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Stay calm and read the instructions

In Australia, we are now a few weeks into the semester and students will soon have assignments to submit. Now is the time to stop and breathe. Carefully read what has to be done, and when it has to be done by.

Apart from the content, marks are often lost because the instructions are not read carefully. This is particularly related to instructions about presentation, referencing, and lateness. Here are some tips to avoid losing these marks.

1. Presentation
Font, size and spacing.
If the instructions state that you are to use Arial 11 or Times New Roman 12, with 1.5 spacing, you must choose either Arial 11 or Times New Roman 12. Do not lose marks because you think Avenir 10 is nicer, and you prefer single spacing. These requirements can easily be set in the formatting tool on your computer. 

Front cover information
Clearly show your full name and student number, as well as any other required information. This includes the subject code, subject name, date, and sometimes the name of the teacher, lecturer, or tutor. Footers and headers, even page numbers, are not usually required on the front cover.

Remaining pages
Typically, your name, student number, the name of the assessment, the due date, and the subject number are required in the header. Page numbers are generally located on the right-hand side of the footer. Read the instructions for the specific requirements.

2. References
All sources must be cited within the body of your work. This shows the reader you based your answers on credible sources. It also provides readers with the opportunity to extend their reading on the subject by going to the original source.

Some of the popular referencing styles include Harvard, APA 6th and MLA, but there are more. It is good to understand the key requirements for in-text citations and the presentation of the list of references. Do look at available referencing software, such as Mendeley and EndNote. Both Mendeley and Endnote add in-text citations and the list of references as required for a particular style. Both Mendeley and EndNote provide a great place to store your PDFs, images and other materials. I will add hyperlinks to Mendeley at the bottom of this post. Both Mendeley and EndNote are good; however, Mendeley is free, whereas EndNote is usually only accessed via your institution. There are tutorials for both Mendeley and EndNote on YouTube. I would certainly take the time to learn how to use either software.

Students may be required to refer to a specific number of sources, or only use the articles or texts required from a list they are provided with by their lecturer or tutor. Check you have the required number of sources. Additionally, if the requirement is for academic sources, you need to find academic journals. These can be found in your school or university library online database. The National Library of Australia, as well as your state and local libraries, provide access to online journals. I will provide tips about researching in a later post. Textbooks and theses written for an Honours degree, Masters or PhD are academic sources. Wikipedia is not considered an academic source, but it is acceptable to look at Wikipedia. Some of the posts on Wikipedia provide links to academic sources and these can be beneficial in the early stages of your research into a topic. Do not forget ‘Google Scholar’ this is another great resource, which I will cover in a later post. I will add a hyperlink at the bottom of this post.

Always check the instructions to see if you have been given limits in terms of the year in which you are to find articles. For example, if you are instructed to find five academic articles from 2014 to 2019, do not lose marks solely because you referred to three articles from 1977.

3. The due date
Yes, the due date is the ‘due’ date, not the ‘do’ date! When you start the semester or term, map your assessments on a calendar. If the semester is 12 weeks in duration, and the essay is due in Week 6 start planning early in the semester. Do not wait until three days before the assessment is due. There is usually more than one assessment due at the same time; you must allow for this. Mark any special occasions on your calendar. If you are going to a wedding you probably will not feel like going to the library the morning after the wedding. Schedule your researching and writing to maximise your time and minimise stress. You can exercise, have time to socialise and study, but take the time to plan a schedule.

Some schools give extensions for assessments; however, at university, there has to be an extenuating circumstance to be given an extension. Imagine writing an essay and submitting it four days after the due date. The penalty for late assessments is usually 5% per day late. If your essay is graded as 75%, a distinction level, but it is four days late you lose 20%. Your grade becomes 55% and is reduced to a pass. Even worse, imagine your essay is graded as 55% and you lose 20%. It is usually better to submit the assessment by the due date, even if it is not perfect, rather than lose marks for lateness.

In summary, take the time to read the instructions and you will be so much better off. If in doubt, ask for help that’s ok too.

Have a great 2019 and enjoy studying.

Best wishes Julie



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