May and June in Oxford, as in university cities throughout the world, means exam time. Students can be seen waiting nervously outside faculty halls, mulling over index-card notes or grimacing to their friends. There’s tension in the air.
But not at Oxford Business College, at least not in the same way. Students here aren’t required to take exams in the traditional sense, instead being assessed on the strength of in-depth assignments based around the term’s modules.
While in some respects this task might be thought less pressurised than exams, assignment-writing carries its own challenges. But take heed of these 12 pieces of advice, drawn up after consulting with tutors and students who’ve been through the process, and you’ll be fine.
1. Take It Seriously
In the same way that it’s impossible to run a marathon by just turning up on the morning of the race, you really can’t complete a Higher National assignment in the final two days before the submission deadline. It’s a proper challenge – that’s the point – and one you need to treat with respect, right from the moment you receive the brief.
2. Look Closely At The Verb
Your assignment brief will ask you to do something; exactly what is very important to your final mark. You may be invited to “analyse”, “critically evaluate”, “differentiate between”, “describe” or “explain”. Think carefully: each verb requires a different process. Don’t be too proud to look up the exact meaning, particularly if you’re a non-native speaker of English. (A helpful list of definitions can be found here.)
3. Get Started
The size and scope of your assignment might feel daunting at first, which can provoke a kind of paralysis in students. But remember that saying, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”? It’s applicable here, too. You don’t necessarily need to dive straight into page 1, but at least do something to get the ball rolling.
4. Research Widely – But Don’t Waste Time
Yes, Wikipedia might be a good starting point – but it is only that, a start. There are millions of other websites than can help, not to mention books (you can find a list of approved textbooks here), plus magazines, journals and newspapers – the more the merrier. On the other hand, don’t lose sight of the task in hand – your assignment. Keep asking yourself,” Is this relevant?” If the answer is no, move on.
5. Keep Track Of Your References
This is a related point, but crucial nonetheless. If you come across something useful, remember to make a note of where you found it as you’ll need to reference it later. There’s nothing so annoying as the last-minute panic to recall which blue book about marketing you read three weeks ago contained that once juicy Steve Jobs quotation you need somewhere between pages 100 and 200.
6. Talk To Classmates
Call it “brainstorming”, call it a “discussion group” or call it “putting your heads together” – whatever its name, it’s good to talk. Chances are, hearing someone else’s perspective on the topic will spark some ideas of your own, and simply knowing you’re not in this alone is bound to be some comfort. A problem shared is a problem halved, they say – and that’s even true when the problem at hand is discussing Porter’s Five Forces in relation to Tesco.
7. Make A Plan
It’s never too early to start thinking about the big picture. If you can be considering what goes where (and why) right from the outset, you’ll be ahead of the game – so organise your thoughts as you go along, always bearing in mind you’re aiming for a logical and compelling conclusion.
8. Break It Down
There’s a good reason your tutors ask for submissions over the course of the whole term: it stops students from leaving everything to the last minute. The only way to tackle a task as demanding as an HNC/D assignment is to think of it as a series of smaller chunks, so set yourself achievable goals – “write section 3 by Sunday night”, for example – and try to stick to them. The key to meeting deadlines is always starting early.
9. Look At Some Examples
It’s obviously difficult for students to picture exactly what a Distinction-level assignment looks like, so at OBC the Academic Department has collected a number of genuine sample answers from past cohorts for our current students to consult and learn from – within the confines of the College, obviously. It’s a good exercise and one that will give you an idea of what you’re aiming for.
10.Write Like A Pro
Writing academic English is a skill in itself and nobody can pretend it’s easy, especially for non-native speakers. But the more you read, the more you’ll find yourself able to copy the kind of professionally neutral tone you’re expected to use. Avoiding informal words (such as “kids” or “got better”) and contractions (“he’s”, “they’re”, would’ve, etc.) is a start, but also be careful not to use long, impressive-sounding words you don’t really understand.
11. Re-read What You’ve Written
Of all the suggestions here, this is perhaps the most important. Some experts even recommend reading the assignment out loud (to yourself!) as a good way of discovering which parts need improvement, but whether or not you go that far, it is important to go back over what you’ve written, ideally after a good night’s sleep. Then make changes – and repeat the process, time-permitting.
12. Don’t Cheat
Not just because it’s naughty, but also because you’ll fail. Plagiarism-detecting software is very sophisticated these days and although buying in assignment-writing help might sound tempting, it’s never less than blindingly obvious to tutors when a student has resorted to this. You have to be very smart to get away with cheating – and if you’re so clever, why not just go ahead and prove it in the old-fashioned way? Just follow these tips, write a killer assignment and everyone will be happy.