Many degrees and pathway courses use a variety of assessment methods in terms 2 and 3, prior to the final exams in May. These ongoing assessments contribute to a significant proportion of a student’s final score, meaning that a student must perform strongly in order to achieve a satisfactory overall grade. Equally, a below-average performance in these ongoing assessments requires a student to have very high grades in the final exam for the relevant module, and this requirement adds to the stress and anxiety of the final exam period. So, students should aim for the highest grade they can achieve in their ongoing assessments.
Tips for ‘seen’ exams
One common type of assessment used in the second half of the academic year is the ‘seen exam’. This involves the students being given a topic a week or so before the assessment and being required to make two A4 sides of handwritten notes on the topic which can then be taken into the exam room. The exam questions are related to this topic, and the students use their handwritten notes to inform their answers. When writing these notes, students need to pay careful attention to any additional instructions provided by their lecturer, so, for instance, the need to include examples from a particular time period, or to use a minimum number of theories, or to refer to a specific theory or theories. Equally, students should allow a reasonable amount of time to compile the notes; a page of notes written quickly the night before the assessment is unlikely to be as effective as notes which have been written more slowly then reflected on and improved, over a few days. Also, high-quality notes have flexible examples which can be used to support a range of answers relevant to a number of themes around the main topic. Finally, the notes should include a full end-of-text reference list if in-text references are required in the assessment.
Tips for assessed essays and reports
Assessed coursework is a standard form of ongoing assessment, and usually takes the form of essays or reports. When students perform poorly in these assessments it usually for the same reasons: firstly, the misinterpretation of the question, where the student takes the wrong direction in their answer, perhaps due to misunderstanding some of the language in the question, or due to insufficient study and weak knowledge of the topic. In order to avoid this problem, it is a good idea to check your basic understanding of the question with a lecturer or support tutor. Secondly, time management is a frequent problem – a student should know their coursework schedule for term 2 across all their modules. If there are two pieces of coursework where the second one commences before the deadline for the first, then a student should plan their time accordingly. The other time management problem relates to Harvard referencing in your written work. Students who wait until the few days before the deadline to start their coursework are more likely to be short of time and make errors with quotations, summaries and paraphrasing from their sources. Thirdly, students should prepare research questions before starting the process of research for their coursework. Research questions are questions which set out clearly the information the student needs to find in the research, and usually require a student to develop a structure for their answer as part of the formulation process. The reason for using these research questions is that they encourage a student to look for specific answers whilst researching, rather than aiming for a full understanding of whole source texts.
Tips for academic presentations
Power-point presentations and poster presentations are other standard forms of ongoing assessment. Most commonly, students can struggle to present sufficient levels of critical thinking in these assessments, so it is important that a student compares two arguments or two different sets of statistics, rather than a factual summary of a topic. A good sign that your presentation is evaluative is your ability to offer a strong conclusion which is based on the analysis of two or more opposing data sets. A strong conclusion usually selects one idea as being stronger than another and explains why, or ranks ideas by their relative effectiveness with a justification for each position in the ranking, whereas a weak conclusion offers a summary of the arguments but with no further comment or evaluation. Another problem that students often have with presentations is timing, as the student must present within a time-limit, and it is a good idea to practice sufficiently to know that the presentation can be delivered in the time available. Finally, with poster presentations I recommend choosing your central image very carefully – a strong central image is one which contributes substantial information for analysis and discussion or one which acts as a detailed counterpart to your notes and memory. Data graphics such as charts and graphs work well, as do relevant maps and labelled diagrams. However, photographs of individuals or brand logos are typically less successful.
In conclusion, remember the basic rule of drafting when writing assignments, which is that a first draft written quickly in the early stages of the coursework period and then improved and refined over the next few weeks will always become a stronger finished essay than one which is written once near the deadline following weeks of research.