“Academics are like vampires...”

Like almost everything in life there is a knack to doing well in an Open University assignment (and this probably carries through to other kinds of assignments to). Knowing your stuff will get you a pass, but putting these tips into practice will turn that into a good pass, or even a distinction. This is my experience and things I’ve picked up from tutors and other students over the course of six modules from Level 1 through to Postgraduate.

OU tutors are busy people and they are following a marking scheme. Mostly they are looking to find out how well you’ve passed the Tutor Marked Assignment (TMA) or End of Module Assignment (EMA). So you need to make it as easy as possible for them to give you the best mark possible for the work you’ve done.

There are six easy to follow steps to this.

1. Read the assignment question and answer it.

This one is obvious, but the post assignment feedback from tutors shows that it doesn’t always get followed. Not doing this makes you fail.

The time to read the question before you start working through the relevant course material. TMAs are usually structured to follow the course material, often they specifically reference a unit. If you have the EMA question at the start of the course then read it then. Otherwise read it as soon as it becomes available and plan your revision on how you answer the EMA. TMAs & EMAs are open book, so you have time to read the correct bit of the course material to help you answer.

DO read the question, get clues from it, and then answer exactly what is asked.

DON’T write the answer you hoped for.

2. Use the Whole Word Count

TMAs and EMAs have a word count limit, this always comes with a 10% leeway. You must use the whole word count, and some of the leeway.

Bank on writing as much as you need to answer each part of the question, and then trim it down on an edit when you are finished. The more quality information you get into the given word count the higher your mark can be. The material needs to be in there for the marker to find.

DO pay attention to the mark allocation for each question, your word count and time should reflect the marks available for each part.

3. Have a clear open structure

  • Use bullet points where appropriate
  • wide margins (2.5 – 3cm) & white space (break up paragraphs)
  • 12 point font, 1.5 line spacing (more than x1, not as much as x2)

4. Sign post your answers

make it very easy to scan the TMA/EMA

Use headings for each part of a question that you answer, be careful of multiple part questions and split out your answers to each part to ensure that a marker can just tick them off as you list them on their first read through.

use diagrams carefully (e.g. use a table for SWOT analysis)

  • annotate diagrams
  • explain what you think they show

5. Use course material

Another obvious one. The OU, like all universities, wants you to demonstrate that you have learnt from the course material. Having read the question (see step 1 above) you should look for answers in the course material, either in theory to apply, or in the case studies.

Often there will be a case study of a very similar approach to the questions that are asked in a TMA or EMA that you can use to help you know what to include in your answers. At the very least this will give you a clue on where to look in the course material for theory.

When applying theory to an answer follow this approach:

  1. state the context
  2. introduce the theory
  3. apply the theory to the context

6. Reference

Again, this shouldn’t need to be said, but it does. Make sure you reference appropriately. It helps to show that you:

  • have read and absorbed the course material;
  • give credit for others ideas; and
  • for a distinction level have read further than the course material

If you have the time it is always worth reading the original ideas as referenced in the course material (and you can copy references from the course material if you need help with formatting them). Often this gives you a different take on it from the course authors and helps you to back up any arguments you need to make to justify conclusions or opinions.

DO let me know how you get on with this. 

PS – I have written a book about being an Open University student. If you liked this post you might also enjoy Themself: My Experience as an Open University Creative Writing Student