Dr. Natalia Nowakowska is a Tutor & Lecturer in Early Modern History at Somerville College, University of Oxford.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Class List

Ready for your results?
Photo by aprilskiver

Today, we’re expecting the results of the Oxford first-year History exams, Prelims, to be published; Finals results came out at the end of June. The publishing of the so-called class lists is a major Oxford ritual (and rite of passage), but one which has changed substantially in the past five years or so.

For generations, it was the case that results were printed out on a stark white sheet and one master copy pinned up in the Examination Schools, looking much like a legal notice in a UK polling station. To find out how you had done, you had to make a trip to the cavernous entrance hall of the Schools, and identify which of the scores of giant sheets on the walls related to History. This was all very well if you were still in Oxford when your results came out (which most students were not). I received my Prelims results over a pay phone on a cross-channel ferry, desperately trying to hear what the man in the Exam Schools was saying, over the din of engines, slot machines and the duty free shop. I learnt my Finals results standing in my future mother-in-law’s kitchen in Scotland, calling the JCR President of Magdalen on his mobile, the only person I knew still with a college room in Oxford, who had nipped across the road to look at the lists for me.

That ritual has now gone – for a while the class lists were published on-line in PDF form, so you could scan the grainy image on your screen to see how your students had fared. Now, as a tutor, I don’t see a class list at all. Instead, I log onto the university’s massive student database, OSS, and search for results by individual student’s surname – it may be less glamorous, traditional and heart-stopping than standing in front of an A3 sheet of paper in a Victorian lobby, but I can at least see for the first time what all students (including those I taught from other colleges) scored on individual papers, without having to ask their college tutors. I do nonetheless miss my annual pilgrimage to the Exam Schools, which added a sense of occasion and solemnity to the whole process. But the thrill, satisfaction, pride (and, sometimes, relief) you feel when students whom you taught get Firsts or Distinctions is still the same. 

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