Masters & Honours Thesis / Dissertation Assessment Criteria

Editor’s note: this article, published in 2018, makes reference to a previous edition of the AUT Postgraduate Handbook that is now out of date. The most recent edition can be downloaded here (student login required).

This week we’re talking about assessment. These blog posts are written to help you understand the thesis and dissertation assessment process at AUT. However, please consult the AUT Postgraduate Handbook for official information on assessment policies and procedures and discuss with your supervisor(s).

Image by Nick Youngson, licenced under CC BY-SA 3.0

In the last post, we looked at the process for assessing a thesis. This time, we’re breaking down the assessment criteria for a Masters or Honours thesis or dissertation. (Check back later for the doctoral criteria.)

The Masters / Honours assessment criteria are published on p.134-137 in the 2018 AUT Postgraduate Handbook. If you’re reading this in the future, then I’d recommend you check the criteria online because the digital copy of the handbook is always kept up-to-date with any changes. (Also: hello from the past! Please tell me Ocean’s 8 was good?)

There are six criteria against which AUT Masters and Honours theses and dissertations are assessed (plus one extra consideration for Pathway 3 theses). The criteria generally follow the process of completing a research project: from posing research questions (criterion 1) through to communicating findings (criterion 6).

You must meet all criteria to at least a C- level in order to pass. If you score in the ‘A’ range for 5 out of the 6 criteria, but there’s one criterion that you don’t meet at all, then you won’t pass. That’s why it’s crucial to pay attention to all the criteria. You can also get a + or – grade if you exceed, or don’t quite meet, the criteria for a particular grade.

Let’s go through the criteria one by one. First of all, if you’re submitting your thesis/dissertation under Pathway 3 (practice-led), then the standard assessment criteria are supplemented with this one to ensure that they are interpreted within a practice context:

Regardless of which Pathway you choose, you will be assessed according to the following 6 criteria. It’s important to discuss these with your supervisors so that you know how they will relate to your research specifically.

Criterion 1: Research question

Obviously, you have to define your research questions or issues in order to proceed with a project. But this criterion is about much more than just defining. A high grade requires that you contextualise the research questions and tie them to a rationale. Why set your research questions in this way? What evidence have you considered before defining your area of research?

Criterion 2: Review of existing knowledge

This criterion is all about your understanding of, and engagement with, other research in your field. In other words, it’s about your literature review. How much reading have you done? How relevant is the literature you selected? How well have you understood what you have read? How have you used your literature review to inform and contextualise your own research? (Note that an A grade requires a “consistently reported bibliography” as well – which means you’ve got to really know your chosen citation style!)

Criterion 3: Research methods

It’s crucial to explain in your thesis why you used your chosen methodology. Simply stating and defining your methodology isn’t even enough to earn a passing grade, under this criterion. You must write about the merits of the methodology, ideally in relation to your specific project, and have clear reasons for having chosen it. An ‘A’ grade requires “confident and imaginative execution of research methods.” This implies that you can go beyond merely carrying out the method according to someone else’s exact instructions. Really think about each aspect of the method, and adapt it (where appropriate) to meet the needs of your project.

Criterion 4: Research process & outcomes

This is the only one of the six criteria that is actually about your research results. Think about that. Getting a good grade has very little to do with getting exciting or ground-breaking results in your research. If you were up for a Nobel Prize, then results would be more relevant. But for a thesis, you just have to demonstrate that you are capable of the task of performing research. Even if you don’t get the research results that you expected or hoped for, you can still score well on this criterion by writing about your process and outcomes in a way that demonstrates your understanding, insight, and originality.

Criterion 5: Research significance

You’ll notice several repeating keywords in this criterion: ‘significance,’ ‘limitations,’ ‘implications,’ ‘recommendations,’ ‘reflection,’ and ‘evaluation.’ When you perform your research, you have to look at the trees; the detail. But this criterion assesses how well you can step back and look at the forest. How does your research fit into a bigger picture? What do your findings mean? How do your results change things for future researchers?

Criterion 6: Research presentation

If the other criteria assess the substance of your thesis, this last one assesses its style. To score well here, your writing should be articulate and clear; your thesis should be structured in a logical way; and your referencing, formatting, spelling, and grammar should be consistent and correct.

About Anaise Irvine

Dr Anaise Irvine is the Editor of Thesislink and leads the Researcher Education and Development team at Auckland University of Technology. Her PhD research analysed how contemporary films and novels represent genetic engineering as a social justice issue. These days she works with researchers at all levels to improve their research skills, and the most obscure of her own research skills is being able to turn novels into phylogenetic trees!

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