How to stay on top of college assignments

Tips from a fellow student!

Written by Paul Carroll


Assignments at third level can be stressful. My particular experience is with essays, journals and a research paper. As the majority of third level students will write an essay at some point, it's worth taking note on some methods that can make the experience easier.

The most obvious advice I can give you is: give yourself plenty of time to do the work. Plan your workload so that you have time to get to the library, and then research, plan and write your essay. Many courses give you a week to write an essay, while others give you longer periods of time. Whatever amount of time you're given, it's best to spread out the tasks above so that the process does not overwhelm you. This is especially helpful if you receive a number of assignments in a short period of time, as can happen at particular points in the semester.

The library is the first place to start when writing an essay. Keep your essay question in mind, and use the supplied bibliography for your module. If you don't have one, or the books have been taken out, do an online search. If your college library has this facility, use key words rather than descriptive phrases. An alternative place to go for secondary resources is JSTOR. It's likely your college has access to the journals available in JSTOR’s database. Again, use key words to search. If you're signed in through your college ID, you'll be able to download articles onto your computer. The service is usually paid for by third level institutions, and should suit most subject areas.

As you read the books or articles, take note of quotations or key ideas. Remember, too, that you don't need to read every page of every book you have from the library: select important chapters or use the index page to read only what's relevant. When you have your essay planned, you'll then also have the relevant quotations to help support any claims you make in the essay.

Remember that every idea in your essay should be a new idea or it should build upon the previous idea in a different manner. If you plan your essay according to topics and ideas, you will have a clearer idea of how to arrange your paragraphs.

When it comes to the actual writing, you don't necessarily need to start with the introductory paragraph. In fact, it may be worth leaving it until your essay is finished. Your introduction needs to explain briefly what you're writing about, preferably in order of appearance in the essay. You'll also need to make an opening statement that's relevant to the essay question and to state clearly what your intention is. Then, write your essay according to your plan. Use full sentences and quotations from the secondary resources you found in your research. Make sure you're responding correctly to the assignment question so that you won't eventually have to rewrite the entire essay. Also make sure to stick to your word count limit. This means not going over the required word count, and not writing too few words. Both will result in a sanction that is otherwise preventable.

In your conclusion, you should summarise the main point of your essay. If you followed your plan, you can follow that to guide your conclusion in a summary of your assignment. Even if you spread the writing of your essay over a period of time, you should be able to write your conclusion easily without having to re-read everything else you've written. Finally, make sure you have followed your college's style guide. Most assignments take this into account when being graded. Ensure your line spacing and font size are correct and that sources are cited appropriately.

It's worth working with somebody else when doing an assignment. You can share library books and resources, which will help make up for a lack of available resources (as often happens when entire class groups are looking for the same books) or could allow you to have access to more books than your library allows you to take out on loan at any one time. As well as this, you and your partner can read each other's assignments before submitting. This helps to identify weak points in the essay, so that they can be fixed. If you gave yourself plenty of time to write your essay, you should have enough time to edit it in this way.

If you find yourself with multiple assignments due at any one time, it's worth doing them one at a time, especially if they're all essays. Rather than reading books for two or three assignments before writing, you can vary your stimuli by researching and writing individual essays at a time. This will make the process more interesting, and less daunting.

In a nutshell, assignments are a fundamental part of college life. While they may not always appeal to students, they offer a chance to enter an exam with some points behind us. Assignments can be made easier to cope with if you tackle them in the right way. Managing your time so that you can research and write your essay within plenty of time will make the process easier, and won't take away from other aspects of college life you might otherwise miss out on.

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