Meeting the criteria for a good assignment grade in English

A page showing part of a play by Shakespeare

Part of a play by Shakespeare

The grade you receive for a written assignment for English will reflect not only how well you have answered the essay question but also how well you have met a range of other important criteria. These include the clarity of your expression; relevance of your argument; evidence of original/ complex critical thinking; and use of supporting examples and analysis. By taking into account marking criteria when you write, you should be able to improve both the quality of your written assignments and the grades you receive for them.

In this activity you will consider the extent to which the writing reflected by three students' essay introductions meet the criteria for receiving a good assignment grade. This will help you to become familiar with essay marking criteria and learn how you might improve your own assignments.

Activity: Evaluating the quality of sample writing for an English assignment

You are going to examine part of the introduction from three student essays on Jane Austen's novel, Sense and Sensibility, in order to assess the quality of writing they reflect. Here is the question that the student essays are addressing:

How far does Jane Austen complicate the antithesis of the title, Sense and Sensibility?


Read and evaluate each essay introduction. Remember to concentrate, in particular, on the clarity of expression, relevance of the introduction to the terms of the question, evidence of original/ complex critical thinking, use of supporting examples and analysis. When you have read each extract, select the mark that you think best represents its quality and then read the feedback.

Student writing extract 1

The complications of the antithetical title of Sense and Sensibility go far beyond simply contrasting two abstract character traits of the heroines of the novel, Elinor and Marianne. Far more than this, Austen uses these two qualities to simplify the complicated argument she presents throughout, the argument that deals more prevalently with the challenges of living in eighteenth-century England. "We read fiction ...not just for the story, but to enlarge our knowledge and understanding of the world" claims David Lodge, and in Sense and Sensibility this certainly proves to be the case - through reading the novel, the reader becomes acutely aware of the nature of Austen's England, and the contradictory forces at work in society. The antithesis of 'sense' and 'sensibility' in my opinion has its foundations in society, as Austen presents us two strands of people - the sensible and the sentimental - though it is further complicated through her decision to filter this contradiction to a microcosmic level; we see how such contradictions in the makeup of society creates contradictions and complications between the individual and society, between individual and individual, and even a contraction within one individual alone.
'Sense' and 'sensibility' are not simply an antithesis in this novel, but a war; they seemingly cannot co-exist peacefully. Though some readers would argue that the novel advocates a harmonious blend of both qualities, the repeated exemplum of the wrongs of sensibility (demonstrated through the characters of Eliza and Marianne in particular) definitely demonstrate the benefits of a character of sense. It is this war that interests me most on examining Sense and Sensibility, it is a social war, but this makes it no less bloodthirsty. Society becomes the third presence in the novel, the beginning of the contention of sense and sensibility, and the judge as to which quality should prevail.

Student writing extract 2

The division of the novel's title Sense and Sensibility ,is something which has been commonly analysed by critics over the years. The novels main characters, Elinor and Marianne, two sisters with opposing temperaments provide the main basis for Sense and Sensibility. Elinor appears to represent the qualities of 'sensibility'; reason, restraint, social responsibility and with a concern for the welfare of others. In contrast, Marianne appears to represent the qualities of 'sense'. She is emotional, sentimental and impulsive and openly proclaims her love for John Willoughby without any shame or rationality. Her sister, Elinor, on the other hand conceals her love and regard for Edward Ferrars. Both the girls endure the agony of true love; Elinor who desires a man when he is engaged to somebody else, and Marianne who falls hopelessly in love with an unreliable man who breaks her heart. The Dashwood sisters are very different from each other in appearance and temperament; Elinor's good sense and readiness to observe social forms contrast with Marianne's impulsive nature and warm but excessive sensibility. However, both struggle to maintain their integrity and find happiness in the face of a competitive marriage market and both see the triumph of true love when sense finally gives way to sensibility.
'Sensibility' is best understood less as an antonym of 'sense' than as an alternative for it. Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language definition in 1775, describes 'sensibility' as a 'quickness of sensation or perception'. 'Sense' is, by contrast, the 'faculty or power by which external objects are perceived'.

Student writing extract 3

Sense and Sensibility is really about the relations between Sense and Sensibility or, as we might put it, 'Head and Heart, Thought and Feeling, Judgement and Emotion', is a comment from Gilbert Ryle on the abstract ideas and the central themes presented in the title of Jane Austen's novel, Sense and Sensibility. He confirms what is at the heart of the novel, the contrast between two conflicting concepts. From this statement alone it's easy to see the variety of ways the theme of sense and sensibility can be interpreted. The antagonistic concepts are represented throughout Austen's work, and appear in a variety of ways. To make clear what is meant by these terms themselves, The Oxford English Dictionary defines sense as 'natural understanding, intelligence, especially as bearing on action or behaviour; practical soundness of judgement'. Sensibility, however, is defined as, 'Quickness and acuteness of apprehension or feeling; the quality of being easily and strongly affected by emotional influences'. Austen represents these opposites, most obviously, in the characters of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. It could be assumed that Austen's use of the antithesis in the title can be simply explained as the contrast between these central characters, however, with further analysis of the novel it is shown that Austen's use of these concepts can be understood on more complex levels. Austen reflects these opposites within the characters, their behaviour, their gender and the setting, making it a novel of frequent contrasts. The ideas of sense and sensibility can also be related to the concepts of classicism and romanticism.

Here are the assessment guidelines for English writing assignments:
Assessment criteria for BA English (pdf, 15KB). You may wish to print this document.

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