The essay is set and marked by an assessor who also

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The essay is set and marked by an ‘assessor’ who also gives you advice on how to tackle it. Because Part III covers a wide range of subjects and is taught by a wide range of people this standard pattern may be modified in all sorts of ways The essay option is not compulsory, partly to allow you to abandon your essay if it goes badly wrong and partly because few of the staff fancy super- vising the essay of an unwilling student. However, there are many reasons why you should do the essay. (1) It provides practice in reading and writing mathematics. (2) With luck, it will help you choose a PhD topic. In any case it will help get you into a ‘PhD state of mind’. (3) It will bring you into contact with a member of the staff. This is a good thing in itself and may prove very useful when you need a reference. If you want to stay on to do a PhD here a good essay will be an excellent recommendation to possible research supervisors. (4) It provides an alternative to the ‘listen to the lecturer, study your notes, write out the exam’ system of the rest of Part III. Inspection of the Part III mark lists shows that your essay will normally be among your best papers 2 . The reasons for this are obvious. With an essay 1 Clearly we should follow the example of good expositors and avoid the mistakes of bad ones. Who are your models of good exposition? Or do you think all mathematical exposition is of the same standard? 2 This may not be true for the top 10 candidates who may well find it easier to get full marks on an exam than on an essay. However, if you are that good you ought to do the 3
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you can judge your progress much more easily than with preparation for an exam. If you work hard at an essay you can expect to do well at it — even if you work hard preparing an exam you may still be unlucky on the day. Sometimes students complain that they work harder on their essay than on their other papers. There are various answers to this. (1) Perhaps they need to work harder on their other papers. (2) Both students and assessors are explicitly advised by the Faculty Board that a good essay should not require more work than a 24 hour exam- inable course. (3) (This is I think the real answer.) Work done studying for an exam- ination is not directly comparable with work done on an essay. It is easier to work for five exams and one essay than for six exams because the essay requires different skills and provides a refreshing change. 1.2 Essay length There is no set length for an essay but the standard advice is to aim for 5000 to 7000 words 3 . This does not mean that anybody will be worried if you aim for 7000 words and end up with 8000 but if you aim for 7000 words and end up with 10000 your assessor will certainly feel that your essay is too long. Would you be happy if you went to a lecture scheduled to last 50 minutes and slowly realised as the lecturer droned on that it was going to last for two hours? After a certain point writing more will only involve you in extra work without any reward. (Indeed, you may actually lose marks.)
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