John McEnroe coins “You cannot be serious” “classic McEnroe outburst. John McEnroe v Tom Gullikson at Wimbledon in 1981. Umpire was Edward James”.

Both my June 2017 blogs (for teachers and for students) are in response to things encountered as a visual arts examiner/moderator. This one is for students and relates to assessment – and the differences in perception from the perspective of a teacher and that of a moderator. The other is aimed at teachers and to some extent is about ethics and the questions provoked by some kinds of art submitted for assessment.

Please visit Nudity, Goldfish and Ethics to see the blog addressed to teachers.

The audience for each could be reversed. (Feel free to read both!)

Anyway – “You cannot be serious!”

I was recently reminded of tennis legend John McEnroe and the Wimbledon Tennis Championships of 1981. You (student) will not, of course have been born, but I (a mere child, lol) was watching the match on TV, when McEnroe started what became known as a “classic McEnroe outburst”. It was a fabulous and very watchable example of McEnroe’s mixed amazement, outrage, disbelief.

What has this exclamation got to do with assessment of DP visual arts?


You cannot be serious! (TWICE!)

I was reminded of this because I was recently in contact with a visual arts exhibition moderator who was wondering if it was possible to moderate a teacher’s mark down by 17 marks.

A downward moderation of 17 marks is highly unusual, so I asked for a little more information.

This student (HL) had uploaded ten photographs which appear to have been taken one afternoon in his back garden.

There were two views of his house, two shots of his dog, three typical “selfies” and three photos of different trees. The selfies were different in the sense that one showed the student wearing a ‘crazy’ face, one was laughing and one looking fierce/angry.

The collection might have been fun to post on social media, but the exhibition counts for 40% of the final visual arts grade – so in this context it was disastrous.

None of the photos were particularly well composed and none showed evidence of any degree of thought, consideration or digital manipulation.

The moderator said that he thought “you cannot be serious” twice: once when he saw the student’s work (exhibition photos), and again when he saw the teacher’s mark.

The teacher had marked the collection as 24/30 (7, 7, 7, 3).

The moderator judged a more accurate mark of 7/30 (2, 2, 2, 1).

Anyway, yes, I confirmed that a 17 mark moderation was permissible. Unusual, but certainly within the rules.

Internal assessment marking: why 2 rather than 7 for A, B and C?



Moderators refer to the assessment criteria and are, therefore, concerned with coherence, competence and concept.


The photos as a group were not coherent: the media, processes and techniques and the use of imagery were similar and repetitive; they did not show effective communication of thematic or stylistic relationships across individual pieces and media, and processes and techniques did not seem particularly ‘considered’. There were certainly no dynamic or surprising links between individual pieces. Coherence is not repetition or visual conformity.


Similarly, in terms of technical competence, there was no evidence of assured “application and manipulation of media and materials”. The photos showed a minimal level of photographic technical competence. There was nothing assured about any of the photographs. As the cliché puts it, ‘a child of five could have done it.’


And conceptually they were dull, boring and predictable. They were conceptually vacuous. We have all seen exactly these kinds of selfies many times. As the 1 – 3 level descriptor says, “the work demonstrates minimal elaboration of ideas, themes or concepts and demonstrates minimal use of imagery, signs or symbols, or the imagery, signs or symbols used are obvious, contrived or superficial. There is minimal communication of artistic intentions”.


A lot hangs on a photograph.

Exhibition moderators just see the finished thing. The exhibition in question consisted exclusively of photographs. This is not necessarily a problem, photography is a perfectly valid and potentially creative technique. But I’m calling then snapshots.

There was a brief question about the word ‘snapshots’ a few weeks ago on the OCC and I think that Jayson Paterson did a great job in clarifying the fundamental problems with this kind of photography.

He wrote that in the context of the Subject Report the term “snapshot” refer to “the mindless point-and-shoot imagery that we have all had students try and mill out any time a deadline is looming. No conceptual consideration. No aesthetic sensitivity. No technical awareness. No informed understanding of the significance of photography culturally”.

He’s hit the nail on the head.

As for the very optimistic marking, most teachers are reasonably accurate – but some are not. In this case, ‘not’.  See The Curse of Optimism.

Perhaps the teacher thought that by awarding this mark he/she might bluff the moderator into the idea that this collection of photos actually demonstrated a successful and creative show? Maybe the teacher did not understand the criteria, or maybe the student ignored the teacher’s advice and guidance. Maybe the student had done almost nothing for two years, so on the last Saturday before the show went up, he just panicked, decided that identity (his theme) could involve these photos and hurriedly took them?

Either way, in terms of the exhibition component, I’m afraid he paid the price.

Perhaps the marks for the Comparative Study and the Process Portfolio were better.