Examiner’s Report 2018: The Highlights (first year)

Whilst travelling down to the NATRE conference in Cheshire on the train, what better than the examiner’s report from 2018 to keep me busy? No huge surprises (but a few concerns) from the first year Philosophy, Ethics and Christian Thought reports. So here is a summary of the best bits or the bits you need to know if you haven’t had chance to read them:

General comments:

  • A significant number of essays had little to no evaluation
  • Distinct lack of scholarly views
  • Make sure examiners can read your handwriting!!


1. “Conversion experiences do not provide a basis for belief in God.” Discuss

Good points:

  • Clear focus on conversion
  • Developed evaluation of the effects
  • Effective use of William James, Swinburne and Freud

Bad points:

  • Long descriptive accounts of conversion, mostly St. Paul and Nicky Cruz
  • Thinking that St Paul was an atheist before his conversion
  • Not applying Swinburne’s principles to answering the question.

2. Critically discuss Aristotle’s understanding of reality.

Good points:

  • Very good accounts of Aristotle’s empiricism, explanation of four causes and prime mover (who draws things to him in a disinterested manner).
  • Used Plato in an evaluative way in relation to Aristotle scored higher bands

Bad points:

  • Confusion between efficient and formal causes (note: this has been an issue throughout the legacy papers as well)
  • Wrote all they knew about Plato and only compared with Aristotle in the final paragraph.

3. To what extent does Kant successfully criticise the ontological argument?

This section stopped me in my tracks. The report starts by saying “while a popular question, candidates struggled to produce good responses and very few recognised that Kant is critiquing the Cartesian version of the ontological argument.”

Now this annoyed me slightly. I cover Descartes in passing as I think he presents interesting links to the concept of predicate, using his example of the triangle and valley (I often find it helps students understand the concepts further). However Descartes has been completely removed from the spec and makes absolutely no appearance in the new spec (not even in the discussion pointers or recommended books).

So if you are new to the spec and don’t realise Kant’s links to Descartes and/or do not cover Descartes at all and closely follow the specific wording of the spec (as time does not allow us to cover all and everything!) then the examiners were expecting something not made clear and marked according to (I think) an old spec mark scheme not a new one. When I teach Kant I explain his views on predicates and get the students to link back to Anselm (who is on the spec) with Descartes links as a passing activity/ mention. I think the question is fine, I think the examiners marking/ report is way off!



  1. Voluntary euthanasia is always morally acceptable. Discuss

Good points:

  • Good use of case studies/ examples: Diane Pretty, Dignitas and Dr Anne Turner
  • When linked to a wider variety of precepts (not just preservation of life) this resulted in better responses
  • Sanctity of life linking with NL and quality of life linking with SE

Bad points:

  • Number of candidates failing to focus on the specific type of euthanasia
  • Generalised overview
  • When linked to NL: confusion over doctrine of double effect (note: this always poses an issue in understanding)
  • A number of responses focused on a ‘reportage style overview’ of euthanasia without linking in to a specific theory. What is worrying with this is that the question never asked for it! Students thinking that they needed to answer the question closely, presenting a detailed and evaluative focus on voluntary euthanasia, were ‘limited in response’ according to the examiner’s report.

2. The concept of agape gives no help at all in moral decision making. Discuss

Good points:

  • Extended links to the four principles and six working propositions. The examiner’s report says that the propositions were ‘more alluded to’ with only 1 or 2 detailed in full – not sure if this mean it is good or bad? Confident application of the principles.
  • Criticisms effectively applied from Barclay and Robinson

Bad points:

Students not linking agape into the broader picture of SE. Worryingly, like with the above question on voluntary euthanasia, students have been put a disadvantage when trying to remain solely within the wording of the question. Why the question was not ’The concept of agape, within situation ethics, gives no help at all in moral decision making’ if this is what they were looking for?

Yes the exam has to test the students but isn’t the exam testing enough without making the students guess which hoops they are meant to jump through? It is very hard under exam pressure, especially for weaker students, to know what is and is not relevant to the specific question. Simply putting ‘some candidates did not realise that this referred to SE’ I don’t think is the case. I think most students who could write anything meaningful for the question knew full well it was within the context of SE, they just did not want to deviate from the question. My students have it absolutely drilled into them ‘answer the specific question asked’ but then the specific question asked wants the wider topic- how are students meant to judge the difference?

3. Critically assess the view that utilitarianism provides a helpful way to make moral decisions.

Good points:

  • Clear structure: present Bentham’s act approach followed by Mill’s rule.
  • Good use of Hedonic calculus, Mill’s criticisms of Bentham, examples such as sadistic guards and higher and lower pleasures.

Bad points:

  • Less use of Bentham’s focus on pleasure and pain and that all pleasures are equal, the harm principle from Mill and qualified judges.Note: It comments that frequent use was made of additional thinkers such as Peter Singer – no mention of either this was good or bad. Not sure it is necessary either?

Christian Thought:

  1. Critically assess the significance of Augustine’s teaching on human relationships before the Fall.

The examiner’s report is very specific as to what it was looking for: This question needed a focus on Augustine’s teachings on human relationships rather than simply on human nature and needed to examine his teachings pre-Fall, rather than the events of the fall itself or just of the consequences of the Fall (although creditable when used well).

Alarm bells are once again ringing! The ethics side of the paper mentioned how students did not link agape into the wider topic so had little to write about. Yet this question expected students to write 2 1/2 sides on the relationship before the Fall. That seems pretty harsh in my book! Let’s take a closer look:

Good points:

  • Best responses included: Adam and Eve’s relationship before the Fall with each other, the world and God. 
  • Many compared this to after the Fall – demonstrating analysis in the process
  • Issues were examined such as Augustine’s literal interpretation of Genesis, Darwin’s evolution, impossibility of perfection and a Freudian interpretation of Augustine’s teachings.
  • Strong use of technical terms: caritas, cupiditas and concupiscence

Bad points:

  • Too much focus on wider topic and away from the Q asked.

2. ‘The most important source for Christian ethics is Church teaching.’ Discuss

Good points:

  • Students approached from three main categories: heteronomous approach (Bible, Church, reason or conscience), an autonomous approach (often using SE) and a theonomous approach (Bible alone)
  • Exploration of strengths and weaknesses of Church teachings including reliability, authority to concerns with corruption, knowledge from ethics and how Bonhoeffer challenged the Church
    Note: I am going back to the drawing board for this one (i.e. the text books) because I do not recall reading this in support material.

Bad points:

  • Listed different approaches to Christian ethics
  • Just considered the teachings that go on inside the Church

3. To what extent is faith the only means of knowing God?

Good points:

  • Focused on the word ‘only’ in the question
  • Contrasting the faith in natural vs revealed and the strengths and weaknesses of these approaches
  • Barth and Brunner debate and Calvin and Plantinga
  • Philosophical exploration of what it means to know God and if this is even possible

Bad points:

  • Side tracked by arguments for the existence of God rather than the means by which someone can come to know God.
  • How ‘faith’ fitted into natural and revealed theology
  • Focusing exclusively on natural theology

If you would like to access a breakdown of the national Main Results Tables and Other Results Information please click: JCQ

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One thought on “Examiner’s Report 2018: The Highlights (first year)

  1. Jasmin

    Thank you for this! Wonderfully clear and I agree with the Kant/Descartes situation. Not clearly stated and spec doesn’t demand holistic context. Just using Kant as a thinker against the ontological argument as a whole or more specifically suggesting that he can be used against Anselm without mention of his contemporary

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