The 5 stages of starting an assignment

It appears as though semester two is well and truly underway again. Now is the time to start (if you haven’t already) moving through the motions of those assessment pieces, and for those of us graduating or taking a holiday over summer, these will be the final few for 2014! What’s not to cheer about? Oh that’s right… all the work we have to do beforehand. I was thinking… why don’t we make this a little bit easier for each other and share some of our rituals for how to get the ball rolling on our assignment work? I usually only get the opportunity to speak to classmates studying the same degree as me about what I get up to around assignment time and I think it would be really valuable to start bouncing ideas around with other faculties too!

Let’s get started, here are my top 5 super-secret psychology student assignment preparation stages:

1. Find your motivation and set yourself up for SUCCESS!
I personally like to blu-tac my study schedule to my lounge room wall so my goals are always there as a reminder to stay on track. If you’re a little bit edgy and competitive, maybe pair up with a fellow classmate and devise a challenge. Who can keep to a weekly assignment writing schedule? Word of warning: WINNER TAKES ALL. Kidding, but maybe the overall champ gets an IOU for coffee?

USQ success

2. Prepare… your time!
Prepare to be flexible when things might go off track and don’t beat yourself up if and when it happens. If you are working on a group assignment, allow yourself even more time so that you can be flexible and understanding of other team members time committments. Remember that there are some incredibly valuable skills to be gained from group work, and you may even begin building some new friendships!

3. Organise food and drinks to ensure you remain well-fed and hydrated.
This is not difficult for me because I love procrasti-eating, but sometimes I do need to remind myself to take a break, stretch and grab a glass of water. I think it is important to be organised before you sit down to do some serious assignment writing by preparing a yummy study snack and having a bottle of water on hand.

4. Become mobile.
Set yourself up with a cloud storage account so you are able to access your assignment anywhere. Because USQ has set us all up with UDrive, this is easier than ever. MS Office is also free on mobile phones now and for those of us who are pretty tech savvy individuals, this can make studying on the go that little bit easier.

5. Get started!
Finally,  get comfy and pull out your study materials. You might be here for a while so it makes sense to make yourself right at home in your chosen study zone. I have heard of all kinds of elaborate set-ups during my time studying at uni, but my preferred study space is on the couch with a desk or two and lots of cushions to support my back.

These stages are critical for me to get the ball rolling on the assignment writing process, but they can change depending on the type of assignment.

There is always a new, different or smarter way of starting an assignment and I would love to hear yours!

Group work: playing to your strengths

Today we’re discussing what a lot of students see as the dreaded, soul-crushing experience of group work. I know a lot of people really, really, really dislike group work and I understand why. There’s usually one person who doesn’t show up or do their part and gives you a lame excuse. I once worked on a group assignment with a guy who would show up, but then literally fall asleep in the back of the room. Although he provided us with endless entertainment (we used to see how many pens we could stuff in his jumper pockets or how many sticky-notes we could stick to his body before he would wake up, he wasn’t very helpful when it came to the assignment. Had we been studying sleeping patterns, this may have been a different story. But guess what? Group work is an important part of uni life, so we need to learn how to make the most of it!

eliza teamwork theory

When we are first told we have to take part in a group assignment, our first thought is often ‘Why do group assignments even exist?’

Well… it’s unlikely you’ll ever find a job where you never interact with others. Unless your job is to be the first person to live on the moon or something like that. And when you think about it, a lot of awesome things wouldn’t exist without people working in a group. We wouldn’t have movies, much music, buildings… we’d all essentially be living like Tom Hanks in Castaway, yelling ‘Wiiiiiillllllsssssssooooonnnnnnnnn!’ at a volleyball with a face on it. In fact, we wouldn’t even have this analogy because that movie wouldn’t even exist. So, you see, group work is important.

When assigning the roles in your group, try to pick a job that you’ll enjoy, no matter what time of day it is or how stressed you are. Also, try to pick a role that’s going to help you in the long run. For example, I want to be a journalist, so I try to pick roles that involve writing or talking. And if you’re feeling up to it, challenge yourself! University is a safe place to make mistakes and ask for help, so you should feel comfortable knowing that if you get in a little over your head, you can always ask for a hand.

When you first plan the assignment, make sure everyone’s roles are as clear as possible so there won’t be any overlapping and all the gaps will be filled. It’s also important to communicate when you have a problem! If Disney movies have taught me anything (aside from the fact that I will probably never be a mermaid) it’s that you should always be straight up about how you’re feeling about someone.They might not realise they’re upsetting anyone, so by telling them, they can do something about it. Just make sure you go about it in the nicest way possible. Be gentle and positive in the words you use, and try to remind them of why this assignment, and their contribution, is so important. And don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. If you explain to your group that you’re struggling, they may be able to help you, and should be more willing to, considering that your problems affect the group.

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Be careful to maintain a balance between your individual role and the ‘working together as a group’ part of the assignment. If you’re the sort of person who has a tendency to take over, then listen up! One of the things you learn by doing group assignments is how to trust others. I know you’re just trying to be caring when you’re looming over your group mates asking them constantly if they’ve written their three paragraphs yet, but they probably won’t see it that way.

teamwork

A way to do this is to inspire your team mates by reminding them how important the end goal is. For example, if you have a Facebook group for your assignment, every now and then post a reminder of what it’s going to take to get a High Distinction. This will inspire others to do their work and keep you motivated too.

So you see, guys? Working in a group doesn’t have to be horrible! Just remember that the people you’re working with are all in it to reach a common goal. You probably have a lot in common with your team mates and they are there to support you if you need help. Most importantly, you’re learning important teamwork skills that will help you succeed in the workplace.

How to set your study expectations!

Are you wondering how to manage all the study that is ahead of you each semester? Are all the things you want to achieve whizzing around in your head and you’re not sure where to go from there? The answer to this problem is… Goals!

Goal setting is an effective study strategy that will help you reach that long-term goal of wearing your cap and gown (as well as a smile from ear to ear that will be almost impossible to erase) on graduation day. Then there are also the all-important short-term goals like assignments, lectures and actually doing the study each week. It is important to think about your study goals because they will help you stay motivated, focused and able to maintain direction each week. But be sure to make your goals realistic, achievable and do not over extend yourself.

Remember that goals must be smart:

How to set proper, smart goals

I have found that writing down a list of my goals is an excellent place to start each semester. This gives me a starting place to take action, so that I am more likely to accomplish my goals. Writing the goals down and keeping them in highly visible places such as on a whiteboard in my study room at home and in my lecture notes, keeps me on task all semester long.

This is the whiteboard I set up in my study space at the beginning of each semester that lists all my goals!

This is the whiteboard I set up in my study space at the beginning of each semester that lists all my goals!

Before I start each semester, I also draw up a study schedule detailing the weekly study requirements for each of my courses. I list what chapters to read, any extra articles that need to be read and modules that have to be completed. I include all my assignments (and the due dates) on my study schedule to ensure that an assignment does not slip by me during a busy week. I highly recommend having a whiteboard in your study area at home, because it is a great way to keep track of everything that is going on in your uni life. I have drawn up a table on one side of mine which lists the Who, When, What, Where and Why of my assignments and exams so that I cannot avoid them.

The ‘who’, ‘when’, ‘where’ and ‘what’ are obvious, but the ‘why’ aspect is because ‘I’ want to do it for my own self-esteem and my future. These assignments stare back at me on a daily basis as a reminder of the expectations that I have set for myself. If you are not sure how to draw up a study schedule there are numerous sites on the internet that have templates. You could always use your uni calendar to achieve the same results and display it in a noticeable position.

Study expectations

But for all your planning, there may be times that things don’t quite work out how you would like. It is important to be flexible with your goals. This will help relieve stress when your goals and expectations seem unattainable. Break them down into smaller more actionable steps. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses will help you to accomplish your expectations and goals.

The most important part of setting your study expectations, preparing, planning and organising your study, is that it empowers you. You are in control of your education, you can see how far you have come and how far you have to go. Critical to this is that you can celebrate your progress. I always make a point of doing something special when the last assignment is marked off my whiteboard each semester. It is not uncommon to see me dancing around the room.

Being in control of your study and setting your expectations is vitally important to the development of your will power to succeed!

Set goals and be successful

If you have some special way that you set your study goals or expectations, let us know!

How to get motivated and smash out that assignment!

I love to study and I love to learn. But let’s face it, assignments can be a bit of a drag. Yes, I enjoy the intellectual challenge, but the stress of getting the task done on time and showing my knowledge adequately to the marker can sometimes get the best of me. I know that all will be fine in the end – I have successfully completed numerous assignments to date – but that doesn’t stop me from feeling under pressure every time, right up until I hit that ‘submit’ button.

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So, is all this pressure and stress worth it in the end? Damn straight it is! Your hard work and dedication will be rewarded by a fabulous grade (hopefully!) and you will be able to reflect upon the journey that helped you arrive at your newfound knowledge that came as a result of preparing your assignment. Learning and knowledge truly are fabulous motivators for me. But I also love to reward myself further with unrelated intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. Something that gives me the motivation to keep energised and get the assignment completed as best I can.

The idea is that these rewards are reinforcing – you are more likely to work hard to get this and your next assignments done as you will want the reward you know is available upon completion. It helps beat procrastination (which I am often very guilty of) and keeps us going as our energy levels deplete and we feel like calling it quits. Keep in mind that rewards don’t necessarily mean you have to buy something. Rewarding yourself simply ensures that something positive will follow on from your successfully completing an assignment.

Cappuccino with smiley face and chocolate chip cookie.

The type of reward should be something of value to you – something that makes you want to work hard and get the assignment done (before the last minute, if possible!). I like to do something that I haven’t had time for while working on assignments, such as catching up on my favourite TV shows (e.g. Orange is the New Black or Covert Affairs), chatting with friends online who live far away or reading a book I’ve wanted to get stuck into. You might prefer to go for a massage or spend the night online gaming – choose whatever it is that will motivate YOU!

And if you’re really struggling to get the assignment done and that reward upon finishing seems like it will never come, reward yourself along the way. Break your assignment up into segments or smaller tasks and plan smaller rewards for completing each of those. It could be a delicious mocha once you’ve got the basic outline of your assignment planned or a walk in your garden to stretch your legs after doing the necessary background reading. Again, it’s important to choose rewards that will motivate you. With the smaller rewards, aim to make them less time consuming – your ultimate goal is, of course, to get the assignment finished (and get that big reward).

Feeling when assignment finished

Smash out those assignments and enjoy the rewards!

Driving all the way from School to University!

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It was not truly that long ago that I graduated from high school, only 2011. I am now going into my third year of my psychology degree; however I still remember some differences between high school life and university life which I would have found useful to know at the time! I learned the hard way – through trial and error.

That development for me almost felt like a rite of passage; I had to find out the wrong and right way of going through university. I found it similar to learning how to drive. Not too much on the accelerator, not enough on the clutch; not enough on the accelerator, too much on the clutch. It was a trial and error before finding that balance. Now, by my third year, I’ve had a few stalls, I’ve had a few (accidental) tyre spins, and I’ve definitely had a few heart wrenching moments of ‘oh no, I didn’t see that car there and now I have one week before its due and this isn’t going to be good!’.

But, of course, there is sometimes that perfect, smooth, rolling start that made me feel like a Craig Lowndes ripping it down Conrod Straight during the Bathurst 1000 and this was similar to some facets of my start of university. I had my ups and downs; however the ups were definitely more prevalent than the downs!

Probably the main pearl of wisdom that I can give any school-leaver is to become knowledgeable in the USQ StudyDesk. Realistically, it has everything you need to pass the courses you are studying. There will be the lecture slides, the tutorial information, the study and introductory book, messages from the lecture and many other bits and pieces that you will find necessary to survive your first semester of university!

Have a decent understanding of the StudyDesk and all of its ins and outs, so that you can have a fair go at finding information throughout semester. You don’t want to finally understand how it all works by the end of semester, especially not after that 50% assignment is due, which had all the information on StudyDesk, but you weren’t able to find it because you had no idea where to look…

During school, I presume your school email wasn’t as important as your email for university will be. A great amount of the information you need for your learning will be sent through email.  Regularly checking your email is a great way to stay up-to-date with all your study requirements and find out what’s happening.

A surprising aspect of uni is the laid-back, easy nature of many of my lecturers: first name basis, happy to have chats during the breaks, and all round nice genuine people! I know, shocking. I even had a lecturer buy me pizza once (long story). So, just remember, lecturers are friends, not food.

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Finding Nemo reference, come on! Surely you get it!?

The last thing that I want to mention is the importance of the lecture slides that you will be using each week. Many students find it useful to go over them before the lecture, so they have a grasp at what they will be learning that day, or to print them off and highlight and elaborate on the dot points that are already on the slides. This is a perfect way to learn and retain the information that is received during a lecture.

I hope these hints have enlightened and helped you understand the bits and pieces that are different, and yet similar between high school and university study and life!

Tackling Semester 3

The half-time whistle was blown a couple of weeks ago now, and this soccer match is nearly at a close. It is unbelievable to think that the end of Semester 3 is nearly in sight. At the half-time kick-off, we welcomed a New Year, twenty-fourteen, two-zero-one-four. Some may see this as a new start. Others may feel no different – so much so that they are still writing 2013 as the date instead of 2014. Whether you are one or the other, I hope for everyone that this year is a remarkable one.

As far as New Year’s Resolutions go – I’m not very good at keeping them. So what I’ve decided to do this year is set smaller targets, more achievable ones.  At half-time, I thought back to the first half of the game and it was clear to me what I had to improve on to reach my desired result at the end of the match, and for future matches. I think saying “I’m going to have all my assignments done two weeks before they are due, instead of staying up to midnight the night they’re due” is a bit far-fetched for someone like me. Two weeks before the due date? Unlikely! So, rather than leaving it to the last minute, my 2014 goal is to at least make a start on my assignments as soon as I feel I have covered enough content and know all the requirements to begin. That way, I am less likely to wind up in a panic the night it’s due.

I kept this in mind for my second assessment item for Semester 3. Just like playing differently to how you had intended to in a soccer game or receiving an unexpected injury, study plans can also change and other things may interfere. I have found that the best thing you can do is to keep your head up and work harder throughout the rest of the game. Catch up as soon as you can catch your breath and your chances of getting the ball into the back of the net are still looking good. Keeping this in mind is how I plan to stick to my main New Year study resolution.

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Having a drink break

Now for a quick summary on the past events of my holidays. So far they have played out like I had planned in my previous blog with a couple of extras: a birthday surrounded by family and friends, both X-Factor Live Tour and Taylor Swift concerts, work, playing in a representative soccer team as well as a casual five-a-side game every week, consuming A LOT of food at Christmas time in addition to getting WAY too spoilt, a little retail therapy here and there… the list goes on. Yep, just in case you’re confused, this is still a Semester 3 student speaking!

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Working in a clothing store over the holidays has been a great experience – something different to what I’ve ever done before. We also stock the school uniforms for our community. Becoming a teacher and having the opportunity to see the little Preppies come in to try on their first school uniforms ever is such a treat!

While studying this time of year can very much be challenging, it is important that we take time out to simply even take in the word ‘holidays’. Even the greatest soccer players in the world can’t play their best for a whole 90 minute match without having a break between substitutions during the game and/or at half time. Maybe this is easier for me to say compared to my Semester 3 peers as I have decided to only tackle one subject this time round, yet I believe that USQ allows enough flexibility for us to do so. With Semester 3 conveniently only being offered through an online mode and study materials usually accessible at any time required, I have found that we are able to run at our own pace and time.  It’s important that we stop for that drink break when we are tired. It is OK that we rest for a minute, just like the others have, as long as we can find the motivation to run back on again. Hearing “are you coming out tonight?” or “I’m just off to the beach for a week” from your friends as a Semester 3 student is sometimes a bit hard to swallow around due date periods but I’m sure it will pay off in the end!

Coming head-to-head with Exams

Although studying isn’t a team situation for the majority, around exam time it can be! With exams coming up, just like team members come together to a training session for a match, so can a group of friends for study. Sections can be broken up so that each person in the group can bring something to the field and everything will come together. Not only is this less work for everyone but there’s also a chance that someone might know something you don’t. And there’s where you score a goal. Score line – Self: 1, Confused-self: 0.

Without guidance from the coach, players are less likely to perform at their best ability. Ask your lecturers questions, and always listen to the advice they give. They love to help and the weight off your shoulders is enormous when you do. After all, they only want you to succeed and are well-informed of the rules of the game. Plus, the referee will only abide by these when it’s time to umpire!

Another few important things to remember: eat well, keep hydrated, get plenty of sleep, study hard with a balance of regular breaks, and most importantly – DON’T STRESS OUT! Believe that you can do it and everything will fall into place. Don’t forget to reward yourself; they say that a new year brings new things. Being the soapie fanatic I am, I know I can’t wait for the new season of Home and Away (although some may find this sad) to enjoy once I submit my last assignment for Semester 3. There’s also teaching prac, rep soccer and many more things to look forward to this year that will get me through the rest of the semester and remind me that studying, even when others aren’t, IS worth it.

What are you looking forward to this year?

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For those who have exams and/or assignments to complete, all the best and I hope the full-time whistle brings you all you desire. To the others, enjoy the rest of your holidays!

Kristie

Assignments: The good, the bad and the ugly.

In contemplating this blog entry I spent some time trying to work out how to put assignments in a positive light. “Put assignments in a positive light, put assignments in a positive light…” Ahem, has it ever been done before? I’m pretty sure the only people who love assignments are lecturers, examiners and tutors. Fortunately I remembered the title:
Good – bad – ugly. Then I thought: “Hang on a minute, this is a great time to turn the title into an equation!” (as all good engineers think) and came up with this:

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So to sum that up, two thirds of this post is most likely going to be negative, due to the nature of assignment work itself, sorry!

Introduction aside, let me begin now with the ugly.

“Inhale, exhale, focus…” It’s the day that an assignment is due and you’ve just discovered that, to your dismay, the assignment is a lot bigger than you had first imagined. Oops.

I recently submitted an assignment that hit me like a tonne of bricks, in a very similar way to the description above and I found my self battling to scale the behemoth that the assignment became. This time I got a lucky break though, the majority of students were struggling alongside me and our lecturer extended the due date to the whole class *sigh of relief*. So what do you do to prevent assignment work from sneaking up on you? Here’s my list of quick tips for getting assignments done on time.

  1. Know what assignment work you have coming up. I use my Red Frogs calendar from the beginning of the year to “see” what my next couple of weeks looks like assignment wise. Put up details such as weightings alongside the note and put it in a place that you’ll see it easily.
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  2. Start early. Read over the assignment and make some notes in the couple of weeks before the assignment is due. There is strong research to suggest that the mind’s ability to process problems subconsciously greatly assists in conscious problem solving efforts.
  3. Set a date to begin the assignment, spend some time researching areas that need to be researched and start writing out a draft copy of the assignment.
  4. After finishing a draft, go back over it and read it though, also getting friends or family to have a look and iron out any mistakes you have made. Edit the errors and fill in the gaps before submitting right on time – or early hopefully!

The bad:

Long hours, late nights and minimal social activity. That’s the reality of the mid semester, the agony of assignments week after week and multiple assignments due on the same day. The reality is that assignment work takes WORK. Being at uni isn’t like, dare I say it, a council job. When push comes to shove, lecturers, tutors and the examiners expect a standard of work from each student and to meet the standard and we get to spend hours of time researching, cataloguing references, penning arguments, solving equations, troubleshooting computer codes, rehearsing musical pieces, etc. We’re all familiar with it. It hurts.

To avoid some of the pain, make sure you take the time for breaks and strategise with your time. It is a good thing to take breaks periodically to get refreshed and be inspired. Personally, if I have been working on lots of math and physics related work and equations I’ll play guitar or do some songwriting in my break to switch between the left side of the brain to the right. I find it helpful and I am more refreshed after regaining my focus.

Another bad part of assignment work is the time component. I recently spent over 20 hours on a 10% assignment – LEARN FROM ME! Don’t waste too much time on assignments that aren’t worth much. If you’re finding yourself having trouble, go to your lecturer of tutor and ask questions of jump on the forums. It helps ALOT, and you won’t neglect your other subjects.

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Finally, the good.

If anything good comes from assignment work it is these two things:

Firstly, the immense satisfaction of submitting the finished assignment. I love the moment that you see that the submission has gone through and then end knowing that you never have to work on that assignment again. Oh the joy!

Secondly, you actually learn something (most of the time). As much as is seems that the examiner is trying to torture you, the staff at university really want students so succeed, hence creating assignments that will challenge and grow us into students who are better equipped, more knowledgeable and perhaps even have a better work ethic at the end of our degrees than we did at the start. Think about how body builders build muscle: body builders strain and push against resistance, causing pain to themselves as the muscle fibres tear. Immediately after this resistance, the body begins to repair itself, “building” more muscle over the torn fibres and building strength. Assignments cause a similar process, resistance and growth.

Push forward into the resistance as the assignments continue this semester because despite the bad and the ugly, there will be good that comes from it.

Signing out, Josh.

A Formal Distraction

I think I can safely say on behalf of everyone around the world who is studying, we all need a long holiday to revitalise our minds. Even though we’re only into the third week of this short term, I have already completed 2 assignments with another 3 due this week. With 7 due this term, I’m sure I’m not the only one who will celebrate when it’s all over. I cannot wait for the holidays, a time where I do not have to think about how to manage a crisis or which grab to use from an interview.

Thankfully, living on college has its perks. Concannon is full of distractions for those moments when my brain is too fried to string together a logical sentence. So instead of thinking about stressful things such as assignments and exams, I am going to take you to a land not so far away where Golf Day and Formal are an annual distraction from the lead up to those pesky exams.

The first Thursday back at Concannon, groups of 4 crowded around Clifton Golf Course in crazy costumes armed with cans of Red Bull to give us wings – or at least our golf balls. As can be expected from a group of girls in the hot sun and uncomfortable costumes, we completed the first two holes before having a well-deserved break which lasted the entire afternoon. A BBQ lunch and a few drinks later, the day ended with a bus ride home full of rowdy singing boys.

The hype of Golf Day did not last long with preparations for Formal becoming stressful leading up to the event. Formal is the time of year that everyone anticipates. It reminds us of high-school graduation, except this time most of us can drink. With a few things going horribly wrong (smoking lights) there was stress that the decorations could possibly become a fire hazard. To the relief of our social co-ordinator, Rianna, the night went off without a hitch. The girls were ready several hours before-hand, while the boys were running a little bit late, particularly my boyfriend, Dean, who was putting his tie on 2 minutes before the group photo. However, the dining hall beautifully displayed the Winter Wonderland theme and the non-alcoholic daiquiris were a hit!


While it is very important to get assignments completed and handed in on time, it’s just as important to remember to relax and let go every now and then. By organising time for Concannon events into my study schedule, I can revitalise my mind to string those simple-but-complex-sounding sentences together and hopefully get better grades.

Now, I guess I should get back to studying.