I’ve completed many assignments during my Geology degree at Curtin. Some were simple and straightforward, while others caused me sleepless nights trying to figure them out. You might be reading this because you’ve got an assignment due tomorrow and you’re freaking out, or you’ve just started University and you’re anxious about your first assessment; or maybe your latest assignment just seems really challenging. Whatever the reason, these tips should provide you some useful guidance.
1. Stay up to date
Go for your classes and lectures, watch them online, read the lecture notes; or do whatever works best, but do stay on track with your course content. Many people I knew that struggled with assignments (myself included) just weren’t fully up to date with the learning content. Some people tend to focus on their assessed material, and then try to figure out how to do it from external sources, but it’s always best to start your research off by analysing the original learning content. Lecturers are often looking for a specific answer, and while you may need to do external research via the internet and books the content your lecturer designed will be the best place to start.
There can never be too many references – the more academic and peer reviewed evidence you can gather the more factual your assignment will become. Google Scholar is your friend; it’s a great way to search for academic journals and peer reviewed articles, which can either help your argument or provide insight into a topic of research. If your University has an online library resource utilise it (it will often have links to journals or pdf versions of resources).
Learning how to reference properly is paramount; don’t be lazy about it because marks for referencing can be life savers if you struggle later. If most of your units use a certain referencing format don’t just assume all of them do. I’ve accidentally used APA for an assignment as all other units used it, when this specific unit required Chicago 16th. So don’t be lazy and double check. The website called ‘Cite this for me’ has been an essential tool in referencing properly, I suggest getting the premium version as it’s worth it. Just enter your reference style, add in your references (you can add them in automatically most times if it’s an academic journal or article), and it creates a bibliography for you.
Even though your assignment might need to be completed individually it is worth discussing it with peers and tutors. Group assignments can be an absolute pain, but I’ve had some awesome experiences working with others on individual assignments.It really helps in getting the ideas out of your head and opened to criticism. Being vocal not only helps you get some useful tips, but when you say things aloud you also tend to re-analyse them and assess if what you’re saying even makes sense. If you join in on a discussion with peers good academic etiquette means that you need to contribute as well (instead of just absorbing their knowledge and providing nothing of your own). This will ensure you are included in discussions later on, and will prepare you for the real world where you’ll need to work with others and bring something to the table. However, don’t go to the extreme end and copy another’s work because this will come back to bite you later, and you wouldn’t’ve learnt anything.
4. Don’t be afraid to email
I can’t count the number of times I’ve emailed lecturers, tutors, unit coordinators, student services, and other University staff over the course of my degree. There’s a good chance that you’re paying a substantial amount for your degree so don’t be afraid to fully utilise the resources provided to you, even if that means you have to pester your lecturers and unit coordinators to ensure you have all the relevant knowledge. If you’re unsure about how to do something in an assignment, have questions about an exam, or you’re just struggling with the unit, email someone in charge. The worst-case scenario is that they say they can’t help you, but it doesn’t hurt to try.
Being unsure and just making an assumption can have devastating consequences, so don’t feel like you’re afraid to ‘bother’ or ‘disturb’ your lecturers. They’re being paid to educate you and they usually don’t mind relevant questions. However, you should always read your Unit Outline and the announcements before emailing someone, because sometimes the information you need is already out there.
5. Read your marking key
Sometimes you are provided with a marking key for an assignment. Don’t take this for granted as it’s an excellent resource to have. The marking key basically breaks down the assignment into its assessable areas and allows you to cater your work to maximise your marks. If a section has 4 marks, it’s safe to say it needs at least 4 different points covered. Ensure you address all areas of the marking key as well, and if you’re given exemplars from previous years, to analyse them thoroughly.
A general rule of thumb for the references section of the marking key: ensure you have at least one reference per allocated mark.
6. Assignments take time
Don’t underestimate how long it will take to complete an assignment, even if you’ve completed similar ones before. Sometimes you’ll get halfway through a seemingly straightforward assignment and realise there’s a section within that will take a lot longer than you assumed. Leave yourself enough time to cater for curve balls and unexpected difficulty – otherwise you’ll be up until 4am trying to finish it.
I was notorious for starting my assignments late in my first year of University, which caused me unnecessary and avoidable stress. If something unavoidable is stopping you from completing the assignment on time (illness, tragedy, work, etc), email your lecturer and ask for an extension. Ensure you do this in a timely manner, however, because they’ll probably say no if you only ask a day before submission.
7. Backup and software
Don’t be that student who has to tell their professor they lost their assignment in the wash, the dog ate their USB, or that their 1998 PC broke. Back your work up, preferably with cloud storage software like Google Drive or Dropbox (if your hardware breaks down, your work will still be retrievable). No matter how easy or hard an assignment is, losing your work could result in a fail.
As this is the 21st century and most universities require you to complete assignments digitally, make sure you have adequate hardware and software. Ensure that your laptop or PC runs well, is virus free and relatively new, and has the latest Office and Adobe reader (two essential pieces of software for Uni work). Sure, you could always use the resources on campus, but it’s much more convenient to work on your assignments at home (especially if you’re external). If you’re uploading important work near the deadline, or completing an online test, ensure you have stable internet and disable all unnecessary background applications.
8. YouTube and Wikipedia are your friends
This could be controversial, but YouTube and Wikipedia make excellent resources when you want a cursory overview or refresher on a topic. Obviously, you will need to find real academic journals and articles to back up your research, but utilising videos and Wikipedia articles can really help you get a firmer grasp on whichever topic you’re working on. Khan Academy also has some really helpful videos (especially for STEM) if you’re covering an unfamiliar topic. Trying to learn something from only one point of view can be tricky, so utilising lectures, articles, journals, and videos will ensure you really understand even the hardest of subjects.
Hopefully these tips help you in some way. Just remember that you’re paying good money for your degree, and it’s up to you if you want to succeed. Putting in a lot of effort is essential, but so is having a break from time to time so you can refresh and think of new ways to tackle your assignments!