Assignments are a part of our university experience from the start, but they can still be just as daunting and overwhelming no matter what stage of your degree you’re at. It’s never too late to learn new tips on how to manage your assignments, and how to improve the way you complete them. During my time as a student, I have learnt several hints and tips from lecturers, as well as fellow students, on how to prepare yourself for assignments. Here are some of the best, and hopefully they can help you too:
Read, read, and read again!
Reading is an inevitable part of putting together a good assignment. However, there are ways to read material in an effective and efficient way.
- Use your time effectively
If you have access to a reading list on your course, make sure that you use it. Of course, you must read beyond this material, but your course convenors will have put those texts on the list for a reason. Chances are they are a key text for the topic or outline one of the main points or arguments. Showing you can engage with the most important literature is a skill you will be rewarded for. Beyond this material, read the abstract or introduction and conclusion before you begin to read the whole text. Ask yourself: are these points relevant to my assignment and argument? Can I make use of this source in my assignment? If the source isn’t relevant, don’t read it and move on!
- Make a list of key words to search
Before I begin to look for material that I can reference in my assignments, I make a list of all the key words that will help me with my searches. I pick out the key words of the question, note them down, and then list synonyms and similar phrases. I then use combinations of these words in the search bar on Google Scholar and the MyManchester online library search tool. This ensures I have found all the key literature on the topic.
- Use the snowballing technique
This is an effective technique for those longer assignments that require a lot of reading and referencing throughout. Find a scholarly source and then after reading it, use its bibliography to discover more sources to look at. Keep this going until you have enough material.
Make the most of office hours and feedback
This is something I didn’t do in first year, but in second year it has been so helpful; I have seen such a difference in the work I produce. The feedback we receive is a key tool to help us improve going forward. When you receive your feedback, make sure you take it on board and you know clearly what you have to do in the future to improve. Book to see whoever marked your work (your seminar leader or lecturer) and ask them to expand on their written feedback. Go and see them with a set of questions to ask about how you can improve, so you get the most out of the appointment. You could even ask more general questions, such as “what makes a first-class essay, and what am I missing to reach that grade?”
Make a plan, and have a lecturer or tutor look over it
If you have a written assignment, such as an essay, make a basic bullet point plan to summarise your key arguments and structure. Get a lecturer or tutor to look over it and give you feedback on what you can do to improve. This is the best feedback you can get before tackling an assignment. They can’t look over drafts, but by giving them a plan they can see enough about the direction of your argument to give you valuable feedback. You can even take your bibliography to them and see whether you have discovered all of the key debate and literature. They may be able to put you in the direction of other useful sources if they see others that you have missed out.
Set yourself goals to break the task down
I find it useful to break one large assignment down into smaller tasks. I then set myself goals as to when I should have each of these tasks completed by. For instance, I set deadlines for having the reading done, establishing a plan, and then having this plan seen by a lecturer. From there, I even set deadlines when I’m writing it up. For example, if I am writing an essay that has three points, I set myself a time deadline as to when I should have each section/point written by. It helps to keep me on-track, and it also reassures me that I have enough time to get everything completed.