Assessments & getting started

Most courses require a range of assessment tasks to be completed. These include:

  • Essays, to evaluate your critical thinking, writing skills, and your ability to engage with the theory.
  • Reports and Case Studies which require a detailed analysis or evaluation of problem.
  • Practical tasks, to evaluate your capabilities in an area, e.g., in a chemistry experiment, dance studio, or a nursing lab.
  • Presentations, to evaluate your speaking ability and how well you communicate information to a group.
  • Exams, to determine how much you have remembered and whether you can apply concepts to various practical scenarios or situations.

These tasks are used to work out how much you have learned during a course. They usually attract the highest marks.

There are also tasks which allow for the lecturer to give you feedback on how you are progressing during a course. These can be in the form of short quizzes in Moodle, short answer questions, essay outlines or other practical tasks.  These usually carry the lowest marks, but it is still important to complete them.

All assessments, whether summative or formative, relate to the learning outcomes described in the course of study.  It is important to know what they are, when they are due, complete all of them diligently, and submit them on time.

Read about various types of written task.

What's the point of assessment?

Assessment is not about simply regurgitating information. In every assessment, you are expected to demonstrate:

  • your understanding of the material and theory
  • meaningful interaction with the subject matter
  • that you are developing your understanding and opinions about a given discipline-specific topic
  • your capacity to discuss a topic in a professional academic context.

Your lecturer is also looking for you to demonstrate an ability to respond to and follow instructions. Can you write an essay, or deliver an oral presentation, and follow the relevant discipline-specific conventions? These conventions include style, terminology, expected level of conceptual analysis, appropriate methodological techniques, citation and referencing systems, and also formatting and word count.

Analyse the task

The topic for a written assignment is usually specific in terms of the writing genre (essay, report, case study, etc.), yet will allow for a range of answers. Some topics may be broad. Check the course description and assessment criteria to see what skills or knowledge your lecturer is asking you to demonstrate.

Your first step is to analyse the topic, which includes checking that you understand the meaning of each word in the question. This involves breaking down the question to clarify what is required in your answer. Isolate any instructional words – these are used by your lecturer to explain how they want you to respond. Here are some of the common ones:

  • account for– give reasons for
  • analyse– divide into parts and describe each part and explain their relationship; discuss a problem
  • assess– decide how important something is and give your reasons
  • describe– give details, recount or relate in sequence to illustrate the topic
  • discuss– give both sides of an argument (evidence) and then your own opinion (NB: ‘discuss’ can be used by lecturers to mean ‘describe’ – clarify this with them directly.)
  • evaluate– look at reasons for and against, draw conclusions (you may judge in favour of one side)
  • explain– clarify and interpret meaning in order to show reasons, causes and effects
  • see more

This is the time for critical thinking, so analyse the question when you are at your sharpest.

Read more about topic analysis.


Once you have broken down the question, you are ready to start planning your research. Research broadens and deepens your understanding of a given topic. Being more familiar with the language commonly used in your field of study will help you produce ideas for the task. And the only way to become familiar with it, is to get your hands on discipline-specific academic literature, and read, read, and read some more.

Start your search with:

  • the course description
  • the reading list given to you by your lecturer or tutor
  • the course Moodle forum – look for posts specific to the literature

Research also helps you to support your argument, by lending authority to your statements. It’s essential to research for every assignment to show that you’re not making things up.

Once you have all the literature clues supplied by your lecturer and tutor, your next job is to start your research.

Task outline

Creating an outline helps you manage your research notes, and also gets you started on writing. It is a basic structure that gives your work some shape while you figure out how your research fits together.

Record the source of your material so that you can find it again. Take notes about why you think the evidence is relevant, and start building a list of references with the first source you use. This will reduce the time it takes to collect them at the end of your work.

Your assignment outline may look something like this:

First main point (topic sentence)

  • Evidence / support (reference)
  • Your notes
  • Evidence / support (reference)
  • Your notes
Second main point (topic sentence)

  • Evidence / support (reference)
  • Your notes
  • Evidence / support (reference)
  • Your notes

Consolidate your material by grouping similar issues together and looking for connections. Cut out material that doesn’t answer the question. 

Review & brainstorm

Pause to review the information in your outline. Ensuring you have explored all aspects of the topic early will (hopefully) prevent you from answering a different question.

Brainstorming the topic once you have an outline will contribute to your search for relevant information. It will help to identify the gaps in your knowledge of the topic.

Not sure how to brainstorm?

These helpsheets may give you some visual cues:


Producing a piece of written work is not a straight line. You can expect to write several drafts before your assessment task begins to take shape.

Only commence a draft once you have confirmed the format in which your assessment task should be written. The structure of essays, reports, literature reviews, reflective journals, annotated bibliographies (and so on) is different in most disciplines.

Set yourself word counts for each part of your structure, if relevant. Next, take that outline and start building your paragraphs around the topic sentences, accompanied by the source references where applicable.

Expect the drafting process to take time. You need to draft, then revise, then re-draft, and possibly rewrite whole sections. Stay focused and think critically about your writing.


If you are unfamiliar with the referencing conventions at university (as many students are when they start), then read about referencing basics.

Read about writing in an academic style, refer to the section on writing.

Getting feedback

It can help to put your work aside for a couple of days to give yourself some distance from it. Often, if we work intensely on a piece of writing, we lose sensitivity to details and our helpful brain will ‘read in’ words that are not actually written down.

Seeking advice about your work once you have achieved a full draft will also give you a new perspective on what you have written. Professional staff at the University can guide you in the process of writing so that you know what to look out for.

Numerous services are available at Federation University to support you with your academic writing. Read about them.

Editing & proofreading

You have put considerable effort into researching and writing, so it is important to ensure nothing detracts from your work. This includes details such as misspellings, punctuation and inconsistent fonts.

Consider whether someone who is unfamiliar with your topic could reasonably understand your sentences. If not, or your sentences are longer than a couple of lines, consider cutting your sentence length.

In preparing your final draft, schedule time for:


Rubrics are just one type of marking guide that could be used to determine your final mark. They include a formula that breaks down marks into areas, and they look something like this:


A rubric shows where you will get marks and the weighting of those areas. Whenever you receive a rubric or another marking guide, have it with you as you work on that assignment. This allows you to include the elements that your marker is hoping to see, and the weighting gives you a clear idea of the time you need to spend on certain areas.

For instance, you might receive five marks for addressing pancake size, but detailing how delicious they are will give you twenty marks. Clearly you need to spend more time writing about pancakes’ taste than their size. In this way, a rubric is a handy guide on how to complete your assignment.

Image credit: By Cleonard1973 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons