Unpacking assessment tasks

To succeed in assessment, the first step is to understand the question you have been given. If you misunderstand the question, it is very difficult to plan your response successfully. Before you begin, consider the type of writing required, it could be an essay, a case study, a report, or a poster. Each style has a different purpose and structure. It's crucial to identify the specific type before analysing the assignment. Follow these steps:

1. Read the Task

Read the entire task without taking notes to get an overview.

2. Identify Components

Break down the task into key components like description, instructions, criteria, and questions.

3. Highlight Keywords

Highlight important words like action verbs, limitations, and content requirements. Do this by

– Identify the Subject/Topic:

Ask yourself, "What is the subject/topic of the question?" This is usually evident in the question itself. For example, in the question "Discuss the social impact of computers in the last decade," the subject/topic is ‘computers’. You must stick to the topic of computers in this assignment, don’t discuss other things, such as mobile phones. A common error in new writers is scope creep, where they begin to go off topic by discussing other topics.

– Identify the Instruction Word(s):

Determine what the essay is asking you to do, whether it's discussing, critically evaluating, describing, or analysing. These instructions guide the depth of your analysis. In the given example, the instruction is to 'discuss,' meaning you describe, evaluate, support arguments with evidence, and interpret significance. There is a list of instruction words for your information here.

– Identify the Key Aspects:

Recognise specific areas or key aspects mentioned in the question. Focusing on these aspects ensures your research and writing address the question accurately. In the example question, the key aspect is the social impact of computers. Make sure you don’t engage in scope creep and write about other aspects.

– Identify Limiting Words or Phrases:

Be aware of limiting words or phrases that define the scope, such as specific time periods, places, or issues. For instance, if the question is about the social impact of computers in the last decade, focus on information from the past ten years, and disregard data from earlier periods.

4. Understand Purpose

Identify the task's purpose, whether it's testing understanding, analytical skills, or demonstrating a specific skill.

5. Clarify Ambiguities

Note unclear terms and seek clarification from instructors or peers. If you don’t understand something, ask early, don’t wait till the assessment is due.

6. Check Criteria

Look for assessment criteria or rubrics to understand how your work will be evaluated. At JCU all assessment items must have a rubric.

7. Break Tasks into Subtasks

If the task is complex, break it into smaller subtasks for better organisation. Set yourself dates when you will complete each subtask.

8. Consider Resources

Identify specified resources or constraints, like sources (journal articles or books), format (referencing styles), or word limits.

9. Plan Your Approach

Plan your approach based on task understanding. Create a timeline and outline key points.

10. Create an Outline

Develop an outline to cover all components and keep you focused.

11. Review and Revise

Before submitting, review requirements to ensure alignment with instructions. Revise as needed for better quality.

By unpacking systematically, you'll better understand what's expected, approaching the task with confidence.

Essay Writing Basics Video 1: Planning for Essay Writing

Essay Writing Basics Video 1: Planning for Essay Writing