Working on assessments
You cannot research and write assessments in a day. Starting early, breaking things down and approaching assessments as a process can make things more manageable.
Assessments are an important part of your course work at Lincoln University. You might find writing assessments a daunting process, but having a clear plan helps. These resources will help you organise your tasks and allow time to produce your best work.
Breaking down the assessment process
You cannot research and write a quality assessment in a day – researching, drafting and editing well takes time.
Starting early and following a careful preparation, thinking and reviewing process will help you produce a clear, well organised piece of work. The trick is to break down assessments into a series of smaller, manageable steps. What appears to be overwhelming becomes realistic and helps you organise your time more efficiently.
Successful students work through the stages below to complete an assessment. It’s not necessarily a neat process and you may have to return to some stages a few times.
From the start, take time to carefully unpack the question and plan your time.
Analyse the question (see the guide to common instruction words below) and re-write it in your own words.
Work out how and where you will find relevant and reliable information (See our tips on search strategies).
Keep on track by breaking the assessment into subtasks with a timeframe for completion for each one. (See our tips on managing your time).
Interpreting the instructions
Watch this short video of assessment instructions being broken down.
Some common instruction words and what these words require you to do are listed below. Remember: If you are at all unsure about what you need to do for your assessment, ask your lecturer.
Describe: Give a detailed account of the main issues of a subject.
Explain: Clarify, or make clear, the meaning or significance of something; give the reason or cause for something; or show how something has developed or occurred.
Analyse: Separate the subject into its main parts and discuss the significance of the parts and their inter-relationships.
Interpret: Show the meaning or significance of information.
Evaluate: Assess the merits and limitations of something. Weigh up the evidence and give judgement.
Argue: Set out a reasoned case in support of a point of view.
Compare: Present and discuss the similarities of two (or more) things. It is usually appropriate to discuss the differences at the same time.
Contrast: Present and discuss the dissimilarities, or differences, between two (or more) things. Questions will often ask you to compare and contrast.
Criticise (or critique, critically discuss): Weigh up the issues and make a judgement. You are expected to discuss the limitations, as well as the merits or contributions.
Define: Give a clear, concise meaning. You should keep in mind the class to which a thing belongs and whatever differentiates the particular object from all the others in that class.
Diagram: Present a drawing, chart, or plan, with clear, concise labels. In some cases you should also include a brief explanation or description.
Discuss: Examine and analyse carefully all aspects of a topic. Present considerations for and against.
Examine: Investigate or research a topic and discuss in detail.
Illustrate: Explain or clarify your answer by presenting a figure, picture, diagram or concrete example.
Justify: Prove, or show, grounds for your decisions or conclusions.
List (or enumerate): Give the key points in a concise form. Notes, headings, tables, numbered points may be appropriate.
Review: Analyse and discuss the key points or issues. Critically examine ideas and themes.
Summarise (or outline): Give the main points or facts in a condensed form. Details, and usually illustrations or examples, may be omitted.
Stay focused on answering the assessment question. As you read, concentrate on understanding what you read (not just gathering information) and think about how it will help you complete the assessment.
- Read widely - the more sources you read, the deeper your understanding of the topic will become - but stay focused on the question you are answering.
- Read efficiently - use skills of previewing and skimming to identify potentially useful information (without wasting time)
- Read critically – actively look for different points of view, and question what you read.
- Make notes in your own words. (You are formulating your own thoughts not copying theirs.) See our tips on paraphrasing.
- Keep accurate, detailed records of any source material with the notes you make from it to use when/if referencing later.
Sort and group information as you go. Don’t wait until you have read everything and then try to make sense of it – start thinking about how the information fits together early on to avoid feeling overwhelmed with information later. (Make an appointment with a Learning Advisor or attend a workshop to learn strategies.)
Finding and evaluating academic information
It’s important to use reliable and reputable information in your assessments. This page has advice on search strategy and finding and understanding information.
Clear writing comes from clear thinking. So, take a breath, look at the assessment instructions again, think about the information you have found, and then:
- Summarise your ‘answer’ in a few sentences. If you can’t do that, you are not ready to start writing - spend more time reading, thinking and discussing the ideas.
- Develop a writing plan. Start with an outline, a mind map, a flow chart or a summary paragraph. Decide on a logical order for the key points and identify evidence or detail to support each point. Re-organise your notes to fit this plan if you need to. (You can make an appointment with a Learning Advisor to work on this stage of your assessment).
Start putting your ideas down on paper, using your writing plan as a guide. Concentrate on getting your ideas across to your reader.
- Start with the easiest section of your plan – you don’t have to start writing at the beginning. Often it is easier to write introductions at the end.
- Don’t aim for perfection on this first draft. Just start writing. Perfectionism can lead to procrastination, and nothing gets done at all.
- Expand each of your key points into a paragraph. Let the reader know the key point early in the paragraph and then use the rest of the paragraph to expand, support or explain that point. Don’t forget to include the source of all your information (ie provide a reference).
See our tips on the structure of essays, reports etc and on how to write a paragraph.
This is the stage where you change from being a writer to being a reader. Keep in mind as you finalise your work for submission that the marker is a reader too.
- Leave your draft for a few days before reviewing it.
- Use a checklist on strengthening your writing to ask yourself questions about the content, structure and style of your work.
- Try a quick reverse outline to check the structure of your writing. Copy your thesis statement (sentence from the introduction that sums up your argument) and the topic sentences (which sum up the main point of the paragraph) from each body paragraph and paste them onto a blank document. If you struggle to find a sentence that sums up a paragraph, then that paragraph needs to be revised. If there are two main points for a paragraph, then it may be better separated into two distinct paragraphs. Once you have the main ideas listed in order, you can see the bare bones of your argument. Check the order and progression of ideas is logical, supports your thesis statement, builds to your conclusion and addresses all aspects of the instructions.
- Get feedback from someone else on the general clarity and sense of your work. You can make an appointment with a Learning Advisor to get feedback on your draft assessments.
- Redraft and edit as necessary. Save your work as a new file (eg revised draft or version 2). That way if you delete work you can access it later if you change your mind or need to go back to what you first wrote.
- Check your referencing, both in text citations and your reference list, very, very carefully.
- Proofread carefully. Remember spell and grammar checks are not perfect. You have to decide if any suggestions are appropriate. Try reading your work aloud as part of the proofreading process. This forces you to slow down and you will sometimes ‘hear’ mistakes that your brain would ‘auto-correct’ if you were reading in your mind.
- Check you have met all formatting/presentation requirements for the work.
- Submit your work early to ensure there is enough time to generate and review the Turnitin report and make any necessary changes before the due date and time.
What is feedback and why is it helpful?
The final part of working on an assessment is to review the feedback. Feedback on assessments will let you know what you did well and what you didn’t do so well. In other words, feedback gives you an idea of both your strengths and areas to work on.
While your mark is important as a measure of the progress you have made and its contribution to your final grade, individual or group feedback annotated on the assessment, provided against the marking criteria or in the comments sections, or given as overall class feedback is helpful information that will assist you as you develop your study skills and can be applied to future assessment.
Feedback is not limited to comments on individual marked assessments. It might be whole class feedback delivered in a lecture or a forum mentioning common mistakes made in the assessment by the class overall, and/or what was included in the more successful assessments. Feedback can also be found in answers to questions about course material or it could be delivered in advance of the assessment with the lecturer giving advice on how to approach it. Being engaged in your courses will expose you to the all the forms of feedback that may be given.
You can also ask for feedback on a draft of your assessment by contacting your Examiner or making an appointment with a Learning Advisor.
How can you make the most of the feedback you receive?
Feedback might tell you what to improve but it won’t always tell you how to do this. It is up to you to find out the best way to develop your skills. Here are some suggestions.
- Read your feedback carefully and ask your lecturer or a learning advisor for clarification. Sometimes it can be tricky to work out what the feedback means and what you should do next.
- Don't take the feedback personally. It can be confronting, but it’s important to remember feedback is not about you the person, it’s about a piece of work and how that work addressed the marking criteria of the assessment.
- Categorise the feedback. You can use the marking criteria to check what areas the feedback is mostly referring to. Some of the comments may be specific to the assessment subject matter, so you will know you need spend more time developing a better understanding of the material. Some might be more general such as formatting, grammar, proofreading, critical thinking/analysis, research skills or referencing issues. All of these you can work on and improve for all future assessment.
- Reflect on what you actually did when working on the assessment. For example, the feedback might say more evidence/sources would have strengthened the work. You remember you did not give yourself enough time to do background reading except for quickly skimming over most of the recommended texts. So you make a plan to start work earlier to build in more time for wider and deeper research. You also remember you weren’t quite sure how to find the right kind of journal articles in the database, so you make time to talk to a Learning Advisor about how to do this. This is a proactive response that will benefit all future work and demonstrates how powerful feedback can be if it is read and considered and acted upon.
Learning Advisors are here to support you as you make sense of and act upon feedback. Please book an appointment to chat.
Get Individual Advice
Talk to a learning advisor or attend one of our workshops for help with your study.