Lessons Learned: Check, Check and Check Again

This story comes from my first year.

Studio Production, first semester, second assignment. The task involved us recording a multitrack audio session, clean it up with some post poduction and bounce a  mix down to a stereo track and record onto an audio, to be handed into our tutor for marking. Here’s the twist – none of it was done through computer based audio environments – all outboard equipment, including the storage:

Mixing Studio 1, UoH Scarborough. Own Work

Different Project, Same Desk.

Some of the hardware used. Own Work

Some of the Hardware Used

Guess what? Our group failed – and all because of a really trivial reason. We made a small mistake in the process and due to time constraints, didn’t think to check our setup, check we’d pressed all the correct buttons to finalise our disc or indeed time to test the disc in a second player (which would have proved that final step didn’t work). We didn’t think we’d need to. We were wrong.

As a result of this I didn’t get enough marks in the weighting to pass the module initially, but got the opportunity to resit the assignment  as a pass (a mark of 40 or a third) or a fail and a chance to not resit the entire module, or fail and to redo the module to get the credits to complete my degree. The resit assignment in this case consisted of an essay, which fortunately I passed with – however this rendered the group work we had spent hours on worthless in the end.

When you hand in formal pieces of work at University, between the markers they will often scrutinise everything down to the ground. Spelling, reference style, tracing references and sources, lengths of quotes, clips and samples as well as any paraphrasing to ensure you’re not outright plagiarising or simply regurgitating the facts and most importantly – have you followed the instructions provided and/or answered the question.

Forgetting these crucial elements, whilst appearing trivial in everyday life, will cost you dearly in academia, so it pays to check at every stage for spelling and grammar (thankfully if you’re using a modern word processor package such as Google Docs, Microsoft Word or Open/LibreOffice Writer, this will be done for you), for if any of what you write or do fits what they ask or if you’ve made a mention to something out there, you’ve written it in the right format in your documentation (see my previous post on Assignments to learn more) and you’ve kept to the right duration, size, format and word count.

Check it as you write or do it, check it when you read it, get someone else to read/listen/watch and check it and if in doubt, send a draft to your tutor or invite them to see/hear your planned submission and get some feedback so you can check again.

Keep this practice in with each draft, each paragraph and each take/performance and you should avoid considerable embarrassment and a greater chance of getting above 40 in your final mark for it.

The best of luck out there!



Getting Unstuck

Whilst it may be a little early to be talking about the dreaded assignments with some semesters only recently restarting, but I’m willing to be there are some that will have had theirs announced or already received a little homework and are having trouble getting it done (sorry to say – it still happens after uni). Fortunately here’s some useful things that can sometimes help to shift the block.

Go for a Walk

It sounds a little cliché but it really does work sometimes. When creating a work, many artists claim to find inspiration strikes when they least expect it (after many 2am wakings from strange dreams or the need for a walk, I’m inclined to agree). The same can be said for non-artistic works. If sitting at the laptop or in the library isn’t working for you, take a little break and have a short stroll. If a walk isn’t your thing, a drive or a ride can have the same effect. Get out into the fresh air and appreciate the world around you. You’ll be surprised at what the world may randomly present to you or what may lead to a train of thought back to your work.

If it doesn’t strike you on the trip, don’t fret! Some people find the thing they were struggling on for hours an easy fix when they get home.

Break It Up

This is a good one for early starters. Looking at a wall of text is no easy task. Writing one is no easier. So a simple solution – why not break it up into bits?

Many people find it easier to start on a particular section. Some people prefer to write a rough introduction. Others may split thing up into heading (much like how a lot of these posts are written), whilst many more plan their whole written assignments out first before attempting the first draft (often wise). If you start your assignments and homework early enough you can often break these segments up over time – so instead of writing 5,000 words in one sitting, perhaps write 250 at a time. When you’ve got a few consecutive parts, arrange them in the right order until you have the lot. Then you need only worry about making them fit together in your final draft.

Ask a Friend or Family Member

If you’re short of ideas and know somebody who might be able to shed some light, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Two heads are often better than one on large projects. If none of your friends can help, why not ask a family member. Even if they may not have studied or worked in the same field as your course, they may be able to offer general advice or point you to a useful resource that may help you become unstuck.

Book a Tutorial

It sounds a bit of a cop out, but your tutors are here to help. If you can, book a tutorial slot to go through what you have already. If it’s a specific area of interest, why not email one of the lecturers. Many are happy to shed some light on a situation, even if they’re not your specific lecturer. They may also be able to offer extra literature or scholars to pay attention to, giving you a useful thread to follow rather than trawling hopelessly through a Libguide or trying to remember the right number in the Dewey Decimal System.

Sleep On It

Similar to the walk/drive option, a good nap can sometimes help you escape from the block for a short period allowing you to relax, switch off your brain for a little bit and in a way reset yourself. As long this isn’t taken advantage of or you’re planning to do this midway through your all-nighter, a good bit of sleep can leave you feeling refreshed, re-engerised and with a fresh pair of eyes to cast upon your work again.



It’s worth noting that as everyone works differently, not all of these will work for everyone – feel free to mix and match to find your fit. If you find something special that’s worth sharing, feel free to leave it as a comment to share with everyone else!




So far we’ve covered enjoying yourself and surviving your various sit down sessions with your tutors.  But we all know there’s a missing element here. The all famous and sometimes infamous assignments – the homework and coursework equivalent for your degree.

Whether you have hundreds of them that count to little nuggets of your modules or a couple of huge ones that define halves of your respective modules and indeed whether you like them or not, you will need these alongside your exams (if you have those too). If you have just exams, then don’t worry too much about this article just yet, but it’s worth folding a corner on for next year (if you have one) as they can show up any time your tutors see fit for those future modules.

So in the true spirit of trying to keep this below 2,500 words (something that I oddly used to struggle to write up to), here’s some tips to help you complete them without bursting an artery!

Plan Ahead

In my experience the best thing to do when given your structure is to make a plan or a schedule. It doesn’t have to be much – a few dates in your diary would do. Just know when assignments will be due before they’re set and at least you’ll always have an at-a-glance workload on view when planning other events, parties and trips in the future.

Collect Stuff

When you write essays and writeup documents you’ll be expected to reference everything (which we’ll get onto later). As you do your research online, in the library and perhaps through your own book collections, if you pick up on an interesting point that you might find useful in the future, make a note of it. You could save yourself a ton of work in the future!

If it’s online, why not look at a useful note collector such as Evernote or OneNote? Evernote comes with a plugin for most browsers that allows you to “clip” items to notes, which in turn can be synchronised to your cloud based account and any devices you install/sign in the desktop software on. I’m not sure if OneNote has all the same for websites, but you can copy and paste links in and it will keep track of what you import. For offline users, consider getting a cheap notebook or pocket notebook and make a note of the book, chapter and page number it was on so you can come back to it.

For those taking a more practical approach this applies too, be it recording video footage or audio, doodlings or sketches, collections of samples that you like or may use in a piece or snippets of other works that may inspire you to expand on or build further in your own creations.

Refer & Reference

I’ve essentially put the same word twice here, because there’s two different parties you’ll need to always remember as you write your findings, arguments or descriptions.

Firstly you always need to refer back to your title. It might sound silly and you may think you always are, but as you get into the meat of your scribblings, you’ll find that just like conversation it’s really easy to go off on a tangent and perform every tutor’s nightmare, waffling. When encountered with a wall of waffle, your peers and markers may still read it, but they may skim through, potentially glossing over an important point you make right in the middle of it!

Keep the waffles to your toaster and the point to your writing and keep it as concise as you can (Even if your word count is struggling – you might just have room then to make another one!). If you’re not sure if your paragraphs are to the point, book a tutorial or email a tutor for a quick read through.

Take Breaks

The human brain is capable of taking in information for 45 minutes at a time during revision and I’m pretty sure there’s something similar for output too. So make sure you do take breaks in your writing – particularly if you’re looking at a screen too for your eyesight’s sake! Even a few minutes is enough to get your brain doing something else for a while and you never know, if you’ve been stuck for a while on a small problem, approaching it with a fresh pair of eyes might just bring you the solution you’ve been looking for in a matter of moments.

Proof Read/Review

Once you’ve done a section, it’s worth reading, looking or playing back what you’ve done at point to make sure that it all fits together and makes sense. However, once you feel you’ve signed off a section, I wouldn’t stop there and I’d make sure you revisit it and check it over in the future alongside newer work as part of a ‘bigger’ picture to make sure everything flows smoothly. If you’re unsure, as I pointed out above, get your tutor or another colleague (or even your housemate or a family member) to have a read/look/watch. They don’t necessarily need to know the subject or feedback on that if they don’t know, but whether it’s interesting, flows right and feels like it’s not plagiarised (you should be able to spot this if they credit you for something you put in as a quote).

As the projects get bigger and take longer to do, consider redrafting where necessary and repeat this process as many times as it takes. Whilst it’s sometimes easy to say “it’s only 40% I need” in the first year, the second and third (and sometimes fourth year) do count, with the first year sometimes being great practice for this because when every mark is worth something, so should every second, word and millimetre.

Credit Everyone

With university being heavily focused on research, naturally large parts of your projects won’t be your original work, but drawing from or quoting others and this needs to be referenced correctly. Depending on your subject, department and local university customs, the model for this varies. The most popular one is the Harvard Referencing System and this can be mastered well using the astounding guide provided by the Library of Anglia Ruskin University. Two other popular formats used are the Chicago Manual of Style and for Psychology students, the APA style. Using these styles, you will be expected to either footnote the content you have borrow and write your reference in the footer of your current page, or to make a shorthand reference in brackets at the end of the borrowed content, and expand on this further in a dedicated references section at the end of the document.

It’s also important to acknowledge the media, people and resources you’ve had access to, even if you didn’t cite them directly in your content. These can be completed in separate respective bibliography and acknowledgements sections also at the end of your document.

For the specific layout of each document for your specific course, department, university and for the assignment, please refer to your tutor.

And Finally…

Assignments are important to getting your final grade, yes. But don’t overstress yourself to the end. If you’re struggling, speak to your respective tutor or personal supervisor, because at the end of the day you’re paying them to teach you and help you discover these things and they only want you to get this right (for both your reputation and indeed theirs). If you don’t get the greatest grade on it, don’t melt down like it’s the end of the world either. Yes it sucks, but you tried your best and not every person will be strongest in every subject. Again, talk to your tutor/supervisor to find out why you got the mark and where you may be able to improve. If you really want to resit it and feel you can do better, ask – but remember, they take your highest mark and often they’ll only let you resit/resubmit it the once.

Good luck with the writing and 1337 words… Not bad 😉