Honour Moderations

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Honour Moderations (or Mods) are a first set of examinations at Oxford University in England during the first part of the degree course for some courses (e.g., Greats or Literae Humaniores[1]).[2]

Honour Moderations have a class associated with them (hence the "honours") but this does not count towards the final degree. In other courses, Moderations and Prelims (preliminary examinations) are the equivalent first set of examinations, but have no class associated with them. All three examinations are termed "First Public Examinations". Successful performance in "First Public Examinations" leads to the "Second Public Examinations", more commonly known as Finals. Finals are held at the end of all first degree courses at Oxford for arts subjects and split into examinations after the second, third and, if applicable, fourth year for science subjects.

Honour Moderations in Classics have been called the hardest examination in the world.[3] In recent times, however, with an extension in the duration of Honour Moderations in Classics, they may be less difficult than previously.[4]

Mods in Classics

The Mods (Moderations – exams conducted by moderator; see also Literae Humaniores) course runs for the first five terms of the course. The traditional aim was for students to develop their ability to read fluently in Latin (especially the Aeneid of Virgil) and Greek (concentrating on the Iliad and the Odyssey); this remains the case today, but the course has changed to reflect the continuing decline in the numbers of applicants who have had the opportunity to study Greek and Latin at school.

Since the early 1970s, it has been possible to begin learning Greek during the preparation for Mods (an option originally called Mods-B, the brainchild of John G Griffiths of Jesus). More recently, due to the omission of Latin and Greek from the National Curriculum since 1988, options have been added for those without Latin either.

There are now five alternative paths through Mods.

  • Students with both Latin and Greek at A-level or equivalent take the traditional route, Mods IA.
  • Those with one such language do Mods IB (Latin plus beginners' Greek) or Mods IC (Greek plus beginners' Latin).
  • Students with a strong aptitude for languages who have not learned Latin or Greek can take either Mods IIA (beginners' Latin only) or Mods IIB (beginners' Greek only).

Language tuition is now organized centrally within the University by the Faculty of Classics; this leaves the colleges free to concentrate on teaching classical literature/rhetoric, history and philosophy.

The Mods examination has a reputation as something of an ordeal: it evolved in the 21st century from 11 or 12 three-hour papers across seven consecutive days into 10 or 11 three-hour papers across seven or eight days. Candidates for Classical Mods thus still face a much larger number of exams than undergraduates reading for most other degrees at Oxford sit for their Mods, Prelims or even, in many cases, Finals.

Students who successfully pass Mods may then go on to study the full Greats course in their remaining seven terms. Those choosing the 'Course II' version are expected to read as many of their Finals texts in the original of their chosen language as those on Course I; there is, moreover, the option of studying the second Classical language as two papers at Finals.