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Getting your head around assignments


First assignments can be daunting, but these tips will help you start writing your first essays


As soon as you start a module you’ll be given a reading list. Don’t go out and buy every book listed, you probably can’t afford them and they won’t all be of interest to you anyway, but do get yourself down to the library and look a few of them up. Chances are they will be surrounded by other books on the same topic so you can have a skim of a few things and decide what suits you.

You will need to read around all of your assignments if you want to produce a good essay at the end, so don’t leave this until the week before the deadline - panic reading is pointless, trust me! Start reading around the topics in your modules now and when it comes to producing the final thing, you will have a good idea of how you want the essay to look.


Go to your lectures

Your lecturers want you to fully understand your modules and produce a good essay at the end. During lectures, they will give you tips, pointers and useful references to help guide you. Make notes, highlight them and keep them somewhere safe. They will come in handy.


Know what is expected of you

Sounds obvious, I know, but academic language can be confusing. Before you even start planning, be certain what every word in your assignment title means and that you are actually answering the question. Your tutor will help if there is anything you don’t understand. It’s also good to read through the marking criteria - this will give great pointers on what percentage of the marks are awarded to which sections of the essay so you canplan how muchtime to spent on each section. It will help with the next step…


Write a plan

Even just a really basic one, just bullet points and a few notes. Read it through and compare it to the marking criteria - does it answer the question and does it cover all the points on the marking grid? Most lecturers will accept a copy at this stage to discuss whether or not you are going in the right direction. If a tutorial is on offer, make sure you take that too. There is no such thing as too much help!

The next step is to start filling out your plan and turning it into a full-blown essay. Keep it in sections if it makes it easier at this point, this might help you to stick to the topic and not go off on a tangent.

Give yourself about 2 weeks to turn the assignment from a plan into an essay. You need time to take breaks, come back to it and read it fresh. Your uni should provide you with guidelines on how to structure your essay so make sure you read and adhere to them. Keep checking that you are answering the question and covering what you need to cover.


Learn to reference

It’s impossible to remember all your references at the end if you haven’t made a note of them, so keep a list in a notebook of all the sources you use as you go along. It is so much easier to do this than it is to try and find that great quote that was in one of those books somewhere…

Check how your univeristy wants you to reference - and make sure you follow it. You don’t need to lose marks on referencing!


Final checks

When you’re finished, give your assignment to someone else to read, preferably someone not on the course, who doesn’t know the subject matter. This is a sure fire way to figure out how well you have explained your subject! When you’re sure it’s done, submit and relax. Try not to spend the next three weeks stressing about a mark you can no longer change.



Finally, when you get your mark back make sure you read and take on-board the feedback. If you don’t understand what the marker has written, ask them (nicely) for a face-to-face meeting. Use the feedback to help you when you come to planning the next assignment - both the positives and the negatives are useful ways to learn for the future.


Rachael Starkey is in her 2nd year studying Children’s nursing at Canterbury Christchurch and also Student NT’s Children’s branch editor



Readers' comments (2)

  • Yasmin Akanji

    This helps a lot. I am hopefully starting university in September and the only thing I am dreading is the assignments.

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  • Having just completed my Nursing Degree the criteria has to be fully met on all assignments. However many of us experienced that lecturers mark differently. Yes criteria is consistently looked for but some markers also expected more than others. Therefore the marking can be inconsistent. All the above mentioned advice is priceless and if you follow these rules there's a degree waiting with your name on it

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