘fantastic piece of propaganda’ for its presentation of Darius’ divinity and power, and I would strongly agree as it sends an effective message of legitimacy. For instance, Darius explains his and Cyrus’ descent from Achaemenes, an ancestor and namesake of the Achaemenid dynasty …
… Llewelyn-Jones observes that there was no attempt to impose ‘Persian-ness’, and defines Persian rule as ‘morning mist.’ I would strongly agree with this assessment due to the system of satrapies and identifying this as beginning with the conquests of Cyrus. For example, he was tolerant of the Jews, returning the Jewish treasures stolen by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon and allowing the construction of the second temple at Jerusalem, showing his tolerance. …
… However, as Mitchell argues, the invasion of Greece was largely a shoring-up of a border dispute rather than revenge, as he [Herodotus] portrays it. I agree with this assessment, as without Greece the empire spawned many great lands, such as after Cyrus’ conquest of Babylon which was one of the most important cities in the world at the time, or his conquest of Lydia, whose King Croesus was the richest man in the world. Therefore, I found Cyrus’ conquest most impressive…”
Share your thoughts in the comments below. If you have any questions, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org call us on 01223 553998 or tweet us @OCR_Classics. You can also sign up to subject updates to keep up-to-date with the latest news, updates and resources
Alex has worked at OCR since 2009, first joining the Classics team in 2012. Since then, he has been involved in the redevelopment of all the Classics qualifications. In his spare time, Alex enjoys cycling, watching sport, and gardening.