Assignments

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 ūüėČ

Mike

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Lectures & Seminars

Undoubtedly you’ve noticed since you’ve joined student life, ¬†College and University teaching is on a whole different level compared to your school classes. For starters, ¬†they’re usually much longer and, ¬†particularly in the case of lectures feel something akin to ¬†going to a cinema rather than a lesson (only less exciting and with no overpriced popcorn).¬† Now, ¬†some people are cut out for lectures and can happily take in and write notes on the swarm of information thrown at you on the slides and spoken by your teacher. Others struggle to understand it or lose focus around the 45+ minute mark (the rough single track attention span of studying young adults).¬† Either way, if you’re struggling to get it all in and you’re afraid of having no reference when asked question in the seminar, here’s a few tips to keep you both to the lectures themselves and surviving the endless drone).

Keep Hydrated

Let’s be honest, you’re going to be in there a while and whilst your coffee/tea/energy drink might keep you awake and alert, you’ll get thirsty and the caffeine does only work for a finite amount of time. Water will help fuel your system whilst you’re in there and whilst it might not feel like it at first, it will help to keep you hydrated, which in turn will help to keep your focus (why do you think Athletes live by the stuff?). Bottles of water are usually the best bet as these are allowed in most lecture spaces. Make sure you have a lid on though or when you accidentally knock it (which it possible if you’re scrawling notes at speed) you’ll give your notes and the person in front of you an unwanted shower! – even if they probably could do with one!

Pens and Pencils

Even in this day and age it’s worth keeping these close at hand so you can get everything¬†down. If you’re a technology user, it’s worth keeping at least one pen about as you’ll need one to sign in to prove you’ve been there (unless your campus has upgraded to the new badge/fob scanners). They’re also useful just in case your battery goes flat and you need to quickly transfer to a lo-fi solution. If you’re still an old school writer, take at least two – that way if you do lend one to a friend or peer (which if you don’t know them that well there’s a small chance you might never see again), you still have something to write with and it’s great as a back up for other emergencies too (e.g: Pen running out or pencil lead snapping and you forget to bring a sharpener).

Use Evernote or OneNote to Remember & Annotate Stuff

If you’re a laptop or device user, you might find typing notes an easier and more readable method. However there’s only so much help that Text Wrangler, Word or Writer can do to help with note taking at speed. Microsoft’s OneNote really shines here and comes bundled with the most basic versions of Microsoft Office (Home & Student). The notebooks will allow you to write anywhere on the page and bring in tables, bullet or numbered lists and images as quick as a few key taps or dragging and dropping. Best of all, this is automatically saved as you type, so you’ll never miss a word. OneNote is available on a huge number of platforms allowing you to synchronise your notebook through Office 365 (which online is free for students and teachers with an academic email address) or as a Notebook file through a network drive or OneDrive. The Program is available on Windows and Mac computers, on iOS (phone and tablet versions) and watchOS, Andorid (phone and tablet versions)/Android Wear, Chromebook and online through onenote.com If you’re not an office user, never fear!¬†Evernote is a free service (With a premium upgrade that’s 75% off for students, ¬†for more features) on ¬†that allows you to take a similar approach. Admittedly the “type anywhere” feature isn’t part of their notes, but you can import many things natively and everything else will be included as an attachment. The main selling point to Evernote (like many programs and apps these days) is that it backs up to the cloud (known internally as “Syncing”). This can be done periodically or on demand by pressing any of the large Sync buttons in the program or device apps and once completed can be accessed on any session you run on another device – which can range from PC or Mac programs, iOS, Android¬†apps or the Web based version at evernote.com.

Can’t Keep Up? Record It

It’s worth getting permission for this one first. If you’re struggling to take in the talk first time around or you can’t keep up with writing notes, see if you’re allowed to record the lecture for playback later on. There are many options for this from inexpensive dictaphone style recorders to more high end capsule or externally connectable portable recorders. If you’re on a shoestring budget and have a smartphone or tablet handy that can pick up the lecturer or PA system, use that. I will be covering recorders like these in a later post on the sister site WAVE Media¬†but if you’re already struggling and need one in the next couple of weeks try the phrase “portable recorder” on sites like Amazon or eBay or your local music/electronics shops.

Get the Slides

Much like obtaining the voice, if there’s some important data that you want from the lecture (that you can’t find from their references), ask nicely if you can get a copy of the lecture slides. You might have thumbnail versions on a hand out, but having a printed or digital copy will always help, particularly with visual learners that may have associated a particular part of the lecture with a particular slide. If you were lucky like I was in my later uni years, they may have already uploaded the slides (or plan to) to your respective virtual learning environment or LMS (e.g: Blackboard, Moodle, Sakai etc) so you can download them when you’re next in the library or on your computer. ¬† I hope these few tips may help you out in the many years of being talked at and – on the rare occasion – talking back to your lecturer and your classmates. ¬† For those of you that already have a few lectures and seminars under your belt, what methods do you use to retain the information? Feel free to leave a comment in the box below. Thanks for reading and class dismissed! ¬† Mike

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