How to find your assignment mojo during COVID-19

Assignment writing season is a hectic time of any semester, let alone when there’s a pandemic to think about.

Sadly, assignment due dates still need to be met. But never fear: we’ve put our heads together to come up with our best advice for managing assignments in the current climate.

The truth is, it’s much the same approach as normal: be prepared; understand the task; focus on the details and get the help you need.

By following these steps, we think you’ll be well on the way to assignment success.

Be prepared!

At the end of the day, the simplest thing you can do is finish and submit your assignment by the due date. A late assignment means an automatic deduction in marks, regardless of how good the content is. There could be nothing more dispiriting than acing an assignment only to see your grade slashed because you missed a deadline by a day or two (or even a few minutes).

There’s only only one way to be certain you’ll be ready to turn in your work on time: start sooner rather than later. Your assignment timeline begins the moment you know what the task is, and when it’s due. Start breaking down the task into achievable goals immediately (think: research, writing, revision and so forth) and plot out on a calendar or in your diary when you want to have completed each of these important steps. Remember you could be juggling several assignments at the same time, so you’ll need to share your time between tasks accordingly. If you’re an experienced student, you will have some idea how long each of these steps will take you. If you’re new to uni, then definitely give the Library’s Assessment Planner online tool a try.

You’re also going to need to plan the structure of your assignment (and what stays out!): What are your main points? What kind of evidence will you need to back up your claims? How best do you order your ideas to build the strongest argument?

Everyone has their own preferred way of plotting out an essay or and assignment. For what it’s worth, our vote is for using an old-fashioned pen and piece of paper; not only will this help you visualise the different aspects of your assignment, you’re also simultaneously creating a checklist from which you can cross off items once they’re complete. Fingers crossed this puts to bed the dreaded writer’s block. Peer Learning Advisers are the best port-of-call for helping you to map out your assignment’s structure.

Understand the task

Make sure what you write is relevant. It sounds obvious, but this is a trap that teachers watch students fall into time and time again.

It doesn’t matter if you piece together the most thought-provoking, beautifully written assignment of your Uni life if it doesn’t address the question or fulfill the demands of the set task.

So how to make sure you’re on track?

If you’re responding to an essay question, be sure to break down that question into smaller parts. Do you understand what each of the individual words inside it mean? What is it actually asking you to do?

There will also be assessment criteria for you to fulfill, which you can find on the LMS in each subject’s learning guide. Think of these criteria as a roadmap to success. Your teachers are explicitly telling you what you need to show them. Address all the criteria, and address them thoroughly, and you’ll make it easy for your tutor to reward you.

If you find yourself shoehorning content into an assignment where it doesn’t fit, perhaps this isn’t the right place for that particular nugget of wisdom. Half the skill of assignment writing is knowing what to leave out. But don’t throw away your ideas or your research. There’ll be other opportunities to use your newfound knowledge: in future assignments, end-of-semester exams or even in class conversation.

Focus on the details

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that there are parts of the assignment process you can skip or leave until the end.

Things like proofreading might seem like a luxury you can’t afford, but they can be the difference between one grade and the next. A second look at your work – or better yet, a second set of eyes to proofread for you – will likely find an errant comma here or a missed reference there. If you’ve been really good with time management, you might even be able to set your assignment aside for a day or two before coming at it with fresh eyes. When we spend so long immersed in an assignment, it’s difficult for us to see issues or mistakes without first taking some time away. Did you know La Trobe students have access to a free online assignment service called Studiosity? There are online experts available at all hours to provide feedback on your individual assignment or to answer your questions via live chat.

Referencing, in particular, is one part of assignment writing often left until the last minute. This is madness! I repeat: madness! Referencing is nearly always integrated throughout your entire assignment, so it makes sense to work on it as you go. It’s also a crucial part of academic writing, so will factor heavily into your final result. So give it the attention it deserves. If you need help with referencing, head online to the Learning Hub and get some tips from a Peer Learning Adviser – they’re expert students who know how to score big on assignments!

Oh, and does your assignment have a word count? If so, stick to it! A word count indicates the amount of time, effort and detail your teacher is looking for. The tried and tested ’10 per cent rule’ – your final word count should be no more than 10 per cent under the word limit, or 10 per cent higher than the world limit – is a pretty reliable rule of thumb to live by.

Ask for help

When in doubt, reach out to the many and varied services on offer at La Trobe designed to make your Uni life easier. There is no shame in asking for assistance, even if you’re usually the sort of student who doesn’t need a lot of help. Seeking advice is proof you care about your studies and want to succeed.

Luckily, everyone at La Trobe wants you to do just that! So book a Zoom appointment with the Peer Learning Advisers. Find a Peer eMentor who can give you their perspective on what you’re doing. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or just need someone to chat to, La Trobe offers free over-the-phone or online counselling for all students.

Oh, and don’t be afraid to ask your lecturers or tutors. They won’t bite! If you’re not sure you’re allowed to ask them about a certain aspect of your assignment, do it anyway. The worst they can say to a request is no, and you haven’t lost anything by asking.