The answers represent the views of the former marker Gillian Moorse based on her experience and are not necessarily those of Oxford Brookes University
Why does it take so long – over 4 months – before students get their RAP result?
It is not a simple matter that the work will be marked once – the process is very complex to ensure fairness and thoroughness! Every single piece of work that has been failed by a marker will automatically be reviewed by a second and senior marker (moderator). At this point it might be changed to a pass grade in which case a super-moderator will look at it to confirm the appropriate grade. In addition a sample of work that has been passed by all markers will also be reviewed. Furthermore as a UK University OBU is regulated this means that an External Examiner (from another UK University) will also need to review a sample of the work from various grades to ensure that it meets the standards expected of a BSc. All of this takes time as each stage must be completed before the next phase can begin.
What are the common mistakes that students make when producing their work?
It has been pointed out time and time again that work must not just ‘describe’ what has gone on for example with Topic 8, citing that “the gross profit has increased by 4% from the previous year”, without answering the question why has it increased, and explaining this. There is nothing very ‘clever’ about reproducing figures from the annual report, doing a few simple calculations ratios and producing a graph – certainly not when you are trying to demonstrate that you have achieved the academic standard of a graduate! So work that simply describes a company’s performance (Topic 8), or just sets out the budgeting process (Topic 1) or describes the work of the internal audit department (Topic 11) will not pass Assessment Criterion 3 for Evaluation, Analysis and Conclusions unless the student digs deeper and brings in some of their own critical analysis and assessment of the situation.
Are some topics easier to pass?
The same Assessment Criteria apply to all topics so each topic should in theory have the same chance of passing. Work in general fails because either the wrong approach has been taken (see  above), there is insufficient evidence of research, little valid evaluation (see  below) and/or referencing is poor. It is acknowledged that avoiding these issues may be easier for some topics than others so possibly in that sense selection of a particular topic may help increase the chances of passing.
So are there some topics that students should avoid?
I would never go as far as saying ‘don’t do this topic and make sure you choose that one’ because it depends on what information is available to the student. I have marked some excellent work by the way on some of the more unusual topics (for example Topic 3 and Topic 14). However it all comes back to approach and availability of the information needed – in these cases I remember them particularly because the work was executed to a high standard – because the student planned the work well. Sometimes for example with internal auditing, costing techniques and budgeting topics you will not be able to assess the effectiveness of these unless you are able to interview senior staff and have access to what is sometimes internal data (e.g. variance reports and actual detailed figures from management accounts). What I definitely would advise is don’t do a particular topic just because you think the subject interests you without thinking first about what information will be required to do that topic successfully. This is especially so when you may need to produce a questionnaire and conduct a survey because other information is not readily available.
Why is it then that topics involving surveys and questionnaires are more difficult to pass ?
Because unfortunately most students do not understand the requirements to conduct successful operational research. Primary data collection of this sort is a bit of a skill and the adage ‘garbage in, garbage out’ applies if time and understanding are not put in at the planning stage. In other words if the questions asked are inappropriate, ambiguous and not relevant, then the answers and the analysis based on them are similarly going to be unreliable and invalid. So I suppose what I am saying is think very carefully before choosing a topic that requires a questionnaire, make sure you understand the principles of producing a good survey and ensure that you will have access to the right people in the organisation before you start otherwise you are unlikely to pass.
So what are the main reasons students fail the RAP?
The short answer is that they have not demonstrated adequate understanding, research and analytical skills. Often with Topic 8 as a marker I have read students say that they have ‘analysed the company’s performance’ when really all they are doing is presenting a few ratios and saying that the main company has outperformed the comparator company (or the other way round). This is NOT analysis it is merely making blindingly obvious statements that a graph would show. Analysis is about getting behind the figures finding out WHY the gross profit figures etc. have increased and what strategies the management have employed that has helped them outperform the competitor (and doing this for all the other ratios). Give the marker plenty of REAL analysis (backed up with appropriate references) and there should be no problem in passing Assessment Criterion 3 Evaluation, Analysis and Conclusions, which has always been the most common area failed.
So any other tips you can pass on to students?
I have included an article on my website absolutementoring.uk about what to avoid and how not to annoy the marker. A marker should not have to spend time searching for information – they expect (and deserve!) a clear layout – if you help the marker to read your work you are helping yourself on the way to a pass. My other tip would be to start the SLS statement at the same time as the report by just noting down a few things that you have learned and approaches taken as you go along. Far too often students write the SLS statement just before they submit and it is the same-old, same-old thing and ideas taken from another student but rephrased (markers are not so dim-witted that they believe everything that the student writes!). Just noting down elements as you go along means that most of the thinking behind the self-reflection has been done and it is just a case of putting this in some semblance of order under the 4 question headings ready for the file to be uploaded.
What does it take to get an A grade?
In a nutshell a better quality report! Markers will tend to focus on the Evaluation and Analysis section as the earlier sections of the report will be more routine (and therefore do no provide much evidence on their own of good study skills). In their analysis the student is really demonstrating that they understand the topic and whether they have researched well or not. For example good research will allow more depth to be demonstrated in the analysis and this is often what distinguishes work. Thoughtful evaluation and explaining the situation from different positions using appropriate references to underpin this, shows good understanding and appreciation of the topic and this will normally be reflected in a higher grade.
Do you have any favourite topics?
Well because I have taught Corporate Governance on Masters courses at Oxford Brookes, I suppose this is both my area of expertise and something that I feel a bit passionate about so yes, Topic 17 on Corporate Governance is probably my favourite overall.
Were you behind the Topic 17 change of title ?
The title for Topic 17 changed from Period 35 onwards but no, it was not my idea but I did welcome it.
Why was this?
Why I welcomed it, or why it was changed? I suppose the two are connected though. The old Topic 17 had become very routine and there was evidence that some mentors were encouraging their students to take what we on the marking team would call a ‘tick-box’ approach – by this I mean that students possibly were being given a list of areas to look at. In fact I think the Open Tuition forum for Old Topic 17 also was a bit like this if you don’t mind my saying so! We were finding work was often similar in underlying content just the company name and specific facts changed! I am not saying that this was totally unethical however it certainly did not encourage students to think for themselves. The whole purpose of a degree is that it should develop a student’s thinking skills – they should be able to ‘think outside the box’ and not rely on being ‘spoon-fed’ but learn to research and think things over for themselves. The new title cannot be approached using a standard tick list and this hopefully will mean that with the newTopic 17 RAPs that meet the assessment criteria for a pass it will result in a better rounded graduate. I think that can only be a good thing and is helping a student prepare realistically for working life as well as pushing up academic standards. The title for Topic 20 was also changed to reflect the need for a more ‘dynamic’ and less routine approach too by the way.
Why are the industry sectors changed every year for Topic 8 and 15?
There is no single answer to this question but some of the reasons are possibly similar to the issues with Topic 17. Topic 8 is by far the most popular topic (though I feel this is because some mentors do not know how to approach other topics!) Unfortunately in some parts of the world the University Student Academic Regulations are not always understood so sharing of work goes on. Potentially changing the industry sectors frequently means that there are fewer opportunities for students or mentors to share work. Unfortunately too some students (though hopefully few) are tempted to commission a third party to write their project – again this makes it more difficult for such writing services to produce the work from a bank of essays as they will soon become invalid companies for Topics 8 and 15.
Should students be worried about plagiarism?
Whilst plagiarism remains a serious issue for most universities, students tend to worry too much about it. It is a simple fact that if you do not set out to cheat and copy another student’s work (or ‘samples’ provided by an unscrupulous mentor) and recognise that it is not good practice to copy and paste passages from books and articles into your work (even if you reference them!) then most of the dangers are eliminated. I know students frequently ask on forums “what is the right Turnitin score?” The fact is there is no magic right percentage! A very low score could be interpreted as almost as bad as very high score as it tends to indicate that the work has been artificially manipulated to produce a low score. It is far better to follow the rules of not copying passages from anywhere rather than spending hours trying to reduce a score down from say 15%, as perhaps in the context of the work, 15% might be perfectly acceptable if it originates from say 15 different sources!
Are there any new developments proposed for the BSc Applied Accounting?
Not that I am aware. There is a new Programme Lead and therefore as with anyone coming into a new role it may take a little while for any new developments to materialise. At the same time a new person in a role often brings with them new and fresh ideas so although I am not aware of anything immediately, I think it would be unreasonable to expect nothing to change at all. It will therefore be a case of perhaps in a few years we might see a few modifications but I would not expect major changes. However this is no guarantee – just my personal view!
The submission for fee for students is now GBP 340 – why is it so high?
Well obviously I have absolutely nothing to do with what the University charges for submission! Marking however, as pointed out in the answer to Q1 is a very detailed process and this costs money as well as time. In addition the amount of monitoring for plagiarism and cheating over the last few years has also pushed up administration costs and funds have to be found for this. However in order to try to keep these costs down a penalty resubmission fee was introduced which is double the normal submission fee for students found guilty of Misconduct so hopefully this may prevent sharp increases in submission fees going forward.
You have recently transitioned from a marker to a mentor, what do you hope to achieve by this?
I think having a former marker on the list of available mentors is likely to push up the standards of mentoring and that can only be a good thing for everyone. I also hope to improve the quality of work that is submitted and will be encouraging my students as much as possible to aim for an A or at least a higher grade.
Many students are studying for exams as well as doing the RAP, does that make it difficult for them to achieve a high grade.
The most important thing is to plan work. Far too many students (both RAP students and those actually studying at the University and doing exams) procrastinate too much and leave everything to the last minute. This means that they are unlikely to get high marks and grades. Planning is the key to success – little and often is best – whether it means studying for exams for frequent brief periods most days or researching and writing up the research and analysis report. Many students assume they can do the RAP in a month, whereas only those who have sufficient time with few other commitments and already have good written skills are likely to be able to do this successfully. Having a timetable is critical and actually sticking to it more important still. Starting as early as possible gives you the best chance of passing and performing to the max.
Are you able to comment on pass rates further – ACCA produces pass rates why doesn’t Oxford Brookes?
I can’t really give specific reasons however with exams you are looking at marks and they can be gained over the whole paper and as a former AAT marker I know that the examiner will have drawn up a specific marking scheme. With the RAP and a UK Bachelor’s degree you are being assessed against specific criteria and if you don’t meet any of these e.g. upload a spreadsheet, you will be failed. Every failed student for the RAP receives detailed feedback showing the particular areas failed and often advice for improvement, whereas every failed exam student is just told their overall mark. So really you are looking at two entirely different systems of marking.
So aren’t you able to give any idea of the pass rates?
As mentioned in an earlier answer they do vary from topic to topic. I would estimate that in Period 35 (the last time I marked) that the overall average pass rate for all topics and including resubmissions as well as first submissions, was in the region of about 64%. Possibly for first submissions alone this was nearer 50%. I think Topic 8 probably normally achieves about 50% overall and some topics, which in my experience were OLD Topic 17 and Topic 18, were higher than this and nearer 70%+ and topics involving primary data were far lower (probably about 35%). Topic 20 is generally a little higher than Topic 8 overall (I would estimate it at with submissions and resubmissions taken together somewhere between 60 – 65%). I think the new Topic 17 may have been more difficult and possibly was a few percentage points lower than in Period 34 however the content for answering Topic 20 is similar for both the old and new titles so I think this has remained more constant.
So what do you think makes a good mentor – is it someone who guides the student towards a pass?
It should not be exclusively about passing – although of course this is what both the student and the mentor are hoping to achieve! A good mentor will help develop the student’s thinking skills and stretch them academically so that at the end the student can look back and see what they have achieved and how their horizons have been broadened. That way they can go forward with greater confidence and be able to build on their achievements for the future.
Many thanks Gillian for your time and the interview.
Gillian Moorse is the former OBU marker, now mentor from absolute mentoring. If you have any further questions to Gillian Moorse, please post them as comments below: