In your own words

Prof Richard Blythe talks about plagiarism and why you will be asked to complete an Own Work Declaration before uploading your exam script.


Honours-year students are about to face an unusual set of exams. Absent are the rituals of filing quietly into a cavernous exam hall, fiddling with the gummed flap on the front your green exam book, and being subject to the piercing stare of an invigilator as they make sure you answer the questions without any outside help. However, there is much that will still be the same. The format of your exams is unchanged, so past papers will still give a clear guide as to what to expect. You will still be under pressure to complete your answers within the allotted time, and will also have to contend with uploading your solutions at the end. And most importantly of all, you are still expected to answer the questions without outside help.

So let’s be clear. These are open-book exams, and referring to course materials like lectures notes doesn’t count as outside help in the context of these exams. But does that mean it’s ok to copy these out into your exam script? The answer is no, not really. In any piece of assessment your aim is to convince markers that you understand what you are doing. The way to achieve this is always to write using your own words. You’ve probably heard us say, time and again, that we like to see short comments that explain your method as you solve physics problems using mathematics. Not only does this reassure us that you know why you are doing what you are doing, it also helps us give the benefit of the doubt if you don’t execute your plan correctly. If you copy someone else’s explanation, we have no way of knowing if you really knew what you were doing, and your mark will likely suffer as a result.

From here it’s a slippery slope to downright plagiarism, which even in these difficult times, remains a serious offence and one that you want to do everything you can to avoid being accused of. Before you upload your answers, you will be asked to agree to the content of an Own Work Declaration. Even though you will be eager to submit your script – especially so if you are at the end of a slow internet connection – you should read this carefully, and only submit if you have acted in accordance with its stipulations.

You will have seen a copy of this declaration in the test-run exam that was set up for you to familiarise yourself with the submission process. The contents will not come as a surprise: they are the rules of fair play that you already know from previous coursework assessments and examinations. This document is being used across the University, so requirements to cite sources are more relevant to essay-based exams than the problem-solving exams you will mostly be sitting. But the bit about writing your answers in your own words is universal. If you end up in the situation where you can’t agree to the Own Work Declaration, contact the Course Organiser or your Personal Tutor right away, as they may be able to help you.

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