Evaluations: Individual Assignments

Let’s be serious. The reason you are attending your 9 AM lectures is that you want to learn all the material you can and believe it will add to your life goal of becoming a more knowledgeable and well-rounded individual. For the 5% of you for which this is true - do not read this blog post. You will do well on your evaluations anyways.

For the 95% of you who could not care less about absorbing all your course material into your brain and just want to get the best grade you can with doing the least amount of work - please read on.

Your grade at university, whether it be a 1st, 2:1, 2:2, 3rd (ouch), or fail, all revolves around one concept - evaluations.

Evaluate: verb (used with object), evaluated, evaluating.
1. to determine or set the value or amount of; appraise: to evaluate property.
2. to judge or determine the significance, worth, or quality of; assess: to evaluate the results of an experiment.

Whether it be exams, assignments, in-class quizzes, or some innovative way your professor thinks is a good idea to evaluate you which requires them to do less work (like using an interactive test found on Blackboard), evaluations are what determine whether your diploma ends in st or rd. In case you’re wondering, the goal is to have it end in st.

It is our goal at Currikula to help you get better grades, so we are dedicating a series of posts to evaluations (also we promised last week we would do one). We’ll go over each form of assessment and give tips how to do best in each one. Today we are going to discuss a common form, the individual assignment.

The individual assignment has its advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages: You have total control over the assignment. It is usually shorter than group work. It usually counts for less of your mark. Currikula can help you get a higher grade with most forms of individual assignments.

Disadvantages: You have to do all of the work and cannot unfairly delegate most tasks to group members while you lay in bed. It counts for less of your mark (yes this was also an advantage).

Most individual assignments are formed as an essay, although some include presentations. This is because there is simply not enough time in your tutorial to have every single person do a presentation, so individually assigning a bunch of tutors to mark essays seems most productive for lecturers. For this reason, the essay is what we will be discussing today.

Essays

Essays - also called research papers, assignments, thought pieces, or simply papers are usually minimum of 1000 words and maximum of 5000 words, except for a dissertation. In general, most essays fall within 2000–3000 words.

The Essay, as vague as it can be, is a form of writing where the author gives their argument, using facts and opinions from a variety of sources to back up their argument (of course entirely referencing those sources).

Depending on how many other kinds of evaluations your module has, you can expect between 1–3 essays per module each term. This amount usually equates to at least 3–4 essays per term, usually all due around the same time.

Assuming four essays per term at 2000 words each, you’ve got 8000 words to write by the end of the term. If you’re a first year, this can be very daunting. If you’re a second or third year, you can expect even more words.

An ideal way to work is to start researching your essay soon after your lecturer assigns them. However, we know the 95% of you reading this won’t be doing that, and will be starting your assignments approximately one week before they are due.

With that in mind, we are going to shorten the essay writing process into five steps (there can be around eight steps if you have more time).

  1. Choosing your thesis and topic — your lecturer could likely give you a selection of theses to choose from or assign you a topic directly. They should at least guide you with relevant suggestions or topics. If you have not yet chosen a thesis and only have one week left, you should probably hurry up. Just pick the argument that sounds simplest or most interesting if you are struggling. If this is an argumentative essay, your thesis needs to be a statement that must be proved in your argument. If it is a descriptive essay, which could be possible especially in the first year, then a topic or question may be your ‘thesis.’
  2. Find information. This is your ‘research’ step of the assignment. You need to find as much information on your topic from form a variety of sources to build up knowledge and form your argument or description. If you have only one week to go, we suggest spending a late night in your university library. Unless you have an unimaginably good work ethic, working from your room or house will only add to your distractions. Where do you find this ‘information’ you ask? That is a very good question. Your lecturer will almost certainly denounce Wikipedia as a credible source to cite, and we agree that Wikipedia should not be anywhere close to your bibliography. But it is a good starting point if you have no idea where to start. In most Wikipedia articles, several journals, books, and websites are sourced in footnotes and appear in the footer of the article. These are great starting points as well. Others are listed below.

i) Your university lecturer will likely have a ‘reading list,’ which includes sources they could ‘expect’ you to reference. Using these sources could score you bonus points, as it makes life easier for the lecturer since they are familiar with the material. You can almost always find the reading list on your course portal as well as the specific material included in the list.

ii) Your university online library. You may not know this, but the amount of commercial value included in your university online library is probably worth hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars. Some online journal databases charge companies and independent researchers thousands of dollars for annual subscriptions or over $100 for one journal volume. You get all of this for free with your university, so use it. The process for accessing the plethora of information is different for each university, but the general steps are similar to the following: (1) access your online library (usually taught during those first lectures and ask someone if you don’t know ), (2) look for journal databases in your subject area, (3) type in authors, journals, or titles related to your thesis, (4) browse the abstracts of each article looking for similarities to your thesis that could help build your argument. Lecturers tend to love seeing these articles in the bibliography.

Tip: Look for other articles cited by these authors and read those (they tend to be pretty good and you can normally determine whether they’ll be of use from their titles)

iii) Your course textbook. If your lecturer was an author to the textbook, they get money every time it is purchased. If you cite this in your bibliography, they think you purchased it. It only needs to be referenced once for them to think you purchased it. Shall we need to say anymore? PS. These can be checked out from the library for free, (and your lecturer won’t know the difference).

iv) Websites. Depending on their credibility, websites can be an easy and efficient way to find information. There are some rules of thumb when including websites as references, however. The first is not to cite Wikipedia, Investopedia, or any site ending with pedia.com. These have some great information but are not accepted as credible sources from lecturers. Websites that are considered ‘web journals,’ however, are very credible. These include sites like Financial Times and Wall Street Journal (if you’re in Economics).

v) Novels. If you’re in English, this will almost be necessary. Novels can be checked out at your library for free or found on a bookshelf in your parents house.

vi) Other sources. Your lecturer’s reading list and course expectations may include other sources not mentioned above. You should use these when appropriate.

While you research, you should be making very ‘detailed’ notes.

We’ll dedicate a post to research strategies and efficiency savings at a later date.

3. Write your plan/outline. We know this is an extra step to writing, but making a plan save you enough time in the end that it becomes worth it. While your lecturer will suggest a structure, general plans should include the thesis/topic in the introduction, three main arguments supporting the thesis and relevant counter arguments, and a conclusion.

Tip: Include the journals you intend to quote or use support your arguments in the plan so you can easily refer to them later. This saves time.

4. Write your first draft. If you’ve made your plan, your frist draft should mainly consist of filling the pieces with some writing and supporting facts.

5. Write your final draft and bibliography. Your first draft should include the bulk of research and argument written. Your final draft includes you polishing up your essay and argument so that it looks, feels, and reads like a well-written essay. You can have peers, family members, and tutors review it if there is enough time. If not, try to at least satisfy the following criteria: (1) no spelling or grammar errors (use www.grammarly.com to spot them), (2) all paragraphs must relate back to the main thesis, (3) is properly referenced (www.currikula.com finds extra sources and formats your bibliography), (4) any particular elements your lecturer is expecting.

Referencing and Citations

Since Currikula’s core features at the moment are designed to help you reference we thought it best to include at least one piece on referencing and bibliographies. We could dedicate multiple posts to this, but want you to at least have an idea of what your university and lecturer expect.

Reference Theory

Referencing is used to give credit to others whose work you have used in your essay. Using someone else’s thoughts or ideas is considered plagiarism, and the consequences for doing so are quite severe. Referencing, however, goes beyond avoiding plagiarism and the credibility of your references is directly correlated with the quality of your essay. For example, if your reference list/bibliography consists of Wikipedia, the Daily Mail, and Google Searches, you can expect your grade to be much lower than if it has references from Harvard Business Review, The Economist, and the Financial Times. Both reference lists may have no plagiarism, but the second is almost certainly attached to a higher quality essay.

Referencing Guidelines

The way you reference depends on your course, so you need to check your course and assignment details to get the specifics. For example Currikula formats and uses three main styles; APA, MLA, and Harvard. If you upload your essay to Currikula, the citations we add are automatically formatted in those three formats. Our Bibliography Builder also formats your manually added sources into the format you choose of the three. If you must reference in-text, then we suggest adding the references directly Microsoft Word or your chosen writing platform.

Reference List vs Bibliography

Your course will require you to have either a reference list or a bibliography, but probably not both. They are similar except for one difference. The reference list includes all references that you directly cite in-text, while the bibliography includes all references in your reference list as well as any sources that you read and gain ideas from. A bibliography will always have at least as many references as a reference list for the same essay, but never less. The reference list could have as many references as a bibliography or less, but never more.

Similarity Checking

Your department likely uses a similarity checker (usually Turnitin) which scans billions of web pages as well as previous essays to find similarities with your essay in an attempt to ‘catch’ you for suspicious text which could be considered plagiarism. It is then up to the marker to consider whether there is plagiarism or not. As a general rule, if your text is well cited with many sources then your chance of this occurring is lower (but never guaranteed). That is why Currikula’s Smart Source feature also scans billions of web pages finding similarities and lets you add them to your bibliography at the click of a button.

It may sound complicated, especially at first, but the individual assignment is not too difficult to get a good grade one if you have the important elements nailed down. Have a clear thesis and argument, make sure you don’t side track your thoughts, and be free of spelling errors, grammar errors, and plagiarism.

Check back next week for our tips on group assignments, where we add group dynamics into the mix and prepare you on how best to navigate group politics to get the best grade possible.

For more information about Currikula, please see our previous posts or visit www.currikula.com. You can create an account and use Currikula for free.

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